Cranberry Almond Granola

In the winter, when the snow is high and spirits are low, we head to the mountains to heal. We leave our lives behindour responsibilities, our technology, our connection to the rest of the worldin search of a lungful of fresh, pine-scented air. The long, curved mountain roads guide us towards the peaks, leading us to our home for the weekend.

When the sun stretches toward the heavens, we strap skis to our feet and fly across the landscape until our legs grow unsteady; when the sun falls below the sky, we rest near the fireplace, laughing, holding this feeling of family close. Our fears, our worries, our stubborn doubts fade and we remember, once again, how to become whole.


Packed along with the winter gear, I brought a batch of granola to share among ourselves. The hearty grains were the start we needed in the dawn of the morning hours. During our stay, clouds hung heavy over the sky, releasing large, white flakes by the hour, enclosing the mountain with an opaque fog. The light, however, had a quality of warmth and wildness unknown to me in the Midwest. I could not resist the moment and pulled out my camera to capture the breakfast, the rough wood floor, and the trees blanketed in white.

The mountains teach lessons that cannot be learned from books; the mountains teach lessons that are learned directly through thin, crisp air, tired legs, and eyes full of wonder.


In other (exciting!) news, I am so honored to announce that Pastry Affair has been nominated for Saveur Magazine's 2015 food blog awards in the Best Baking & Desserts Category! It is your endless support that has brought me here, and I want to take a moment to say thank you. It means everything. I feel privileged to be listed among such talented company. 

To vote, head over to Saveur's website, take a moment to register, and select your favorites

Cranberry Almond Granola is textured and hearty, made for early mornings and days that are demanding. Almond butter is sweetened with honey and spices to give the base a full, natural flavor. Coarsely chopped almonds and dried cranberries are thrown in to add character. Serve with a thick yogurt or drown in a swirl of your favorite milk. 

Two Years Ago: Pita Bread, Homemade Pita Chips, and Almond Joy Candy Bars
Three Years Ago: Coconut Pineapple Banana Bread, Sundried Tomato Basil & Brie Spread, Strawberry Balsamic Jam, and Strawberry Honey Oatmeal Bars
Four Years Ago: Cereal & Milk Bars, Vanilla Almond Cupcakes, Banana Pudding, and Devil's Food Cake

Cranberry Almond Granola

Yields 5-6 cups

3 cups (270 grams) old-fashioned oats
1/2 cup (85 grams) quinoa, uncooked
1 cup (140 grams) whole almonds, chopped coarsely
1 tablespoon chia seeds (optional)
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/3 cup (78 ml) coconut oil, melted
1/3 cup (80 grams) almond butter
1/2 cup (170 grams) honey
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 egg white (optional)*
3/4 cup (120 grams) dried cranberries

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F (170 degrees C).

In a large mixing bowl, stir together the oats, quinoa, chopped almonds, chia seeds, cinnamon, and nutmeg. In a separate bowl, whisk together the melted coconut oil, almond butter, honey, vanilla, salt, and egg white until uniform. Pour the liquid ingredients over the dry and stir until evenly coated.

Spread out evenly on a baking sheet and bake for 20-25 minutes, or until golden and fragrant. If the egg white was omitted, stir halfway through baking; if it was added, do not stir the granola and leave it to set while baking. Cool completely before storing. Stir in dried cranberries.

*The egg white binds the granola together for a chunkier texture, allowing you to break it apart into small or large pieces of your choosing. If you prefer a looser granola, omit this ingredient.

Coconut Almond Quinoa

A new year brings a fresh outlook and a clean slate. The last few years I have wavered in my thoughts toward resolutions. I have made them (and kept them), made them (and ignored them), and refused to make them in the first place. Last year, while buried deeply in work and stress, the prospect of trying to improve anything about myselfwhen I could hardly stay afloat to begin withseemed almost laughable. As we enter into 2015, I feel quite similar to last year: too tired to think up a list of resolutions. I know that I should be thinking positively, taking time to imagine a better self, but I'm writing this after an eleven hour work day and, with a pile of work to still sift through before bed, I'm struggling. 

Instead of putting even more pressure on myself by resolving to cook healthy meals or to take advantage of the gym membership I have been paying for (but not using) the last three months, I am going to switch it up and resolve to teach myself a few new tricks.

While baking comes quite naturally to me, cooking is entirely something else. Seasoning dishes, cooking meat, or dreaming up new dishes are not tasks I feel comfortable with (nor am I good at any of them). For this reason, I want to learn to truss and roast a proper chicken. I intend to go back to old episodes of Julia Child's The French Chef and let her show me the way.

I have never made a batch of perfect macarons on my own. After buying four pounds of almond flour, this will change.

As I have said a dozen times before (and I will say a dozen times more), I adore reading. Earlier this year, without space for a bookcase, I bought a Kindle to encourage myself to delve into the books again. While I didn't think I would enjoy a digital reader, I surprised myself by loving everything about it. This year I want to make time to read more books, even if it is just setting aside a few minutes before bed. 

