Fruit & Nut Granola

Jump-start your new year’s resolution to eat healthier by making a batch of fruit & nut granola! It freezes well so you can enjoy it with milk or yogurt throughout the start of the year.

Before Christmas my mom and I were browsing the baking section at the store, when we excitedly came across barley malt syrup (look for it in your natural foods store next to the molasses). It added a nice malty depth of flavor to the granola, but next time I think I’ll use more so that the flavor is more pronounced. For whatever reason, the dark brown color and the viscosity made me use it more sparingly than I should have. But the nice thing about granola is that if you (for the most part) keep the proportion of oats, oil, sweeteners, and mix-ins, you can add any combination of things, depending on what’s in your pantry. For example, we used half olive oil and half melted butter, a combination of barley malt syrup, honey, and maple syrup, and whatever nuts were in the freezer (almonds, walnuts, and pepitas). I’m sure every time we make it, it will be different!  How fun!

And it’s not too late to surprise someone with a homemade gift! We love these glass jars we found at Dig in Santa Cruz. They come in several shapes and sizes for gifting your granola in a variety of ways (or storing it for yourself, of course).

Fruit & Nut Granola

(Adapted from Smitten Kitchen)

6 cups old fashioned oats
1/2 cup olive oil
1/2 cup melted butter
1 cup chopped walnuts
2/3 cup green (hulled) pumpkin seeds (pepitas), not roasted
2/3 cup chopped almonds or pecans (or whatever nut floats your boat!)
1/3 cup maple syrup
1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup barley malt syrup
pinch of cinnamon
pinch of cardamom
pinch of allspice
pinch of salt
1 cup dried apricots, diced
1 cup dried cranberries
2/3 cup dried currents

  • Preheat to 375 degrees.
  • Stir together all the ingredients, except the fruit, in a large bowl and stir until combined.
  • Line 2 large (17-by 12-inch) rimmed baking pans with foil, and then parchment paper.
  • Spread mixture evenly onto pans. Bake, stirring occasionally, until golden brown (be careful, it browns quickly towards the end), 20-30 minutes. Rotate pans halfway through baking, if one is on the top, and the other is on the bottom.
  • Transfer granola, in the pan, to a cooling rack, continuing to stir occasionally for about 30 minutes. When cool, stir in the dried fruit. Transfer to airtight containers and freeze, up to one month.  If you leave it out, the fruit will soften it, but it will still taste delicious.

I have to share some pictures from Levi’s first Christmas! Here he is about to open his stocking on Christmas morning:

I’m pretty sure the best thing about Christmas was the wrapping paper and boxes!  Yippee!

We hope everyone has a safe, festive, and fun New Years!

Eating Honey Roasted Almonds for Two

Lots has been going on around here! I’ll give you a hint – I stopped liking cooked vegetables or anything sautéed with garlic. I haven’t been wine tasting at Bonny Doon or had a pint at Santa Cruz Mountain Brewing for months. I’ve been eating Pillsbury toaster strudels for breakfast and an occasional Jack ‘n the Box “Homestyle Ranch Chicken Club Sandwich” for lunch. These days I could live on cereal, bagels with cream cheese, and raw, sliced tomatoes and red bell peppers. Oh, and after making these almonds, add them to the list! Are you catching on? It appears this is the cause of my food issues:

We’re having a baby!!! This picture was from 12 weeks … can’t wait to meet this little guy/gal around April 22nd! Now, I hope that you’ll forgive the lack of blog updates lately. Finally, I have a good one for you.

A few weeks ago, Dustin and I drove down to Banning, CA to learn how to can from his Grandma. We helped make strawberry Jam, bread & butter pickles, and Gram’s famous chile sauce. It was a fun family weekend! After our canning work was through, and the men left to go golfing, my sister-in-law Courtney and I needed a snack. She had brought 2 huge bags of fresh almonds from the orchard in Modesto and we immediately thought of honey-roasted almonds. After looking at several recipes, we decided to trust Blue Diamond’s recipe – can’t go wrong with the ingredients: almonds, honey, butter and sugar. It uses turbinado sugar (sugar in the raw) which is actually better for you than white sugar, so they’re *slightly* more guilt-free. It was really hard to stop eating these, so I used the excuse of having to eat for two 🙂 We actually made two batches of these; in the second batch we added some cinnamon to the ziplock bag at the end. We definitely recommend trying both versions!

