granola

Slashing Sweet. (No-Sugar Coconut Granola)

Do you dream of sweets?  Do you go through your days thinking about desserts, when you can make them and how often you should eat them?  Do you read entirely too much information on how sugar reacts to your body, your child's body, the bodies of laboratory animals?  Do you wonder if you are truly addicted to sugar and if you really could cut it out of your diet completely for 30, 60, 90 days, or maybe even a whole year?

That's me.  I don't want to think that I have a sugar problem, I don't want to think that I shouldn't maybe eat sugar each and every day but sometimes I wonder if all the sugar reduction hype holds some water.  The latest book I read on the subject, I Quit Sugar, tells me that as an adult woman, I should eat no more than 6 teaspoons a day - and that the sugar involved is not just refined sugar but the sugar present in fruit as well.  It was nothing I haven't read before, in many different places and formats, but the simplicity of the information did make me consciously want to reduce my sweet tooth again.  It's hard for someone who dreams of sweets.  I wish I were one of those people who don't have a sweet tooth.  I don't know about those people; I just can't understand them.

My natural approach to life, gifted to me no doubt by my beyond wonderful parents, is one of moderation.  Eat some cake, just eat one you made yourself and don't eat the whole cake.  And don't eat the whole cake you made yourself every day.  But even in my moderation sometimes I feel like I just can't get sugar out of my head, like it truly is an addiction.  During those times, I like to reduce even more than usual.  I like to see if I can go a whole day or two without any sweet stuff at all.  Maybe even longer.

That happened recently and I switched to green smoothies and cut out desserts completely.  If I felt deprived (and I did) I grabbed a soup spoon and set out for the jar of coconut manna.  Seriously.  It helps.  And I also made a variation of a granola recipe in the I Quit Sugar book, which is a surprisingly great granola all by itself, sugar reduction or not. 

no sugar granola

The story of the coconut granola actually goes back a month or so ago when my neighbor asked if I had tried Dang Coconut chips.  I hadn't.  I actually didn't want to tell her that it's not in my budget at all to buy prepared or packaged snacks.  But the same day we talked I did go out and buy a bag because she said they were awesome, and she also said that it was something we should be able to make.  She was right: they were awesome (though, truthfully I thought they were almost too sweet), and I did think that for sure it was something I could produce from my home kitchen.  I didn't put the thick cut coconut chips on my bulk grocery list until I read about this granola however - the flavor profile fittingly similar to Dang's being salty, sweet, crunchy.  I think it's a win.

Sarah Wilson makes this granola without the oats, but I'm not about to go grain free when cutting out sugar... and besides I have a hard time thinking about a granola without rolled oats.  It almost makes me sad.

Coconut Granola (adapted from Sarah Wilson)

makes about 7 cups

  • 3 c. thick cut coconut flakes
  • 2 c. cashews
  • 2 c. rolled oats
  • 2 T. chia seeds
  • 1 t. ground cinnamon
  • 1 t. ground ginger
  • 1/2 t. kosher salt
  • 1/4 c. melted coconut oil
  • 1/4 c. brown rice syrup

Preheat oven to 325.  Mix all of the ingredients in a large bowl and mix well to coat.  Spread evenly on a parchment lined baking sheet and place in the center of the oven.  Start checking at 20 minutes for doneness: you want the granola to be deep golden but not burnt.  Stir a few times as you see fit.  It will seem very wet and you'll wonder how it will ever be crispy but it will.  After it's golden brown, remove from the oven.  Use a spatula to scrape it into a mound and let it cool completely.  Then store it in glass jars in the freezer, where it will stay extra crisp until you eat it.

chia seed

There is should always be a voice of reason when reading diet related information.  We all know sugar isn't the best for us, but is it really that bad?  Do I really feel that much better when I'm not eating gobs of it?  I do, I'll admit.  I enjoyed the posts that Local Kitchen did on sugar last year, and it made me feel confident that a moderate approach to the topic is all that I really want for myself.  And maybe when I start  getting that sugar-junkie feeling creep up on me, then I dial back and choose non-sweet alternatives, crunchy, barely-sweet alternatives like this granola for a few weeks and then I feel much better.  And then I can go back to dreaming about desserts.

 

The flying time. (Bigger Batch Ginger Granola)

I can't really believe that I've turned into one of those once-a-month bloggers, but here it is, almost a whole 4 weeks since I wrote about anything.  Life is a maze of homemade breakfasts, lunches, and dinners; at the end of the day I have no idea how food appears in a finished form and is completely cleaned up after.  As I slink into bed, I'm fast asleep before I can make it 2 pages into a book.

