how we are waiting (homemade nutella)

nutella on toast

These days, I wake up naturally an hour before my alarm. Every morning.

My eyes open, I blink in the early sunlight and I reach for my alarm clock, hoping against reason that it won’t be what it always is: bright blinking numbers signaling 6:30 (or worse, 6:15). Understand, it is not the time that bothers me, but the timing, a full hour or more before I need to wake up, a full hour or more before I need to have my eyes open or my arms reaching for the alarm clock. It’s a matter of waste, really, a waste of precious sleep. At this point, I have two basic choices: I can get up, and I do sometimes, or I can try to go back to sleep, laying there, awake, beneath the giant white cloud that is my down comforter, and I can close my eyes and wait—for sleep to come or for a more decent hour to arrive. In either case, when I do eventually rise, I’ll have to wait for other things. I will go to the shower, waiting for the hot water to come; to the kitchen, waiting for the bread to toast, for the water to boil; out on the roads, waiting for the light to turn green while I drive to work.

hazelnuts

A lot of life is waiting, have you noticed that? And I don’t just mean with the small stuff of alarm clocks and commuting and morning kettles. We wait for graduations. We wait for job offers. We wait for proposals to be made and babies to be born. We wait, many times, for people. I’ve been thinking a lot about this lately, and here is what I want to know: If so much of life is waiting, how can I get better at it?

You hear people say things all the time about enjoying the journey, and I think that’s good. I want to enjoy the hour I have to relax before getting up, especially since there are a lot of tired moms who would wish for exactly that (am I right?). I want to redeem my morning commutes, with the radio, with talking to the One who never leaves me or forsakes me, and when I drive home, with gratitude for the way the sun streaks across the sky at 5:45 PM.

nutella on toast

And, on those mornings when I end up dressed and ready to go a good 30 minutes before I should head out the door, I want to sit at the table, and I want to eat toast with homemade Nutella® on top. It is a simple pleasure, but trust me: it’s one worth savoring.

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Afternoon in Madison

state street in Madison

Every now and then, someone asks me what I like about blogging: Is it the pictures? the food? the travel? And I always say the same thing, that while it is, of course, partly those things, it is much more something else. I like blogging for the people.

People like Jacqui and Caitlin. The three of us met up in Madison Saturday, because it’s only a 2.5-hour drive from Chicago and because Caitlin finds herself there every other weekend, visiting her fiance.

outside of capitol building

We did important things together—you know, like talk photography, both at brunch and at a local shop with the super nice staff that chatted with us about meeting famous people and calling 1970s cameras vintage and seeing the beauty of film:

jacqui with camera

caitlin and camera

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the sneaky one (sweet potato brownies)

sweet potato brownies and milk

You know what food trend I’ve never fully understood? The one about the hidden vegetables. The puree-something-your-kids-won’t-eat-and-bury-it-in-brownies! Add spinach to chocolate cake! Sneak cauliflower in pasta! Do whatever you can to trick them into eating nutrition!

I mean, I think I kind of understand it, or at least the premise of it: if you can add good-for-you foods to what someone normally eats without them noticing, then you get them to eat what they should while also eating what they want. Everybody wins! OK. But the problem is your kids still don’t like vegetables; they like chocolate cake, a chocolate cake that’s lying to them. Maybe I don’t get it because I don’t have kids? You can feel free to tell me what I’m missing.

brownies in pan

Anyway, that said, you’ll see the irony in the recipe I’m about to give you, for what else but sweet potato brownies. Yes, they’re exactly like those crazy sneaky recipes I don’t understand. Yes, they use a pureed vegetable in the middle of a normal dessert. But, I made exception for them and baked them for two reasons: 1) The recipe already called for whole wheat pastry flour, and I like using whole wheat pastry flour in baking, and 2) I was curious, I’ll admit it, to see what a pureed vegetable could add to a chocolate brownie.

(Plus, bonus reason! I had a lone sweet potato in the fridge, begging to be used.)

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that kind of discovery (olive oil granola)

my favorite olive oil granola

There are some things in life that grow on you—places that get better every time you visit, favorite movies that catch you with something new each time you watch, people that seem funnier and smarter and kinder every single time you talk.

With these things, it’s rare you didn’t like them at least a little to begin with; you probably did. It’s just that, for whatever reason, when you liked them enough and kept experiencing them again and again, your affection kept increasing—and in continued exposure, you found the marvelous reality that discovery, even or maybe especially in something familiar, leads to greater love.