Honey Roasted Almonds

2 cups whole, raw almonds
1/4 cup honey
2 TBS. butter
kosher salt
1 cup turbinado sugar (“sugar in the raw”)

  • Spread almonds on a baking sheet. Roast in a 350° oven for about 10 minutes, stirring after about 7 minutes.
  • Over medium heat in a medium saucepan, bring honey and butter to a boil. Reduce heat to medium low and simmer 2 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  • Add almonds; simmer and stir 2 minutes.
  • Using slotted spoon, transfer almonds to a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or sprayed with non-stick cooking spray. Spread in single layer. Sprinkle with kosher salt.  Cool slightly.
  • Pour the sugar into a large Ziplock bag. Add the almonds, secure bag tightly, and shake until well coated with sugar. Transfer to a bowl and enjoy (with some self-restraint — you’ll need it!)

Blast from the Past: Muddy Buddies

Do “Muddy Buddies” belong on a food blog? Or any recipe that you can find on the back of a cereal box for that matter? Heck yes. Why not? I want to say my brother and I ate these all the time when we were kids, but when you’re young you often exaggerate the frequency of things. The more likely story is that we ate them several times, but were totally psyched when we did. So … I’m bringing them back for you today! And because you (okay, I) don’t need 9 cups of these in my refrigerator (unless you have a huge family), I’m going to write the measurements for half a recipe, which is more than enough in my opinion. I made them on the stove top, because back when I was little we didn’t have a microwave yet! Aw, those were the days. Or in Japanese, Natsukashii!

Muddy Buddies/Puppy Chow (whatever you want to call it!)
(From the Chex® box, of course!)

4 1/2 cups Corn Chex® cereal
1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips (I used a coarsely chopped chocolate bar instead)
1/4 cup smooth peanut butter
1/8 cup (2 Tablespoons) salted butter
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 cup powered sugar

  • Place the cereal in a large bowl. Set aside.
  • In a saucepan over low heat, melt the butter. Add the chocolate chips (or chopped chocolate) and peanut butter and stir until chocolate is almost melted. When almost melted, turn off the heat and continue stirring until mixture is smooth.
  • Pour the chocolate/peanut butter mixture over the cereal and gently stir. Make sure cereal is evenly coated.
  • Pour coated cereal into a 1 gallon zip-lock bag. Add the powdered sugar. Seal bag securely and shake well until cereal pieces are well coated.
  • Spread on waxed paper or a baking sheet lined with plastic wrap to cool.
  • Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator.

Birds, stay away from my Honey-Nut Granola Bars!

Since granola bars are difficult to find in the land of the rising sun, I decided to make them! I was really happy with how these turned out. I used the recipe on the Quaker Oatmeal website, but I added salted almonds because who doesn’t love sweet & salty together. You could also add chocolate chips, any chopped dried fruit, or coconut, or substitute maple syrup for the honey for a different flavor.

4 1/2 cups Old Fashioned Oats (or 4 cups Quick Cooking Oats)
1 1/2 cups chopped nuts (such as walnuts and/or salted almonds)
1 cup brown sugar, firmly packed
3/4 cup butter (170 g), melted
1/2 cup honey
1 tsp. vanilla
1/4 tsp. salt

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees (180 C)
  • Combine all ingredients in a big bowl and mix well.
  • Press firmly into a jellyroll pan (15-1/2 x 10-1/2 inch)
  • Bake 12-15 minutes or until golden brown and bubbly* 
  • Cool completely, and cut into bars. Makes about 24 “Nature Valley-size” granola bars.

*A note on baking time: Japanese ovens don’t like to make things crispy. My granola bars were chewy, but a regular oven may produce crunchy ones. Both are good results!