For the past several years, the first day of school coincided with my birthday.  I am actually never full of birthday dread, but I kind of started feeling a sense of dread that first year I had to drop my oldest son (now 8) off for school.  I hated the idea of him leaving home, but also knew it was time.  After the first pre-K and kindergarten years, I actually started looking forward to the first day of school and more free time to myself.  The time to make laborious Daring Baker challenges.  The time to make whatever struck me as I drank my morning joe and caught up on the Internet.  The time to take myself out for coffee once in awhile and actually read in peace and quiet.

This year on my birthday, instead of extra free time, I became his teacher.  I sat with him at the kitchen table after his first homeschool lesson at my counter, one on how to make ice cream base (and other egg based custards)... because when I am intrepid of starting something, I start by doing something I know.  And you know what?  I realized that I know more than I think I do, and that he wants to learn as eagerly I always have and had always hoped he would.

Untitled

He learned that eggs are really amazing things, that they can thicken things like ice cream when heated.  He learned the meaning of the word tempering, and got to see that happen.  It felt nice to see him barefooted and excited for the impending ice cream later that day as he took the first steps into learning at home.  Later, we spent the morning in the field nearby discovering insects and admiring the weather.  Something happened that I wasn't expecting: I went from that person happy to have all the time in the world to myself to the one who actually enjoyed spending time with her kid again.  It is so easy to drop him off somewhere and not take an active part in his life other than to be occasionally annoyed when he doesn't listen or doesn't pick up his Legos after the millionth time I've stepped on one.  It is a true pleasure to consider all of my actions as they affect him (and his little brother), to improve on my patience, and turn my daily life into a learning experience for him.  It's only been a week, but so far it's the best week I can remember in a long time.

079 :: 09.03.14
Hybrid sourdough, made with starter and a pinch of commercial yeast...

Maybe this doesn't leave the free time to myself as I've had in the past.  I got behind on using milk kefir and popped my culture in the fridge for the week to rest.  My sourdough starter took on a perplexing ailment about a week and half ago and I patiently nursed it back, wondering all the while if I'd have to begin again from scratch.  I thought it had been infected by a wandering mold spore, or cross contaminated by the kefir.  It didn't look or act like itself until I decided to bake anyway using the insurance of a bit of commercial yeast.  The very next day, the starter looked better: active and bubbly, sweet smelling.  Like it just knew that I was going to get serious if it didn't behave.  Just like a real boy.

More than a week ago, I decided to make my new favorite granola - a gift to myself for my birthday.  Ever since I first had it, the Bojon Gourmet's Gingersnap Granola has been my absolute favorite indulgence.  I actually didn't make it for quite a long time because I can't stop eating it.  Some time ago, I saw America's Test Kitchen make an almond granola that had similar clumping power and I figured I could combine the two recipes and come out with a bigger batch of similarly addictive gingery granola.  It's been on my mental list of things to write about for a while now, and I guess this Saturday off inspires me to get it down before it is lost to time once again.

ginger granola.

Don't forget to line the sheet pan with parchment or you will not have attractive clumps after you chisel your way to the bottom of the pan.  I only forgot once, as you can imagine.  Ordinarily, I don't like to have sugar in granola, but this I consider dessert so the small amount doesn't bother me.  In fact, if you have some of this on fresh, homemade ice cream (maybe even this new buttermilk version that Alanna made?) it's about the best dessert ever. 

Ginger Granola (adapted from the Bojon Gourmet and America's Test Kitchen)
  • 5 c. rolled oats  
  • 4 t. ground ginger
  • ½ t. allspice
  • ¼ t. cloves
  • 1 c. almonds, chopped
  • 1/3 c. maple syrup
  • 1/3 c. packed (2 1/3 ounces) light brown sugar
  • 4 t. vanilla extract
  • 1/2 t. kosher salt
  • 1/2 c. olive oil
  • As much chopped crystallized ginger as you like
Adjust oven rack to upper-middle position and heat oven to 325 degrees. Line rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a large bowl, toss the oats with the spices and chopped almonds.  In a 2-cup measure or equivalent, whisk maple syrup, brown sugar, vanilla, and salt until well blended, then whisk in oil. Pour the liquid mixture over the oats until thoroughly coated.

Transfer oat mixture to prepared baking sheet and spread across sheet into thin, even layer (this amount makes one standard 18x13 or 17x12 sheet pan). Using a makeshift tamper (I like to use the Scottish potato masher my parents gave me, but a meat mallet or even a heavy glass would also work), compress oat mixture until very compact by tapping it into place on the pan. Bake until lightly browned, 40 to 45 minutes, rotating pan once halfway through baking. Remove granola from oven and cool on wire rack to room temperature, about 1 hour. Break cooled granola into pieces of desired size. 

You can stir in chopped, crystallized ginger, or like me, store the broken chunks of granola separately and then add them when you are ready to eat it. (Granola can be stored in airtight container for up to 2 weeks they say, but I think it lasts longer – if you can keep your hands out of it.)

ginger granola.

