A Hug in a Bowl

[Previous Suburban Farmgirl, October 2009 – October 2010]
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!

  1. Carol says:

    Ahhh! I can almost smell the deliciousness by just reading your instructions! I’m definitely pulling out the stops and heading right to the store to stock up on all the ingredients – what a great, healthy Valentine alternative. I’m thinking a little ‘chocolate granola’? Thanks for your lovely sharing!

  2. Jan S. says:

    Thank you for allowing me to follow the ‘vague series of steps’ from your head!! What a great idea for the day (from my head to yours)….

  3. JoEllen says:

    Paula, that sounds so delicious and just the thing to read and look at on this early cold morning! I think I’ll stop at the store and get some ingredients to make your "hug in a bowl" for tomorrow morning. It goes along with my endeavor to eat healthier this year and avoid a lot of digestion problems that I have been having. God bless you and thank you allowing us to share cooking with you via the web!

  4. Marion Armstrong says:

    This sounds great! I have tried making granola in the past, but was frustrated because I didn’t have exactly what the recipe called for. I love it, and it is hard for me to buy it because I have numerous food allergies. So, knowing that it is "forgiving" and I can put in anything I wish–that is great, very freeing for me. Thank you! {When you get to be past 70 and "over the hill," you need freeing things!} It’s a very snowy day here in Michigan, and this would be a good shut-in project to do right today–especially having the oven on to warm up our chilly kitchen. Thank you again–I will enjoy!!

  5. We were just talking about our craving for granola. Thank you so much…we shall try this recipe today. Blessings to you.

  6. Emily says:

    I miss granola and big warm bowls of oatmeal but since I have a gluten intolerance I have to avoid it. There are a few things you can use to substitute but nothing is quite the same. ( I even tried a ‘gluten free’ version but that ended in bad results!)
    But your concoction looks really yummy and would certainly be on my list of recipes to try if I could. Oh well… :o(

  7. SuburbanFarmgirl says:

    Several people have written me to mention the lack of chocolate chips in this recipe. To which I say, *Why didn’t I think of that?!!* Any other great missing ingredients??

  8. Jennifer says:

    I’m making some today! I think granola may also help with the winter blah’s. The sun has not been out in days, weeks??? Some homemade granola is the ticket. Thanks for the inspiration Paula.

  9. kay says:

    YUMMO….Thanks for the "No Rules" recipe.

  10. Shery says:

    Hi Paula, Thanks so much for taking the time to share your recipe. I LOVE granola and it has been a long time since I made it from scratch. Now I just have to skidaddle to town and get the ingredients I don’t already have on hand. I think I’ll have to add coconut too. Happy Trails Sister!

  11. Denise says:

    Thanks Paula, looks and sounds very yummy! Have wanted to make my own, but thought it was more complicated to make. Since seeing your receipe, I’m definitely going to make it, nothing tastes better than real home cooked food.

  12. Ellen Tracy says:

    I made your granola and it was yummy! Is there any way to make granola bars? My hubby really liked the granola, but wanted to be able to take it on the go so he wanted bars.
    Thanks for your help

  13. Suburban Farmgirl says:

    Granola bars — great idea! I wish I knew…will have to hunt a recipe down or maybe experiment…probably a little more honey and/or oil to make it stickier??

  14. Ellen says:

    Thanks Paula. I am going to make the granola again today and will try increasing the honey & oil. Maybe dividing the batch into 2 sheet pans and pressing it down will help? I will let you know how it turns out. If you have any suggestions let me know.

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