Counter Action: Banana–maple granola

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Yes, it’s still Sugar-Free January.

Yes, I know maple sugar is technically a sugar. My dad’s a diabetic, and people are forever coming up to him at church potlucks and saying, “I know you’re diabetic, so I made these cookies especially for you. They have no sugar, just maple syrup.”

Pro tip? Don’t be that person. Google is your friend.

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Further pro tip: Do be the kind of person who thinks ahead in December, and specifically resolves to give up all refined sugars in January except for maple syrup.

See, I’m taking care of you. We all need a little diet-cheating now and again, and if that cheat is all-natural and comes from a tree, all the better.

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This was the break room today — arrgh, so tempting.

This granola will make your house small aaahhh-mazing. It’ll make your boyfriend’s (or girlfriend’s) nose twitch and heart soften. You’ll sit down to hot bowls of granola, straight out of the oven, and wonder how you both got so lucky.

Granola: It’s what’s for dinner.

Banana–maple granola

(Modified for Sugar-Free January from Minimalist Baker)

Ingredients:

  • 3 c. old-fashioned rolled oats (not the quick kind)
  • 1 c. chopped nuts (whatever you have on hand; I used a mix of walnuts and pecans, but sunflower seeds or honey-roasted peanuts would be nifty too)
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 T. cinnamon
  • 1/4 c. olive oil
  • 1/3 c. maple syrup
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1 overripe banana, smashed

Directions:

  1. Combine all ingredients in large bowl.
  2. Turn out onto baking sheet (lined with parchment paper if you’re like me and don’t like doing the dishes). Spread evenly over baking sheet.
  3. Bake at 350 degrees F 25–30 minutes, or until golden brown, stirring once or twice to break up clumps. (Unless you like clumps. Clumps can be good too.)
  4. Serve straight out of the oven with milk and fruit, or room-temperature with the same. Enjoy!
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Browned butter banana bread with toasted pecans

Do you remember meeting your significant other’s family for the first time?

Do you remember what you wore? How nervous you were? Whether your significant other gave you hope, or reasons to fear?

(“Aunt Jeannie will be there. She … um. Well. You’ll see.”)

I just met my boyfriend’s parents and brother last month, and now that Christmas is here, I’m slowly meeting everyone else. The aunts. The uncles. The best friends and their girlfriends/fiancées/wives.

It’s been interesting. They’re all fiercely protective of my boyfriend, as well they should be. They’re all lovely, sweet, welcoming people, but I’ve been doing some serious PR work on my own behalf, let me tell you.

Fortunately, part of my strategy is baking, and everyone loves baked goods. For my first visit, I took apple crisp, which swifly disappeared. For this visit, I took banana bread. I accidentally left the eggs out, but you know, the bread still hangs together pretty well.

Just like this relationship will, I hope. Just like my relationships with this family will, going forward.

Here’s hoping.

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Browned butter banana bread with toasted pecans

Ingredients:

7 overripe bananas, mashed

1/2 c. buttermilk

2 tsp. vanilla extract

1 c. butter, browned

4 c. flour

1-1/4 c. sugar

2 tsp. baking soda

1 tsp. salt

1 tsp. cinnamon

1 c. chopped pecans, toasted

Directions:

  1. Dice butter into small saucepan. Cook over low heat until just barely nutty-brown. Remove immediately from heat.
  2. Combine butter, mashed bananas, vanilla, and buttermilk.
  3. Toast pecans over medium heat in medium saucepan, stirring frequently. Remove when toasted, and combine with flour, sugar, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon.
  4. Fold dry ingredients into wet ingredients, and stir to combine. Pour into two loaf pans.
  5. Bake 60 minutes at 350 degrees. Let cool before removing from pan and enjoying.

Counter Action: Baked oatmeal with pear and raspberries

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Five years ago, I was not much of a cook.

I didn’t need to be, really. I had to eat most of my meals in the college cafeteria, and for the rest of the time, I could get by with toast and fruit.

Everything changed when I moved to Poland for a year. All of a sudden, I was not only living on my own in a tiny village, I was also earning a modest stipend and in serious need of a hobby. Cooking was really my only option.

Well, cooking or shopping.

Cooking or shopping or romping through Eastern Europe on my own.

But I went with cooking.

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How many people can brag that their dining room, their living room, and their bedroom are all the same room? Yeah, be jealous.

When I was packing for Poland, I hadn’t planned on teaching myself how to cook while I was there, so I’d only brought one cookbook. Fortunately, my flat had fantastic wifi, so I figured I could find some good recipes online.

I was wholly unaware, you see, of the concept of food blogs. You can imagine my delight when I discovered first Joy the Baker, then the Pioneer Woman, and then Smitten Kitchen, whose recipes formed the majority of my “to try” list.

This baked oatmeal, from Joy the Baker, was one of the first things I baked in my tiny oven. That appliance would go on to host scores of other experiments, from granola to calzones to rosemary challah rolls, and the baked oatmeal was a delightful christening. I topped it with some fresh gruszki (“GROOSH-kee” — pears) and maliny (“mah-LEE-nee” — raspberries) I picked up at a farmer’s stand down the stand, using my extremely fractured Polish. It was mid-September, I was nervous about teaching, and I knew the winter would be no picnic. But for the time being, it was enough to have something warm and fresh and delicious to look forward to.

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Baked oatmeal with pear and raspberries

(based on Joy the Baker’s baked oatmeal with fresh raspberries and pistachios)

Ingredients:

  • 1-1/2 c. old-fashioned oats (not the quick-cook kind — they’ll get soggy)
  • 1/4 c. brown sugar
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp. nutmeg
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 c. milk
  • 3 T. butter, melted
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • splash of vanilla extract
  • 1 pear, cored and diced
  • 1 c. fresh raspberries
  • milk for serving

Directions:

  1. Combine oats, brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, baking powder, and salt.
  2. In separate bowl, combine milk, butter, egg, and vanilla.
  3. Combine wet and dry ingredients. Pour into greased loaf pan.
  4. Bake at 350°F for 20–25 minutes, or until the middle is pretty firm.
  5. Let cool for 5 minutes. Spoon into bowls and top with pear, raspberries, and milk. Leftovers will keep in fridge for 1–2 days.