And, as always, find the inspiration to keep baking.

For the past few years, I make a sweetened quinoa for breakfast each morning, finding it a filling and satisfying way to begin the day. With a new year upon us, I thought a new recipe of an old favorite seemed suitable. The quinoa cooks in coconut milk, becoming creamy and subtly flavored. When cooked, almond butter is added for a nutty undertone and maple syrup is swirled for sweetness. A topping of chopped almonds and toasted coconut complete the ensemble. Best of all, this makes a large batch, which can be heated for breakfast throughout the week.

One Year Ago: Almond Date Banana Smoothie
Two Years Ago: Candy Cane Cupcakes, Chocolate (Dairy-Free) Ice Cream, Peanut Butter Banana Oatmeal, and Raspberry White Chocolate Scones
Three Years Ago: Peppermint Hot Chocolate, Green Tea Coconut Ice Cream, and Chocolate Lavender Cupcakes
Four Years Ago: Peppermint Ice Cream, Banana Cinnamon Muffins, Vanilla Pear Milk, and Cranberry Chocolate Chip Cupcakes

Coconut Almond Quinoa

Yields 3-4 servings

14 ounces (414 ml) full-fat or light canned coconut milk
1 cup (170 grams) quinoa, rinsed and drained
2 tablespoons almond butter
1-2 tablespoons maple syrup (adjust to personal sweetness)
Chopped almonds
Toasted coconut flakes
Splash of soy or almond milk

In a large saucepan, stir together quinoa and coconut milk. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, reduce to low, and simmer for 15-20 minutes, or until tender and liquid is absorbed. Stir in almond butter and maple syrup, adjusting for personal sweetness. 

Divide evenly between 3-4 bowls and top with chopped almonds and toasted coconut flakes. Add a splash of soy or almond milk. 

To store, quinoa can be kept in the refrigerator for several days. Reheat in the microwave, add a splash of milk, and it can be made as a quick weekday breakfast.

Almond Date Banana Smoothie

Almond Date Banana Smoothie

Almond Date Banana Smoothie

It is a new year. When the calendar on the wall is replaced, my mind drifts to thoughts of resolutions and new beginnings—often whether I'd like it to or not. This time last year I shared with you how I felt I no longer needed to make a list of resolutions. I was already keeping both mind and body healthy; a list to remind me to do so felt redundant. This year, however, is quite a different story.

When I took a teaching job and moved across state lines this fall, it threw my life, my predictable patterns and routines, into disarray. Even though months have passed, I haven't been able to get the fragments back in order. I often feel like a puzzle with the outer edges intact, but missing a few pieces in the middle.

Almond Date Banana Smoothie
Almond Date Banana Smoothie

I pay for a membership to a gym I rarely attend. More often than not, it feels as though I'm paying for the privilege of guilt; a packed gym bag sits in the front seat of the car acting as a silent, but continual reminder. As my days are long and filled with the hours of a first year teacher, I find I do not often cook for pleasure anymore. When dinner rolls around, I opt for the least involved option, which is often take out or some version of plain noodles covered in a fried egg. Truthfully, I eat this type of meal half a dozen times a week, throwing nutrition out the window. I miss food, real food.

I have been working on these changes for awhile, however slow progress may feel at times. Just this afternoon I filled the refrigerator with a real, honest to goodness pork roast. Progress. It seems that when the new year slides in, we compile lists of all the things that we are doing wrong, instead of congratulating ourselves for the things that we are doing well. I, too, am guilty of this, if my prior confessions are any indication. It is noble to want to better ourselves, but I also believe that we shouldn't forget how far we've come on our journeys of self discovery. This is perhaps the most important thing we can do.

Almond Date Banana Smoothie

When I was reading quotes about the new year, I was drawn to the one I shared with you above. As a teacher, I feel that for everything I do right in the classroom, there's a misstep that follows, whether it be a genuine mistake or simply something I could have said or explained better. By the day's end, there's a dozen of these little missteps that follow me to bed, before I bury them and start anew the next morning. If I'm making mistakes, whether I'm in the kitchen inventing a new recipe or leading young minds through the field of physics, I'm learning something new. I'm trying something new.

I may not be perfect, never perfect, but I am strong and doing well. I'm making mistakes because I am putting myself out there and trying something new. While some aspects of my life may be neglected now, I'll figure it out. I always do. For your next year, I hope you make mistakes too.

Almond Date Banana Smoothie

Lately I have been craving a good smoothie, but haven't gotten around to making one until this weekend. This Almond Date Banana Smoothie is naturally sweet and has a character all its own. A frozen banana composes the base, a spoonful of almond butter adds a nutty tone, and a handful of dates gives it a rounded flavor. Small pieces of date are left in the drink, giving a nice little treat for each bite. Though this smoothie may be simple, the flavors are sophisticated and perfect for an early morning or afternoon on the go.

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