Boys, Bikes, and Bonfires…oh, and a quinoa salad.

I remember three things from a summer camping trip when I was little.

1) Arbitrarily deciding I no longer liked apple juice, to the frustration of my mother who had just handed me a plastic Tupperware cup full (with those impossibly tight fitting lids – remember them?).

2) Running up to three tall wooden ‘Huey, Dewey and Louie’ ducks , patting each on the head, and naming them Mac, Two, and Quack after the campground. Only last summer, while roadtripping from Boston to Moncton, NB did I realize that long-ago campground was in Mactaquac Provincial Park (don’t laugh too hard, my French-speaking friends!).

3) Sitting on a picnic blanket at dusk, excited to be outside in my PJ’s WAY past my bedtime, to watch Bedknobs and Broomsticks on a giant outdoor movie screen.

I don’t have any other specific memories of that trip, turns out I was only about 3 1/2, but I remember the magical feeling.

So this year we argued about packed up the car made the 3:05, 3:35, 4:20 5:00pm Fauntleroy to Southworth ferry, and went camping. With two other families, we had five boys made up of three school friends (7yo) plus an older (15) and a younger (5) sib. The 15 y.o was a doll and I hope we do as good a job with E as his parents have done with him!

Fishing with a reed grass pole

Boys are genetically programmed to poke sticks in fires

Blurry boys. Not my fault, they just move too damn fast!

My speedy kid

It was a busy campground, not super-private, with showers and flush toilets and paved paths and is probably a cop-out to backpacking-with-your-tiny-tent-and-purify-your-own-water types. It wasn’t quite the Walmart of campgrounds though, I’ll reserve that for the one we were at a couple of years ago where some woman in full make up and heels was patiently waiting in the bathroom for the deluxe coffeemaker she’d lugged in to finish brewing.

Early morning blueberry pancakes and coffee. Life couldn’t get better.

Now, I am an admitted coffee snob but this is camping people! No electrical appliances allowed! But our camping stovetop perc had seen better days and so we went with the next best thing: Starbucks VIA baby! Normally I wouldn’t be caught dead drinking instant but we thought we’d try it and VIA totally raises the bar. Seriously, it rocked. The only thing better would have been some freshly ground Pike Place Roast or my fave: tall skinny vanilla latte.

This ain’t your mother’s instant.

The other smart thing we did was make Julie‘s Curried Quinoa Salad with Black Beans and Mango ahead of time. It travels well, is filling and fresh either on its own or keeping a hot dog company. My picky kid with the suspicious palate wouldn’t touch it, but other kids did! And the beans and quinoa give a ton of protein for the vegetarian who was not having hot dogs.

Yes, those white things are onion, but they’re super mild.

Curried Quinoa Salad with Black Beans and Mango
adapted from Dinner with Julie

1 cup (uncooked) quinoa
1-2 ripe mangoes, diced
1 cup diced cucumber
1 red pepper, diced
1/2 cup diced mild onion or 2-3 chopped green onions
1 cup chopped/torn spinach
1-2 cups chopped cilantro
1 19oz can of black beans, drained and rinsed

Cook quinoa according to package directions and put in a large but shallow bowl to cool. Chop the vegetables and toss with the cooled quinoa. Drizzle with the dressing below.

1/4 cup canola oil
2-4 tbsp vinegar (rice, champagne, wine)
1 tsp honey
1 tsp curry powder
1/4 tsp cumin
Whisk to combine and drizzle over the salad. Watch the amount, you might use more or less depending on how wet you like your salad.

Hello Summer! Whole Grain Summer Berry Crisp

I changed my header photo. Like it? Strawberries from my garden, blueberries from the store. Well…that’s not technically true. The strawberries are really from Bob’s garden. He deserves all the credit. I’ve been so lazy this season and haven’t really done much gardening at all (I’m guessing that armchair/backseat gardening doesn’t count).

So with all of these amazing berries staring at me how could I not make a dessert? I mean, Evan likes the crisp part of apple crisp, so this might be a good way to get him to start eating berries. Right? Bob rolled his eyes. “Yeah, you keep telling yourself that.”

Okay fine, whatever. I made it because I wanted it. But I truly did have hopes that Evan would try some. I did make it small. And whole grain. And not a huge amount of butter or sugar.

And Evan didn’t eat any of it. But it was f*cking awesome. Every last bit of it.

Whole Grain Summer Berry Crisp
This is dead simple. Layer the berries in the bottom of the pan. Add a splash of orange juice. If they’re not as sweet as you like, you can sprinkle with sugar to taste. Cover with the topping, dot with butter and bake at 350ºF until bubbly.

