Simplicity

There’s something about getting all gussied up that I’ve always loved.  Probably because it’s linked to the anticipation of a long-awaited special occasion….  Remember getting ready for prom?  Or your wedding day?  I do…

Ok - I guess sometimes I need some help with my make-up. 🙂

The thing is, it doesn’t even have to be a long-awaited event.  Sometimes I get a thrill just getting ready for church on Sunday mornings.  And when we go out on those occasional dinner dates with just the two of us,  I love to spend time doing my make-up and getting my hair just right.

But the truth is…I’ve never really been a girly-girl.  Yes, I want to look presentable and feel good about myself, but the reality is, I feel best and most comfortable wearing my comfy pants and baggy sweatshirts, and I like the concept of being able to rub my eyes without worrying about smudging my make-up.

So, as you can imagine, this past “Snow Week” was ideal.  (As it turned out, I had the ENTIRE week off of school!)  I haven’t worn make up since last Sunday when we went to the Philharmonic Orchestra, and I only had to switch out of my comfy pants when it was time to do the laundry.

I guess it only makes sense that as much as I love food and therefore love the challenge of cooking an elaborate dinner with a decadent dessert, there’s a special place in my soul for the simple things, too….like granola.

I love that granola recipes are so changeable.  If you don’t like the type of nuts or dried fruit that a recipe calls for, you can just switch it out with something that matches your taste.  It’s a fairly fool-proof process, actually.  There’s been times that I’ve forgotten ingredients and other times that I mixed the fruit in before in came out of the oven, but my granola has always turned out just fine, and there’s something satisfying about that.  We need that simplicity and assurance of success in our lives sometimes.

As I got out my make-up this morning, and put on my church clothes, I realized that I’m about to enter back into real life tomorrow.  For me, that’s a life of 5am alarms, a life of dressing professionally (or at least trying…), a life of squeezing in some errands between work and the gym and making dinner.  I guess today feels like a day to honor simplicity before returning to the chaos of my regular life.

So, I made this:

Maple Almond Granola

I haven’t actually made this recipe before, but it didn’t seem too different from the others I typically make.  And, like I said before, granola is pretty fool-proof.  🙂  Here’s to the simple days!

A Reason to Bake

Perspective is a funny thing.

I never thought I could be disappointed to hear that our district had cancelled school.  After all, snow days seem to give society a sort of common ground.  We collectively anticipate the arrival of the snow, we wrestle with the decisions of whose car is better in the snow, we watch the news to track the storm, we take pictures of rulers (or yard sticks depending on what part of the country you live in) plunged into the snow to keep a close eye on the accumulation, we bundle up to venture outside, and we drink hot cocoa to warm up when we come inside again.

Now that I’m experiencing snow days this week through the lens of a Special Education Teacher who has 2 IEPs due, I’m seeing them in a new light.  I’ve spent a good block of time on my days off figuring out how to reschedule the meetings – first for Wednesday.  Then for Thursday.  And if the weather continues doing what it’s doing, I may just have to “lock” the IEPs in the system so I can be in compliance legally, and then hold the meetings once school is back in session and do a formal revision to anything that needs to be changed once we can have a face-to-face meeting.

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Today, on Snow Day #2, I’m feeling much more resigned to the fact that I can’t do anything about the snow days.  My IEP issues will eventually get resolved.  So, I’m trying to just relax and enjoy the extra time off in this winter wonderland (and not think about the extra days of school that will be tacked on in June to make up for these days that we’re sitting around at home.)

Kyle (who’s also home today) just measured and we have 5 inches of snow on our back steps. (I’m not confident that ruler is actually touching the step here.  And – the perspective is a little weird because I took the photo from floor, but it’s close enough to 5 inches. 😉 )

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Once again – perspective is a funny thing.  5 inches in some of the other places I’ve lived would seem measly and wimpy for a snowstorm.  5 inches in Seattle is a big deal! It’s a big deal because of the hills and it’s a big deal because of the lack of equipment to handle it’s removal.  Even if we had more plows, they couldn’t get down our “1 lane” streets (with cars parked on both sides) or around the roundabouts that control suburban intersections.  It’s a city that I believe was not built to handle snow.