That’s how I feel about granola.

granola in the pan

Our back story—mine and granola’s—is pretty ordinary: I had granola bars in the school lunches I made myself in high school. I threw them in my messenger bag in college. I even bought bulk packs at Costco or Sam’s when I worked my first adult job, so I could grab a couple to stick in my purse or to make a quick breakfast on my way out the door. You could say I always liked granola, and we spent many years on good terms.

But. Then sometime after I started this food blog, I decided to make granola (here and then here and then in bars last November, and there was also a batch last December 24 that I never told you about, which smelled sweet with cinnamon and cloves and Christmastime). I know it’s nothing difficult, baking granola. It’s as simple as stirring, spreading and putting in the oven. But over the last year or so, I’ve discovered how much better granola can taste when it’s homemade, fresh out of the oven, fragrant and golden with clumps. I’ve discovered that I like it in a bowl, with milk; spread over yogurt, with or without fruit; eaten straight from the pan, in big fistfuls I bring to my mouth.

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forever, for all mankind (balsamic turkey meatloaf)

turkey loaf in pan

Meatloaf is one of those things it’s not hard to do badly, and we’ve all had the brown mush that proves it, the kind that blends enough vague ingredients to create an end product bearing no resemblance to real food. Try one bad enough, and you’ll never want to eat it again, I know.

turkey loaf

That’s probably why, until last weekend, I’d have been completely happy to live the rest of my life without it. I’d stick to things I could recognize, thank you very much.

But that has all changed.

Hear me out: now that I’ve tasted how good a meatloaf can be—how crazy, crazy good it can be—I know I would have been severely missing out. I was wrong. I was blind. And before you make a similar mistake, try this turkey loaf, which uses ground turkey rather than ground beef to make a flavorful, moist, glazed kind of meatloaf unlike any I’ve had before.

Seriously? It’s enough to redeem the food forever, for all mankind.

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Review: Grow Great Grub

grow great grub

Like I said last month, book reviews aren’t really the emphasis of this site, but we’ll make exceptions. Since Grow Great Grub has inspired me to launch past my existing gardening attempts (i.e., beautiful summer tomatoes and a sad Meyer lemon tree) into the world of potted herbs (stay tuned!), I thought you might like to hear about it, too.

Overall:
I was so excited to get a review copy of this book because the whole point of it is that not only can you garden anywhere, but also you can grow food anywhere —even in the city, even in a small space. Rather than fancy pots or planters, you’ll see gorgeous photos of seeds sprouting in repurposed tins, wooden crates, trash cans, even toilet paper rolls in this book. There’s attention given to making these creative gardens aesthetically pleasing as well as practical, which anyone in a small space would recognize as important and which I think makes the process seem much more approachable and worth trying.

grow great grub inside

The Author:
I love reading about bloggers who became authors, particularly ones who were blogging when I was in high school, which was a time when, let’s be honest, I didn’t know what a blog was. That’s exactly the story of Gayla Trail, who has grown her YouGrowGirl.com site (launched February 2000) into a community of modern gardeners filled with forums and articles, as well as written two books: You Grow Girl: The Groundbreaking Guide to Gardening and now Grow Great Grub: Organic Food from Small Spaces.

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for mid-February

chocolate crunchies

I can’t believe I’m saying this, but: I think I like February.

I mean, sure, here we are, with 49 out of the 50 states having snow somewhere. And sure, being outside too long still makes my nose run and my ears burn, like it did this weekend, when on Sunday afternoon, every! train! seemed to take five extra freezing-cold minutes to arrive, but listen: it’s not all bad.

mixing batter

To start, LOST is back. If February brought us LOST, February is good. I don’t think I need to say anything more than that.

Then there’s the light. I realized last week that the days have hit that point where the sky is still light when I walk to my car at 5:30 PM every night. How fantastic is that? No, really. Dwell on this with me: (almost) DAYLIGHT when I begin driving home, the kind that gradually diminishes and colors the sky and only becomes darkness as I’m parking my car again. This means not needing to turn my desk lamp on at work at all if I don’t want to. It means being able to see my hands in front of my face when I scrape snow off my car. The first day it was like this, I am not ashamed to tell you, I almost cried, that’s how happy I was. People. It only gets better from here! The days will keep getting longer! And then warmer! We are close! We are close!

morsels on baking sheet

And of course also, it was just Valentine’s Day this last weekend, and while I know every blogger has already said something about how much he or she does or doesn’t love this day all about love, I’ll just throw my two cents in: it’s hard to hate a day filled with chocolate. I mean, right?

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