Granola has a reputation. You know this. I know this.
Hell, it's even corrupted the word "crunchy," a word that's gone from making me think of delicious over-battered fried chicken and candy bars to a sad-looking man who hand-picks his own flax seeds and complains about people who don't hand-pick their own flax seeds.
And that makes me sad, dammit! Granola doesn't have to be just seeds and fruits and non-GMO organic nature things some guy named Ampersand found in a field. Granola doesn't have to be moral. It can just be some oats and sugar and maybe a few pecans. It should be about tasting good, not about feeling superior to someone just because they want to have a waffle for breakfast and not a giant bowl of antioxidants.
That's why I'm keeping things simple and making Peppermint-Chocolate Granola this week. No dried bee extract, no non-conflict dried raspberry pollen, just flavor. Simple.
Also, I love the shit out of peppermint.
People seem to have this great big misconception that because a food has history, that must mean it's automatically healthy. "They've been eating it for 500 years! It MUST be good for me if people ate it before telegraphs were invented, right?"
No. No is the answer to that question.
You know why people ate dumplings, cornbread and anything else fried or cakey? Because it was all they had. They didn't eat those things because it was a "treat" for managing to stay conscious on a treadmill for 15 minutes before run-walking to the nearest open food court. They ate them because they were the only accessible things they could get their hands on that would let them keep farming for 18 hours a day, not because they "deserved" it. It was about survival, people.
So when the Israelites holed themselves up in a temple for eight days with only a single menorah to rely on, they ate latkes because it was all they had access to. Potatoes, oil and a few eggs. That's it. The applesauce came later, I'd imagine.
The author kindly requests you ignore his last name after reading the preceding paragraph. Seriously, just ... pretend it's not there or something.
Oh my fucking good god gracious, I love pumpkin pie. Not that you fine people give a shit, but I assume you do, too. Or, at the very least, I'm not going to trust you if you don't.
That's because pumpkin pie is goddamned amazing. Forget your pumpkin spice mocha grande whatever lattes and your apple ciders, pumpkin pie IS fall. It's a freaking slice of autumn; it's the nutmeg and cinnamon-crammed exclamation point on the utter majesty that is Thanksgiving.
But that deliciousness comes with a far worse and utterly lame underscore: the crust. Because as amazing as that pumpkin pie is, you have to deal with some boring, flavorless cardboard crust that someone probably dragged out of the frozen-everything aisle and unceremoniously shoved in the nearest oven to get to it.
Doesn't pumpkin pie deserve something better? Doesn't something so creamy and pumpkiny and beautiful need something equally beautiful and delicious supporting it?
Yes. Yes it does.
That's why I threw that boring-ass crust out the window and made a gingersnap crust instead. Also, cinnamon whipped cream, because who doesn't love that stuff? Nobody, that's who.
How do you get to a person's soul? You find out what they eat.
Most of the time, if you bring a person down to his darkest moments, the very first thing he is going to do is hunt down a tattered slice of pizza from that place on 3rd and Main, or maybe the fried tofu from the Chinese place next to the strip mall.
Perhaps that was a little dark, but it happens. Think about the last time you went through a big breakup or fucked up a big job interview. Did you call your best friend? Did you go out and drink a beer or two or 12? Sure you did. But you damn sure ordered a pizza first, or got whatever food comforts you the most.
I'm not saying food's better than crying on your friend's shoulder ... I'm just saying that food can make you feel better in ways that other stuff can't. These Lemon Poppy Seed Cupcakes with Lemon Curd and Blueberry Frosting definitely make me feel that way, so I'm going to make them.
I'm not generally a fan of anything that gets plastered over a zillion billboards and TV ads, but I feel the need to defend this whole "pumpkin spice/apple" mania the country seems to go into every fall.
I like it because it IS fall, and fall tastes and smells goddamned amazing. And the other seasons have their things too, their iced teas and peppermint sticks and tables full of Grandma's hellaciously soggy "stuffing" that'd probably seep out of a turkey like a paper bag full of ice cream. But if you ask people what the definitive taste of winter or spring or summer is, it's going to be totally different depending on who you ask. Some people think of roasted chestnuts in the winter, while others think of the inviting smell of a half-empty bottle of Wild Turkey and a freshly-loaded handgun. To each his own.
Say "fall," on the other hand, and you get the same answers from everyone: pumpkin spice, apple cider. Every. Damn. Time. And there's a reason for that: THEY'RE DELICIOUS.
Like I said, I'm not super into obsessing over anything too much. But the way I see it, this whole fall thing isn't obsessing, it's just giving people what they already know they want. And I want some Apple Cider Donuts with Peanut Butter Frosting.
I know there's still a cupcake joint on every other corner, and frosting-topped monuments to the diabetes gods lurking behind the overly-breathed upon glass cases of every supermarket in the country, but the cupcake trend is over. The days of a piping bag and a dream propelling you to the big time? They're done, baby. The cupcake "thing" isn't a thing anymore ... it's just a thing you want.
I'm not going to sit here and pretend like the damned things stopped being delicious because US Weekly stopped yammering on about them. They're still good. A lot of them are still really, really good. What makes me upset isn't the stuff in the pink sparkly storefronts. It's the homemade stuff, the stuff that inevitably withers its way into the local potluck or the bake sale down the road.
Take a trip to your local cupcakery and regardless of the quality of the product, they always manage to make the damn things look impressive. You get your massive pyre of frosting, some sprinkles, maybe even a gummi lime or a candy cane if they really want to wave their proverbial jazz hands around. But it always looks nice, no matter where you get it from.
