Monday, 20 July 2009
that which is strange, that which is sweet
When I was 19, as part of a one year escape from the world of college in San Diego, I spent a week in Vinsobres. A tiny village in the south of France, Vinosbres is mostly fields and vineyards, with a few stone buildings thrown in. I stayed with the Monier family in an apartment above their wine cooperative, where all day and night the heady aroma of fermenting grapes wafted through the hot air.
Being harvest time, I was left to my own devices for most days. I took walks at first, but there didn't really seem to be anywhere to go. Next, I dove into the French translation of The Great Gatsby. Then after a few days of becoming very intimate and very bored with my travel dictionary, I found the refrigerator.
A refrigerator full of leftovers (pigeon legs, carrot mousse, pig trotters), cheeses that smelled of stagnant swamps, and several bottles of Martini in a variety of colors. I would take breaks from Gatsby, nibbling here and there, taking tiny sips of Martini Rouge, and foraging in the box of chocolate biscuits that always sat on the counter.
The foods were all new (except the chocolate cookies), and I always surprised myself by wanting more. The scarier it looked the curiouser I was. The stranger the taste the more I craved another bite.
This summer, my family is hosting a girl, Louma, from this same village. And although our refrigerator contains plenty of recognizable cheese, olives, and meats for her to sift through, I'm sure there are a lot of oddities as well.
It's easy to forget how strange the simple things are. Yes, we eat pizza and pasta and salad and grilled chicken, all fairly ubiquitous in both the US and France. Both we also have tacos, frozen yogurt, and eggs for breakfast. We have wasabi peas, corn on the cob and blackberry pie. The list goes on, and I'm sure there are plenty of foods tucked into the corners of our cupboards or fridges that for Louma, are entirely bizarre.
For instance, granola.
This weekend Louma tasted her first granola. Of course they have cereal in France, even oatmeal. But granola only comes in the form of müesli, it's untoasted cousin. Raw oats, dried fruits and nuts, all make their appearance in müesli, just like granola, but with the addition of oil and heat, it's a whole different game.
The granola Louma tasted was an adaptation from Melissa Clark's recipe that appeared in The New York Times this week.
Sweet and salty, tangy and spicy, this concoction of fruit and nuts is so addictive I ate it for three meals, that is three additional meals to my normal food day. I just couldn't stop.
I'm sure I fueled all those stereotypes about the never-ending appetites of Americans, but with the cardamom and the apricots, the olive oil and the coconut, the maple syrup and the pistachios, how could I stop myself?
I've talked about my obsession with salt and olive oil before, particulary when combined in sweet dishes. There is something about that savory quality of good olive oil that marries so well with sweet and salty. And the excuse to have this combo every morning? It's almost more than I can handle. In fact, it was. I made a half batch, thinking that the full 9 cups that Melissa Clark's recipe was slotted to make was a little overboard.
But in two days my granola was gone, polished off sprinkled hot from the oven over vanilla ice cream, then the next morning with peaches and yogurt, and then eaten the rest of the afternoon into the next morning by the handful. My Dad (not usually a granola-head) and Louma both had a big bowlful.
I'm telling you, it's dangerous stuff. But if you feel like you can handle the temptation, by all means, make the full batch. Make it and see if you can leave it only for the early hours of the day. Make it and think of all the delicious foods to be made and discovered, for yourself and for traveling French girls.
Melissa Clark's Olive Oil Granola
tweaked from The New York Times
makes 9 cups!
3 cups of your favorite oats
1 1/2 cups cups raw pistachios, hulled
1 cup raw pumpkin seeds, hulled
1 cup unsweetened coconut chips
3/4 cup pure maple syrup
1/2 cup good quality olive oil
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cardamom
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 cup chopped dried apricots (I used Blenheim, my favorite)
1) Preheat oven to 300 degrees.
2) Mix all ingredients, except apricots, in a large bowl.
3) Spread mixture on a baking sheet. Bake 35-45 minutes stirring every ten minutes. (Mine only took 35 minutes because I made a half batch. Adjust accordingly.)
4) Let cool. Mix in apricots. Store in an airtight container.