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coconut granola cookies with toasted nuts

I’ve always liked the phrase creature of habit. Something about it conjures an image akin to a Beatrix Potter sketch, with a pleasantly chubby rabbit or beaver (dressed in an apron, of course) boiling a kettle in some snug underground kitchen.  I experienced the same pang of fellow feeling with hobbits when I read J. R. R. Tolkien—I too enjoy “elevensies” between breakfast and lunch, I too nestle close to home and cast a beady, suspicious eye on those who spurn routine. I guard my habits with fierceness and delight; the warm and soft-furred can have sharp little teeth.

I’ve been thinking about food habits lately because I suspect they are one of my long-term sources of happiness. Boyfriends come and go, I’ve lived on 12 square feet and 24 acres, but I always have mint chip ice cream at the harbor, Bolognese at the local trattoria, artichokes on my pizza. I stick with the same breakfast cereal for months, sometimes years. I can eat a giant pot of mole for days on end. For several months I religiously ate raw purple cabbage, relishing the spicy sweetness and the fact that no one stole it from the fridge.

Of course habits can have a nasty side when–God forbid–there’s no milk in the fridge at 6:30 a.m. A particularly low point came when I found myself sobbing into my cell phone next to an uncooperative ATM, 15 minutes late for class and unable to buy the jasmine honey bubble tea I looked forward to every Tuesday night. “Can you please bring me some cash right now?” I choked between tears, eyeing the bills someone was stuffing into their wallet next to me. I have only myself to blame that the bubble tea habit outlasted that relationship.

In the end, habits are like food—they’re meant to be savored, not idealized. There’s substantial, everyday pleasure to be had in a favorite dish, a Saturday morning café au lait, a daily “elevensies,” even if it’s just almonds. I feel a reliable surge of happiness just thinking about my morning bowl of cereal. Maybe, I think, this afternoon I’ll bake something new. Or maybe I’ll just make another batch of these.

Coconut Granola Cookies with Toasted Nuts

These cookies were inspired by my all-time favorite granola, a childhood treat from the Zinc Cafe in Laguna Beach.

1/3 cup shredded coconut

1/3 cup slivered almonds

1/3 cup pecan halves

1/2 cup coconut oil

1/2 cup brown sugar

2 eggs

1 tsp. vanilla

3/4 cup flour

1/2 tsp. baking soda

1/2 tsp. salt

1 Tbsp. orange zest

1 1/2 cups oats

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Place the shredded coconut, slivered almonds and pecan halves on a baking tray and toast until brown, a couple of minutes for the coconut and several more for the nuts. Set aside to cool.

In the meantime, beat together the coconut oil and brown sugar, then add the egg and vanilla. Mix the flour with the baking soda and salt and stir into wet mixture. Add the oats and orange zest, then gently mix in the toasted coconut and nuts.

Place balls of mix on a cookie sheet and flatten slightly, then bake at 350 degrees until cookies are golden but still chewy, about 10 minutes. Cool and enjoy!

papaya lime smoothie with watermelon

I was married after dinner on Monday night. The veil was cotton and gauzy, my wedding dress an embroidered velvet cloak. My groom–a nervous Chinese tourist–sweated next to me as dancers pounded the stage in front of us, and when the musical number drew to a close I was paraded around the room–on piggy-back no less–by my new husband’s best man. What can I say? At least the food was good.

Getting roped into a comedic mock-wedding at an Addis Ababa restaurant was one of many adventures I had in Ethiopia, a country I found myself exploring just 10 days after starting my new job. I saw Lammergeiers and endemic wolves. I careened around a city with lovely roads but no traffic lights (they really do matter). I drank coffee so strong it challenged my high tolerance for bitterness, honed by a love of 90% dark chocolate. And I ate many, many rolls of injera.

With the texture of a spongy crepe and the taste of strong sourdough, injera functions as staple food and utensil alike. Enormous platters of the fermented bread arrive topped with meats, vegetables and rich sauces, and when your injera rolls are done you proceed directly to the saturated remains that constitute your plate. Ethiopians possess a strong cultural identity–every driver listens to his cassette of wailing songs, every conversation is carried on in streams of Amharic, every restaurant serves injera. Addis Ababa is frenetic, a maze of concrete construction and “shortcut” alleys our taxi could barely squeeze through without running over someone’s pet (or dinner, if you happen to like lamb). But out in the countryside, where rare birds alight on telephone poles and the mountains break onto vistas of the fertile valleys below, it is easy to see what Ethiopians are proud of.

Ethiopian cuisine is a worthy source of pride too: evenings I ate my injera with relish, and breakfasts were just as much an occasion to anticipate. Enormous pitchers of freshly blended “mixed fruits juice” sat on the table, and once home I was determined to recreate the blend of tropical fruit, its sweetness cut with lime. You can add or subtract to my recipe as you wish, and though I always considered myself a frozen smoothie sort of person–I enjoy a good brain freeze on a summer day–I actually like having this at room temperature. It may take me awhile to master injera (tracking down teff flour alone can be a challenge) but now I can bring at least a bit of culinary Ethiopia into my kitchen at home.

Papaya Lime Smoothie with Watermelon

1/2 ripe papaya

5 large cubes watermelon

juice of 1 small lime

1/4 cup water

Add the fruit and lime juice to a blender and blend well, then add water bit by bit to thin to your desired consistency and enjoy!

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