Coco Loco Granola

I can’t believe I haven’t posted this recipe anywhere! I guess I’ve made it so many times, it’s just imprinted itself into my brain. But I know my oldest son loves this stuff, so I’m posting it here in hopes that he’ll try making it himself.

Now, you all know about the Big Granola Racket, right? That it’s really super easy to make your own granola, and that the homemade stuff is way better than the stale dusty stuff you get packaged in the stores? Not to mention way cheaper? Well, just in case you haven’t been enlightened yet, here you go…

Granola  is infinitely adaptable. You can substitute other oils (I’ve even heard of folks using a good, fruity olive oil), other sweeteners (honey, brown rice syrup, even corn syrup), and at the end, you can mix in whatever delicious dried fruit you have on hand (but don’t bake it with the fruit, or you’ll have tooth-cracking nuggets of danger lurking in your breakfast).

Coco Loco Granola
recipe by me!
makes about a half-gallon

1 cup coconut oil (warmed in the microwave until liquid)
1 cup maple syrup (the best you can afford; if you keep it in the fridge, warm it up with the oil)
1 T. water (helps emulsify the liquids)
2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 32 oz. package of Bob’s Red Mill extra-thick rolled oats
2 cups whole almonds (you can chop them if you prefer almond bits but I like ‘em whole)
1/4 cup cacao nibs (I love the ones from Spice House)

Preheat the oven to 275 degrees. Whisk together all the liquids, then stir in the oats, almonds, and nibs. Divide between two large cookie sheets (I use the ones with raised edges, the jelly roll style, with Silpats on them) and bake for about 45 minutes. If you don’t like your granola chunky, stir it every 15 minutes. If you like it clumpier, don’t stir and let it cool in the pan for a while before packing it.

You’ll quickly learn how you prefer your granola… some people prefer it browned and toasted, some like it lighter and chewier. It will harden a bit after it cools. Store in an airtight container or ziploc bags.

For a delicious winter morning treat, pour yourself a bowl of granola, add your favorite milk, and microwave for a minute. Stir and you’ll have the BEST oatmeal ever!

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Lemony Snicker(doodle)s

My dad loves lemons. My mom first caught his attention by baking a lemon meringue pie. When he was blue, I would make batches of lemon bars to cheer him up. But now I’m in Chicago, and he’s in California, and those classic tart treats don’t ship very well. So I searched for a cookie that could survive the trip, with a good wallop of lemon to tempt his appetite. These little gems did the trick! They are made like snickerdoodles, a basic dough rounded and rolled in sugar before baking.

Lemony Cookies
(adapted from a recipe from

2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour (I’ve used gluten-free substitutions with good success)
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup butter, at room temperature
1 1/4 cups white sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Zest of one large lemon
Juice of one large lemon
1/2 cup sugar (even better with a bit of the zest rubbed into it!)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line cookie sheets with Silpats or parchment paper.

Cream butter and sugar until fluffy. Beat in egg, vanilla, lemon zest, and lemon juice. Sift in and mix the dry ingredients.

Scoop into balls using a tablespoon or a #70 disher (one of my favorite gadget purchases EVAR!), roll in the sugar/zest mixture and arrange on cookie sheet about 2″ apart. Bake about 10 minutes; don’t overdo it, though. These cookies are better before they start to brown, a little chewier and less brittle.

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Curcurbita visits Thailand via Italy

I woke up today with a nasty head cold, but didn’t have the chicken thighs, jalapenos, or other ingredients for Tom Yum Gai, my go-to feel-better soup. But I’d seen a Thai Pumpkin Soup on Vanilla Sugar the other day, and decided to give it a go. It turned out AMAZING and I wanted to shout it from the rooftops. Since it’s like 30 degrees out, I’m tempering my enthusiasm down to a blog post instead.

Thai Squash Soup
(Serves 6-8, based on the Thai Pumpkin Soup from Vanilla Sugar)

1 butternut squash (about 8″-10″ long) or small Kobocha pumpkin
1/4 cup coconut oil
1 pound mild Italian sausage
2 T. (or more) Thai Kitchen red curry paste
4 cups vegetable or chicken broth
1 can coconut milk
4 T. fish sauce
4 T. brown sugar
1/4 cup peanut butter
Juice from one lime

Cut squash in half, scoop out seeds, and set cut-side down in a baking pan filled with about 1″ of water. Roast for 60 minutes at 350 degrees, remove from water and let cool. (If you don’t have broth on hand, you could use this cooking water instead.)

Melt coconut oil in a large, heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat, and brown the sausage (remove casing first). Break up sausage into bits while it browns, then remove (but leave the oil in the pot).

Add the curry paste to the hot oil in the pot and let sizzle for about a minute; you don’t want it to burn but you do want it good and hot! Then add the broth, coconut milk, squash flesh (not the skin), fish sauce, brown sugar, and peanut butter and let simmer together for about five minutes.

