Leah’s Crunchy Granola
The East Coaster in me hates the crunchy granola hippie part of me. It’s true. She thinks that the combination of rolled oats, dried fruit and nuts kissed with honey is silly. And weak. The East Coaster in me thinks I should eat egg on a roll. With Bacon. Every day. And I don’t blame her. By most accounts, a fresh Kaiser roll with fried egg, butter and bacon, dusted with salt and pepper, is a very satisfying way to start the day. It can be easily eaten on-the-go, out of a brown paper bag, and goes great with a light and sweet cup of coffee. But I’ve lived in California too long. I enjoy my leisure too much. In the warm California sun I’ve learned to sit quietly and listen as my teeth grind each cluster, sounding like rocks rolling in a polisher. I like granola out of hand on a hike in the winter green mountains of Los Angeles and served with tangy Greek yogurt and a drizzle of local honey at the breakfast table.But it hasn’t always been that simple. Food has always defined me–the urban intellectual battling the laid-back, outdoorsy mountain girl competing for dominance over my brain and stomach.When my family first moved to California I was acutely aware the food was, well, different. You’ve heard the New Yorkers’ lament: the bagels suck, the pizza is bad and the Kosher deli is virtually non-existent. Every trip back east was planned around what I wanted to eat, my best friend Trish carting me around from pizzeria to pizzeria to find fresh Italian ices, to eat greasy Chinese, to pop garlic knots slathered in mozzarella cheese and marinara. I stuffed boxes of Devil Dogs in my luggage for my mom, packed the overhead compartments with onion bialy and pumpernickel bagels for my dad and once even brought a cheese pizza wrapped in foil through airport security for my brother.But then, after nearly 15 years on the West Coast, I moved back to New York. While living in Manhattan I craved Mission-style burritos and authentic refried beans, but was consistently disappointed with the Mexican food. The salsa tasted like marinara and the tortillas were rarely fresh. Avocadoes were limited to Haas, and were always on the verge of rotting after their long journey east. In a place where, with a little work, you can seemingly find everything your heart desires I missed things that hadn’t traveled far to my table: eggs from the chickens I saw running around when I lived in Petaluma or strawberries, just-picked, purchased at a roadside farm stand off the freeway in Ventura, near my folks.When I first lived on the West Coast I took for granted the mid-winter sunshine, the access to the mountains, the beach and the desert and the food. Back in New York I paid attention to the food, but too often forgot to appreciate the rainbow of fall leaves, or the subway or the Met, instead missing being able to hike or cross-country ski with little planning. In retrospect, I realize that it’s easy to get stuck in a psychological and gastronomic bi-coastal battle when you’re busy looking back.These days I live in Southern California, a place, to be quite honest, that I never thought I’d come back to. And I love it. A couple of weeks ago, while the East Coast was getting pummeled by winter storms and my friends in Lake Tahoe were making turns through five feet of fresh Sierra snow, I was walking to the farmer’s market on Third and Fairfax in a t-shirt, shorts and flip-flops. Yesterday, when I felt like I was coming down with a cold, I walked into my backyard to pick lemons off the tree for honey ginger lemon tea. And this morning, Neal and I drove 20 minutes to the Santa Monica Farmer’s Market where I picked up a fresh, young pasture-raised chicken that came from a farm in Fillmore, just an hour from here. And live equidistant from the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and hiking in Runyon Canyon. What’s left to miss?Which brings me back to granola. I’ve been obsessed with granola lately, maybe as a sign that I’m finally comfortable is my own skin, and no store-bought clusters have been able to satisfy me. Bulk or pre-packaged granola is often dry, stale and flavorless or expensive. It’s either really high in fat or tastes like cardboard. With every granola I’ve tried I’ve thought—much like jewelry after I’d learned to make it—I can do that better.And so I set out to make granola myself. I was surprised to find that something so simple wasn’t nearly as easy as I thought. My first batch burned, leaving the grains over-caramelized and tasting like charcoal. My second batch had the right flavor, lightly sweet, nutty and tart, but the oats didn’t bind together and I was left with dust to sprinkle over my yogurt. Inspired, my friend Brooke of Foodwoolf tried the granola recipe from Orangette, which was also slightly overdone and too loose. I was getting close to giving up when I remember the beautiful golden clusters when I made Ben’s Apple Crisp. The trick, I realized, was kneading in cold butter and piling the cereal together to cool. On Thursday night, armed with a new baking sheet from Surfas, a Silpat baking mat, multi-grain hot cereal from Trader Joe’s (a blend of rye, oats, wheat and barley) and TJ’s Anti-OXidant Nut & Berry Mix, which includes walnuts, almonds, cashews, dried cranberries, raisins, blueberries and raspberries, I finally nailed it: Granola that tastes like home.
Leah’s Crunchy Granola5 tbsp cold, unsalted, butter cut into pats3 cups TJ’s Multi-grain cereal or oatmeal2 tbsp honey¼ cup brown sugar6 oz. TJ’s Anti-OXidant Nut & Berry MixPreheat oven to 325 degrees. In a large bowl combine cereal, honey and brown sugar. Slowly and gently knead in butter to form clumps of cereal, being careful not to crush the grains. Pour onto baking sheet and cook until light brown, occasionally stirring and piling granola toward the center. (If the cereal spreads as the butter melts, it’s more likely to burn and you won’t get big granola clusters.) Once desired color is reached, take out and let cool. Break up clusters and stir in nuts and berries.
Eat your granola by the handful, but save some for the next day’s breakfast (and your favorite East Coaster).