2 cups 5 grain rolled hot cereal (or rolled oats if you prefer)
1 cup brown sugar
1 tbsp all purpose flour
2 cups mixed berries
splash of orange juice

Homemade (Nut Free) Granola

Let’s see….on a sunny mountain during spring downhill skiing, in the car with your girlfriends on the way to your X-C ski weekend, on your next flight somewhere, on a warm rock during a great hike, on the field after your kid’s (or your) <insert sport here> game, in your kid’s lunchbox, at the kitchen table after school, on top of yogurt for breakfast…. there are so many ways to enjoy granola! And a myriad of ways you can personalize it. It’s so much cheaper to make it yourself than to get store-bought. For me, with nut allergies, store-bought granola is generally a no-go so I didn’t grow up eating it and have only recently been turned onto it.

The ingredients are as complex or simple as you’d like them. I started with 5-Grain rolled hot cereal, but you can use plain rolled oats of course.

Most people would add sliced or whole almonds, walnuts, peanuts etc, but since that won’t work for the nut-challenged, I discovered that roasted soy nuts work very well. They’re not really nuts, just roasted and salted soybeans. (Of course, that won’t work for the soy-challenged, but hey, I can’t please everyone!!)

Dried fruit adds different textures and interest. I used dried blueberries and cranberries. Shaved coconut would be a good addition too.

But what makes is really great, and super clumpy and cluster-y is the use of peanut butter (soy nut butter for me). I got the idea from Dinner with Julie. When you pour the melted nut butter over the cereal just work it in a little bit and you’ll get these awesome clumps which makes it great for snacking by the handful. Like this:

If you like your granola finer use a bit less nut butter and honey and keep working it in until it gets distributed more evenly. Like this:

Then bake it until it gets toasty. When it’s still hot, pour on the dried fruit and nuts and stir it around before letting it cool.

If you really want it to be a decadent snack with your fave tv show a good energy boost during your long, difficult hike, scatter chocolate chips over it when it’s still hot in the pan. O..M..G.

Let it cool completely and then store it. Everyone stores their granola in 1950’s bar ware, right?

Homemade Granola (Nut Free)

The amounts below will make your granola pretty clumpy. You could make it less clumpy by using about 1/3 cup soynut/peanut butter and 1/4 cup honey. Also, my soynut butter is sweetened already so I tend to use less..some recipes call for both honey and brown sugar. If you use unsweetened PB, you may want to add a bit more. The recipe below is certainly not cloyingly sweet by any means.

3 cups 5-grain rolled cereal/rolled oats
1 cup small pieces of dried fruit
1/2 cup whole roasted soy nuts (or whole or slivered tree nuts)
1/2 cup soy nut butter/peanut butter
1/3 cup honey (it’s also yummy with maple syrup)

In a small saucepan over med-low heat, slowly melt the soynut butter (peanut butter) and warm the honey. In the meantime, dump the rolled cereal/oats in a large mixing bowl. Add shredded coconut if you’re using it. When the nut butter and honey are all liquid-y, pour it over the cereal and stir to combine. When as well distributed as you’d like, spread it out on a cookie sheet with sides.

Bake at 350° for about 20-30 min or until golden, depending on your oven. Take out of the oven and sprinkle the dried fruit and soynuts and stir them in while the granola cools. If you scatter chocolate chips over the top at this point, leave them for a minute or two so they melt over the granola. Swirl them around over the top of the granola with a knife and then leave it to cool completely (it shouldn’t look shiny at all). It will kill you to not eat any at this point but trust me, you do not want all that good melted chocolate going to waste smeared on the pan. You can always stick the pan in the fridge to speed it up if you are so impatient! Store in your favourite container on the counter.

Quinoa Greek Salad

We’re being teased in Seattle now… happens every year in Feb and I always fall for it. We get a few days of sun and the thermometer creeps up toward 50 F (10 C) and the crocuses are poking up and you allow yourself to think “…mmmmm, feels like spring!” and everyone is a little perkier and smiling more… and then… WHAM, you’re right back in blustery, grey, chilly, rainy Seattle winter. PSYCH! I fell for it again. (I’m sure my snow-covered friends in Eastern Canada have absolutely no sympathy for me). So today, being one of those Winnie-the-Pooh days but with my brain pining for warm, sunny breezes, I couldn’t get into typical winter food so I made one of my all-time favourite summer salads.

This is a great use for leftover quinoa. I didn’t have any leftover, but I really wanted the salad so I made a fresh batch but let it cool in the fridge a bit while I chopped the rest of the salad.

And alright…I get that I should not be complaining about the weather here. I realize how blessed I am when I can take oregano out of my own garden right now…I had to search around for some tender new growth since the older stuff is looking pretty ratty, but it was there!