If you have an immersion blender, plug it in and whiz that mess up to a silky smooth texture. Then turn off the heat, return the sausage to the pot, squeeze in the lime, and give it one more stir.

Top with a bit of cream, a handful of roasted pepitas, a squirt of Sriracha sauce, or just eat it plain.

It felt SO GOOD to eat this! It will be added to our regular rotation for sure. Enjoy!

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Kinda, sorta

You know those awesome yummy little gluten-free, protein-packed Kind bars? That cost a freakin’ arm and leg? I got one at the airport once, desperate after another delay for something even remotely healthy that wouldn’t set off my already stressed immune system into a spiral of regret. Holy cow, was it good! And tiny! And expensive! I figured there HAD to be a way to make them at home. How hard could it be?

Sure enough, Monica over at The Yummy Life had a nice collection to choose from, and since my sweet mother-in-law had just sent me a gluten-free care package that included some unsweetened coconut flakes, I went for the Almond Coconut version. I love these things, and maybe you will, too. My oldest son, Cordell, dubbed them Kinda Bars and for his wit, he’ll be getting a package of them delivered soon.


Kinda Bars
(adapted from the Almond Coconut KIND Bar Copycat recipe from The Yummy Life)
Makes about 30 1″x1″x4″ bars

4 cups whole raw almonds (roast at 350* for about 10 minutes)
4 cups unsweetened coconut flakes (roast at 350* for about 5 minutes… keep an eagle eye on these!)
1 cup puffed millet (found in bags at Whole Foods)
1 1/4 cup honey
1/2 cup Karo light corn syrup
1/2 tsp. salt
2 tsp. vanilla extract

Have a large Silpat ready on a flat surface.

Spray a large mixing bowl with your favorite non-stick spray. Mix together the toasted almonds, toasted coconut, and millet.

In a large saucepan, heat the honey, Karo, salt, and vanilla together (if you spray the measuring cup first, the honey and Karo will slip out easily). Heat over medium heat until the mixture reaches 260* (hard ball stage) on a candy thermometer. WATCH OUT! This stuff can bubble up fast; be patient. It will get to 260* even if you have to keep the fire low under it. Better to wait a while rather than clean up a mess! Stir gently with a silicon spatula or wooden spoon. Don’t let it go over temperature by much; the honey will darken and discolor. Immediately pour the mixture over the nut, coconut, and millet, and mix together quickly. Dump the whole thing onto the Silpat and use your hands and the spatula to shape and pack it into a long rectangle. Tamp it down good and hard!

Wait about half an hour, and use your bench scraper to cut into bar shapes or bite-sized cubes. Wrap individually in wax or parchment paper. Keep airtight (they won’t go bad, they just absorb moisture from the air and get all gooey and sticky).


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Turn! Turn! Turn!

Little kids itch to see the first snowflakes arrive. We seek the first glimpse of the brave crocuses. Summer sort of gently slips into place after spring’s bright plumage fades a bit. But when I think of seasons turning, my mind immediately goes to autumn. I picture the glossy green leaves transforming to a riot of gold, russet, and bronze, I starting thinking about soups and roasts and bread, winter squash and kale at the markets, Halloween and Thanksgiving and bonfires. Yesterday, when my youngest son and I were wandering through the Emily Oaks Nature Center paths, he mentioned that the end of the summer was bittersweet… pretty fancy phrase for a ten-year-old kid!

I came up with this recipe a few years ago, when we moved to Kansas City and were first subjected to REAL seasons (as opposed to the kinder, gentler versions I knew of in the Sacramento Valley of California). Chilly mornings stirred something deep in me, and soon I was stirring things myself.


My 20-year-old son, having just graduated from DePaul University with highest honors, is leaving today for at least seven months to work as an English teacher for the French government. He has always loved these cookies, and I bake several batches every year for him. Today, the first really cool day here in Chicago, I’m making them for him to pack for his journey to the other side of the world. He takes a piece of my heart with him, as well as a few goodies from my kitchen.

Fall Cookies

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1/2 cup sugar
1 egg
1 tsp. vanilla
2 cups all-purpose flour (or gluten-free flour substitute, and a big pinch of xanthan gum)
1 cup rolled oats
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg
1 tsp. freshly grated orange zest
1/2 tsp. salt
1 cup cooked and pureed pumpkin and/or sweet potato (can use canned, but NOT the sweetened/spiced kind)
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1/2 cup pecans (toast for a few minutes whole, then chop)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Cream butter and sugars together until light and fluffy. Add egg and vanilla and mix well.

Whisk together dry ingredients: flour, oats, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, and orange zest (those last two items alone are a great reason to own a Microplane grater, by the way!)