Then I go to a bake sale and I have to suffer through some piddly little barely-frosted bullshit that came from a box with "Sara" or "Duncan" or some other name that sounds like a fifth grader in summer school. I have to suffer through cupcakes that look like they just came out of your Fisher-Price "My Mommy Wanted to Be A Baker But Blew All Her Money on Law School" magic oven, that maybe, if I'm lucky, make it to the inch-high mark.
Look. Maybe frosting your cupcakes with a plastic knife and writing your name in shittily-made gel icing was cool in the '90s, but it's 2013. I got standards now. Just because you don't own a cupcake store doesn't mean you can't grab a pastry bag and pipe out some tall, thick, quality spires of icing. So snatch up some powdered sugar and a star tip, because we're getting mean with some Thai Coffee Cupcakes. And throw away that plastic spoon, dammit. You've been rewashing it for like three years, it's disgusting.
I bought a cartload full of vegetables today. No meat. Nothing even resembling meat. And I was fine with it.
And the reason why I was fine with it wasn't because I'm counting calories, and it wasn't because Rachael Ray or whoever the hell's all over daytime TV these days told me I should. It was because vegetables taste goddamned delicious.
That's the only reason you should eat something. Yeah, it's nice that it'll let you live a little longer and probably make it so you can go out in a bathing suit that doesn't make you look like a couch covered in sunscreen. But that's all secondary.
If you're a vegetarian or a vegan or a whatever-an because you don't like meat or killing things that make noises, good on you. I'm happy for you, I really am. But if the first thought on your mind when you sit down to a plate of roasted balsamic brussels sprouts is "BUT THE WHALES DIED TO MAKE THE PLASTIC BAG THESE CAME IN" and not "Holy hell this looks delicious," then you're not eating. You're preaching to yourself while you happen to be putting nutrients inside you, and that's far less satisfying to type, much less to actually do.
Which is exactly why I made Okanomiyaki this week. Because it tastes good, and that's all I need, damnit.
As much as I love coming up with stupid, improbable, "There's no way that would ever work" recipes and having them turn out somewhat decent, I'm lazy. Sometimes (one of those times being now), I just want to take a handful of stuff that tastes good, take another handful of stuff that tastes good, and throw them in a damn bowl so I can have something that, well ... tastes good. You get the idea.
The point is, not everything has to be a molecular-level triumph in the history of the culinary arts. Take apples and peanut butter. There's no thought behind that one, no innovation. You're not going to see it on any Michelin-starred menus anytime soon.
But if I put a plate of that tasty goodness in front of you right now, right this second ... you'd eat it. You'd damn well eat it. Unless you were at one of those Michelin-starred restaurants, then you'd probably look at me weird while I got thrown out.
Regardless, I decided to take that idea and make it into something even more mindless: ice cream. Pretty hard to not like all those things, unless you also hate puppies and smiles or something. But I'd say hating Apples and Peanut Butter Ice Cream is pretty goddamned difficult, too.
I usually don't like "fake" flavor. If I order a lemonade, I don't want some fake-ass powdered nonsense in a plastic bottle; I want lemon juice that comes from an actual lemon. I want it to taste like I just got it from the backyard, not the back of a factory.
And if I order a tea, I want something that tastes like tea, not a glass of sugared-up, watered-down crap. I want a little piece of stationary attached to it that tells me the name of the British guy who yelled at a group of other British guys who didn't get exactly the right breed of Burgamot for the Earl Grey.
But, like most things (most - if you ever try to give me a bottle of Lipton's Lemon we're going to go outside and have a little chat about how you're an ignorant clod) there are exceptions.
I decided to make Arnold Palmer Cupcakes this week, largely because Arnold Palmers are a goddamned delicious beverage and the best possible example of "I like these two things so I'm going to shove them together into one."
I could've just squeezed some lemon into cupcake batter, infused any old tea into the frosting, and called it a day. But I didn't. I didn't because my Arnold Palmers weren't made with hand-squeezed lemons and real tea, which means yours probably weren't either.
They're made with fake-ass lemonade and Luzianne black tea. You got your lemonade from a bottle (if you're smart it came from Publix), and you made your sweet tea in a stained, old, plasticky pitcher. So that's how I'm going to make my cupcakes, because even though it's fake, that's the flavor. And sometimes that ain't a bad thing.
Maybe it's a symptom of having not one, but two food channels sludging their way through the airwaves 24/7, but it seems like we've developed an obsession with making sure food's as goddamned seasonal as humanly possible.
And yeah, most of the time that makes sense. Lemons taste better in the summer because they're light and summery; potatoes taste good in the winter because you can make them into a stew that keeps you from freezing to death and dying. That's how nature gets down.
But that doesn't mean you should lock yourself in food jail and refuse to eat pumpkin pie just because the leaves outside are the wrong color. You want some ice cream on Christmas Eve? Do it. You know Ina Garden is going to be making warm bread pudding on the TV and staring at you semi-disapprovingly, but do it anyway, because your love of ice cream far, far supersedes the elements. Rocky Road beats snowstorm every time, people.
Similarly, I like grilled cheese sandwiches. A lot. So even though it's roughly a million degrees outside and I'm sweating just typing this, I'm gonna make some Chorizo and Goat Cheese Sandwiches with Pepper Jelly. And also some Tomato Basil Soup.
Weatherman be damned.