Sun 6 Nov 2011
I don’t think it’s commonly used here in Ireland but in California we describe uber-healthy, slightly hippie food/people/things as “crunchy,” which is short for “crunchy granola.” For example, you might go to a “crunchy” shop to get organic spelt flour, maple oat syrup and some flax seed crackers. Or my sister might describe her vegan friend who only wears vegetarian shoes and hemp clothing as “super crunchy.”
But you don’t have to be stuck in the ‘60s, buy only organic and drive a low-emission vehicle to appreciate wholesome food, and when we were back in my hometown of Los Angeles on holidays recently I was reminded of the sheer variety of crunchy food available at shops and restaurants there. It also made me realise how much I miss being able to find a great beetroot and cashew cheese sandwich on sprouted grain toast or a green antioxidant smoothie without having to look very far. As Californians are generally active and health-conscious, there’s a wealth of interesting nourishing fare available at a number of places.
While Dublin has a few decent healthy cafes, they are still very much the minority. Don’t get me wrong; I like my meat and I generally eat everything, but like most people I make better choices when I have a variety of healthy eats to choose from (one veggie sandwich with limp lettuce and a half-ripe tomato isn’t going to inspire me away from my roast beef on ciabatta). I love that chefs in LA are constantly raising the bar on healthy eats because their competitive spirit is creating a whole new level of vibrant, wholesome dishes that even a carnivorous couch potato would love.
In LA, it’s not just the hippie restaurants that are doing crunchy food. At Gjelina in Venice, there are a number of dishes on the menu that suit healthy diets as well as healthy appetites. Simple but beautiful king oyster mushrooms are grilled to nutty perfection with a little butter and seasoned with a touch of sea salt – it doesn’t need anything else. There are exciting salads like the Tuscan kale with shaved fennel, radishes, ricotta salata and lemon, and Reed avocado with tomato, red onion and whole grain vinaigrette. There are plenty of indulgent burgers, pizzas and pasta dishes as well, but even those are made with fresh and unique ingredients like dandelion greens and confit of tomato.
Now that I’m back in Ireland, I would love to find restaurants and shops that are doing interesting healthy fare. And with all the crunchy culinary inspiration I found in Los Angeles, I’m vowing to do the same at home.
Baked Blueberry Maple Oatmeal in Mason Jars
(Vegan and gluten-free)
Adapted from 101 Cookbooks
After searching high and low, I found Mason jars at Barkers in Wexford, where we were visiting Mountaineering Man’s parents. They’re cheap and super handy; after the jars cool down, just screw on the lid, pop in the fridge and it’s ready to take wherever you go. To reheat I just take the lid off and microwave for 1 minute on medium-high for a perfectly warm, chewy, nutty oatmeal breakfast.
2 ½ cups of oats
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon sea salt
2 small containers fresh blueberries
2 cups sweetened soy milk
½ cup maple syrup
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup blanched whole almonds, chopped roughly
¼ cup dark brown sugar
Preheat the oven to 170C. Place an equal amount of blueberries into 6 mid-sized or 8 smaller Mason jars. In a large bowl, combine the oats, cinnamon, baking powder and sea salt and then divide this mixture into the jars, spooning it over the blueberries. In a medium-sized bowl, whisk together the soy milk, maple syrup and vanilla extract. Pour the liquid mixture over the blueberry and oats – dividing it equally between the jars.
Place the jars (without the lids!) onto a baking tray and carefully slide onto the oven rack. Bake for 20-25 minutes. Remove from the oven and top each with some chopped almonds and a bit of brown sugar. Serve warm. If you’re keeping for later, allow the jars to cool completely before placing the lids on the jars. Refrigerate and reheat (again, sans lids!) in the microwave on medium-high setting for 1-2 minutes. Top with additional soy milk or just eat the way it is.