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Is this a mess, or just part of the creative process?

Discuss…

Thanks to everyone for these submissions! The judges have met, and the winner is…

Reader Cathy!

We loved how her haiku seemed to fit with this spiral-covered buddy. He seems like an artsy type who just wants to be free and creative and can’t be caged in.

We will get this in the mail soon. There will be many more opportunities for readers to win hand-crafted stuff, so keep checking back.

Today is National Elephant Appreciation Day.  Is it REALLY?  Google it. Yes. It is (thanks Mom for the link! – if NPR says it’s such a day, then it must be true) and we’re celebrating here at L.P.E.

Apparently some guy was so especially enamored with the giant beasts that he began collecting all sorts of elephant things:  shirts, figurines, pens, hats, costumes, etc.  And then one particular day (September 22, I suppose) in 1996, he decided, “Well, hey.  I like elephants so much, I am going to declare it National Elephant Appreciation Day.” And so he did.  I’m not making this up. Perhaps paraphrasing the story a bit, but seriously.  The story is true!

And so, in honor our very own Le Petit Éléphant and to celebrate his very special day, we’ve dressed him up and given him some sass and are giving a print of him away to a lucky reader.

Doesn’t he look spiffy?

To win Mr. L.P.E. all dressed up in his green swirly suit, write us an Elephant Haiku in the comments.  We’ll choose a winner, who will receive the above print (on beautiful aquarelle 14olb watercolor paper, printed and marked in hues and tints of green watercolor marker).  Once we’ve chosen a winner, we’ll (well, I will) write your Haiku underneath here:

in similarly spiffy caligraphic fontiness, and send it straight to you.

Quite an easy way to win a prize, don’t you think?

Happy National Elephant Day, everyone!

This guy, right here:

Gordon. Gordon Benzickle, so called because Mark used to call me Anna Benzickle (I can’t remember why, he just liked — wait, still likes — giving me nicknames) and since Gordo was to be my dogson, I had to give him my last name and so Gordon Benzickle he was then, is now, and forever shall be.

I was prompted to write this post after Gordon was bitten on the face this weekend and I was confronted with his mortality. It wasn’t a terrible bite, just a bit of a gash he got in a mini confrontation with another dog on our walk.  I started thinking of Old Yeller and the rabies and the sad sad scene, and then we got a quarantine order from the Watertown animal people and had warnings and cautions and urgings and. Well, suffice it to say, Gordon is FINE and rabies-free.  But as I consoled him Saturday morning, cleaning the blood from his wounded mouth and as Mark held him still as the vet checked him out, I couldn’t help but think about a day when Gordon might not be with us.  Gordon will be 11 years old (or so, we’re not really sure) this January, and although his wise gray beard might show his age, he still runs and jumps around, chases a tennis ball, and hides his bone like a young pup might do.  We’ve had him six of his now ten years and they’ve been fun and silly and crazy and sometimes (when he used to run away to frolic in western Mass. horse pastures) scary.  But have I loved him enough?  Has he had a good life? Has he been happy here with us?

And why do such good and wonderful and loving creatures, who love us back no matter our shortcomings and imperfections and peccadilloes, and who bark and roll in the grass and smile and play, receive so few years of life when we receive so many more which we selfishly take for granted and spend doing far less fun things?  It’s not fair.  I said the same thing when we lost Gus and Sam last year.  It is not fair.

Gordon has taught me so much. Patience. Love. The life span of a stuffed toy is about 6 seconds. One can do anything with a little encouragement. And that it’s ok to nap…all day.  But perhaps above all these things, Gordon has taught me that life is too short to be doing less than fun things.  He lives life with such happiness and joy.  Look at that grin!  Come on.  Would that every moment of every day I had a grin like that on my face–what kind of life would I live?  How might my day be different if I got as excited about the little things as he gets over a small treat, a new smell, or a double layer dog bed?  Oftentimes I see walks as a duty, a chore, yet the moment we say the word “walk” or even motion towards his leash he goes jumping crazy.  Gordon will hear the sound of a spoon scraping out the last bits of ice cream from a bowl and come running from another part of the apartment to have just the slightest chance of licking the bowl. And yes, we always let him.  He stands beneath the fridge whining… looking at us… looking up at the snacks he knows are on top of the fridge… looking back at us… back at the fridge… back at us.  He knows that we know we can’t stand his cuteness.  And he knows when I’m sad, or sick, or down.  Because he’ll come jump up in bed and put his head on my thigh.  Sometimes he’ll stand a little bit closer a little bit longer so we can run our hands from head to tail and gain a bit of calm after a busy day.

