I have loved each of my “home towns” in turn. From the duck ponds in Golden Gate Park (all I seem to remember from my early childhood in San Francisco), to the tumbling wabi sabi rose gardens of Berkeley, to the stately tree-lined streets of Princeton – not forgetting my brief sojourn in the Sonoran desert and our five year stint in spectacular Marin county- each place has been beautiful. Each place has also offered a deeply engaged community and a world of opportunities to its residents, and I know I am especially lucky in that sense.
Now we have made our permanent move (well, as much as anything is permanent anyway) to the peninsula just south of San Francisco. I am slowly learning my new town, my new community, my new home. Running in the early mornings through our quiet neighborhood, where the streets are named after the trees that grow around and through them – oaks and pines and towering eucalyptus – I am starting to love it. From our house we can catch glimpses of the glistening bay, and the deep green of the valley. On any given morning as I loop through the hills I am greeted by neighbors out jogging, biking, strolling with their kids or their dogs. Now that the weather is getting warmer, people’s greetings are more expansive – hellos are exchanged, instead of just nods and smiles. There is occasional banter between the runners and the joggers, about who is faster or gets the right of way. Moms stop and chat while their babies doze in their Ergos. And as more and more people come out from behind their big gates to talk about the weather, their dog, the house that just sold down the street, or the Giants chances this year, I am starting to recognize my neighbors. It is a good feeling.
There is no denying the vitality of urban spaces. Big cities are exuberant and lively and full of an energy that can make even tired neighborhoods feel somehow vibrant. My brother Dan, whose multi-media project on Oakland’s 880 freeway continues to inspire, believes that cityscapes are the loveliest landscapes. There was a time when I agreed with him. I can still feel my heart lift a little bit when Oakland’s ports come in to view from the freeway, and I will never tire of viewing San Francisco from any angle (my favorite will probably always be from the Larkspur Ferry as it heads in to the city, close second being from the Marin headlands). But the more I live in quiet places, places just ever so slightly removed from the hustle and bustle of the center, the more I believe that these are the places I am meant to be. It is the quiet places that, given the chance, I seem to love most deeply.
Perhaps it is because the quiet places sneak up on you – their vitality is not striking and screaming at you, not evident at a glance or from a tourist bus. But it is there, waiting to be discovered. Neighbors constructing a chicken coop together, a fence being built ever-so-carefully to allow the branches of a live oak to stretch through, motorcycles surprising you with their rumble as the stately retirees down the block head out for a Sunday ride. I can hear birds calling all day long through my open windows, and the near-constant breeze here on the hilltop rustles through all those trees and has become entirely familiar.
When I get back from my morning runs these days, I usually head straight for one thing: granola. Pancakes and waffles make their appearances on our breakfast table, with occasional eggs or scones or toast. Lately we’ve been on an ojai pixie kick, and the kids love oatmeal or apples with nut butter. But most mornings for me are the same: a smoothie made by my husband (recipe follows the granola recipe), a cup or two of coffee (usually also made by my husband), and granola.
I make granola almost every weekend, and our whole family depends on it throughout the week. If we run out on Thursday or Friday, there is a lot of hemming and hawing seen around the pantry, as we try to find something else that will do. We eat if for breakfast, yes, but we also use it as a dessert on top of yogurt, as an afternoon snack, and to make granola-filled waffles. My recipe is pared down, ultra-basic, almost not a granola at all (perhaps it is actually a granula?) It has no sugar, but gets sweetness from maple syrup and crunch from how it is baked. It is not an exuberant granola – no fruits or seeds or overly-sweet clumps grabbing at you. It is a granola that sneaks up on you.
For me, it is the quiet (yet crunchy) taste of home.
Salted Maple Pecan Granola
This recipe makes enough to fill one gallon jar. We fill a half gallon jar on Sunday morning, and put the rest in the freezer, to replenish the jar later in the week. It is also nice right out of the freezer though, if you are using it as a dessert topping or snack. You could certainly make a half recipe, since this makes a lot – but you might well end up needing to make more mid-week :)
Note that this granola sits in the oven overnight, so you will want to make it in the evening, after you are otherwise done with your baking. When you get up in the morning your house will smell amazing and you will be greeted by pans full of crunchy golden deliciousness.
10 cups rolled oats
2 cups rough-chopped pecans (or almonds, also very good)
2 cups coconut chips (NOT shreds, but chips)
1 tablespoon salt
100 ml olive oil
250 ml maple syrup – grade B, or a mixture of B and C
Pre-heat your oven to 285 F and line two baking sheets with parchment. In your largest bowl, thoroughly mix the oats, nuts, coconut chips and salt. In a liquid measuring cup, mix the olive oil and syrup. Pour about a third of the liquid into the oat mixture, and stir for a minute. Pour another third and stir another minute. Pour the final third and stir until everything is evenly mixed and all liquid is incorporated, a minute or two more.
Spread evenly over your two baking sheets, then put them in to the oven on a middle rack. After twenty minutes, stir the granola and rotate the pans. After twenty more minutes, stir and rotate again. After twenty more minutes, turn off your oven. Leave the granola to sit in the oven overnight. In the morning, put it in to air-tight containers, and place in your pantry or freezer. It will keep for quite a while in the freezer, and for a couple weeks in the pantry – though ours is never around that long.
This is not so much a recipe as a formula, and it is not so much mine as my husband’s. Kyle is so much the smoothie-maker at our house that if I ever am the one to do it, Jacob gets nervous and says “You know, Daddy is really good at blending. Maybe you should ask him to help you.” Since we can’t all have Kyle make our breakfast smoothies every morning, I’m sharing his master technique with you instead. Yum.
1, 10 to12 oz. bag frozen berries (strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, or mixed)
3/4 cup plain kefir and 1-2 tablespoons strawberry jam, honey, or other sweetener
OR 3/4 cup strawberry kefir
Optional add-ins: ground flax or chia seeds, or fresh squeezed orange juice, or fresh fruit chunks (mango or berries are especially good – melons are not good, since they are very watery). If you use orange juice as your liquid, you can reduce or eliminate the kefir – add some plain yogurt if you’d like the flavor and protein.
Put all the ingredients in your blender pitcher the night before you want to make your breakfast smoothie. Put the pitcher in the fridge overnight (the berries will soften this way, and everything will be ready to go when you are rushing around in the morning). When you are ready to make the smoothie, put the pitcher on the blender and blend on your lowest setting for about fifteen seconds, then turn it to medium. Keep blending until you get a vortex in the middle and everything is liquified. (You can add more kefir or juice if you aren’t getting a vortex, or you can eat your smoothie with a spoon, like blender ice cream).
Serve cold. (Extra servings will keep for a day in the fridge, and can be used to make a treat out of your afternoon snack on a hot day or to start tomorrow’s smoothie).