Are you the granola type? No, I’m not probing about your wardrobe or your voter registration!
“Granola” seems to carry as many connotations as a bowl of it has ingredients – few of them having to do with breakfast. (Didn’t Birkenstocks and Berkeley politics cross your mind?)
I don’t know how the world’s best cereal became the icon of a lifestyle, because any of us can enjoy this hug in a bowl. The word, for me, conjures up wooden spoons, thick crockery, pure whole ingredients, and home — and when made from scratch, a satisfying sense of accomplishment. Even a non-Julia Child like me, an Aga wannabe with a suburban stovetop oven – can create a batch of homemade granola worth yumming over. And it’s easy. Come watch!
I first learned how to make granola in high school from Jerome, the boy across the street. He was a runner and knew about healthful living long before I learned such things as a health writer in my 20s. (Let’s just say in high school I was still eating Frosted Flakes, which I still adore but thankfully outgrew the minute it occurred to me to visualize exactly what was in those sugar-coated flakes of corn!) I’ve long since lost Jerome’s recipe, but the basics were the same as the recipe I’ve since improvised.
Actually “recipe” is an overstatement. My approach is more like “follow a vague series of steps in my head.”
First comes gathering the ingredients. I neglected to bring my camera when I hit the bins at the local market: oats, wheat germ, oat bran, sesame seeds, shredded coconut, sunflower seeds, pecans, walnuts, currants, dried cranberries. I measure out a rough amount, guessing that a scoop is about a cup. But exact measurements don’t really matter – which is one of the reasons I love to make granola, because I have a hard time with exact measurements. I simply can’t believe (or trust) that if you mix x amount of y and p amount of q, you will get z! Every time? I ask myself. Really? Granola is incredibly forgiving on exactitude.
Then, the sticky base: In a skillet on the stove, I heat up roughly the same amounts of canola oil and honey – oh, maybe I pour the honey generously — about a cup of each. You can also use maple syrup or brown sugar or molasses or a different oil, or a combination. Add a tablespoon each of good vanilla and cinnamon for flavoring, and some salt. (If you like nutmeg or almond extract flavor why you can do that, too; granola is infinitely respectful of your individual tastes, or your whims on a given day, another thing in its favor.)
Next, the small stuff: To the oil-sweet mix, add one cup – pretty much everything in this recipe calls for about one cup — each of wheat germ, sesame seeds, and oat bran or wheat bran (I do half a cup of each). As you stir, it forms a thick paste that reminds me of a rectangular sesame candy my late grandmother loved. Granola seems to remind everybody of something. Heat slightly and then let cool.
In a great big bowl, measure out the dry ingredients: 6 cups of oats (the exception to the one-cup rule) and a cup each of anything else you want to throw in: sunflower seeds, shredded coconut, sliced almonds, chopped pecans, chopped walnuts. You could, say, add pine nuts, or subtract the coconut, or whatever your fancy, but the basic formula is to mix equal parts oats and “everything else.”
Now pour your oil-honey-sesame-seed paste to the big bowl of dry and mix it all together with a big wooden spoon or spatula.
Spread the sticky mix out in a 13×9″ or larger sided baking sheet. Try not to nibble because you’ll be too full for the finished product. But definitely lick the stirring spoon after you’re done spreading!
Bake at 325 degrees for 30 minutes. I used to bake the granola in a cast iron skillet and stir every 10 minutes, but this requires a big skillet and a lot of clock watching, so I gave up on that in favor of one big pan. Granola will submit to such fussing, but blessedly, doesn’t require it.
You know it’s about ready when you start to smell it. Mmmmm!
Let it cool. Only then should you add the dried fruits of your choice – I’m currently into a cup of currants and a cup of dried cranberries, but raisins, chopped dates, dried blueberries, diced apricots et. al. work nicely too. Or don’t let me insist on the wonderful world of dried fruit – if you prefer, add your own fresh blueberries or apples to your bowl before you eat it. Did I mention how accommodating granola can be?
I love this “recipe” because it makes me feel like I’m doing something complicated and exotic, even though it has fewer steps than your basic chocolate chip cookies. The smell, the taste, even the look of the stuff in a bowl transform your house into farmhouse wholesome. Image aside, granola belongs to everybody — including Republicans and people who dislike sensible shoes!
And this is what being the “granola type” means to me: Able to serve up a comforting hug to someone you love, just like that.
P.S. It makes a swell gift. Or, given the calendar, a valentine. Even to yourself!