I’ve been thinking about something else Alice Waters mentioned when she was in town recently advocating for a healthier food system. Having been brought in to revamp Yale’s student cafeteria, one of the first things she did was reduce the number of commercial cereals that were being offered. Her reasoning was that all these cereals contained the same basic ingredients so she trimmed the offerings.
There’s too many choices as far as what we eat. Let’s just take breakfast for example in my house. Do you want cereal? granola? yogurt? granola over yogurt? oatmeal? how about toast? with butter? butter and cinnamon sugar? strawberry jam? grape? how about peanut butter? No? Then we have Nutella or honey. I could make you an egg — scrambled? hard-boiled? fried? Maybe some fruit — fresh or dried? nuts? pancakes? with bacon or…hmm, that’s funny, we seem to be all out of sausage.
Does any of this sound familiar to you?
When considering a simple, delicious and satisfying meal, one that could, in terms of nutritional value, replace most of the above (fresh fruit stays on the menu), granola comes to mind. (Note: I am not a nutritionist, but given the chance, I would totally play one on TV.) Surprisingly, I came to realize for the first time while writing this post, that my first memory of granola doesn’t occur until my adult life.
Newly married, my husband and I were moving into our first home. It was a crisp, blue-sky day in November when all one needed was a perfectly worn-in sweatshirt. We were sitting on our new front steps, taking a break from carrying boxes, when a neighbor walks up our driveway holding a bag of granola. “Welcome to the neighborhood,” he says, bright as that sun. “Want some granola?”
Thirteen years, three kids, two deceased pet fish — RIP, Winky and Stinky, and 1,000 miles away from that first home later, a friend, in the spirit of true Midwestern generosity, brings me a gift of her homemade granola sweetened with honey from bees raised by another neighbor of ours.
And all I can gather about granola is that it’s a perfect offering of welcome, friendship and celebration. It’s also very simple and quick to make.
Maple Granola (adapted from Willy Street Co-op, my neighborhood’s local market)
Before we begin, granola has five basic parts: fat (here it’s coconut oil), sticky stuff with sweetener and flavorings, oats, nuts and seeds, and finally, dried fruit.
1/3 cup coconut oil
1/3 cup real maple syrup
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
5 cups of old-fashioned oats (not instant or quick-cooking)
1 cup of almonds (or use whatever nut you like)
1 cup of sunflower seeds (I used pumpkin seeds because that’s what I had on hand)
1 cup shredded coconut
2 cups raisins (again, use any dried fruit you like)
Preheat oven to 300 degrees fahrenheit. Combine all ingredients (except dried fruit) in a large bowl. If coconut oil is solidified (as was mine), warm on a stove top with maple syrup, vanilla and cinnamon (you should know, this will smell a-mazing).
Spread mixture out on two parchment-lined rimmed cookie sheets (we’re going for easy clean-up here). Bake for 20 minutes, stirring midway through (I forgot to stir mine and it came out just fine).
Remove from the oven and cool on the pans completely. Add dried fruit and store in a covered container in the fridge.
Makes approximately nine cups –plenty to share! Alice would be proud.