31 March 2016

Than any other

“When you wake up in the morning, Pooh,” said Piglet at last, “what's the first thing you say to yourself?” “What's for breakfast?” said Pooh. “What do you say, Piglet?” “I say, I wonder what's going to happen exciting today?” said Piglet. Pooh nodded thoughtfully. “It's the same thing,” he said.

                                                    – A.A.Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh
I haven't eaten since early afternoon. I had huevos rancheros around 11:00, and it was a wonderful feast. It felt particularly good to wolf it down on a Monday morning – and out in town. I don't normally go out for breakfast, but we happened to be in a neighborhood close to Bakers and Roasters and they do really good breakfast. It's always busy in there, even on a Monday there can be a waiting list. But we got lucky – a table for two just opened up. At first I can't decide what I want. There is a granola on the menu, and I'm a big one for granola. I like discovering different granolas. The problem is, I realized sometime ago, they are rather similar in a lot of places, and often not that interesting. It's an issue, it makes me wary of ordering granola in a restaurant or a café. Besides, I finally finished tweaking a recipe for pistachio and dried cherry granola and I'm pretty sure I like this granola better than I'll like any other for now. So I go back and forth between the eggs and the salads. I haven't had a good breakfast egg dish in a really long while, and huevos rancheros speak to me right now: crispy tortilla, Brazilian black beans, slightly melted cheese, two fried eggs, avocado, fresh tomato salsa and sour cream. So I chose that and asked for extra chorizo. Every bit was delicious.

Actually it was my second breakfast. I had toasted sourdough bread soon after I woke up at 8:00. I love sourdough toast. Today I had it with peanut and pistachio butter, and creamy honey. After I finished the last bits I thought of a new spread combination for next time I have toast for breakfast: white almond butter and the Italian apricot preserve I'd picked up at Casa del Gusto. Albicocche di Valleggia, it says on the jar. I picture the southern European sun and squint involuntarily. I can already taste this next toast in my mind's mouth: soft, crunchy, creamy, a little sweet, a little sour. I've never been to Italy and I really want to go. I take a post-it to write the idea down: almond butter + apricots. I'm religious about my toast. The crumb must remain chewy, but only deep down. On the surface and a little below it must be crisp and lightly golden, for the pleasure of the eyes, ears and teeth. I have found a perfect way to achieve that: I toast it once then turn it and toast it again, both times at a low setting. Seems to do the trick. 

It's almost 17:00. I'm starting to think more intensely about food, which means I'm hungry. It's not an unpleasant feeling. I like thinking about what I'll be eating next, or what I ate earlier. I won't be home till later tonight, so to cook a meal will by that point feel like waiting an eternity. I make do with two pillows of chewing gum for now – I don't like eating on the go; chewing is O.K.

Decided: I'm going to have the aforementioned granola for dinner, technically a third breakfast but at dinnertime. I'll only have to stop by a grocer for some yogurt. It has to be full-fat. I don't like low- or zero-fat anything.

Vanilla Bean Pistachio and Dried Cherries Granola

I found the original recipe in The New York Times Cooking recipes collection, and it comes from Daniel Humm, the chef of the Eleven Madison Park restaurant in Manhattan. Judging by the ingredients list it clearly was a recipe for a special cereal, a luxury granola. That said, it lacked to me I didn't know what, and I didn't just want to let it go, so I kept tweaking. I eschewed the sugar, upped the quantity of maple syrup as well as oats, added poppy seeds, fine-tuned the amount of salt, and finally, I added vanilla seeds, real, fragrant, wonderful vanilla seeds (not a vanilla extract or paste), and suddenly I had on my hands a granola that I'd like better than any other. Each bite offers a full exciting ride: savory, sweet, deep, lip-smacking, refreshing, soft, crunchy, nutty, and rich. It took me about twelve batches to get it right, but victory is mine. 

300 g rolled oats 
150 g shelled pistachio nuts
70 g unsweetened coconut flakes
50 g raw pumpkin seeds 
20 g poppy seeds 
7 g (1 teaspoon) fine sea salt
2 large vanilla pods (to give
about ½ packed teaspoon of
vanilla seeds) 
160 ml maple syrup
 80 ml extra virgin olive oil 
100 g dried cherries

Preheat the oven to 150 degrees Celsius. Line a large rimmed baking sheet with baking paper.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the oats, pistachio nuts, coconut flakes, pumpkin and poppy seeds, and salt.

Cut the vanilla pods in half and scrape out the seeds. In a small bowl, stir the vanilla seeds into the olive oil. This will help to disperse the vanilla seeds evenly throughout the oats mixture.

Using your hands, mix the wet and dry ingredients together. Tip the granola out onto the prepared baking sheet and spread in an even layer. Bake until fragrant and golden brown, between 35 and 45 minutes, stirring every 15 minutes to ensure the granola bakes evenly. If it doesn't look entirely dry as you'd expect, it will firm up as it cools.

Remove the granola from the oven and stir in the dried cherries. Allow to cool to room temperature before transferring to an airtight container where it will keep for up to 3 to 4 weeks.

Yield: about 6 ½ cups