On Busyness. Maple Granola.

My first instinct was to spell busyness like this: business. Then I realized that’s an entirely different word. This post is about business, the business of my life for the past few months, but business sounds very coat and tie and heels, and, well, I’ve been busy, but I haven’t been business. I’ll never be business.

Being busy. That’s where I’ve been. Busy living my life and not telling you about it. Busy testing cupcake and salad recipes for bridal showers. Busy being an editor again while being busy being a marketing director by day. Yeah, that’s right, marketing director by day, editor by night. I am a super hero. Busy running my brains out, racking up the miles, looking to 26.2 miles in November. Busy making pasta with fresh peas from my garden and drinking bourbon ginger ales. Busy cooking brats over an open flame.

Busy exploring my city like I’ve never lived here before. Busy following the signs. Busy drinking good beer, listening to good music, and watching fireworks explode in the night sky.

Busy doing all this with this guy who keeps me busy every day with thinking how lucky I am to have bumped into him in this busy sea.

Busy. Have to remember to stop and take a breath sometimes.

Take a breath and look up at the stars and the moon, dip your feet into a lake, watch relationships being built.

Enjoy a cup of coffee, or three, with the person you love while the sun shines down. Take a breath and remind yourself why you’re doing all these things that keep you so busy. This relationship, even though it requires some driving, is inspiring and makes me believe in so much again. That second job surrounds me with people who are strong and courageous in a way I am certain I could never be. They are my heroes.

The busy is worth it. Every second.

So maybe you’re busy, too. Summer can be like that. It’s a funny season. The air is hot and thick, and the days are longer. Everything points to slowing down, yet summer always seems to be full of activities, of trying to cram as much into these warm, lazy days as possible.

This summer I’ve discovered the best food: homemade granola. It’s not crunchy and granola as in you’ll be a hippy making your own granola in your oven. It is crunchy and granola as in it bakes up into clumps of sweet, oaty goodness that wants to be covered in almond milk, yogurt, fresh summer berries, and really eaten right from a jar.

Did you know that granola is ridiculously easy to make? It is, and I feel someone really mean and selfish has been withholding this beautiful knowledge from me. Granola takes one bowl, one spoon, a measuring spoon, and one baking sheet to make. It doesn’t even take measuring cups if you have a kitchen scale (and I say, get a kitchen scale, because it’ll make you love cooking even more than you already do, and it’ll make all your measurements so much more accurate. Deb convinced me with her cookbook full of ingredients in weights finally.) This granola unassumingly sits in your oven, filling your house with a cinnamon maple smell.

The hardest part will probably be finding unsweetened coconut flakes. (I found mine at Whole Foods in the baking section.) The second hardest part will be believing that you made granola that sticks together in lovely clumps. The secret is the egg white (or 3 tablespoons of water + 1 tablespoon of flaxseed if you’re the vegan type).

In between all of the rushing around I’ve been doing, I manage to always make batches of this granola. My big glass jar is always full of it. Trust me on this one.

I would like to give credit where credit is due. The food styling in these granola, yogurt, and blueberry photos was all done by my boyfriend, Karl. I got a ridiculous amount of pleasure watching him lean over the bowls and carefully sprinkle granola over yogurt and place berries on top without any guidance from me.

Crunchy Maple Granola
Straight from The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook

Ingredients
3 cups (240 grams) old-fashioned rolled oats
1 cup (50 grams) unsweetened shredded or flaked coconut
1 cup (100 grams) walnuts (or other nut of your choice), coarsely chopped
1/2 cup (25 grams) toasted wheat germ
2 tablespoons (30 ml) olive oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (120 ml) maple syrup
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 large egg white
1 1/2 cups (215 grams) dried cherries, cranberries, or other dried fruit, diced into large pieces

Preheat your oven to 300°.

Combine all ingredients but egg white and dried fruit in a large bowl, tossing to coat evenly. Whisk the egg white in a small bowl until frothy. Stir into the granola mixture, distributing it throughout.

Spread granola mixture in a single layer onto a parchment paper-lined baking sheet. (If you don’t have parchment paper, don’t line the baking sheet with anything. You’ll just have to do some scraping of granola bits when you wash the baking sheet.)

