At the Carnival

Do you ever have those moments when you swear you hear circus music in the background? In other words, things around you are just so dang crazy you just stop and do a double-take, which turns into a triple-take, and then a quadruple take, and then a whatever looking 5 times is, and so on and so forth? And then your neck hurts, too?

You may have just heard that music, in fact. I’m going vegan for two days (yes, that’s exactly how long I can go without cheese AND meat AND honey). I’ll tell you why later (it isn’t all that exciting, so don’t get your hopes up). Regardless, I’m convinced that it has clouded my judgement.

I hear circus music a lot in San Francisco. Imagine that. Sure, Chicago had its eccentricities, but this place is a whole ‘nother planet, I’m convinced. It’s not bad, not bad at all; it’s just really different. And I’m not one to stare either, so if you are wearing something, or doing something that makes me stare, you are very talented. Or weird.

The other day, I saw a guy wearing pants only (tight ones, too), swinging on a pole (in a sexual way) on one of the main streets in the city. No lie. I see a whole lot of high-waisted shorts too, which probably isn’t weird and is probably in fashion and I just missed it. I’m ok with that. Yesterday, we saw a street sale (like a yard sale, but on the street) where a book called “All About Hepatitis C” was for sale. I didn’t check the price.

Okay, okay. It isn’t that weird, right? I mean, for realz – this guy hangs around Wicker Park in Chicago all the time. Now that should be in the circus, don’t ya think? At least, I’d pay to see him, but maybe that’s just me.

Then again, things would be a little bit boring around here if things were all the same, if things were all what we expected them to be, if boys didn’t hang from poles every now and then, wouldn’t they?

Take these cookies, for example. Initially, I sort of turned my nose up at the recipe. They’re weird – they’re made with oats and ground-up almonds and peanuts and – get this – popcorn!  They’re held together by bananas, for cryin’ out loud.

These cookies, comprised of all these seemingly random ingredients – they fit together, somehow. Though the recipe seems a little weird at first, and though they most certainly belong at the carnival, they make sense and damn, they even taste good. Not quite good enough to make me consider buying high-waisted shorts, but still – it’s a start.

Carnival Cookies
from Super Natural Every Day; makes 24

time commitment: 45 minutes (25 minutes active)

printable version

ingredients
3 large, ripe bananas, well mashed (about 1 1/2 c)
1 t vanilla extract
1/4 c coconut oil, barely warm – so it isn’t solid
1 1/2 c rolled oats (gluten-free available)
1/2 c almond meal (you can make your own by grinding up almonds very finely)
1 t baking powder
1/2 t cinnamon
1/2 t fine grain sea salt
2/3 c shelled whole peanuts
1 c dark chocolate chips or dark chocolate bar, chopped
1 1/2 c popcorn, popped

instructions
Preheat oven to 350 F.

In a large bowl combine the bananas, vanilla extract, and coconut oil. Set aside. In another bowl whisk together the oats, almond meal, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt. Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and stir until combined. Fold in the chocolate, then the peanuts, and then the popcorn. The dough is looser than a standard cookie dough, but they’ll cook up just fine. Ball about 1 Tablespoon of dough into your hands and place, an inch apart from one another, onto a parchment (or Silpat) lined baking sheet.

Bake for 14-17 minutes, rotating the baking sheets halfway through. Carefully remove from sheet and cool cookies completely on a wire rack.

Snap, Crackle

For you non-Chicago folk, you should know that specialty popcorn is a pretty big deal here. You should see the lines outside Garrett Popcorn Shop during all four seasons – rain or shine, wet, cold, snow or sweltering heat, there is always a crowd lining up outside the door for a bag of caramel corn, cheese corn, or if you’re smart, a bag of the Chicago Mix.

Once you settle into the city, the popcorn hype abates a bit, and as a result we tend to only indulge in the cheese and caramel-laden treats when one person comes into town: my mother-in-law. She loves it so much that we mail her a larger-than-life tin for Mother’s Day. It’s become a tradition, of sorts.

Before we discovered said popcorn mecca, I remember the occasional Crunch n Munch box and the Cracker Jacks, and I’m sure many of you do too. And when I’m trying to cut back on all that fat & calorie loaded goodness, I could really tear down on those little single serving bags, too. One thing about popcorn that’s always kept me coming back is knowing it’s one of the only things that gets better for you when it’s cooked, and it doesn’t hurt that something so tasty is loaded with fiber.

As it turns out, Orville Redenbacher and all these other popcorn crazies really took advantage of us folk. After years of buying  pre-packaged popcorn, caramel corn, and all that jazz, I neglected to realize how easy popcorn was to make ‘from scratch’. Who knew air-popping your own popcorn was as easy as tossing it in a paper bag and hitting the 2 minute button on the zapper? And who know that even if you didn’t have a microwave you could toss the kernels into a pot, crank up the heat, and close the lid? Certainly not I, but I also didn’t realize how incredibly awesome homemade marshmallows were until a few months ago, either, so I reckon that’s not sayin’ too much, is it?

Credibility lacking and all though, I suggest that you throw caution to the wind and pick yourself up some kernels from your local grocer. The possibilities are endless, even if your creativity is on par with a matchbook. I promise. Well, I suppose if you aren’t feeling creative, you can do like I did and just piggyback on another recipe, or practically swipe the thing in it’s entirely for that matter. My point, is that making popcorn in thousands of variations is a cinch, and said popcorn is one of the most perfect snacks out there, if truth be told.

Perfect, especially, with a glass of wine, a boat, and good friends. Does it get any better?!

Tequila-Lime Caramel Corn
Adapted from Food & Wine, February 2010; makes 16 cups

printable version

ingredients
16 c air-popped popcorn
1 c light brown sugar
1 stick unsalted butter
3 T agave nectar
2 T light corn syrup
1/2 t salt
1/4 t baking soda
1 1/2 T tequila
juice of half a lime

instructions
Preheat the oven to 250 and position racks in the upper and middle thirds. Put popped porcorn in a large heatproof bowl.

In a large saucepan, combine the brown sugar with the butter, agave nectar, corn syrup and salt and bring to a boil, stirring until the sugar is completely dissolved. Boil over moderate heat for 4 minutes. Remove from the heat. Using a long spoon, stir in the baking soda, tequila, and lime; the syrup will foam. Immediately pour the hot syrup over the popcorn and, using 2 spoons, toss to coat thoroughly.

Spread the popcorn on 2 nonstick baking sheets and bake for about 1 hour, stirring occasionally and switching the sheets halfway through, until golden and nearly dry. Let popcorn cool completely before serving. Will stay fresh in an airtight container for 1-2 weeks.