Oh, sweet Gordon.  I love you.  I hope you know it.  I hope I show it.  I hope I can be more like you.

I was on a granola kick this summer. I’ve tried many kinds and have had some good stuff and some, well, let’s just say it was wicked sugary and not-so-granola good for you.  One would think granola was supposed be to good for you, right?  Oats. Nuts. Seeds. Maybe a little dried fruit even? At its base, yes, methinks it’s full of good natural wholesome foodstuff.  But then you add all the nasty high-fructose corn syrup and other unmentionable (and un-pronounceable) ingredients that you find in the store-bought stuff and YUCK! I don’t even want to know what they’ve put in the box to make it taste so good.  Crack maybe? Who knows.

All I do know is that granola is good. Granola is great. I like granola A LOT.  I was buying soooo much granola and aside from it being “Très Expensif” (I know, not French, but it’s my Franglish for “I spent all my dollars”) it probably wasn’t that good for me.  So I sought a new alternative.  There are many many recipes out there to try, and so try I did.  And, come to find, it’s super duper easy to make, depending on the ingredients, a healthier alternative (at least you know what’s going in!!), and, again depending on the ingredients, a fairly low-cost treat.

So, here we go.

Let’s Make It: Granola

There are three main parts to the granola:

1. Oats — Duh! As I’ll describe later, you can add more to this part, however I think starting with oats is a pretty good bet.  They provide a good base for the add-ins and are soooo good for you (heart-healthy, a good source of vitamins and minerals, and gluten-free).
2. Fats — This can be any edible oily substance, and depending on the fat content and/or taste you prefer, is really up to you … Canola oil, peanut butter, a light olive oil I’m sure would work, melted butter, etc.
3. Sugars — Sugar works with the fat to create an almost caramely coating for the oats and helps them stick together with all the add-ins.  Again, depending on your preference for sweetness vs. health, the sugars can vary … I’d suggest a combination of brown sugar, honey, maple syrup, molasses, agave nectar, etc.

Take your oats, a fat, and a sugar or two, mix it up, bake it, and you have a very basic granola.

But that’s boring.

Frankly, you can add whatever you want to the general mixture and get a pretty good product so feel free to experiment and get creative, as long as you have one of each of the three bases.

You might try:

  • flax seed (whole or milled)
  • wheat germ
  • crispy rice
  • nuts of various kinds (walnuts, almonds, macadamias, pine nuts, etc.)
  • seeds of various kinds (sesame, poppey, sunflower, etc.)
  • dried fruits

Really the granola add-in world is yours to explore.

Here’s a recipe adapted from cdkitchen. I’ve changed things around a bit to our own taste and have experimented a bit with different add-ins.  Again–get creative!  It’s granola.  And aside from burning it, you really can’t mess up.  Or at least I haven’t messed up yet, and I am definitely accident prone.  Feel free to share your mixtures and experiences with experimenting in the comments.

First, set your oven to 300 degrees.

Then, collect your tools:

  • Rubber Spatula
  • Cookie Spatula
  • Parchment Paper or Silicon Baking Mat
  • Rimmed Baking Sheet
  • Giant Bowl
  • Whisk or Wooden Spoon
  • Liquid Measuring Cup
  • Small Saucepan

Then, collect your ingredients (these were ours):

  • 4 Cups of Old-Fashioned Oats
  • 1/4 Cup of Brown Sugar
  • 1 1/2 Cups of Chopped Nuts (we like sliced almonds, but choose what you like or keep ’em out and add a cup more of oats)
  • 1/2 Teaspoon of Salt
  • 1/2 Teaspoon of Ground Cinnamon
  • 1/8-1/4 Cup Canola Oil (or any other liquidy fat you choose)
  • 1/3 Cup of Honey (you could use molasses or real maple syrup or a mixture–I add enough maple syrup to the honey to make 1/2 Cup of liquid)
  • 1/4 Cup of Apple Sauce (we use all nature no sugar added)
  • 1 Teaspoon of Vanilla
  • 1 Cup of Dried Fruit (I like dried blueberries!)

