Before the flood

This should have been written first.  Like the Sweet Valley Twins prior to Sweet Valley High.  Before the westward ho bandwagon, before the buckets of strawberries, rhubarb tarts, and homegrown salad, there was granola.  Granola in my tiny New York City apartment was the only connection I could manage on a daily basis that reminded me of what 'wholesome' meant.  I don't mean whole grains, though my batches of granola included plenty.  I mean someone who walks into a kitchen and knows what to do, or wants to learn, or at least cares where their sustenance comes from and is thankful.  Someone who smells baking oats and thinks of their mother -- and then calls her. I didn't have a lot of time for either in NYC, but I did have time for the occasional huge batch of granola on the weekend.  Monday morning I'd bring a canister into work and sit it on the corner of my desk as my contribution to corporate well being.  It was generally gobbled up within a day or so unless I hid it in my drawer (a desperate act to get me through a rough week).  If you asked me for a recipe, I rambled off a list of ingredients but that's as far as I could get.  Making granola was an exercise in reckless and beautiful abandon.  My creation of rift raft from the pantry and whatever else felt comforting was the purest illustration of my 'little bit of this, little bit of that' undercover character.  It was the opposite of my professional life where I taught and sold derivatives to corporate treasurers to manage the financial exposures their companies generated by borrowing money at floating interest rates or selling widgets in Europe.  I kept myself in the business for nearly ten years by telling myself it was creative.  Creative it was not.  One tick in the exchange rate could mean millions.  It was precise - and prevented many a meal from being home cooked.  But granola?  Granola was art.  Stir up a collage of great ingredients, mix in something to bind, bake, and wait.  Each time a little different, a little sweeter, a little more savory, tart, crunchy or soft.  Each time a surprise; reaffirming to my bean counter professional self, that I could indeed create -- and that I needed to.  I'm convinced a weekly canister of granola got me through.  That's why this post should have come first.  Before the flood (of emotion, frustration, desire, and finally...change), there was granola.

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My granola habit hasn't changed much, though life around me certainly has.  Now I make extra large batches and work in bits of ingredients from the garden.  I'm thankful for the extra time to patiently toast the batches at temperatures not allowed in New York (and turn several times while baking).  This rainy Orcas morning meant a double batch-- we have a slough of visitors over the next few weeks and I get nervous when there is not a full canister of granola waiting on the breakfast table to greet them (it blows away cereal and when paired with yogurt and fresh berries, can substitute handsomely when time or energy doesn't allow a larger spread).  I always put in nuts, flax seed meal, wheat germ, or quinoa or some combination thereof to up the protein and add healthy oils.  Compared to bacon and eggs, your gut will thank you.  Natural apple sauce or fruit juices are good substitutes for the sweeteners if you are feeling extra healthy (I'm happy enough nixing the refined sugar for agave and honey).  The proportions below yield a mildly sweet granola -- I prefer to offer honey when serving to satisfy those needing an extra boost.

If you've read other recipe posts, you've seen my disclaimer.  I'm bad at measuring, and recipes in general, though I love to cook.  Something prevents me from looking too closely at the lines on the cup or ever leveling off with a knife (try it ! you might enjoy cooking).  Hence, I put both batches together today with my usual abandon and then backtracked to determine how much of everything I put in.  I also divided by 2 because unless you're feeding an army (like me) it'll probably go stale before you can polish it off.  However if you're feeding to improve corporate well being I'm not sure your oven is big enough (but please do try).  Feel free to follow the recipes, but I dare you to deviate (often !).

Lavender Granola with Pecans  (featured on Oregon Live ! )

I love this version.  If you like the 'taste' of floral, you will too.  It made my house smell like summer -- and eating it on the porch surrounded by rows of lavender isn't half bad either.

A note on the lavender: I experimented with several different versions (fresh, dried, buds only, buds and leaves) and this is the one that held the scent and flavor best.  Would love to hear from you if you've had success with other versions.

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The dry:

4 cups thick cut oats

1 cup steel cut oats (quick cooking are best)

1/2 cup quinoa flakes (optional)

1/2 cup oat bran

1/4 cup ground flax seed

1-2 cups pecans (roughly chopped)

1/2 tspn salt

The wet:

1/4 - 1/2 cup honey (use a locally produced one...it'll help fight allergies / add more if you like it sweet)

1/4 cup agave

2 tablespoons butter (optional, but with lavender, come on...I'm channeling shortbread)

1/4 cup olive oil

2 tablespoons ground dried lavender buds (use a coffee grinder or mortar and pestle to finely grind)

Mix dry ingredients together.  Heat wet ingredients except lavender on low heat until just bubbling and mixed.  Add lavender, remove from heat and allow to sit for 10 minutes.  Work wet mixture into dry mixture with a spatula until evenly distributed.  Spread evenly on two cookie sheets.

Bake at 300 degrees for 1 hour, checking at 15 minute intervals to stir and prevent edges from burning.  If you don't have a convection oven, you will also want to rotate the sheets at stirring intervals.  If you're pressed for time (New Yorkers), up the heat to 375 degrees and stir that puppy every 8 minutes - you should have a nice golden color going on within a half hour.  Allow to cool, and enjoy (preferably in pretty clear canisters or airtight bags to enjoy your work).

Coconut Almond Granola with Lemon Zest

The dry:

4 cups thick cut oats

1 cup steel cut oats (quick cooking are best)

1/2 cup quinoa flakes

3/4 cup unsweetened coconut (I like a mix of shredded and larger shaved pieces for texture)

1/3 ground flax seed or wheat bran

1-2 cups almonds (roughly chopped)

Zest of one lemon * Also beautiful with orange zest and a dash of orange blossom water

1/2 tspn salt

The wet:

1/4 cup honey (use a locally produced one...it'll help fight allergies)

1/4 cup agave

1/4 cup brown rice syrup (substitute with brown sugar...I dare you)

1/2 cup coconut oil

Mix dry ingredients together.  Heat wet ingredients on low heat until just bubbling and thoroughly mixed.  Work wet mixture into dry mixture with a spatula until evenly distributed.  Spread evenly on two cookie sheets.

Bake at 300 degrees for 1 hour, checking at 15 minute intervals to stir and prevent edges from burning.  If you don't have a convection oven, you will also want to rotate the sheets at stirring intervals.  If you're pressed for time (New Yorkers), up the heat to 375 degrees and stir that puppy every 8 minutes - you should have a nice golden color going on within a half hour.  Allow to cool, and enjoy (preferably in pretty clear canisters or airtight bags).