I weave recipes into stories of life and motherhood because, in my family, food is what living is about. My own mother will readily proclaim that my grandmother didn’t cook well— “the bottom of a rubber-soled shoe” is how she likes to put it. Yet when describing her childhood memories, Mom never fails to mention the delicious brown bread, the cream cheese-and-walnut, and peanut butter-banana-butter sandwiches her mother made with love.
I could make jokes about my vegetarian mom’s cooking too, like the blood-raw steaks coated in salt and just barely warmed up in the toaster oven or the brown sugar-coated refried beans. But in the same breath, I would tell you that the most prominent smell in my childhood home was bread, and my mother was famous within my family for her big salads. Most days, there is nothing I’d rather eat than bread and butter and a big salad.
When I ask my paternal grandmother about her mother’s cooking, she has similarly ambivalent memories of the quality of the food. But listen to her describe standing on her tippy toes to sop up her mother’s potlikker with a piece of bread, and you’re whisked away to a lifetime ago, smelling the sauce and feeling the love in that room.
If I were to go back in time to when I was a child and tell my relatives that I would go on to write about my love of food, they would be confused to say the least. I didn’t start out loving a variety of foods. My grandma likes to joke that little Elijah Wood in this scene in the film Avalon was me as a child–“I hate when food touches!” But what I have loved as long as I can remember is the ritual of food. When I was young, baking was a skill I observed and enjoyed playing pretend with obsessive zeal. Even so, somehow I didn’t develop baking skills to take with me in my adult-esence phase of life. My mother, the aforementioned expert bread baker, and my paternal grandmother, whose pies were legendary, both invited me to learn from them. It just didn’t take.
In my thirties, I have rediscovered a love of baking, especially and perhaps even solely breakfast goodies. Ain’t life grand. My repertoire of homemade breakfast foods extends from the healthier yogurt and granola to the more hedonist biscuit or scone with jam. Nate and I happen to share a weirdly specific desire to learn to ferment, so I imagine someday my breakfast treats will involve drinks like kefir and kombucha. Nate hopes to learn how to smoke and cure meats, which in my dream culminates in adding homemade lox and hickory-smoked bacon to the menu.
The menu for what? you might reasonably ask. For as long as we’ve been together, the hubs and I have harbored hopes of opening our own business. In recent years, the business is coming more clearly into focus to becoming a bed & breakfast in the Blue Ridge Mountains. I would love to grow most of our own food and trade wares with the locals, Kingsolver-like.
Going on ten years of marriage this October, we haven’t yet put down a deposit on that B&B. But I don’t consider it a dream unrealized. It’s just been deferred for some unspecified time down the road. Meanwhile, I consider this time spent tinkering with recipes to be great preparation for my second career. For now, I rely mostly on others to provide my food, but I’ve learned to seek local ingredients when possible and practice patience when learning to bake.
To that end, I’m sharing a recipe for grown-up spiced granola, which is not quick, but it is easy and so satisfying to gather, stir, smell, and taste. And with minimal natural sugars and oils, I daresay it’s healthy too. I was inspired to make it because I grew tired of saccharine-sweet, oily granola that was nearly all oats.
If you’re looking to slow down and hoping to add something to your breakfast repertoire or create a unique thank-you gift, perhaps you’ll give it a try. I call it “grown-up granola” both because it involves whole toasted nuts, a no-no in my preschooler’s eyes, and because it isn’t as sweet as the recipe I make for them. I also believe that food as fussy as this granola should be shared with those who appreciate it most. Won’t you come eat it at my bed & breakfast in twenty years?
grown-up spiced granola
makes 20 cups, if I added correctly
10 c. old-fashioned rolled oats
5 c. nuts, whole or coarsely chopped (whatever you like: almonds, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, macadamia nuts, cashews, pumpkin seeds, pecans, walnuts, pine nuts)
3 c. coconut flakes, unsweetened
2 c. dried fruit (cranberries, raisins, cherries)
1/4 c. olive oil
1/4 c. coconut oil
1/4 c. maple syrup
1/4 c. honey (note: as is, this granola is not very sweet. Add another 1/2 c. honey to sweeten it)
2 tsp. vanilla extract
2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 1/2 tsp. coarse salt
1 tsp. ground ginger
1/2 tsp. ground cardamom
1/4 tsp. fresh ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp. ground cloves
1. Preheat oven to 350ºF. Toast nuts on baking sheets covered in parchment paper, rotating every few minutes, for approximately 10 minutes or until nicely browned. Transfer them to the largest bowl you have.
2. Toast coconut, rotating at least once per minute for about five minutes until lightly browned. DO not leave the oven during this step! The coconut will burn quickly if not monitored closely. Add it to the big bowl.
3. In a medium bowl, toss oats with spices and salt. Mix oils, syrup, and honey in a glass measuring cup and heat in the microwave quickly to loosen the honey. Whisk together, pour over oats, and stir to combine.
4. Cook oats on two baking sheets (again, lined in paper) for approximately 30 minutes, stirring every five minutes or so, until browned. Add to the nut mixture and stir together. Let cool for an hour so the mixture dries before storing it. I keep mine in the freezer and sprinkle it on yogurt, and I also love the giant glass canister for the counter ‘cuz this here granola is perty. To guild the lily, I like to top it with some bubbly meyer marmalade.