Nutty cherry chocolate coconut flapjack granola bars

What? Cherries and chocolate and coconut and nuts? And oats? Is this possible? Indeed it is, and its delicious, too. My boys like granola bars, and believe that they’re a healthy snack. I believe that granola bars are just cookies disguised as a healthy snack. And they remind me of the English version of flapjacks, which I love a lot. I have no problem with my boys eating cookies, or other sweet snacks, but if they’re going to eat something unhealthy, I’m going to make it for them myself, dammit! For some reason I feel better knowing that they’re getting actual butter and sugar rather than processed blizz blazz. It might seem silly, but there it is! Plus these have oats and nuts and fruit, so there’s some good with the bad. Obviously, you can throw anything you like in there! Don’t not make them because you don’t have all of these specific ingredients! I had fewer chocolate chips than I thought, so I threw some mini M&Ms left over from Isaac’s birthday into the mix.

I think of oats and chocolate as being ultimately comforting. And I’ve always wanted to make a playlist of empathetic songs. Songs like the magnificent It Hurts Me Too, by Elmore James. So I’ve compiled such a list, and I love it, so far. Some of the songs might be more sympathetic than empathetic – it’s a fairly liquid shift from one to the other, isn’t it? But they’re all supportive and comforting. Can you think of any songs to add to the list?
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Deconstructed tapenade (With castelvetrano olives and french feta)

Deconstructed tapenade

Malcolm has standardized testing all week. These last few weeks he’s been working on essay composition. I decided to write this using the methods he’s been taught. Here we go…
“My goodness, look at those!” She cried, jumping back in surprise. [Narrative grabber] “Castelvetrano olives! I never thought I’d find them in a market so close to my home.” She bought as many as she could afford, and then her eye was caught by a creamy white cheese. “What’s that?” she queried. [Try not to use the words “said” or “asked”]
“Well,” responded the vendor, a short, pleasant woman with dark brown hair, [describe all the characters in detail], “It’s French feta cheese. Would you like a taste?”
It was the most delicious thing she’d ever eaten. [hyperbole] Creamy and juicy, with a nice salty edge, but much milder than Greek feta. She counted out her coins and bought a small slice.

There are several reasons I like castelvetrano olives. One is that they’re very pretty. They’re as green as serpents, as bright as spring grass, and as shiny as emeralds. [similes!] They taste so good, too. They’re have a very vegetable-y taste, they’re fresh and buttery and mildly salty. [List reasons and support with details and examples] I thought the feta would go very well with them, and as I drove home with little packets of each on the seat next to me, my mind whirred with the possibilities. I wanted to make a tapenade, but not puréed – I wanted to retain the taste and texture and pretty colors of the olives. I thought of all the things I could add. Tart cherries would add a touch of sweetness, chopped hazelnuts would add a bit of crunch, and tarragon and chervil would lend their intriguing lemon/anise zing. Plus they’re half of that band “Les fines herbes.” They’re the bassist and the drummer, I think.

To conclude, I love castelvetrano olives, and I was surprised to find them at a market near my home. I made them into a chunky sort of tapenade that had a lovely mix of flavors and textures. It was delicious on small toasted pieces of baguette. We ate every little bit, and I was tempted to lick the bowl! Who knows what we’ll have for dinner tonight? [The conclusion should restate what’s already been said, in a slightly different way, but try to leave the reader wanting more with a takeaway ending.]

Here’s Chunky but Funky by Heavy D, to listen to while you chop olives for your chunky tapenade.
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Gateau basque (with quince & black currant jam, and chocolate covered cherries)

gateau basque

My mom recently gave me a book called Cuisine moderne et vieilles recettes. She bought it in Belgium, when she was an au pair there. I’m having such a nice time reading it! I don’t speak French at all, really, but I studied it in high school and college, so I recognize some words, and then I’ll use google translate to try and understand the rest. (“Put a bead on the mold of lacking, in the basement, before boiling the under wall?!?” Okay, I’m on it!! Sounds delicious!) My mom wrote some notes, in french, on some of the recipes. It just kills me! It’s the same handwriting she has today. I’d like to be there making the recipe with her! I admire my mom so much. She’s so brave and thoughtful and full of energy. She went from Kansas to Belgium, and she’s been more places since than I will ever visit in my life. And she travels with curiosity and empathy. She seems fearless, sometimes (but I know she’s scared of loud bangs and high heights) .