Mix the Dry Ingredients (Oats, Brown Sugar, Cinnamon, Salt, Nuts, Dried Fruit) in the Giant Bowl:

Use a wooden spoon or whisk to work together the dry mixture:

In a saucepan, mix together your liquid ingredients (Oil, Honey, Vanilla, Apple Sauce) on the lowest heat:

You just want to warm them up and get them mixed together.  DON’T LET IT BOIL!  Just warm it up a bit and get everything mixed up nicely.

Then add the warm liquid mixture to the dry mixture:

And give it all a good stir with a spatula to scrape the sides of the bowl and get everything evenly coated:

Get your baking sheet and cover the bottom with a sheet of parchment or a silicon baking mat.

Then pour the mixture on to the baking sheet:

Flatten out the mixture with your spatula so that it’s about 1/2 inch thick or so and goes all around the edges of the pan like so (Mark is doing a really good job!):

Now pop it into the oven for baking.

It bakes 40 minutes, stirred every 10 minutes to be sure it’s getting baked evenly and doesn’t burn on the bottom.

To stir, push the granola from the sides of the sheet into the middle and then press it out again:

If you have a helper or two, you can take turns stirring every 10 minutes.  Mark and Gordon are very good helpers.

During this process it will still be sticky but not crispy.  Don’t overbake!  The crisping happens during the cooling.  The baking helps to caramelize your sugar/oil concoction around the oaty mixture but won’t make it crisp.

Once the 40 minutes are up, pull it out of the oven and set the sheet on a rack for cooling.  Let it cool 30 minutes.  Then use your hands to break up the pieces.  Your granola may be more brittle or more chewy depending on the different items you put in.  If you have a food dehydrator you could put it in there to get it really nice and cracking.  The latest batch we made was more on the chewy side but still yummy yummy.  My sense is that it will get more crisp as it ages.

Store it in an airtight box for up to 2 weeks, if it will even last that long!

It’s great with yogurt or milk or soymilk with fresh fruit, or even just on its own as a snack.

However you choose to eat your granola, enjoy your home made treat and the satisfaction of knowing all the yummy goodness that’s in it and the joy that went in to making it and in discovering something new and tasty. Might I suggest sharing the recipe with friends, and not your granola. Or you might just find yours is all gone!

I’ve been bad.  Very very bad.  Not a very good blogger lately. And I have no excuses to give.  Well.  I do, but they’re not very good ones and I wouldn’t expect you to accept them.

So tonight I’m back on the blog wagon.  I hope to be diligent.  One blog, AT LEAST, per week.  But definitely one.  I want to share more recipes (one coming tonight on make-your-own-granola).  I want to share more how-tos.  I want to do less ranting and more chit-chatting.  More exploring.  More sharing.  AND I want to do some give-aways.  I just feel like giving stuff away.  Not random crap I have around the house, but good stuff.  Like homemade stuff.  Last week I gave away 5 “Mount Holyoke – Smart Women Know It” stickers via twitter (follow me at @annapbennett) to the first five tweeps who wanted them.  And it was AWESOME.  Five lovely Mount Holyoke women emailed and I sent them little notes with their winnings.  It was so fun and such a simple way to connect with my fellow MoHo women.  I got a little tweet back today from one of the lucky ladies, a current student, who said she received hers in her Blanchard Box today.  Made me smile real wide.  So yes.  More giveaways. Like.  Snap. Let’s do a giveaway RIGHT NOW!

I will send 5 lovely homemade up-cycled hand-folded envelopes like these:

to one lucky reader who answers this question – What’s your favorite color and why?   I hope there will be more than one commenter, so I’ll do a drawing for the prize and will announce the winner here on LPE tomorrow night.

More giveaways, just like that.

Ok.  Off to make Mark some dinner.  Warm soup and grilled cheese.  It’s chilly outside (I know, I biked home in a t-shirt and shorts–dumb!–and my knuckles and knees are just now thawing out).

Talk soon.

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