An open letter to Aunt Jemima

Dear Aunt Jemima,

When I was a little girl, you were the cornerstone of my weekend. My father would assume control of the kitchen (and when that happened we knew it was either steak or pancakes) and, with whisk in hand, would add one egg, one cup of milk, and a tablespoon of vegetable oil to a cup of your famous pancake batter – never “just add water” for my old man!

Back then, you offered a buckwheat pancake mix that is no longer available but it was well-loved in our house and I thank you for introducing me to that most wholesome of non-grains. 

Living in Quebec, we always had real maple syrup with our pancakes –  we never got in to your version of pancake syrup; sorry. But the real deal is, well… you can’t compare, and probably shouldn’t use so much caramel colour in an attempt to make your syrup look like maple syrup, cause it’s so misleading. Anyway. Maple syrup: That’s the point of this letter.

The pancakes were eaten in a stack, with a pat of butter melting on top. Dad would meticulously cut a wedge out of his stack and push the perfectly aligned, triangular layers of pancake through the syrup, sopping up a bit of melted butter along the way. To this day, when my dad makes me pancakes on Sundays (with your pancake mix) that’s how I eat them, too.

But Aunt Jemima, I have a problem. You see, maple syrup is so good on pancakes. It’s so good that naturally, one tries it on lots of different things to see if it will be good on that, too. And when one needs to sweeten things, one feels generally better about using maple syrup, produced right here in Gaspesie, and made of sap, than one does about using sugar that comes from some unsustainable plantation paying slave wages 10,000 km away.

So maple syrup finds its way onto daily oatmeal. And into batches of granola. Into chili, even! Into the cornbread that goes with the chili. It finds itself stirred into the plain yogurt that is purchased because normal yogurt is way too sweet, on top of the granola that is already sweetened with maple syrup. And before you know it, a family of 4 has consumed 3 gallons (that’s 12 litres here in Canada) in 9 months.

However, when I dropped 150$ for maple syrup, way back in May, I really, really thought that it would last longer than this. “It’s an investment!” I told myself as I wrote the cheque.

So as we emptied yet another can of syrup, Ben and I decided to limit our maple syrup consumption to weekends only. 

Aunt Jemima, you can see were this becomes a problem. Especially since I finally caved and bought a waffle iron, with grandiose plans to make and freeze giant batches of super healthy, multi-grainy-seedy waffles so that they’d be toaster-ready for weekday mornings!

The reason I’m writing to you, dear Aunt Jemima, is that you had the foresight to create an alternative to maple syrup. Albeit, a poor alternative… but that’s where I’m taking this. I look to you and your kerchief for inspiration.

And here it is. 

A far cry from box pancakes! A waffle so naturally sweet and tasty, it doesn’t need syrup! A carrot-apple waffle, with, in this case a dollop of crème fraîche (cause we had some, and, well – enough said) and a little sprinkling of vanilla sugar and sliced almonds – for presentation purposes only.

You could go the carrot-cake route all the way here and whip up a little bit of cream-cheese icing which is also excellent on these waffles but the nice thing about these is that they are kind of like muffins disguised as waffles, so you don’t really need to put anything on them at all!

My other idea was to make an apple-fig compote for these and other waffles, and also for oatmeal. But then I realized that 12 litres of maple syrup in 9 months for 4 people translates roughly into the equivalent 3/4 of a tablespoon of sugar per person, per day – and all of a sudden, that doesn’t seem worth all the effort of finding alternatives! So, dear Aunt Jemima, I’ll see you the next time I’m at home with my dear ol’ dad, and we’ll be sure to pour lots of maple syrup all over our stacks of perfectly round, perfectly delicious, pancakes from a box. Till then, yours in syrup,   Holly xoxo

Apple-Carrot Waffles

Adapted unabashedly from smittenkitchen.com

1 cup spelt flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon table salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1 tablespoon poppy seeds + 1 tablespoon sliced almonds or other nuts

1 large egg
2 tablespoons packed brown sugar
1 cup buttermilk
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup finely grated carrots

1 cup grated, peeled apple

Use the food processor if you have a grating disk – the big holes for the apple, the small holes for the carrot, to ensure it cooks properly.

Mix up the wet ingredients separately from the dry, then add the wet to the dry, adding the carrots and apple to the whole mix and mixing just to combine. 

Go for a longer cook on your waffle iron or make them as pancakes if you prefer!

