Recipe: Grandpa's Granola

I recently started making my own granola because it is so dang expensive in the store and I like deciding exactly what I want in it -- types of nuts, dried fruit, etc. My grandpa gave me this recipe and it is so good that even Evan has confessed a newfound fondness for the snack. I eat it over plain yogurt with a drizzle of honey.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees
Mix together:
2 cups dry Old Fashioned Rolled Oats
2 cups dry 7 Grain Cereal (your choice, as long as it is a grainy flake cereal)
1 cup Flaxseed Meal (there's my flax friend again!)
1 cup All Bran Extra Fiber (I think I just used regular All Bran)
1 cup shredded Coconut (optional)
1/2 cup Brown Sugar

Drizzle over the top of the dry ingredients, then mix together evenly:
1/2 cup Canola Oil
1/4 cup Honey

Toast in oven at 400 degrees, stirring every 2-3 minutes until evenly browned (about 10-15 minutes, but watch it because the sugar burns easily. Sometimes I toast a few of the nuts too). As soon as it is removed from the oven, stir in the variation of dried fruit and nuts, and mix well. While cooling, stir every 5-10 minutes. Store in a tightly covered container - we bought one of those slick Oxo containers with the pop top at the Container Store (but I'm sure many other stores carry them too).

Dried Fruit/Nut Variations:
1. 1 cup chopped Almonds (I've used slivered too)
    1 cup Craisins/dried cranberries (I've added raisins too)

2. 1 package dried Tropical Fruits
    1 cup chopped Walnuts

3. 1 cup Raisins
    1 cup slivered or chopped Pecans

4. 1 cup Unsalted Peanuts
    1 package dried blueberries

5. 1 cup chopped Pecans
    1 cup chopped dried Apricots

6. 1 cup chopped Walnuts
    1-1 1/2 cup dried Bananas

Recipe: Bran Flax Muffins

Some may say I'm obsessed with flax meal. Perhaps I am -- I eat it daily and try and put it in almost everything I bake. Here's a great recipe I found on the back of my flax meal bag (Bob's Red Mill). I still love the traditional bran muffin, but this is a fun embellishment on the old favorite.

1 1/2 cups Unbleached White Flour
3/4 cup Flaxseed Meal
3/4 cup Oat Bran
1 cup Brown Sugar
2 tsp. Baking Soda
1 tsp. Baking Powder
1/2 tsp. Salt (I cut back a bit here)
2 tsp. Cinnamon
1 1/2 cups Carrots, shredded (Evan had fun putting our food processor to work!)
2 Apples, peeled and shredded (once again, food processor came in handy!)
1/2 cup Raisins (optional)
1 cup Nuts, chopped (we did pecans)
3/4 cup Milk
2 Eggs, beaten
1 tsp. Vanilla

Mix together flour, flaxseed meal, oat bran, brown sugar, baking soda, baking powder, salt and cinnamon in a large bowl.
Stir in carrots, apples, raisins (if desired) and nuts.
Combine milk, beaten eggs and vanilla.
Pour liquid ingredients into dry ingredients.
Stir until ingredients are moistened. Do not over mix.
Fill muffin cups 3/4 full. Bake at 350 degrees for 15-20 minutes. Yields 15 medium muffins.

Kirsten Graduates!

Two weekends ago I was down in St. Louis celebrating the graduation of my sister Kirsten from Washington University -- yay for the new architect! I remember when she was little she often sat with our grandpa (also an architect) watching him work at his desk, and then at home, she had a protractor and other various archy supplies tucked safely in her own desk. When on long car trips (which happened annually as we drove to South Dakota from NJ -- a 3 or 4 day trip!) we often passed the time by drawing up dream floor plans; I usually focused on the window seat/reading nook in my bedroom while she sketched an entire house complete with the appropriate symbols that mark doorways, windows, etc. So this accomplishment has been a long way coming. Congratulations Kirsto -- glad I could celebrate with you! Below are a few photos from the festivities, but check out my shutterfly website to view more!

The Graduate!

Family Tree

These photos are from earlier this spring when we visited my relatives on Green Lake (Spricer, MN, near Wilmar) for Easter. We had a good time tossing eggs (our family tradition), competing in Ladder Toss (which E and I won!) and of course eating a tasty Easter feast! Here are two of my favorite photos from the weekend -- neither of which were posed. The first one is of Duane, my great uncle, who has lived on Green Lake for as long as I can remember. The other is of my Grandma Connie watching the ladder toss tournament through the window (it was freezing outside).

