Monday, October 19, 2015

Granola Bars and a Trip to the Greenbrier

Dorie Greenspan's Granola Bars

Ever since I moved to the Washington, DC area there have been two places I've always wanted to visit:  The Homestead and The Greenbrier.  Having grown up in an area surrounded by pine trees and very little fall foliage to take in, I have always been captivated by the mountains and the change of seasons and colors in other places.

View of The Greenbrier
The idea of taking a long drive with my young husband up through the Allegheny Mountains when the air is turning chilly and the leaves are bright reds, oranges, and yellows was my idea of pure romance.  I envisioned fire places, hot chocolate, sleeping in, nice massages in the spa, and romance sweeping me away on this beautiful estate rich with history and timelessness.

The grounds at The Greenbrier
Well, young Gary and I never went to the Greenbrier until young Gary and I weren't quite so young and had three kids under our wing and in our company.  We still never stopped dreaming of the idea of one day visiting the Greenbrier.  When a long weekend came up, we decided to go for it and wine and dine all of ourselves in pure luxury.  We headed out on Friday and made the long drive to the Greenbrier, timing it perfectly with the first frost of the season and a busy weekend at the Greenbrier. Did I mention that the drive was 4 1/2 hours long in two separate cars? Gary got the boys and listened to talk radio the entire drive.  I got the 14-year-old who took over my radio and would talk to me every now and then.

Best meal of the trip...room service!
Italian at The Forum

Here are the positives of our getaway...first, the surroundings are absolutely incredible.  It was just as beautiful and jaw-dropping as I thought it would be.  We took Skyline Drive to get there, and the views were mesmerizing to the point that I had to keep hitting the brakes to make sure I wouldn't hit the car in front of me or slip off the edge of the mountains.  To be surrounded by such natural beauty is truly humbling.  The atmosphere at The Greenbrier could be classified as pretentious.  Okay, it was pretentious, but it made you feel a bit fancy for the weekend.  Dress codes were everywhere.  You really don't know just how many pairs of jeans you have until you have to pack something other than jeans.  The kids were the worst.  Sweats, leggings, and jeans we've got.  Trousers and button-downs are not plentiful in our wardrobes.  There were so many activities to choose from and restaurants to go to.  The artisan shops were a definite must.  We saw glass blowers, pottery and furniture craftsmen. The pieces were works of art, some even commissioned by The Smithsonian.  I enjoyed browsing through their work even if the kids looked like they were going to go insane.

The negatives...so much.  Remember all of the activities you can choose from? None were available. Want to ride a horse? Sorry, all booked.  Want to take a carriage ride? Sorry, all booked.  Want to go off-roading.  Sorry, 14 and older.  Want to ride a Segway? Great! You can do that. Oh, sorry, there is a weight requirement.  I had talked it up so much about all of the fun things we'd do and none of it happened. We took walks and shopped, which you know every 12 year old boy loves.  We ate a lot. And, they swam in the indoor pool.  Gary and I went to the casino each night and had a little alone time together.  We made the most of it in a very short amount of time.

For me, the biggest negative of course related to food.  When you go to a luxury resort, you assume the restaurants will really be top-notch with excellent chefs and a variety of menus.  Instead, what we got was an Italian evening that was not any better than Maggiano's except it had fewer choices.  Then, we had steakhouse evening that wasn't any better than Ruth Chris's.
Aidan's birthday dinner (those are mashed potatoes in case you were wondering)

Brownie Sundae only the brownie is at the bottom of this cup
 I'm not knocking those restaurants, but you kind of expect a little better when you're paying twice the price as a Magliano's or Ruth Chris's.  The food never came out hot.  It was bland beyond anything.  Madison ordered a Pasta Primavera with a sauce that tasted so sweet from too much sugar that we had to send it back.  Gary ordered a cauliflower/broccoli appetizer that had so much salt in the bernaise sauce that it tasted like you were licking a salt block.  And, desserts? Let's just stop there.