They freeze well, too – if you let them cool first, just stick a layer of wax paper between the already – frozen-on-a-cookie-sheet waffles, and pop a stack into a plastic bag. Eggo, eat your heart out!

ready for the freezer
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You’re granola!

When I used to work for a certain outdoor school, we used to play this game – well I never thought of it as a game, until my friend Kimberley told me that she tried to explain “this game” to someone recently. The game is, someone says a word. At this point, they don’t know they just started the game. Like, let’s say they say, while contemplating their snack, “I love bananas”. Then you continue the game by saying, “YOU’RE bananas!”  So it’s like a pun game. But you can keep it going. They can retort with, “I’ll show YOU a banana!” or something similarly witty.

It’s become a popular game in my house and it’s especially ridiculous to do it with someone whose first language is not English. However, if the person who “starts” the game is not familiar with the game, it can make you seem a bit silly.  You know, the guy you hired to build your deck says, “I need a squarehead, not a philips” and you say, “YOU’RE a squarehead! Hahahhahaha!”  I likely do not have to describe to you what happens next, especially if you live in Quebec. Anyway, either he could counter with, “I’ll show YOU a squarehead” – which would be a pretty good one – but more likely than not, he’d look blankly at you and go get his screwdriver his damn self, and then stop letting you help build your deck.

All this to say, I was munching a big bowl of granola just 5 minutes ago and thinking, I love granola! and then retorting to myself that I WAS granola, haha, which is actually funny-ish, because I have been accused of being “granola” once. Or twice.

A little granola in the making? Look at that chunk!

But really, I don’t love ALL granola. I am quite particular. Recently in the nice food store in Gaspé they started carrying this gourmet, “euphoric” granola that cost 15$ a package. Talk about getting your hopes up. Finally one day I indulged myself and bought a bag, to my utter disappointment! Blech! It hurt my jaws and it wasn’t even that tasty and I think it was stale. So I started the hunt for a granola recipe that would make me and my jaws happy. Oh, and that Mr. “Nut Allergy” would be able to eat. (I’ll show YOU a nut allergy!)

So HERE it IS! I have to say I am convinced that this is the best granola ever. So much so that I hesitate even putting the recipe here cause I thought about packaging the stuff and selling it, for 14$ a bag at the nice food store here. But then I remembered that dog hair gets into everything I make in this kitchen so I’d never get approval to sell my stuff in any store.

This recipe is infinitely adaptable to whatever ingredients you do or do not have “training” in your cupboards. There are a few basics and then the rest is up to you. The key is the cooking. You can make it chunky or not depending on how much you stir during baking.

It makes a whack of granola, I keep some out in a nice glass jar and freeze the other half so that it doesn’t get stale.  

Crispy Granola

Adapted? I think so.. From SimpleBites.net

Preheat the oven to 300 F and line 2 baking sheets with parchment OR grease them lightly.

Mix together the following in a saucepan and warm (don’t boil) over medium heat till the sugar is dissolved (you can play with the spices as much as you like):

2/3 cup maple syrup, agave syrup (ew) or honey

1/3 cup brown sugar

1/2 cup canola oil or light olive oil

at least 1 tsp EACH cinnamon & ground ginger

1/2 tsp ground cloves

1/4 tsp EACH grated nutmeg & black pepper

This stuff you will mix together in your biggest bowl:

500 g or 5 cups large-flake oats (i.e. not quick oats or – god forbid – instant!)

2 cups various nuts and/ or seeds. I like a combo of sliced almonds, pumpkin seeds and sunflower seeds.

1/2 cup wheat germ, oat bran, bran, whatever.  All or none, doesn’t seem to matter much.

1/2 cup buckwheat flour (or other wholegrain flour) – I think this is one of the secrets to the clumps, so don’t skip.

1/2 cup unsweetened coconut

1/2 cup sesame seeds.

Once it’s all mixed, add the warm liquid to it and mix, mix, mix. 

Spread the mixture evenly on 2 baking sheets and pop them both into the oven. Rotate the pans after 15 minutes and decrease the heat to 275F. Bake for another 15 minutes. Add any dried fruit you want (raisins, cranberries, apple, apricot, FIGS yes figs!) and then turn off the oven and put the baking sheets back in till the oven is cool. This crisps things up nicely.

