Monday, June 25, 2012

Granola bars and San Francisco summers

I hate summer. Rather, I hate hot weather, especially hot and humid weather like the kind that descends on Maryland and North Carolina and China - all places where I've endured summers. One of the many things that attracted me to the San Francisco Bay Area was the legendary cold summer. Every year, when the fog rolls in and makes itself comfortable in June and July, people around here like to bring up the quote "The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco," which gets attributed to Mark Twain though he never actually said it.

Oakland, where I live, is always a bit warmer than San Francisco though, and sunnier. It's really only the ocean-facing side of San Francisco that never gets warmer than 70 degrees and is perpetually shrouded in fog and mist from the ocean, not the Bay side. But every day for the past week, as I've stepped out of a bus into the SF morning, a gust of that cold water wind has hit me and carried me through the day. It's a magical wind. I love the cold patches of summer here. Everyone else complains about the unfairness of sun deprivation at such a time of year, but for me, it's just right.

When I've lived in warmer climates, I cooked a lot less during the summer because I just couldn't bear to turn on any heat-generating device. But here, I can conduct granola bar-baking experiments in June. This is exciting, trust me. Especially when it means that I can have a chewy, satisfying, homemade snack between teaching classes, because with my new work schedule I am teaching for five hours straight. Oops. These granola bars are heartier than the Luna bars I have been gobbling up (while staying in the same calorie range), much cheaper, and customizable to whatever you've got on hand. 

These come from Smitten Kitchen, but I use fewer ingredients. The original ones are delicious, but honey *and* corn syrup *and* sugar? I cut the sweetness, use only honey, and reduce the oil. I also list crisp rice cereal as a main ingredient, because for me it's vital to the texture. For the add-ins, the granola bars in the picture have dried apricots and banana chips, but only because I thought I had more nuts and dried fruits stashed away and discovered at the last minute that I didn't. The possibilities are endless -- shredded coconut, dark chocolate chips, any dried fruit, nuts, seeds, etc. These can go in a lot of directions. I'm thinking my next batch will be based on coconut and chocolate.

Chewy Granola Bars

1 2/3 cups rolled oats
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon and/or other spices of own choosing (optional)
1 cup crisp rice cereal (I used brown rice)
1-2 cups add-ins, like dried fruit, nuts, etc.
1/4 cup (4 tbsp) coconut oil (or another neutral oil, like canola)
1/2 cup honey, or other liquid sweetener of choice
1 tbsp water

Preheat oven to 350, and line a 9x9 baking dish with parchment paper. This is important because it will help you extract the resulting giant granola bar from the pan without it crumbling. Coat the parchment paper with non-stick spray. Toss all the dry ingredients together in a bowl. Melt the coconut oil in a measuring cup (or just measure out whatever oil you're using), and add honey and water. Mix together, pour over the dry ingredients and mix until you don't see any more dry spots. Spread the mixture in the pan and press it down so it fills the pan evenly. Bake for 30-40 minutes. You want the edges to darken a little, but the middle should still be a little soft, otherwise the whole thing may be too dry and crumbly. Let it cool, then cut into squares or bars. 

Nutritional information: makes 9 servings. Each serving has 193 calories, 32 grams of carbs, 7 grams of fat, 3 grams of protein, 3 grams of fiber.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Corn salad and a personal victory

I tried to begin this post without reverting to butterflies. This did not work. See, I've lost nearly 20 pounds in the last two months. I haven't written much about it. I haven't written much of anything. What with finishing an extremely challenging year of graduate school, and a general in-flux feeling about life, words have been elusive - words not meant for others, that is, words for myself, about myself, words not intended to satisfy school assignments, words not intended for my students. The personal words have instead remained inside, churning, cocooning. That's where the butterflies come in - the breaking of cocoons, etc. But I don't want to talk about butterflies. I want to talk about these 20 pounds that are no longer a part of me.

This past year was the first time in quite a while that I had health insurance. This prompted a desire to get everything screened and prodded and checked out, just because I could. As a result, I had to face some uncomfortable truths about myself. For a while now, I've really embraced the fat-positive/health-at-every-size movement. Over the years, I had slowly become comfortable and even happy with myself and my own fatness; seeing this movement take shape online gave me a framework to talk about my own personal discoveries. But then it turned out that I wasn't actually as healthy as I always thought. In April (two months ago), my doctor told me that my cholesterol and trigliceride levels were so high she wanted to put me on medication immediately. My blood pressure, which had been climbing little by little over the years, was also getting to a point where it was almost too high for me to continue taking birth control pills.

That doctor visit was a wake-up call. I asked her for more time to get my health under control without pharmaceutical intervention. She gave me two months. In these two months, I joined a great fitness and diet tracking site, started eating less and moving more. No crazy fads no tricks, just old-fashioned diet and exercise - lean protein, high fiber, whole grains, healthy fats, fruits and veggies, smaller portions, taking the stairs, frequent walks, regular gym time. And yesterday, I had my follow-up appointment. And I did it. I did it! I got my cholesterol and trigliceride levels down to where I don't need medication anymore. It's a fantastic feeling. And one of my rewards to myself is a return to blogging - this time, with a lean towards health/food/wellness/body issues. All recipes will come with nutritional information.

What better way to return to the blogosphere than with a healthy, seasonal salad that pops with flavor and color? This stuff is downright festive, not to mention delicious. A few notes: I've made variations of this with frozen corn and supermarket veggies. It is always pretty good. But using fresh, seasonal, farmers market veggies will produce the best results. I particularly loved this combination of carrots and radishes, but use whatever ingredients suit your fancy.

Corn Salad with Carrots and Radishes

4-5 ears of fresh corn (or about 3 cups of corn kernels)
1 bunch of young carrots
1 bunch of radishes
1 bunch of parsley, cilantro, or other herb of your choice
Juice of 3 limes
2 tbsp olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste

Boil the corn until tender, and let cool. Slice the kernels off and place in a large bowl. Dice your other veggies, combine with corn, and dress with lime and olive oil. Let sit for at least an hour, if possible, to let the flavors mingle and become all friendly-like.

Nutritional info: makes 6 servings. Each serving has 115 calories, 17 grams of carbs, 5 grams of fat (from the olive oil), 3 grams of protein, 3 grams of fiber.