Where thou art, that is home. – Emily Dickinson
I grew up in the Sierra Nevada in the 70s, in small towns with names that recall the Gold Rush like Twain Harte, Shingle Springs, Placerville, and Sutter’s Mill. And I have to say, it was ideal. Besides being before the constant supervision and soft landing spots of modern childhood, we had spectacular things like buffalo living on the surrounding hills, a tire attached to an ancient oak tree for a swing, unicycles, and adults with a seemingly unending tolerance for youthful adventure (who were probably a whopping 28 or so at the time, an age that now seems ridiculously young to be entrusted with children, of all things) .
But with none of this, came much of an education in food. I don’t have childhood memories of meals that would send you swooning back in time to reveal a flour-dusted old lady of indeterminate origin and relation, her starched kitchen curtains waving over a pie, cooling on the windowsill. I’m not someone who came to cooking at the knee of my grandmother (who was more Auntie Mame than Aunt Mabel). Nor did my mother have any interest in food other than keeping us, well…alive, as she was just a *little* busy working her ass off as the first female lineman for the phone company (You know, those guys you used to see in the cherry pickers repairing lines on the telephone polls? Yeah. That.) to have time to show us an age-old family recipe for biscuits or pot roast.
But that doesn’t mean there weren’t good things to eat. The smell that takes me back to a big kitchen with forty bajillion people in it, a liberal fug of pot smoke, and glasses full of Hearty Burgundy? That would be my Godmother’s pasta sauce, just after adding the garlic and whatever amount of the jug wine she could rescue from being sloshed into someone’s waiting glass.
There’s also a particular overripe berry smell that I encounter in bakeries that sends me back to the early 80s faster than a Pablo Cruise song. Time was, we would get together with three other families and pile into canoes for a full day of wild berry harvesting on Lake Natomas. It was invariably the hottest day of the year. Afterwards, we’d descend upon one house and transform a kitchen absolutely bursting with 5 gallon buckets of berries into jar upon jar of jam (with requisite old-fashioned paraffin top), and Pyrex pan after Pyrex pan of cobbler, while a pride of slightly sunburned and berry-stained kids lolled on the grass in the backyard.
One thing that definitely wasn’t part of my daily intake during this golden age of sparkle iron-ons, yacht rock, Interstate 80 through Berkeley being two lanes wide, hot air balloons, and 8-track tapes of the Doobie Brothers was…granola.
Shocking, isn’t it?
And I love granola.
As a result, a fair portion of my adult life has been spent searching for the perfect one. The one that has just the right amount of oats, nuts, fruit, and other sundry pantry cleaner-outers to make a satisfying and delicious breakfast (or dessert, don’t judge).
And as luck would have it, I recently stumbled on the perfect base relatively recently.
The jumping off point for today’s formula comes from the delightful Flour by Joanne Chang, chef/owner of Flour Bakery in Boston. Her granola is delicious. It’s sweet, it’s ever-so-slightly salty, it’s (almost) everything I’ve been looking for in a breakfast cereal.
But as per usual, I wanted to own it. I wanted a little more toastyness, a bit more crunch, and oddly, I wanted to be able to make a vegan option.
And so, below is a granola that should open doors for you. Like all good granolas, it includes just about everything but the kitchen sink. I will say that it’s worth going to the store for the couple of ingredients you don’t have lying around, but the formula is forgiving enough that if you should choose to forgo or substitute any of the constituent components you’ll be just fine. It will definitely give you a jumping-off point for making your own tonic for late Sunday mornings. Pairs well with coffee, the NYTimes, and DVR’d episodes of Saturday Night Live that you are now too old to stay up for the night before.
By the way, this formula makes what could be rightfully classified as a “fuck ton” of granola, but you won’t regret having it around.
Adapted from Flour, by Joanne Chang
You will need:
- 1 large bowl
- 2 sheet pans (stop calling them cookie sheets, ‘kay?)
- Parchment paper
- 1 spatula
- 1 saucepan
- 2 large Ziploc bags
- 4 cups whole rolled oats
- 2 cups minute or quick-cook oats
- 3 cups toasted wheat germ (simply bake your wheat germ at 350 for 10-15 mins on a sheet tray to toast it)
- 1 cup sweetened shredded coconut
- 6 tbsp sesame seeds
- 1 cup pumpkin seeds
- 1 cup sliced almonds
- 1 cup chopped walnuts
- 4 tsp ground cinnamon
- 2 tsp kosher salt
- 1 1/2 cup vegetable oil
- 1 1/2 cup honey (if you want a vegan option, use 3/4 cup agave with 3/4 cup brown sugar)
- 4 tsp vanilla extract
- 1 cup dried fruit of your choice
Preheat your oven to 350.
Prepare two sheet trays with parchment paper.
In your large bowl, combine all dry ingredients except sugar (if using for vegan option) and dried fruit. In your saucepan, combine your oil and sweetener(s) of choice (agave, brown sugar, honey) along with the vanilla extract. Once the mixture is warm and well combined, pour over the dry ingredients, and mix to combine. This will take a minute or two, and as you will surmise, your hands are the best tool for this job. You are done mixing when your granola is evenly damp and looks a little like wet sand.
Divide mixture evenly between two sheet pans, and bake for 15 minutes, then use your spatula to “turn” it so that the damp portions are exposed. Bake another 15 minutes. Turn again, and return to the oven for a final 15 minutes.
Remove from the oven and let cool. Once the granola is cool, break it up and add the dried fruit (if you want it), and store in Ziploc bags for up to a month.
Enjoy over yogurt, with milk (or whatever dairy sub you currently use), with fresh fruit, on ice cream, or as a snack straight out of the bag, as I do.