Can you tell how I came up with the title to this post? ; ) I particularly like the composition of the first photo... what do you think it says about the story within the photo? How is the character of the tree different in the second photo, and does this reflect on the story within that frame? To me these photos speak very strongly. What do you think? How do these photos speak to you?

Duane, on the shore of Green Lake

Grandma Connie

Caribbean Cadence - a travel essay

After a brief discussion with my grandpa this past weekend about the crazy driving cultures of other countries, I thought I'd post this creative non-fiction travel essay I wrote senior year at St. Olaf College. It is based on my experience studying abroad in the Caribbean during interim (January) of my junior year. We visited Barbados, Trinidad, Tobago, and St. Lucia; this piece incorporates aspects of each island, but the overall story-line takes place in Trinidad where the Pan Yards abound.


The sultry Caribbean breeze kissed my moist cheek and lifted the hem of my skirt off my thighs; it beckoned to us: a small group of St. Olaf students looking for adventure in the wild nights of the Eastern Caribbean.  After an hour of waiting for a taxi that was scheduled to come in twenty minutes, a mini-bus rounded the bend, tilting and screaming, and shuddered to a stop alongside our curb of eager high heels.  Saying goodbye to the sweet night air, we climbed inside the square frame and pushed towards the back.  Rows of seats, packed together, greeted us like a crowded smile: some were sunken, others slanted, unfolded to fill the aisle.  We settled in the hull just as the driver jerked us forward – one steel force flying beside the dancing waves.

I was captured in a bubble of darkness.  With my face hard against the window and legs anchored to the floor, I grasped for some control in this barbaric, bucking van.  Straining my neck to look down the alleyway of bouncing heads and swaying necks, I managed to catch a glimpse of the world through the front window.

Still on the outskirts of the city the pavement was dark, except for the occasional wave of yellow from another speeding van.  As we passed a lone lamppost buzzing at the stars, I noticed a soggy KFC bag disintegrating at its feet.  Shadows grazed my peripheral vision, and glowing eyes haunted from an abandoned resort where a sign still read “Happy Hour at 5 p.m.”

For the first few days of the trip I found myself avoiding contact with many of the locals.  It was not that I didn’t appreciate their culture – after all, I was seeking a cultural immersion – but rumors and stories left me unsure as to how I could trust the culture.  One friend had warned me to avoid wearing tank tops as a defense mechanism against prostitute-seeking males.  Although this advice may have been extreme and unnecessary, it settled in my stomach so that whenever a dark staggering figure gazed up the beach with hungering eyes, my insides recoiled.

One of the professors on the trip pointed out the dichotomy between the Caribbean population: extremely helpful and embracing of foreigners, but shady and potentially dangerous.  After attempting public transportation one day alone with a girlfriend, we opted for walking; everyone on the bus, including the driver, possessed unusually dilated eyes and glazed smiles.  Whether or not they were under some form of influence, or just filled with the vigor of life, was a question we did not stick around to resolve.  My professor had not disclosed navigational tips on surviving the obscure personality of the Caribbean’s “split personality.”  However, I would not have understood the answer even if she attempted an explanation; I had to learn through experience how the Caribbean culture breathes as a whole.

A dash of movement entered our path: a swerving bicycle or a wandering dog.  With a sudden tilt and bending frame, the mini-bus proved its agility and regained its balance on the left side of the road.  This potentially devastating incident was surprisingly not accompanied by a burst of outrage from our driver, who simply beeped his horn twice before regaining top speed.  One fellow student with a little more confidence than the rest, ventured to ask the question burning inside all of us: “Excuse me sir, are we safe?”

Through the cracked rear-view mirror I watched a slight smile warm our driver’s face.  Then, to no one in particular, he said, “ov course thees is safe.  You are with Gillen and I drive every night.  No accident yet.”  Then, as if he sensed our yearning for more assurance, he added, “and besides, you are on de Super-Bus!”  I twisted my neck and strained my eyes into the interior, searching for signs of super-hero powers that might save us if the van flipped or collided.