Alternate additions of dry ingredients and pumpkin, mixing well after each addition.

Stir in chocolate chips, cranberries, and nuts.

Drop by tablespoonfuls (I use a dough scooper like this) onto a baking sheet covered with either a Silpat mat or parchment paper. and bake for 10-12 minutes (until the tops of the cookies are dry and spring back when touched lightly). Remove from baking sheet and cool on racks.

Bon voyage, Clayton, and j’espère que vous avez une grande aventure!


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Seasoning for Cordell

My oldest son loved this seasoning powder we got at Costco, Johnny’s Garlic Spread. You sprinkle it on buttered toast and voila, garlic bread! It’s salty with a bit of a bite, loaded with umami, and comes in a giant bottle. What’s not to like?

Well, turns out there IS something not to like. My son Cordell is a vegetarian, and he found out that the cheese powder in Johnny’s is made from Parmesan, which must be made with animal rennet… the lining from the stomach of cattle. We tried to contact Johnny’s to confirm that the “enzymes” listed on their ingredients were indeed animal-based. One receptionist said she spoke to the development people and found that the enzymes were lab-grown; another representative said they were animal-based. Cord isn’t going to take any chances, and so he’s quit using his favorite seasoning.

I decided I wanted to try to make him some kind of replacement, and so the next time I was near The Spice House in Oldtown Chicago, I stopped in for supplies. Once I got home, I pulled out my trusty giant mortar and pestle and went to work. The replacement powder, while not exactly the same, is a darned good copy if I say so myself.

Cordell is leaving for California soon (to work on his PhD in physics at UC Davis, /proudmamabrag), and he asked if I’d give him the recipe so he could make more once this batch runs out. Here you go, Cordell! Enjoy!

Cordell’s Seasoning Salt
1/4 c. granulated garlic
1/4 c. brewers yeast flakes
1 T. salt (I used sea salt, but any kind would work)
1 T. dried basil
1 T. dried parsley

Put all ingredients into a large mortar and grind with a pestle (or use a spice grinder or blender). Once the contents seem evenly mixed and pulverized, store in an airtight jar or bag. Sprinkle onto popcorn, rice, pasta, veggies, toast, anywhere you’d like a pop of garlic flavor!

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Gluten-Free Happy Muffins


I was invited to sit in on an aromatherapy class many years ago. Not much stuck with me, I’m afraid, but one piece of information sank in and has proven to be useful for me over and over: many people associate the scent of oranges with the emotion of happiness. Since then, I’ve put in a few drops of orange oil in a candle diffuser to cheer myself up, or a bit of zest in cookies to perk them up, or just eaten pounds of Satsuma mandarins during the cold dark winter days. Besides holding scurvy at bay, oranges really do seem to facilitate a better mood.

Not that I was feeling bad yesterday… a beloved baby had arrived, we had a lead on an awesome new apartment, one of my writing pieces had been published, and I had suddenly been gifted a whirlwind trip to California. I was feeling really great, and I wanted to celebrate with something sweet and zesty. These little treats did the trick so well, I’m making them again today and sharing them with you!

Note about the chocolate: I’m certain these would work fine with dark or milk chocolate chips, but the white ones add a subtle richness that enhances the delicate orange scent rather than overpowering it. I say this as someone who honestly does not like white chocolate.


Happy Muffins

1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened in the microwave for a minute

1/2 – 2/3 cup white sugar (depending on how strong your sweet tooth is today)

2 eggs

Zest and juice of one large orange (I used Cara Cara oranges, which have a pretty pinkish tinge and unique flavor, but you could use any orange you have on hand)

1/3 – 1/2 cup fine cornmeal (I ground some of my Glass Gem corn in a coffee grinder I reserve for spices and such)

1 1/2 cups Bob’s Red Mill All Purpose Gluten-Free Flour 

Big pinch of xanthan gum

2 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt (a little less if you had to use salted butter)

1/2 cup white chocolate chips 

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line a 12-muffin tin with muffin papers, or spritz with your favorite spray oil, or just grease ‘em up.

Add sugar to softened butter. Beat in eggs one at a time (I have no idea why you do this; I just see it in so many recipes that I figured I needed to say it too so I have Kitchen Cred). 

In another bowl, whisk together cornmeal, gf flour, xanthan gum, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Sift through a medium-meshed strainer into the egg mixture; if a lot of your cornmeal is still in the strainer, run it back through your grinder for a moment (but there will always be a few teaspoons that are too big; toss ‘em out for the birds). Stir together, mix in white chocolate bits. Mixture should be thick and gloopy, more of a quickbread consistency than pancake batter. If too thick, add a bit of milk or water to thin. If too thin, add the flour mix by tablespoons until you are happy.

Spoon into muffin tin and bake for 18 minutes, until inserted toothpick comes out clean.


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