I didn’t measure the veggies for this salad and you really don’t need to either. If you like lots of cuke add lots…only like a bit of olive, only add a bit. You could make this heartier by adding a can of drained, rinsed chick peas or adzuki beans and it’s a dinner on its own. Or serve it as a side dish with grilled lamb chops (ooo, that really sounds like summer!). Had this been dinner for 3 in our house, Bob and I would eat the salad as-is of course, and serve Evan a small “just-take-one-bite” amount, plus the quinoa plain and warm, with sliced cuke and cubed feta on the side, along side some grilled meat (me and Ev) or fish (Bob and Ev).

But since it was just me, for lunch, I had it with some awesome olive bread from Essential Baking Company. I realize that’s kind of redundant, having bread with a grain, but whatever…it was soooooo good!!

Quinoa Greek Salad

1 cup uncooked quinoa (about 3 cups cooked)
cucumber, seeded and diced
tomatoes, seeded and diced
kalmata olives, pitted and sliced in half
crumbled feta cheese
~1/2 cup mild sweet onion
~1-2 tbsp chopped fresh oregano or 1-2 tsp dried
olive oil
red wine vinegar (you can make more or less dressing depending on how wet or dry you like your salad. I usually keep my oil:vinegar at 1:1)

Cook quinoa according to package directions, or use leftover quinoa.  If making fresh, put cooked quinoa in salad bowl, spread out a bit and pop in the fridge while you chop the rest of the salad. If using leftovers, take it out of the fridge and let it come to room temp while prepping the rest. Combine cuke, tomato, olives, onion and feta with quinoa and toss.  In a small measuring cup whisk together about 1/8 cup olive oil and 1/8 cup vinegar along with chopped oregano and a good grind of pepper. Pour over quinoa salad and serve at room temp.

Southwest Style Quinoa and Black Beans

Today is Yesterday was my mom’s birthday so it’s fitting that my first post features one of her recipes (which we had for dinner last night but I found out that I can’t edit a blog post very well on my iPad and was already comfortably curled up and was too lazy to move to the desktop) …anyway,  we both kind of wing this dish instead of following a measured set of instructions. Cooking’s more fun that way! This meal is great because it’s one dish, is full of protein and fiber and tastes amazing…well, if you’re a grown up. Scratch that, it would taste good to a picky first grader too if only he’d actually taste it!

It took a bit longer to make than I remembered, mainly because of the chopping and cooking the quinoa but you sauté the peppers and onion then pretty much toss everything together and leave it until the quinoa is plump and the liquid is absorbed; so it’s relatively low-maintenance. We made this for dinner one night last week but we were still all on holiday with a very relaxed pace and I wasn’t really watching time. Last night was the night before school started again and I couldn’t believe that it was about quarter to eight when we started dinner! So next time I’ll start a little earlier. Come to think of it, it also could be all the crazy photos I was taking while I was cooking, which made the whole process take much longer.

Once the peppers and onions and garlic are softened, add the quinoa and chicken stock (or water if you prefer) and let it simmer until the water/stock is absorbed. Add the black beans (you can also add them earlier…whenever you think of it!) When it’s close to done but there’s still some liquid left in the pan, stir in the chopped cilantro. Serve hot, with (optional) grated cheese and a blob of plain yogurt or sour cream if you’re feeling decadent. It doesn’t really need it though.

So what did Evan have for dinner? Cheese quesadilla. Oh well.

If I’d been thinking, I’d have cooked some quinoa separately for him and offered him that plus the sautéed veggies on the side. But I forgot.

Southwest Style Quinoa and Black Beans (variation on beans and rice)

2 bell peppers, any colour

1 medium onion

1 clove garlic, chopped or minced

2 cups chopped cilantro

1 cup quinoa (white or red)

1 can black beans (drained and rinsed)

2 cups chicken stock or water

Dice the peppers and onions and sauté on medium-high in butter or olive oil until just soft. About 5-6 minutes. Add uncooked quinoa and chicken stock and stir to combine. Lower temp to simmer, cover and leave it, stirring occasionally. When most of the liquid is absorbed stir in the chopped cilantro and black beans (if you haven’t already) and leave for another 5 minutes or so, until the rest of the liquid has been absorbed. You can speed it up by raising the burner temp and removing the lid but you’ll need to hang out by the stove, stirring every few minutes to make sure it doesn’t burn. You really can use any veggies you have on hand (carrot, frozen corn – thanks for the idea mom!). You can also add cooked quinoa (or rice) at the end (this is a good use of leftover rice or quinoa that’s already in the fridge) instead, but I like the flavor depth you get from cooking it all together.