You’re probably wondering what these granola bars have to do with birds. Well, yesterday we ventured out into the rain to visit Kobe Kacho-en, a bird & flower garden in Kobe. We walked around in a giant green house, ooh-ing and ahh-ing over giant lily pads that were just begging to be walked on, flowers that looked like they belonged in the Amazon, and baskets hanging above our heads cascading with colorful blossoms. Then we transitioned to the bird rooms: a duck, swan, chicken, and crane room; a penguin room; a tucan room– slightly scary because the birds swoop down over your head and you can feel the air from their wings–and lastly an owl room, featuring species from around the world, both big and small. In each room you could purchase a small paper cup of bird seed to feed them. They also sold bags of shelled walnuts and almonds in the gift shop (an anomaly in Japanese grocery stores), meant for your pet bird, but we got excited about them too!

Indoor Jungle

HUGE lily pads – aka stepping stones

“Purple ribbon flower”

New friend


Bouquets in the air



Goat Cheese Quesadillas with Caramelized Onions & Fresh Basil

Before heading off to our Christmas party/gingerbread man-decorating-extravaganza, I wanted to jazz up our usual weekend lunch, so I came up with these quesadillas using things that were hanging out in our refrigerator. I’m obviously not the first to come up with this combination, but they were so light and tasty.

  • Spread a thin layer of goat cheese (I used a soft, spreadable variety) onto a flour tortilla.
  • In a frying pan, heat a small amount of olive oil and throw in some sliced onion. Cook, stirring frequently over low heat until light brown.
  • Remove onion slices and place them on the spread goat cheese. Chop up some fresh basil and sprinkle on top, then cover with a second tortilla. Cook in the same pan that you cooked the onions in, a few minutes per side.

    Hummus, Baked Pita Chips, and Cherry Tomato, Cucumber & Feta Salad

    A bell chimes as we push open the heavy glass door and enter Kokoro (which means “heart”), a bakery the size of our pantry back home. A short lady with a round, smiling face greets us, saying, Irashaimase (welcome!) We grab a green plastic tray and a pair of tongs hanging from a small rack. Then we choose from a variety of Japanese-style (white & fluffy) or European-style (more dense and crusty) breads, all within an arms reach. Among the overwhelming variety in that small little space is homemade pita bread, hiding on the bottom shelf, between the orange rolls and the azuki (red bean) scones. We grab a bag of it and rush home to make these baked pita chips.

    Baked Pita Chips

    pita bread, halved and cut into triangles
    olive oil
    garlic powder
    paprika or chili powder

    • Lay the pita triangles on a baking sheet. Brush one side with olive oil. Sprinkle with any seasonings you like.
    • Bake in a 350 degree oven (180 C) for 15-20 minutes, depending on the thickness of your pita bread, or until browned and crunchy.
    • Serve with hummus

      Don’t ever take your ingredients for granted. I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve planned to make a recipe, and then realized that I can’t find at least 1 or 2 of the ingredients in our supermarket (or anywhere in Japan for that matter!) . Today was no exception. Hummus. We’ve been craving hummus. We found canned garbanzo beans at the import food store, no problem. But tahini was nowhere to be found (surprising, in a country that loves goma — sesame seeds). We also had to use a blender (resulting in a much creamier texture), since a food processor was apparently not among the furnishings in our “furnished apartment.” This is our tweaked hummus recipe that you can use, whether you’re in Asia or not.


      1 can garbanzo beans, drained
      a swig or more of olive oil
      1 small clove of garlic (sauteed in olive oil for a few minutes, if you want a milder garlic flavor)
      2 heaping spoonfuls of plain yogurt
      juice from 1/2 a lemon
      salt & pepper to taste

      • Place the beans, garlic, yogurt, lemon juice and small swig of olive oil in a blender (or if you’re lucky, a food processor)
      • Blend, add a little more olive oil, and blend again until the consistency is to your liking
      • Add salt & pepper to taste, along with any other spices you have around (cumin, chili powder, etc.)
      • Refrigerate until you’re ready to serve.

      We also made a made a quick “Greek” salad of sliced cherry tomatoes, cucumber and crumbled feta cheese, dressed with olive oil, white wine vinegar, and some oregano. Everything went really well with this wine that we found at the import store!