Whenever I return home after living somewhere else for a while, I suffer from a peculiar form of amnesia: What do I eat here, again? It’s a simple enough question. It should be, anyway, for someone who purportedly spends a great deal of time thinking about what she will eat next. But for my first twenty-four to forty-eight hours at home, I am helpless to answer it. It’s a dark day when writers’ block gets between you and a shopping list. A shopping list, people. Not good. I bump around my kitchen, flipping cupboard doors open and shut, but it’s no use. I’m sure there’s a reason for those cans of tomatoes in there, the dried lentils, the chickpeas, but for the life of me, I can’t tell you what it is. Stepping into the supermarket for the first time since I’ve been back only makes matters worse. In case you haven’t noticed, that place is huge. (Whole Foods on River St., I’m talking about you.) I know how to shop for groceries. It’s not that hard. But here, I have no idea what I’m looking for. It’s as if my brain has been rewired while I’ve been away, the pathways of my old routine erased and replaced by my new routine in Berlin. Where’s the quark? Where’s the Pflaumenmus? And what’s with all the breakfast cereal? This place is weird. I may starve.
But then the cart begins to roll, as if on its own, like when I visit my hometown in Ohio, and I can no longer tell you how to get from point A to point B, but if I grip the wheel, the car will take us there. I push through my old haunts – the produce section, the dairy aisle, bulk foods – and slowly, I begin to remember. I remember Greek yogurt. I remember brown sugar. I remember peanut butter. I remember granola.
I go through phases with granola making. That’s true of other things in my life, too, things like adding a glug of heavy cream to my afternoon tea, moisturizing, or going to bed early. I’ll practice these things religiously, for weeks, maybe months on end. I’ll swear by them. Earl Grey is dessert ! My skin is so soft! I’m wide awake! I’ll ask myself why on earth I don’t always do these things. Then, for no good reason, one of these habits will fall of my radar until, for no better reason, I pick it up again somewhere down the line. For me, making granola is like that. It ebbs and it flows.
I was smack in the middle of some serious granola flow when I flew off to Berlin at the end of June, leaving a couple of jars of the stuff behind on the table for the friends who’d be staying at our place. In a developmental psychology class in college, I learned about object permanence, the understanding that a thing still exists even when it can no longer be seen. A ball, for example, is still there, even when covered by a blanket or tossed out the door. Babies have this concept down by late in the first year of life, I was taught, which makes me a little old – approximately twenty-nine years too old – for out of sight out of mind. Nevertheless, when I shut the door of my apartment and turned the key, my granola ceased to exist. In my defense, I did have savory breakfasts of seeded bread, salted butter, cucumbers, and quark to distract me. Give that to a baby and see if he gives a hoot about some ball.
The important thing is that now, I remember. And being prone to bouts of amnesia and unexpected ebbs, I figure that I’d better get the recipe down here, quick. I mentioned a while back that a few recipes followed me home from Ohio last Memorial Day weekend, and the recipe for this granola is one of them. It’s from my stepmom, Amy, the same Amy who’s given us almond tart, toffee squares, cranberry relish, sour cream coffee cake, cream of tomato risotto, potato salad, and vinaigrette, so you know it’s going to be good. When I walked in, the granola was on the table in one of her tinted glass jars with the bent metal lids. I can’t remember if I shook a little into my hand and poured it into my mouth at that moment, but I’m willing to bet that I did. I’m not one to waste time. For the rest of the weekend, when I wasn’t busy with birthday cake, backyard barbeques, board games, Graeter’s black raspberry chip, and crossword puzzles (that’s Amy in the last photo, by the way; hey, Amy!), I was getting acquainted with that granola. Every day for breakfast, I ate granola, sometimes with yogurt, sometimes with a splash of milk. Even when Amy made pancakes one morning, and it looked as if I wouldn’t be having granola for breakfast, I had granola for breakfast. There just happened to be a yogurt-slathered pancake beneath it. And when it came time for a mid-morning snack or an afternoon nibble, granola it was, straight out of hand.