Happy 12th birthday!
Was it worth the trip? I suppose that we won't always be wondering what the Greenbrier is like.  We can check it off our list of things to do and places to go.  Was it romantic? No.  Would it have been without the kids in tow? I don't think it would have made a difference.  Let me just tell you that when you pay top dollar to go to a luxury resort, you expect luxury and fine dining.  The Greenbrier was not that place.

On to cooking and baking...One of my new favorite cookbooks actually came out last year.  It's by the glorious and oh-so-talented chef, Dorie Greenspan and is called Baking Chez Moi.  If you love French baking but are a bit intimidated because it seems complicated, Dorie will reassure you that it isn't difficult at all.  From madeleines to eclairs and macaroons to granola energy bars, Dorie Greenspan will expand your dessert repertoire and make your family and friends happy in the process.

Dorie Greenspan's Granola Bars

I have been on a new mission lately to try and focus on bar recipes. Bars of any kind: brownie bars, cookie bars, granola bars, cake bars, shortbread bars.  Bars, bars, bars.  Just not the drinking kind (ahh, maybe a little of the drinking kind can be slipped into the recipes).  I'm experimenting and tasting. I like the practicality of the bar dessert or snack.  They are easy to pick up, pass around, pretty to look at in their neat angles, and kids love anything with four corners. Strange, but I've observed this phenomenon over time.

Doris Greenspan's Granola Bars

One of the bar recipes I recently tried came from Baking Chez Moi.  Of all of the recipes I decided to go for, it was not what I'd think of as a French dessert.  Homemade granola bars.  How does one even say "granola" in French?  I'm not sure, but it's probably just "granola".  I liked the idea of making a bar that would be super easy to put together.  It's healthy for the kids and can be crumbled up in a yogurt for breakfast or a snack.  Plus, it will help me clear out the pantry from all of those seeds and dried fruits I find myself constantly buying in the organic markets.

Doris Greenspan's Granola Bars
Try these bars and add any dried fruits you desire.  They are wholesome to look at and to snack on.

For a print-friendly version, click the link:  https://sites.google.com/site/dorisgreenspansgranolabars/

Adapted from Dorie Greenspan's Baking Chez Modi

Ingredients:
2 cups old-fashioned oats
1/2 cup slivered almonds
1/4 cup raw pumpkin seeds
1/4 cup raw sunflower seeds
1/4 cup golden raisins
1/4 cup dried cranberries
1/4 cup chopped dried apricots
1/2 cup sweetened coconut flakes
1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
2/3 cup brown rice syrup (you can find this in your local organic section or market)
2 Tablespoons vegan butter
1 Tablespoon maple-flavored extract (Trader Joe's has this in season this fall)

Directions:
Preheat the oven to 325.  Line a pyrex 9x11 casserole dish with parchment paper.  Butter the bottom and sides of the parchment paper.

Combine the oats and almonds.  Place them on a rimmed baking sheet and bake for 5 minutes.  Add the sunflower and pumpkin seeds.  Bake for another 5 minutes until they are lightly toasted.  Transfer to a large bowl and combine with your dried fruits, coconut flakes, and salt.  Stir to mix it together.

In a small saucepan, bring the brown rice syrup and 2 Tablespoons of butter to a boil over medium heat.  Pour the mixture into the bowl with the other ingredients.
Add the maple extract and stir to combine all of the ingredients.  Using a rubber spatula, spread the mixture into your Pyrex dish and use the back of the spatula to press down the mixture into a tight layer.

Bake for 30 minutes.  Transfer to a cooling rack and press down with a metal spatula to really get the soft mixture nice, tight, and compact while it's still warm and soft.  Cool for 3 hours.

After 3 hours, your granola will harden.  Peel off the parchment and place the granola onto a cutting board.  Using a sharp knife, slice the granola into bars.  Tomorrow morning, just grab and go!