Bake for 45 to 55 minutes. About halfway through the baking time, use a large spatula to turn over sections of the granola as carefully as you can. (I break the big chunks up accidentally often and sometimes lose track of what I’ve flipped. It’s OK. Flip the majority as best you can.) Rotate the pan.

When the granola is evenly browned and feels dry to the touch, transfer the pan from the oven to a cooling rack. Cool completely.

Once it’s completely cool, break up granola into whatever size clusters delight you. Sprinkle in dried fruit.

This granola will keep at room temperature in an airtight container for 2 weeks. It keeps even longer in the freezer.

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Fun.

We Are Young, Fun. You’ve probably heard this song if you’ve had the radio on for more than five minutes this summer. It’s gotten so much air time that I dare say it’s been over-played. But that doesn’t stop me from singing at the top of my lungs every time I hear it, or even purposefully looking it up on YouTube on my drive home so I can rock with the windows open.

This song beeped onto my radar awhile ago actually. Maybe like late fall of last year. I was immediately struck by how the chorus sounds like an anthem, this wild declaration, “Toniiiiiight, we are young. So let’s set the world on fire, we can burn brighter than the sun!” Can’t you just hear bars full of college students joining in song together, their Bud Lights raised in the air? I make Fun., but like I said, I love it.

In case you’ve been under a rock for the last few months (it’s OK, don’t feel ashamed, sometimes I, too, live under a rock called I hate the radio and pop music.), here’s the video, which actually really makes me uncomfortable. Why is everything in slow motion?!

Then one day, I branched out from this one song. I typed Fun. into Spotify and lo and behold! This band has two albums! And they’re all bright and fun and poppy without being annoying. They lyrics actually say something. I can listen to these songs over and over. Let’s not even talk about what happens when you create a Pandora station based on Fun.

One of my faves from their album Aim and Ignite is Light a Roman Candle With Me. It’s sweet, and when I first heard it, I pictured a couple walking down a grassy lane, hands entwined, arms swinging. Upon closer listen I realized it wasn’t this idealistic song, much more realistic in fact. Give the two of us, give this thing, a chance, and maybe it’ll work out. You never know until you light the roman candle and let it fly.

Listen to some Fun. this weekend. It’d go well with cookouts, day or night drinking, dancing in the kitchen, bike riding, state fair going, summertiming in general.

Peach Butter

Summer is fleeting and always fills up too quickly with plans. Do you notice that? I’ve had very few weekends since June without some kind of something going on. I’ve loved every planned, filled and busy minute, really. And I know that this summer has probably been extra busy because Michael is moving at the end of it all. We’re cramming. Aside from all that, the moments that stick out the most for me have been the quiet ones, unplanned or regular and weekly. I guess I’m a girl who likes routine and the familiar.

One of my best friends and I laid on her apartment floor shivering in the air conditioning, eating Mediterranean food and talking about everything and nothing. (Do you remember what you and your best friends talked about before you talked about everything and nothing? Before conversation just came and went? I don’t. It’s just always been this way for me. My BFFs have been around for lifetimes.)

I spent an entire quiet afternoon and evening in the kitchen, watching transformations happen with just Mira and my iPod for company.

homemade mozzarella cheese started as milk!

I lounge in bed with Mira and Lola on weekend mornings for at least half an hour before getting up.

Mom and I go to yoga twice a week. Mother daughter relaxation detoxification time.

Saturday is farmer’s market day. We started this last summer…getting up, riding our bikes to Broad Ripple High School, and shopping. Well, I shop, wander from stand to stand, gush over tomatoes and berries, and Michael follows along, agreeing that we could have sweet corn for dinner this week. I love moving through the dogs and people, selecting fruits that we sometimes can’t wait to eat til we get home.

This summer we’ve also been frequenting a particular ice pop stand, Nicey Treat. Avocado, pineapple-basil, mango-ginger, key lime pie…perfect on a hot day.

I can judge the passing of summer by the fruits at the farmers market. Strawberries mean the beginning of summer, but they go quickly. Raspberries mean summer is in full swing, but you can’t expect them to hang around too long either. Blueberries and blackberries show up at the same time and stay for awhile. But peaches, they’re my favorite, and thank goodness that they come with the strawberries practically and stay all summer long.

