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.


Long Term Storage: Canning Rolled Oats.

It may not seem noteworthy to think about stocking dry goods in bulk, but I'd like to make a note of it anyway. For the me who is now an urban dweller, the phrase "making hay while the sun shines" doesn't hold the same feeling as it did when I lived rurally. I think back to when I first moved to the city, and only went to the grocery store every 3 weeks or so. This was the way we always shopped as I grew up, and for many years, it didn't occur to me that I could shop a few times a week if I wanted. Rurally, there wasn't really an option of running to get one forgotten ingredient, or just swinging by the store on the way home. Well, as I grew older, there was the option, but the store likely didn't have what you needed anyway. The small community closest to our home during my teenage years was really a place to get the occasional banana or box of cereal, and even then was very expensive. We tended to live off the pantry, and one shopping trip "to the city" every month.

In my adult life, my personal focus on preservation tends to be on things that were staples to me growing up: most specifically dill pickles, applesauce and tomatoes. Every year, I seem to add things that I now can't live without, Marisa's dilly beans and candied jalapenos for starters. This year lacto-fermentation was on the docket, and depending on the shelf lilfe, which has yet to be determined, I can see doing a lot more of it in the future. But no matter how much I feel like I have already preserved, I feel like I can always do more, like I am a "hoarder" of good whole food. Bulk (dry) storage hasn't really even been in the back of my mind, but it is always nice to know that I have bulk grains and now even raw sugar stashed in the basement.

When most of the year, organic oats at the co-op run near $1.50 a pound, I now seldom bat an eye knowing full well that I have quart jars full and sealed, just waiting for my breakfast and baking needs. Between my Mom and I, we usually secure a much lower price by buying in bulk - usually 50 lb. bags from her co-op in LaCrosse. In years past, my Mom would can the dry rolled oats, and then I would barter them from her, usually with pounds of Alterra coffee and quarts of toasty granola.

But recently, I was able to secure the best price on rolled oats from my co-op, so I purchased 60 pounds at 89 cents a pound, and am dry pack canning 30 pounds myself for the first time. My Mom has dry canned oats for several years, and really it is the easiest thing. Simply heat the oven to a low 225 degrees, fill quart jars with oats to within 1/4 inch of the top, and top with lids and rings. The jars can "bake" on their sides for 45-60 minutes. Remove from the oven, stand them carefully upright, and be patient for the "pop" of the lids. It takes just a bit longer (or, requires a bit more patience) to hear than the pop of the water bathed or pressure canned goods, but once sealed, it's a great feeling to know that the oats are safely sealed from moisture and pests. If you have some that don't seal, you can use them first. (My first batch of 12 quarts, or 10 lbs. of rolled oats had 4 non-sealing quarts. On my next batch, I plan to gently wipe the rims with a clean, lint free cloth to see if I can improve my sealant ratio.)

Outpost conveniently packaged the sale oats in 10 pound bags, easier on my back...

Upon a bit of research, I have found that dry pack canning can also be done in tin, and with any dry good that is less than 10% moisture. I like the idea of storing in glass, and have ample glass jars to use. Tin cans also require the use of specialized sealing equipment that may be available to rent in some areas. If you are interested in keeping the food "raw", this site recommends packing the jars with moisture absorbers, and avoiding any heating process. It seems to me that this method would be preferred for those trying to preserve the growing power in grains or beans, since you would not compromise their vitality.

Dry pack canning in the oven is also a good way to preserve nuts, though I have not tried it yet. I think I may try it with raw nuts and see how much "roasting" I get by the low oven temperature. Last year at Christmas, I made a few batches of these delicious nuts from Food in Jars - and I am curious if I could seal them using the dry pack method. I'll be sure to update this post after my experiments...

Update: 11/9/2010

Last night, I sealed another 12 jars (11 quarts, and 1 half gallon jar) using the same dry pack method described above, and achieved 100% sealing. Before fixing on the lids and rings, I brought the lids to a boil, and let them sit for 10 minutes to soften the seals. I also wiped the tops of the jars with a lint free cloth before topping them with the lids and rings.

When canning in a water bath or under pressure, you should never disturb the jars as they cool. But since we are talking about sealing a dry good, there are no such issues to be concerned with. When the jars were nearly room temp, and some still had not sealed, I borrowed a technique no longer recommended for jam making: I turned them upside down. I think I had 5 jars that I inverted, and by this morning, all of them had sealed. (My sealant test is to lift each jar by the lid only.)