As the street lights drifted across the walls in slow patches, I discovered that we were actually riding in a heavily cushioned van: every wall, including the ceiling, was layered with a puffy burgundy pillow that resembled a billiard room, squat, grandpa chair.  No wonder Gillen could drive recklessly and have “no worries”: his super-bus was fully equipped to roll over and adjust to the traffic flow; man and bus were the perfect Caribbean tandem: shifting and swaying to the impulsive cadence of the road.

Searching for the outside world again through the crowded front glass, I discovered a denser traffic laden road: red blurs mixed with bright swimming lights as we carved a “round-a-bout” heading downtown.  Opening onto a straightaway clear from oncoming traffic, our driver and the rest of the left side spread fully into the right lane.  For ten agonizing seconds I sat numbly, anticipating a head-on collision and praying to the ceiling cushions to welcome me in a soft hug.  But miraculously, the first sign of an oncoming car sent our side of traffic back in place in one quick shift, just in time to speed through a red light.  Honks grazed us on every side and the world became a whirl of unpredictable motion, but we remained untouched in our flying cocoon.

Gradually the outskirts of the city melded into the heart of downtown, and as the streets became littered with people, the super-bus slowed to a steady andante.  Buildings framed the colorful nightlife, each unique with its distinctive purpose: Par-may-la’s Inn cuddled its customers within balconied rooms, the Bank of the Caribbean towered from on high behind a locked gate, and stark homes trailed stubbly walkways spotted with leering children.  The array of structures and styles packed together on one bent street twisted into a long, cracked smile, as if it held the very secret to the Caribbean within it’s grasp.

As we turned the corner we collided with a sudden force of sound: jubilation in ringing pitches mixed with an eager beat.  A group of swaying color was gathered in a cemented courtyard, and as our driver paused I could see the heart of the Caribbean:  in the center of the crowd stood two dozen musicians, from the vivacious young to the weathered old, all playing their PAN drums[1] with dancing sticks.

The brilliant cadence beckoned us off the bus and into the pan yard with mouths ajar and eyes peeled wide.  Staggering men offered us chairs, and cloudy smirks turned into boisterous greetings flavored with excessive “no problems.”  Our group of ten Nordic college students was instantly enveloped in a shroud of throbbing dark skin and swaying, braided pendulums of hair.  Although I still retreated from the memories of the abandoned resort where hollow stares threatened, I welcomed the pan yard and its undulating embrace; I finally understood the fine balance between safety and danger that carries throughout Caribbean culture.

At the front of the crowd the pan drummers stood in two lines with their upper bodies strong and straight, while their wrists and hands brought each drum alive with its unique voice; together the streets of the Caribbean raised up in one symphony.

The music continued throughout the night, but we had plans at a downtown reggae club, so with backward glances and nostalgic eyes we clamored a board the super-bus.  Even as we pulled away from the yard and resumed our course on the highway, the sound of PAN remained in my mind.  Now when a van jumped lanes or a jaywalker threatened our course and the Super-Bus swerved without complaint, I understood.  The give and take of the Caribbean soul could not rely on petty rules, but rather on the flow of the music rising from the pan yards and surrounding every member of the society.  The shadowy corners that previously filled me with trepidation now became a beautiful part of the whole: a land of inclusion that continually shifts to accommodate every part of its pulsating body.  As our driver flew through the alleyways, breaking dozens of rules upheld in America, the continual honks and sliding tires that before pressed in on our cramped square van, shifted to song like a great steel drum, and sent our van free through the dancing Caribbean.

[1] Steel drums in a general concave shape, although each drum has slightly different dents creating an array of ringing pitches when played with the appropriate sticks.

The real-life Gillen, our mini-bus driver, pausing at the side of the road to handle a snake!
Marit and I enjoying a night in the Caribbean (not at the Pan drums - unfortunately I don't have photos of that night).

Puppy Love

SPOILER ALERT! Don't read this if you haven't yet read or watched "Marley and Me"!

Evan and I finally got around to watching "Marley and Me" over the weekend. Although we knew the basic plot before hitting play -- well, I did, Evan knew the entire story since he read the book last fall before the movie even came out in theaters -- we still found ourselves frequently hitting pause throughout the flick to discuss various aspects of the story developing on screen. Yes, it is just a simple tale (no pun intended!) of a family dog during the first few chapters of a couple's marriage. But Marley's humbled companionship and loyalty, even though spotted with typical "puppy behavior" throughout his adult years, made us think deeper into the role of dogs in Man's life and how much we have to learn from these creatures.

