Starting the Day off Right

I am not generally a breakfast eater. Sure, I’m a morning person, but for some reason the first few hours of my consciousness are not focused on food (unless caffeine is a food, *ahem*). And while studies show that a good breakfast causes us to be more productive, more pleasant, and generally more healthy and fit…for some reason, I just don’t like eating first thing in the morning.

I do, however, quite like breakfast foods. You know, at a more decent hour. Like…ten.

I’m currently unemployed, or “bojon” (backwards, “no job” – a glamorous term coined by my friend Alanna at Bojon Gourmet who believes that having time do do things other than mindless toiling for The Man will improve your quality of life. She says, “it’s a zen state of mind. You have no demands. It’s the feeling of having all the time in the world”). Quality of life, indeed.

Despite being “bojon”, I rarely sleep in. I spend a majority of my time with my boyfriend Rick, who gets up early in the morning to go to his real job. He’s an electrical contractor, and is often out the door by 7:30am. My roommate, who I pity even more (while sipping my “morning” tea in my empty house, of course) gets up at dark o’clock and is gone before Rick and I even wake up. I know what it’s like to have to choose between 10 more minutes of sleep and the possibility of breakfast. So I do my best to make sure the guys have a quick, healthy option that they can serve up, eat, and be out the door without too much mess or fuss.

Granola is the perfect answer. As healthy as a bowl of oatmeal (provided you’re not one of those weird purists who eat it plain), and as quick as a bowl of store-bought cereal (expensive and stuffed with ingredients I can’t pronounce on the first try). Pair it with some home-made yogurt, and it’s a hard breakfast to beat.

A quick note about pricing: a few people have asked me how this recipe compares to buying bulk granola from the natural food store. I have not yet done the precise math, but I can tell you a few things that make it worth MY while:
-we buy 50lb bags of bulk grains which we store in our basement in old beer barrels. A bag of oats this size lasts the three of us about 6 months.
-dried fruit is often very expensive. Wild foraging or buying fresh fruit in-season is a great way to save money. I dehydrate blackberries, huckleberries, blueberries, pears, apples, and strawberries for later use in trail mix, granolas, and as snacks.
-our local farmer’s market has great deals on nuts, and the small broken pieces are often sold pretty inexpensively.
Honey Nut Granola

4-6c rolled oats
1/2c honey (if thick, warm until liquid)
1/3c sunflower (or other light vegetable) oil
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 – 1 tsp salt (to taste)
1/2c sunflower seeds
1c chopped nuts
optional 1c dried fruit (chopped into small pieces if large)

Preheat your oven to 300 degrees (make sure the oven racks are set to accommodate two full-size baking sheets). Line baking sheets with parchment paper, or grease them well (I would *really* recommend parchment here – it makes for easy transfer of the granola into its final container, and makes cleanup VERY simple).

Measure oats into a large bowl with plenty of room for stirring. Add dry spices, nuts, and fruit and toss until incorporated. Drizzle oil, honey, and vanilla over the mixture, and fold together with a rubber spatula, scraping the bottom (to ensure all the sticky stuff winds up on the oats, not stuck to the bowl).

If the mixture is not incorporating well, (or if you enjoy getting messy while cooking), you can do this with your hands. Squeezing handfuls of the granola together and mushing the mixture around assures that every surface has been completely covered. Plus, it’s kinda like being back in preschool. Which is awesome.

Pour this mixture onto parchment-lined baking sheets in a layer about 1″ thick. Press down slightly on the surface if you like larger “clumps” of oats – the more condensed the layer is when it bakes, the more likely the granola will stay in bunches when removed from the pan.

Bake for 7-10 minutes per side, stirring/flipping the granola in-between to make sure it bakes evenly. It is a good idea to rotate the baking sheets front-to-back and side-to-side if your oven doesn’t cook evenly (my bottom rack will burn ANYTHING that isn’t rotated every 10 minutes). when you start to see browning on the edges of the oats, your granola is done.

Take the pans out of the oven, and slide the parchment (with the granola) off the pans and onto a surface to cool. At this point your granola will still be a bit chewy, but will become crunchy as it cools. Make sure you let it cool COMPLETELY before storing. If it is still warm, it can steam in the container and lose all of its delicious crispness.

Store in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks (though around here it rarely lasts that long, even when I make a double-batch).

Some granola possibilities:
-maple syrup instead of honey
-butter instead of oil
-brown sugar instead of honey – use less
-walnuts and golden raisins
-almonds, almond extract (sparingly), lemon zest, and dried blueberries
-pecans, powdered ginger, and chopped dried pears
-cocoa nibs, cocoa powder, and a pinch of hot pepper
-shredded coconut and chopped dried pineapple
-toasted almonds and dried strawberries
-toasted pumpkin seeds, shredded coconut, salted peanuts, and curry powder (savory granolas are great for dry snacking; less good for breakfast cereal)

A final thing I have discovered while being out of the “daily grind” is the joy of spending a whole day making foodstuffs. I’ll get up and go out into the garden, pick some herbs and mint to put in the dehydrator, feed and water the chickens and ducks (and gather eggs), start some bread for the week’s sandwiches, maybe make cookies or crackers, and of course make yogurt and granola for quick weekday breakfasts. I love the feeling I get when I know exactly what’s in the food I’m eating, and I love the experience of being able to provide for myself and my “family” in this way.
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