This granola has a lot going for it, but one of my favorite things about it is what it doesn’t have: an overdose of sweetness. It’s lightly sweetened with just a couple of tablespoons of maple syrup which, in a recipe that produces upwards of five cups of granola, is not very much at all. Whatever sweetness the syrup does impart fades in the oven, together with the strong maple flavor, so that only the merest suggestion of sugar and sap remains. All of the good stuff that you normally associate with making granola – the heady aroma of cinnamon and toasting nuts, the way the dried fruit plumps and softens against the just-baked oats and seeds – is true about making this granola, too, so there’s no need for me to go on about it. But I do want to talk to you about one thing, namely, the coconut in this recipe.
I don’t particularly enjoy coconut in my breakfast cereal. If I hadn’t just downed a bowlful of this granola when I found out that it’s laced with three-quarters of a cup of coconut, I probably would have passed on the recipe. That would have been quite sad of course, because then, I wouldn’t be writing this, and you wouldn’t be reading it, and we’d all be missing out on some seriously stellar granola. The point is this: until Amy pointed out the coconut, I was oblivious to its presence. Then, once I knew to look for it, I realized that I could taste the coconut, just not how I would expect to taste it. The best way that I can explain it is that, in this recipe, coconut functions more like a spice than a dry ingredient. It’s true that if you reach for it, you’ll find that the flavor that toasted coconut adds to this granola is indeed that of – surprise!—toasted coconut. But for some reason, something having to do with the particular combination of ingredients maybe, what you taste is a whole lot of “toasted” and not so much coconut. I’m not sure that “toasted” can be considered a flavor independent of the toasted thing itself, but the disappearing, reappearing coconut in this recipe has me convinced that maybe it could be. It’s pretty amazing. In other words, coconut haters, think twice before skipping this recipe. No, scratch that. Don’t think. Give it a shot and then decide.
As for me, I’m back to chomping through the stuff at the rate of about one batch per week, and wondering how I possibly could have forgotten that this granola is “what I eat here, again.” And again. And again.
Jamie’s Easy Granola
Adapted from Jamie’s Food Revolution, by Jamie Oliver, and printed in the October 2009 issue of Health.
This recipe lends itself to all manner of tweaking. I reduced the amount of oil and maple syrup in the original recipe, and loaded it up with my favorite seeds, nuts, and dried fruits. I’m addicted to the formula that you see here, but you should personalize it however you see fit. Sesame seeds, perhaps, instead of flax seeds? Walnuts instead of almonds? Have fun with it.
2 cups whole rolled oats
¾ c. whole almonds
2 heaping Tbsps. each pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, and flax seeds
¾ c. unsweetened shredded coconut
1 tsp. cinnamon
1-2 generous pinches of sea salt
2-3 Tbsps. maple syrup
2 Tbsps. olive oil
1 c. dried California apricots (they’re more tangy than sweet)
½ c. unsweetened dried cherries
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Mix the oats, almonds, seeds, coconut, cinnamon, and salt in a large bowl. Add the maple syrup and olive oil, and stir. Spread evenly on a baking sheet (I usually line mine with parchment paper, to prevent sticking), and bake for approximately 25 minutes. Open the oven door every 8-10 minutes and push the granola around with a wooden spoon to encourage it to brown evenly. Be sure to watch it toward the end of the baking time, as it tends to go from perfectly golden to burnt very quickly. While the granola is baking, slice the apricots into small strips. Remove the granola from the oven, dump it back into the mixing bowl, add the dried fruit, and stir to incorporate. This granola, like most granola, is probably meant to be enjoyed once it has fully cooled, but I highly recommend that you treat yourself to a bowl of it warm, with a dollop or two of cold yogurt.
Yield: “Makes enough to fill a large jar,” says Jamie Oliver, which is to say, about 5 cups.