I know it was supposed to be a tear-jerker, but for some reason I couldn't quite get there... probably because I was thinking too philosophically throughout the ending. So when other viewers were drawing parallels to their own lives and pets, conjuring up old memories, and summoning the pool of tears that is apt to follow, I was in my "thinking cloud" pondering WHY it is so sad when it is time to say goodbye to a pet. Beyond the obvious grief that comes when anyone -- pet or person -- leaves our world, in the case of a pet there is something else in play.

Humans communicate through actions and body language just like our furry friends, but we also rely on spoken language to address and dissect issues and confirm and acknowledge feelings. There's a reason "I love you" has become (or perhaps always has been) the three most important words in our language. Yes, at the core actions do speak louder than words and too often these words of affirmation are used as a mask to cover actions that are never there. But can you imagine a world where the words "I love you" didn't exist? We, as humans, cling to these words for reassurance, for confirmation that in case our actions haven't always spoken truly, in case we have injured or faulted another as we are so prone to do, at the core we really do love.

But at the bed of a dying pet our need for verbal communication and affirmation of feelings goes wanting. We can tell our own "Marleys" how sorry we are, how they have become members of the family, and how much they will be missed, but the response and acknowledgement we crave confirming the reception of our words will never come; we never truly know if our message has been received.

Luckily, none of this matters in the eyes of our dogs; to them actions always speak louder than words and the pain of this sad exchange is something only the owner must endure. For dogs, a life well lived, filled with loyalty and respect, always trumps whatever words we throw their way (of course most of them understand a few words and commands, and they do respond to tone of voice). In the end our "Marleys" can teach us to become better humans with strengthened, honest actions accompanying our verbal "I love you"s; the perfect "bilingual" combination. If you don't have your own "Marley" yet, it's time to go shopping; a little "puppy love" sure can go a long way.
MAX, my "Marley"
Photos courtesy of John Pearson

Under Construction

As you may have noticed, I have been playing around with the blog format these last few days. I know you can find cool templates online, but I really want to teach myself a little about html, so bare with me during this time of construction. Right now (although when you read this, things may be changed) I added a blog header designed in photoshop, but I can't seem to get it to load correctly... it looks pixelated and fuzzy. Hmmm. This one has been baffling me for a few days now, so if anyone has any tips please send them my way! I've been reading a little about color design and found a website that recommends color palettes so that your entire blog flows well and is artistically balanced. I haven't quite gotten there yet, but one of these days I'll figure it all out. As you are aware, I changed the name of our blog from Carolyn and Evan's Blog to The Tales of E & C. Once I get a little more advanced in web design I hope to design the blog around the theme of Tales and Stories... maybe make the headings look somewhat hand-written or as if found in the pages of a beloved children's book... we'll see. Wish me luck!
PS - What do you think of the size of the page? My home computer has a nice roomy display and easily accommodates the whole page, so it is hard for me to gauge what it will look like on smaller screens. Do you have to scroll to the right in order to view the whole page?

Evan's Choir Concert

Evan had his first concert as a bass in the Minnesota Valley Men's Chorale a few weeks ago. They sang a variety of sacred and secular pieces -- including an arrangement to Charles Dickens' poem Things That Never Die (now one of my favorite poems), and Randall Thompson's The Pasture (poem by Robert Frost) which my dad's choir is singing out in New Jersey sometime this spring! My dad is a tenor and Evan a bass, so they'll have to sing it together sometime. Mary and Denny (Evan's parents) drove up to hear him sing -- it was nice having company to sit with in the audience and I'm sure they enjoyed listening too. Here are a couple pictures we snapped (just on my little Sony) after the concert.

Proud Parents!

Me and my Choir Boy : )

I am testing out different ways to show video clips on the blog. Below you will find two methods: the one on the left was uploaded directly through Blogger and the one on the right was first uploaded to YouTube and then linked to the blog. Which one looks better? I think YouTube is the winner! Agreed? Note: it sounded much better live. My little camcorder can't quite capture the sound as well as our ears do... but this will give you a taste. The one on the left is "They Call the Wind Maria" and the other is "The Pasture" (mentioned in blurb above). Enjoy!


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