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The New Standard

20 January 2009

We all know I’m a pretty simple girl at heart. This is not news. I’d much rather go for a long hike in the sun or spend a few hours on the beach or come across a fantastic book at the library that I can devour — happily — in one sitting than almost anything else. I mean, I love to travel of course, or go out to a special dinner every once in awhile, but since these things are not always possible I can usually find many other ways to entertain myself — sometimes just sitting and reading the NY Times Sunday section with a cup of coffee and listening to the radio is the sweetest and most appreciated pleasure imaginable (actually, I can think of few better ways to spend a late morning).

This simplicity, unsurprisingly, often carries over to my eating habits. My usual breakfast is oatmeal: plain, with a bit of sea salt, maybe some soy or regular milk depending on what’s in the fridge. I will eat this every single day of the week, no kidding, and gladly so. Occasionally I’ll mix it up with peanut butter on toast or a bagel and cream cheese (this is more for the weekend or as a Friday pay-day treat) but for the most part I’m quite content — and boring? — to eat my daily standard. (Oh and coffee, bien sur. Cannot forget that little daily necessity.)

Recently, however, things have shifted a little. I’m still eating my daily oats, but in a different form. And by “different form” I mean granola.

It’s a funny thing about me and granola. I used to reserve it only for camping trips, mostly because it was lightweight, easy to pack, and needed only a pinch of dried milk and water to make it more than palatable. I’d happily filter water until my arms were sore knowing a few sweetly toasted oats awaited me back at camp; sometimes we’d have dried strawberries or mangoes to round out the bowl, which tasted just grand as we gazed over the impossible blue of the back country lakes. I thoroughly enjoyed each and every spoonful, yet never much consumed it when back in the real world.

But then a little coffee place opened up right around the corner from my office, and I’m not ashamed to admit I go there almost every day for a cup of Blue Bottle (just plain drip lately, though I’m sure my americano fixation will swing round again). In addition to the (amazing, perfect) coffee/drinks they offer an assortment of vegan soups, non-vegan pastries, bagels, cookies, cheerful conversation about Olympic athletes and Italy and and and. And they also have this thing called a ‘yogurt parfait’ which is organic yogurt, fruit, and granola. Oh, man. That really hits the spot on a warm fall morning, let me tell you, and it’s made me reconsider this whole every-day-oatmeal drudgery (I mean, lovely!) thing. It has also made me start buying more oats than I can carry home because I am so enamored of granola that lately I must make it by the batch-ful; I don’t mind the early mornings so much as long as I have it to look forward to.

California shimmers in the sun, it’s true. Weeks like the one we’ve just had — drought worries notwithstanding, it’s a gorgeous spell of days that’s a sort of time out of time — are to be savored even as we anxiously eye the water table. When real summer rolls around, thick with fog and the drip-drip-drip of water from the redwood leaves onto the ferns, we’re more likely to want to closet ourselves away with tea and Mozart’s Mass in C- and lots of wool blankets and warm things to eat. Or maybe that’s just me. Summer of the heart? Oh, that comes at the most unexpected times here and we’ll take it when we can.

Well, anyway, right now is a strange season. It’s at the very mid of mid-winters but the sun shines and shines and shines and burns hot along the coast. I know it is brilliant and gorgeous and polishing the rocks and sand out at my very favorite beaches in West Marin though I don’t know when I’ll next get out there to see it (April, probably, when my cousin comes to visit); I also know Bodega Head is shining and preening itself against all that crashing blue and I have got to get out there soon. If only I had all the time in the world to walk along that empty and booming beach! A girl can dream …

Once I was in Yosemite on a backpacking trip and we went all over the back country; I can’t remember the exact route. I remember being on top of El Cap and the climbing ropes and it was that very pale blue sky you see when you’re high up and I wished I knew how to really climb. Another day we hiked up to Half Dome and could see the smoke from the summer fires hanging across the trees and I realized that maybe the valley isn’t really so wide after all if you can do both things in a week, even if it gets a little hazy sometimes. When I will get back there, I do not know but I shall dream a little of it, and read John Muir, and remember the wind through the tall trees when I cannot sleep and dump a good cup of maple-y granola into a bowl and eat it up as quick as I can.

In the interim ’til I can get back to my valley (maybe this July if I am allowed to tag along with my brother), I will eat granola with my feet planted firmly in this very moment in my beloved city by the water. The high mountains will be there as long as I have patience to wait — with their hidden, blue, ice-cold lakes, rocks that tumble and turn, and all the sunny early mornings I could ever wish for. If a little bowl of sweet and tender oats can bring me back to that time, well, I’ll eat one every day for the rest of my days.

Granola, in fact, might even become my new standard breakfast — it’s simple, sweet, and wholly satisfying. And right now, it’s just right.

Maple-Almond Granola

3 cups old-fashioned oats (9 ounces)
1 cup sliced almonds with skin (1/4 pound)
1/4 cup walnuts, coarsely chopped
6 tablespoons vegetable oil
6 tablespoons maple syrup
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1/2 cup dried pears, finely chopped

Preheat oven to 350°F with rack in middle. Oil a 4-sided sheet pan or line with parchment paper.

Stir together oats, almonds, and walnuts in a large bowl. Heat oil, maple syrup, cinnamon, and 1/2 teaspoon salt in a small saucepan over low heat until heated through. Stir into oat mixture.

Spread evenly in sheet pan and bake, stirring once, until golden, 20 to 25 minutes.

Cool granola completely in pan (it will crisp as it cools), then stir in fruit.

  • kickpleat 25 January 2009 at 11:24 am

    I eat granola all the time and am always on the hunt for new recipes to make. I just found your blog and your photos are gorgeous!

  • Marlene Dotterer 20 January 2009 at 2:31 pm

    Granola is my summer thing. I load up on oats, and every week, I make a batch with honey and walnuts and lots of cinnamon. I like my granola on the plain side, then I can add whatever strikes my fancy in the morning. With yogurt and fresh fruit, it’s the best breakfast.

    Except for my winter oatmeal. When the air gets that special autumn smell and I wake up knowing I must put my robe on QUICKLY, it’s time to make the change. Instead of rolled oats, I bring home huge bags of bulk steel-cut oats. Every week, I bring out the double boiler, fill it with raw milk and oats, and let it cook for 30 minutes.

    I will never enjoy oatmeal any other way, quite as much as this. It keeps just fine in the fridge, and every morning, I dish out a good cupful, add a little water, and nuke it for 3 minutes. Honey and cinnamon top it off. So good.

  • Ganga 20 January 2009 at 12:45 pm

    Mmm, granola, it is not so popular here. But recently I was in the US and could not find my regular muesli. I had to have granola instead. What a taste treat.

  • justrun 20 January 2009 at 7:07 am

    Mmm, I do love granola. Thanks for reminding me!