6:30 AM…..Grunt, groan, sigh….the fridge door opens, a cursory glance at the contents apparently yields nothing interesting. The ritual is repeated next at the freezer, and then at the breadbox before the inevitable question is tossed my way.
"Hey dad, what's for breakfast?"
I'm not even sure why I bother to answer, because regardless of what I say, the only response I ever get in return is; "Is that all?" "We never have anything good for breakfast anymore!" Repeat this dialogue (if you want to call it that) four more times, once for each of my kids stumbling into the kitchen, and you have a pretty accurate depiction of my morning routine lately. I suspect that the deterioration in the morning 'tude is just part of their end-of-the-school-year restlessness, but it seems an opportune time to add a new player to the breakfast rotation in any event. Something that is nutritious, easy to make, can do double duty as an afternoon snack, and most importantly, will get my kids off my @#$ about not having anything good to eat for breakfast. The choice is simple, delicious and obvious.
Slip this word into a chat you are having with anyone over the age of 30, and the image in their mind’s eye is liable to be this; granola, the breakfast of choice for birkenstock and tie-dye wearing tree-hugger hippies weaving hemp plant-hangers while listening to The Grateful Dead. You know, munchy fodder for “crunchy-granola” types.
Mention granola to a group of kids sitting around the breakfast table, and you’re likely to illicit a sea of sour faces and the following dialogue; “keep that nasty bowl of tree bark and weeds far away from me, just the smell of it is making my eyes itch….I must be allergic."
Such a bad rap for what CAN be a delicious and nutritious staple of healthy eating. Of course, the poor rep is not entirely undeserved. Most pre-made granola on the market today falls into two broad categories, it either does taste like a bowl of bark mulch and pebbles, or it has been so highly processed and “sugared” in order to appeal to the bulk of our mass market cereal eaters, that it should not even be considered a cousin, eight times removed, of real granola.
There are some terrific artisanal granolas on the market these days, but at a cost of $10-15 for a 16 oz. bag, even our hemp-weaving hippie friends (who have been known to spend great sums for weedy things sold in bags) choke at the cost.
The good news is, making homemade granola is about as simple as brushing your teeth, and is a really easy thing to do with your kids. In fact, I suspect that you’ll have better luck getting them to help you make granola, than to brush their teeth each morning and night as instructed. This, even after you’ve reminded them three times, and they’ve promised that they have INDEED already brushed, and if you don’t believe them you should go check their toothbrush, which of course you do because let’s face it, you didn’t just fall off the turnip truck and you can remember pulling this crap with your own parents when you were a kid. So a race ensues to the bathroom where you invariably find a dry toothbrush, and your child screams into the room swearing that they didn’t just lie to you, rather they must have had a “senior moment” and forgot that they hadn’t really brushed their teeth after-all!
Note to kids reading this entry: “senior moment” is a really dangerous excuse to use for your forgetfulness and will likely dig you into a much deeper hole with your parents, unless of course, you are over 45 years old (generally considered the minimum age to be experiencing senior moments) and still living at home, fighting with your parents about brushing your teeth. If that is the case, stop reading now, because I fear that this very simple granola recipe might prove too much of a challenge for you.
Note to self: You apparently have a few unresolved issues regarding teeth-brushing, perhaps its time to find a therapist?
OK. Back to this awesome granola recipe.
Only a few pieces of advice before I set you loose. First, use the recipe as a launching point and feel free to modify it is you go. Don’t like almonds, don’t use them and substitute another kind of nut. The same holds for any of the spices or dried fruits. Play with this recipe and make it your own. Keep the rolled oats / canola oil ratio in check so that you can properly coat all your ingredients prior to baking, but you can cut (or increase) the sugar some, or use alternative sweeteners if you wish. Another tip: fight the urge to buy 10 pounds of raw nuts at a whack when perusing the bulk isle at your local market. The dried fruits and oats will last a long time in your pantry, but the raw nuts won’t, they will go off after a while. So, unless you are planning on going into the granola biz and sending the kids out to play in traffic waving bags of the stuff for sale, purchase only enough nuts to get you through 2-3 batches of granola at a time.
There isn’t much more to this recipe than measuring and mixing ingredients. If you have young kids, get them involved with measuring out the goods, and you can manage the baking. Teens can swing this easily soup to nuts. Regardless of their age, I guarantee you that after making this, they will not look at granola the same way again. In fact, you may find that their old friends Count Chocula and Captain Crunch may be headed for retirement.
This stuff is great by the handful as a snack, with milk, kefir, or your favorite yogurt for breakfast, or even as a topping on ice cream or a bowl of fresh fruit. Peyton, our resident artist, and proud tie-dye wearer whipped up this recipe all by herself, and also created (and photographed) the granola parfait pictured in this post. Enjoy!
Vanilla Spice Granola
By: Steve Dunn
4 cups rolled oats
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
cup canola oil
1/3 cup honey
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
2 tablespoons vanilla extract
1 cup raw almonds (whole)
3/4 cup raw pecans (halved)
1/2 cup each of raw pistachios and chopped walnuts
1/2 cup unsweetened coconut chips *
1/4 cup pepitas (raw pumpkin seeds)
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1/8 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/3 cup each of raisins, dried cranberries, dried cherries, and date pieces
Pre-heat oven to 300℉
Place canola oil, honey and granulated sugar in a small sauce pan and heat over a medium flame until the sugar has melted. Remove from heat, add the vanilla extract and set aside to cool.
In a large bowl, combine the oats, brown sugar, nuts and seeds, coconut, salt, and spices, and mix well. Add the cooled canola oil and honey mixture, and stir to coat the dry ingredients. Pour the mix onto a large (I use a 20×12), rimmed, non-stick baking sheet (or a regular sheet with a Silpat 11-5/8-by-16-1/2-Inch Nonstick Silicone Baking Mat ) and spread to an even thickness.
Place the baking sheet into the oven on the center rack and cook for around 40 – 45 minutes until nicely browned, removing the sheet at 15 minute intervals to stir the granola.
Once cooked, remove the sheet tray and place it on a rack to cool. When the granola has completely cooled, break it up into a large bowl, mix in the dried fruits and place in a large air tight container for storage.
Have fun with this recipe by adding different fruits, nuts and spices to your liking.
* I prefer the taste and texture of coconut chips, which can be found in many health food stores, over shredded coconut. If you can’t find the larger flaked, or “chip” coconut (see photo collage), the shredded coconut will work just fine. Remember to buy it unsweetened though.