When peaches made their first appearance at the market, I bought an obscene amount. I kind of went crazy. In fact I’m pretty sure the girl thought I was nuts. Good thing I bought that many though. We ate a few fresh and right away. This summer marks Michael’s first experience with a fresh peach. He’s finally living for real. The rest of the peaches I promptly turned into peach butter.

Peach butter is magical. It’ll create those perfect routine and quite summer moments for you. How can it not? It’s peachy, sunny, barely sweetened, and so easy. Peaches, a bit of sugar, a squeeze of lemon juice, a pinch of ginger in a pot. I could easily go through an entire batch in a few weeks, but I try to savor the stuff. I’ve even gotten into canning, and make a few jars to last me through the winter.

Canning isn’t hard. I cross my heart. Promise. I’ll tell you how to do it. Actually Deb of Smitten Kitchen will tell you how to do it, but I’ll put it here on my site so you don’t have to click around and around the web.

I love these labels!

So please, make some peach butter, enjoy a quiet summer moment with it spread on toast, a biscuit, pancakes or right from the jar. Then get back to cliff jumping, road tripping, and concert going!

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Papa

I hate that a 25% off sale at Anthropologie still doesn’t make any of the sweaters remotely affordable.

Just wanted to get that off of my chest. Meanwhile, I realize that I’ve been sorely absent from my blog. The first thing I want to type is that I’ve had a rough summer and haven’t felt like writing.

But that’s so far from the truth in so many ways.

We went to Spain.

I worked at my beloved Green Cove for a week.

I got an amazing bike, and we’ve gone on lots of great rides.

My dad dressed up in drag to raise money for Alzheimers.

And honestly about a month ago I was planning to write a post on the song Up, Up, Up by Givers, about how joyful and light it was, and how it really exemplified my summer. How I couldn’t believe how much happier I’d been this summer than last summer. Then the thing we all knew was looming and ugly on the horizon happened. My grandfather Papa passed away on August 12. Do you ever not want to type something because it’ll feel more real that way? I sat here not wanting to write that sentence, working up the courage.

Papa was 95. He lived the most full life, up to almost the last minute. He really lived every one of those 95 years in every sense of the word. He’d been sick (bladder cancer) and had reached the point that he was just … ready to go, to be done. Three months later his body finally gave into his mind. So in a way I know I should be relieved that he got what he wanted, that he wasn’t stuck here anymore, in a sense. But I don’t care. I don’t care that I got to know my grandfather better and more fully as an adult than a lot of people get to know their grandparents. I miss him.

I miss Thursday night dinner where he’d start to order before any of us were even remotely ready, because he knew exactly what he wanted at all his regular restaurants. I can hear him saying, “coffee, decaf, black.” I hate the thought that I won’t be able to call him up when The American President is on TV. I don’t have anyone special to make my Papa brownies for anymore. He was my biggest supporter and critic when it came to my baked goods. He loved to hear about work, and no matter how frustrating of a day I may have had, he was always proud of what I was doing. And who in the world is going to tell me that my hair looks wonderful even when it looks like shit? I’m going to miss his endless and usually repetitive stories, especially the ones he told about my grandma, Mimi. God he loved her so much. He spoke about her in such a tone and with a look of sadness and total love that you knew he missed her and thought of her every single day, even though she had been gone for almost 14 years.

Today I was scrolling through the pictures on my phone and came across this one of a clock that Michael’s grandma has in her apartment in St. Louis. We took it because Papa had been describing this exact type of clock one day. He used to carry it in our jewelry store back in the day. We were going to share the photo with him, but it slipped my mind, and we never did. Such a stupid thing, and I shared so many other things with him, but there you go.

I really did not expect to be this sad when this day came. I think what’s been hardest for me to come to terms with is where he may or may not be right now. Papa was a hardcore atheist. He was proud of that. So I know that he probably didn’t believe in the traditional afterlife where you maybe meet up with your loved ones, etc. etc. What he did believe would happen to him when he passed on, I’m not sure. I want so much to believe that Papa’s with Mimi, that they’ve been reunited in the great beyond, but I don’t want to be unfaithful to who he was. So he’s just…gone? He just stopped breathing and that was it? That’s incredibly hard for me to wrap my brain around.