I’ve had to skip over some passages (and pictures) in the book, that talk about rabbits and livers and tongues (it’s a lot like reading Mrs. Beaton, actually!). But I was very taken by a picture of Gateau Basque. I’ve been fascinated by the idea of anything Basque since I read Bridle the Wind, by Joan Aiken. (The best children’s book author ever!) One character, a Basque girl, was fiercely, stubbornly independent, and so appealing. I love the idea of a region between Spain and France (both plenty fascinating on their own!) with its own language, its own music, its own history, and its own food. So I had to make this gateau basque – at least my poorly interpreted version of the recipe! It turned out dangerously delicious! It’s like a giant butter cookie or jam tart! It’s rich and dense and sweet. You had the choice, in the recipe, of filling it with pastry cream, but, it said, “…ou mieux, avec de la confiture de cerises (ce gateau se prépare géneralement avec de la confiture…)” So I was going for the jam, because that was better. I decided on a very Claire-y combination of quince jelly, blackcurrant jam and … Chocolate covered cherries. I was worried the whole thing would be too sweet, but Malcolm rejected his piece because it tasted bitter to him. And David said he’d like this cake for his birthday! Done and done, my love!!

I’ve just been doing some reading about Basque music. This is amazing! Martxea Albokeagaz, by Maurizia, Leon eta Basilio & Fasio. Smokes! It sounds gaelic, arabic… wild and beautiful!! I’ll be learning more about this!
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Cider pancakes and winter fruit compote

Tuesday was Mardi Gras, as everybody knows. We didn’t have wine in the morning, but we did have some breakfast at night! I’ve talked before about my love for pancakes. There’s something so comforting and, sigh, I hate to say it, because this word has been advertise-speaked to within an inch of its life, there’s something so wholesome about them. (It’s actually quite a nice word, if you think about it!) When I was younger, I remember thinking that if I ever got pregnant, I’d want to eat pancakes three meals a day, because a baby made up of pancakes was sure to be sweet and happy. Silly, but true. (I didn’t do that, of course, but my boys are still mostly sweet and happy, I think!) And I’ve always loved eating pancakes for dinner. You feel like you’re getting away with something, even if you’re 42 years old. And we ate them with whipped cream – even more transgressive and exciting. The whipped cream was mixed with maple syrup, and it was deeeelicious. We also had fresh strawberries, as a treat. And I made a compote of fruits. (“Compote” is another word that I love! Compote!) I love the smell of fruit cooking – apples and cinnamon, for instance, because applesauce is a compote. I made a mix of things that are regularly (and not-too-expensively) available in the winter – dried tart cherries, pears, orange juice, and black currant jam. Bright, tart, sweet. I’ve been eating it for breakfast since tuesday, mixed with granola, but it would be good with ice cream, too. It’s like a distillation of summer smells and flavors for a February day. When we were growing up we called crepes “flat pancakes,” so, of course, we called fluffy pancakes “fat pancakes.” That’s what I made for fat Tuesday, and I made them with apple cider, cinnamon and ginger. They’re really tasty, and easy peasy.

pancakes!

Here’s the Carter Family’s Chewing Gum, because it’s been in my head all morning! She mentions apples and pears, which is why it’s in any way remotely connected to this post. Can I just say that I heard this song for many years before I saw that it was called “Chewing Gum,” and it was a huge surprise to me that those were the lyrics. That’s not at all what I heard!
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Chocolate chip fruitcake

In which we present a fruitcake you actually want to eat

Chocolate chip fruitcake

The poor fruitcake. It’s become a joke, hasn’t it? Well, I was thinking the other day that there’s no reason you couldn’t make a fruitcake that people actually want to eat. I’m not a big fan of candied fruit, so the first step, for me, was to get rid of that. I’ve substituted dried fruit – cranberries, cherries, apricots and golden raisins. All things that are delicious on their own, and which add a pleasant tartness to the dark, sweet, spicy cake. And then, of course, I added bittersweet chocolate chips. Because everything is better with chocolate chips!! And you know how lots of fruitcakes have brandy sprinkled on at the end? Well, this one has a coating of bittersweet ganache with rum in it.

You could bake these in regular cake pans, but for some reason (because I’m crazy!) I wanted them to be more unusual shapes. So I baked one in a casserole dish, and the other in a little straight-sided unusually shaped bowl that my friend Peter made. I wanted to cook them for a long time, because Mrs Beaton cooks her fruitcakes for, like, 3 hours! Mine only took a little over an hour. And if you use regular cake pans they’d probably be done in 1/2 an hour.

The smell of this cake is intoxicatingly christmas-y, so let’s dive right in with The Maytals’ Happy Christmas

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