It's maybe a little less decadent by using almonds instead of  pecans, but the more utilitarian nut makes it something I can make on a whim instead of only on occasion since I always have almonds in the pantry but not always pecans.

My kitchen life seems to be changing again for now.  Things get done in a more utilitarian way, with plenty of attention to detail (since there is no removing that from my being) but maybe with less flourish.  Most mornings I seem to prep my dinner before the breakfast dishes are even cleared which is a dramatic change for me.  I find myself thinking like my great-grandmother, Gram and no doubt my Mom did, planning the next meal (or even the next several) when the current one is still on my lips.  But that's what you do when you do it from scratch. I'm imagining when I have the time to write again, I'll probably have some helpful tips for quick scratch cooking 

Bird Bars.

This recipe is for my Mother.  If there is one other person in the world who really "gets" my occasional food obsessions, it's her.  We have so much in common this way; we happily will trade ideas and variations on themes, morphing ideas of what we should be eating with attempts at reducing our collective sweet tooth. 

bird bar.

When she was in town briefly last week, we stopped at my food co-op and she excitedly grabbed a couple of their house made Birdy Bars.  I had never tried them, already being a devotee of their Little Oaties (more than one pregnant trip was made especially to pick up a soft oatmeal cookie sandwich to devour in the car... true story), which is dangerous enough.  But my Mom lives 3 1/2 hours away, so she said before she left, "You have to figure out how to make those, okay?"

So here you go, Mom:  this is my version of the Birdy Bar.  I was surprised that I got it in one try, but having already mastered a number of vegan truffles/energy bars based on nuts, seeds, and the like I had a pretty good working knowledge of what it takes to make a seedy bar stick together.  And, I had saved the ingredient label from the original.  Hopefully, Outpost will forgive my treasonous homemade version - especially since I purchased all my bulk ingredients from them!

bird bar.

The only thing I didn't do this time and would do next time is completely melt the peanut butter and honey and bring it to a just simmer in a small pot.  I had a few dry pockets of seeds, and I think this would make for a more homogenized bar.  That being said, I certainly don't mind the little messy bits:  it gives me the excuse I need to eat the errant snippets on plain yogurt or vanilla ice cream, or even gingery butternut squash soup as seen below...  Substitute almond butter for the peanut butter to make it paleo, and agave for the honey for a vegan option.

Bird Bars (Inspired by Outpost Food Co-op)
yields 9 smaller bars, or 4 "Outpost-sized" bars
  • 1 c. raw sesame seeds
  • 1/2 c. raw sunflower seeds
  • 1/4 c. raw pumpkin seeds
  • 1/2 c. unsweetened coconut
  • 1/2 c. sultanas (golden raisins)
  • heavy pinch of salt
  • 1/2 c. smooth peanut butter (natural, just peanuts and salt)
  • 1/4 c. honey
Preheat the oven to 325.  Line a 8x8 square pan with parchment paper.

Basically, just mix all of the ingredients in a large bowl until well blended.  As I mentioned in the note above, you could melt the peanut butter and honey together in a small saucepan and then pour over the seedy ingredients to ensure a better mixture.

Press the whole lot into the prepared pan, and bake for about 25 minutes until the seeds around the edges are just starting to look a little golden.  Cool completely in the pan before removing to a cutting board and portioning into bars.  Wrap them individually, and hide half so you don't grab them all right away.

bird bar.
butternut squash soup.

The original version has almonds and dried cranberries, and I'd imagine you could doctor these with just about anything, so long as you don't stray too much from the ratio.  Upping the "wet" ingredients just a little bit might allow for a completely raw bar too - if you're into that sort of thing, but I like the soft set texture of the baked version.

Sesame seeds are actually a good source of calcium, but the unhulled seeds contain far more (like 90-95% more) than the hulled counterparts.  That's something to consider as you add them to your diet for that reason.  I like trying to include more of them in my food because they have anti-inflammatory properties and help with regulating cholesterol, not to mention they are just downright tasty in large quantities.  Recently I made myself a batch of simple granola that was surprisingly great.  You wouldn't think so few ingredients would be so delicious, and really highlight the unique flavor of sesame!


bird bar.

And while I'm talking about granolas, the one on the left in the picture above is what is left from a truly amazing Gingersnap Granola I snagged from the Bojon Gourmet last Friday.  That is another recipe I know my Mom will absolutely love... and I was trying hard to not mention it because I know if I surprised her with a jar of it on our next visit she would be as crazy for it as I am!

It does seem like I have a lot of bird food going on over here as I finally sit to think about what I've made in the past week or so.  I suppose I have enough real food to fill in the gaps, but just what is it about snack foods that are so appealing?