Last Christmas Papa and I were at Kids Ink, a children’s bookstore in town, picking out books for a friend. The lady in the store brought us a pile of books, including When We Were Very Young, a collection of poems by A.A. Milne. My dad read these poems to me as I grew up, especially the poem “Vespers.” I never realized the deeper family tradition with this poem until that day in the bookstore though. Papa picked it up, turned to the last page, and smiled. “My mother used to read this poem to me every night before I went to bed,” he said quietly. And then he started reading it, “Vespers.” I’ve never heard him get emotional when he talked about his mother, but right then he had tears in his eyes.

I didn’t want to talk at the funeral. I’m a terrible public speaker. Instead, I read “Vespers.”

Vespers
by A.A. Milne

Little Boy kneels at the foot of the bed,
Droops on the little hands little gold head.
Hush! Hush! Whisper who dares!
Christopher Robin is saying his prayers.

God bless Mummy. I know that’s right.
Wasn’t it fun in the bath to-night?
The cold’s so cold, and the hot’s so hot.
Oh! God bless Daddy – I quite forgot.

If I open my fingers a little bit more,
I can see Nanny’s dressing-gown on the door.
It’s a beautiful blue, but it hasn’t a hood.
Oh! God bless Nanny and make her good.

Mine has a hood, and I lie in bed,
And pull the hood right over my head,
And I shut my eyes, and I curl up small,
And nobody knows that I’m there at all.

Oh! Thank you, God, for a lovely day.
And what was the other I had to say?
I said “Bless Daddy,” so what can it be?
Oh! Now I remember it. God bless Me.

Little Boy kneels at the foot of the bed,
Droops on the little hands little gold head.
Hush! Hush! Whisper who dares!
Christopher Robin is saying his prayers.

Day 7 – Peachy Coconut Cookies

Just looking at the name of these cookies makes me think SUMMER SUMMER SUMMER! I almost cried when I spotted peaches on the list of produce I could get in my grocery bin last week. Peaches mean summer is here! Another hint may be the 90+ degree weather we’re having.

Anyway, my first instinct was to make a blueberry-peach pie. But Michael is out of town this week and I didn’t want him to miss out on one of my favorite pies. Plus the blueberries may have jumped into a few breakfast smoothies. It’s like they wanted me to do something healthy with them, the buggers.

About a month ago I marked a peach sugar cookie recipe on A Beautiful Mess. The cookies photographed were decorated so gorgeously with pastel-colored coconut that I couldn’t resist. But alas, no peaches yet for me. Until day 7 of Creative Fun Month!

Conveniently enough, today is a co-worker’s birthday. So I settled into the kitchen last night with Joy the Baker’s latest podcast and a beer. And so a mouthful of summertime prettiness was created!

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Chilly Fruity Soup

I’m officially cooking on a budget. Welcome to the saddest grocery trips ever. But I’m doing well so far. It takes focus and willpower and math. At the grocery tonight, I had $24 in my wallet to spend. I kept a running total as I added items to my basket. When I got to the dairy section I didn’t have enough for heavy cream. So, no heavy cream.

Good thing sweet and wonderful fruit is super cheap during the summer. And very good thing my friend Marian sent me this summer fruit soup last month. It’s from Mark Bittman originally. I love how easy it is, how much it makes (talk about leftovers!!), and how deep the flavors are.

mmm fruity soup

Plus, with the intense heat that’s been suffocating us lately, this doesn’t steam up your kitchen, and won’t steam up your body. Though maybe a steamy body is what you’re looking for…

I didn’t stick with all the fruits in the recipe Marian sent me. I just kinda went with what I have. But I’ll note in parentheses the original fruits just in case you’re wondering! No matter what fruit you use, make sure it’s ripe but not squishy. Continue reading

Sun-soaked Gold Motel

OK, I know I just posted a song the other day. And I swear when I get home tonight I’m going to put up the most amazing recipe for the most amazing cake. But I was just scrolling through my Twitter feed and came across this band via Spin. They’re called Gold Motel. I’d say just about perfect summertime music. Play at barbecues (particularly 4th of July ones), in the car with your windows wide open, on your porch, in your living room while you dance and sweat, by the pool while drinking beers, etc., the list goes on.

So, here’s one video for “Perfect In My Mind.” I love the lyrics.

And here’s a link to a video of theirs posted on Spin.com. It’s  exclusive and brand new and shiny so I couldn’t find it on YouTube. Just click the link already.