Now, the stirring: if you like clumpy granola, (I think the word is “clusters”), DON’T STIR during baking! It will be like one giant granola bar and when you undo it into your bowl there will be lovely clumps. (see mini-granola girl above holding clump example) (YOU’RE a clump example!). However, if clusters are not for you, go ahead and stir when you rotate the pans and when you add the dried fruit (I’ll rotate YOUR pans!).

even a 3-year old can put it in a jar.

That’s it! Enjoy on yogurt, ice cream, with milk, on oatmeal, in a baggie, or just sitting in a pretty glass jar on your kitchen table for weeks on end till I come over and re-possess it.

Slow Espresso, fast oatmeal: A new foodie movement for those with kids

I don’t think I need to start this blog with a definition of Espresso. We all know what that is, and why I want one at 6:05 am on a saturday morning. However, a bit of background knowledge to lead us into the point I will subsequently make:

The term “espresso” comes from the Italian language, the English translations [of] which include both “quick” and also “expressly for a special purpose”. Both of these definitions suggest the original intent that inspired the invention and perfection of Espresso, in that satisfying the inherent urgency and ego of human nature, people wanted their coffee personally made for them as quickly as possible upon their requested demand. Espresso perfectly satisfies these human desires given its very quick brewing time…. (http://lrs.ed.uiuc.edu/students/tchen3/espdifine.html)

That’s exactly why I wanted my espresso this morning. After trying in vain to not hear Elsie whimpering in her crib, I finally hauled ass out of bed at 6 am and told Ben to sleep in. I took Elsie downstairs to find that Frida had made herself breakfast!

That’s right, in her words, “uncooked hot cereal”. In a coffee filter. With water. Yum.

"J'ai fait des céréales chaudes pas cuites...Mais, c'était pas très bon..."

well, yeah. Of course it wasn’t good. She much prefers it without water. But more on that later.

So I got that cleaned up, but still had 2 girls who needed to eat. So I got out the Cheerios, poured a couple of bowls, and turned on the espresso machine. 6:10 am.

“Encore”, said Elsie. She still had most of her cheerios, but I poured more in there to buy myself some time, and got the coffee beans into the grinder.

“Encore”, said Elsie. Another Cheerio top-up and I got the milk back from the girls to heat up for my latte. In pot, on stove. 6:12 am.

“mama, can I have a pamplemousse?” said Frida, as she poured more cereal into the lake of milk in her bowl, and all over the table, and all over the floor. Broom, dustpan, dog hears cheerios hitting floor and decides to come downstairs, 6:15 am.

Dog needs to go out. Elsie wants more cheerios, I say no. Anger ensues. Nose needs wiping. Dog whines and ticktacks across the floor back and forth. More anger from Elsie with threat of cereal bowl being pushed off table. Elsie removed from table. Dog pants and crosses his legs. I  put on my coat and take the dog out in my flip flops. Elsie screams in the vestibule. Dog pees, decides not to run away, comes to the door, I open door, hit Elsie on the forehead with the doorhandle, she topples over, more screaming, much snot. Milk boils over on stove. 6:22 am.

I calm Elsie, help her to eat her cereal. Frida wants grapefruit, toast, cheese, juice, muffins, and more Cheerios. She can pour the milk herself, so that saves time. I manage to peel Elsie off my lap and go grind the coffee. Only a tablespoon or so ends up on the counter. I hop over to the espresso machine while Elsie holds my legs together and whines. 6:30 am.

I can get the skin off the boiled-over milk and froth it with one hand, so I do that with Elsie in my other arm, but when I turn around, Frida has gotten into Ben’s gum stash and is inspecting each piece to see if it’s minty or fruity. I leave the milk to sort out the gum. I turn back to the espresso machine and push the button. 6:35 am.

Frida wants to read a book, and have her face painted, and maybe show Elsie where the coffee filters are kept, but I manage to get the espresso into the cup and the milk follows. It’s 6:37 am. There are crushed cheerios, milk puddles and coffee grinds all over the floor that Ben just vacuumed yesterday. The stove is encrusted with burned milk. I haven’t eaten yet and there are no more cheerios. But I have a latte.

Good thing espresso is “quick”.

To come back to the “fast” part of this post – I think there’s something to this uncooked oatmeal thing – it sure cuts down on cooking and blowing-on-it-while-babies-are-hungry-and-crying time!  Not to mention, compostable dishes. So if I can get her used to eating her oatmeal like this, I might be able to make myself a coffee in less than 35 minutes!