And so the city shuts down.  And the schools shut down.  I can’t hold my IEPs.

But, as any well-respected citizen would do, I’ve tried to make the most of it.  This morning, I baked muffins, and baking is one of the activities that grounds me no matter what else is going on in the chaos of my life.

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Muffins are one of my most favorite breakfast foods, but I’m pretty particular about them.  They need to be big, and ideally hearty, too, because breakfast really is my fuel for the day.  On a regular workday, I have about 5 hours in between breakfast and my scheduled lunchtime.  If I have something like cereal in the morning, I never feel bad about having a double (or close to triple) portion.  And when I have muffins, I’m sure to make the jumbo size so they’re big enough to tide me over until lunch.  (Or at least get me a couple of hours through until I can inhale a snack in between classes.)

Most of my go-to recipes came from a muffin cookbook that my sister has.  (The author is Francesesca DiPaolo in case you’re in need of some breakfast inspiration.)   I almost always have some of her Applesauce Bran Muffins in the freezer.  Right now, I’m eating my way through my second batch of her Cranberry Nut Muffins.  They’re the yummiest reason I look forward to fresh cranberry season.  Her muffins are great because the recipes make 12 jumbo-sized muffins.  That way, I can stick them in the freezer and pull them out individually for breakfast and just re-heat them in the microwave.  (Of course it’s not the same as having freshly baked muffins that are warm from the oven, but it’s certainly convenient.)

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This morning, I strayed from Francesca’s trusty recipes because I didn’t have quite enough ripe bananas for her Banana Bran Muffins, so I revisited a recipe that my mom makes from time to time.  I think she originally found it in their local newspaper.  (Or, more than likely, my dad – the recipe finder – discovered it and passed it along to my mom for the production part.  My parents seem to have this system worked out where my dad does most of the recipe finding and menu planning, and then my mom takes over in the kitchen.  I don’t want to give you the wrong idea, though – my dad can certainly hold his own in the kitchen!  But, after 40 years of marriage, they’ve just sort of figured out what works….  J)

The muffins are in the “easy” range of difficulty and most of the ingredients are the type that you should have on hand – especially if you consider yourself to be a baker.  The only thing that held me up when I thought about making these yesterday is that my applesauce was in the freezer, and it just didn’t want to thaw very fast.  I think it turned out better this way, though.  I thawed the applesauce overnight, and then I was able to enjoy warm muffins for breakfast today.  If that’s not a good start to a snow day, I don’t know what is!

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(Chocolate Chip) Banana Muffins

Yield: 1 dozen standard size or 6 jumbo size muffins

(Oddly enough…I’ve never actually had them with chocolate chips because my mom always used dates instead.  I’m partial to the dates, but if you can’t resist chocolate, I’m sure they’re equally delicious that way.)

¾ cup all-purpose flour

¾ cup whole wheat flour

(or 1 ½ cups Whole Wheat Pastry flour)

½ cup wheat bran

(or oat bran, which is what my mom hand wrote in, and I have always used)

½ cup packed brown sugar

1 teaspoon baking powder

¾ teaspoon baking soda

½ teaspoon salt

2 eggs, lightly beaten

¼ cup fat-free milk (although, I’m sure you could use whatever you have on hand)

1 ⅓cups mashed ripe bananas (2 to 3 medium)

⅓ cup unsweetened applesauce

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

½ cup miniature chocolate chips

(or chopped dates, which is what I’ve always used)

⅓ cup chopped pecans (this is probably optional, although I’d highly recommend including them!)

In a large bowl, combine the first seven ingredients (through salt).  Combine the eggs and milk; stir in the bananas, applesauce and vanilla.  Stir into dry ingredients just until moistened.  Stir in chocolate chips or chopped dates.

Coat muffin cups with nonstick cooking spray or use paper liners; fill three-fourths full with batter.  Sprinkle with pecans.  Bake at 375° for 18-22 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean.  (If you’re making jumbo muffins, plan on the longer end of the time window.  I needed close to 25 minutes.)  Cool for 5 minutes before removing from pan to a wire rack.