The breakfast of champions

January 30, 2008 · 3 comments

[Can I say that? Will I be sued by Wheaties? I guess Kurt Vonnegut got away with it, and I mean, c’mon. We’re practically the same, Kurt and I.

To ward off that swarm of attorneys: I have no evidence to substantiate the inferred claim that the subject of today’s post has been eaten by any sort of official Champion (with a capital “C”). All I really mean is that, since it’s the only breakfast I can eat and make it clear through the morning without hunger pangs, low-blood-sugar shakes, or stomach growls, it’s the breakfast that helps me champion my morning (little “c”).]

I have never been the type of person who skipped breakfast. From childhood straight through until college, I woke up hungry every single day. Until I nursed a solid addiction to coffee in my early 20’s, I usually ate breakfast before I even showered or started putting hot rollers in my hair (hey — it was the 80’s).

I also never developed a taste for rich or sweet foods in the morning. In middle-school years, this was just one of many things that made me the undesired center-of-attention at say, slumber parties. The parents inevitably went out on Saturday morning and bought the biggest box of doughnuts they could carry home, and I would nibble for a moment at one, then attempt to inconspicuously ask for a bowl of cereal. Unsweetened, if possible.

Keep in mind, please, that this had absolutely nothing to do with gastronomic maturity, or with obedience to some health-crazed parent. Sweet, overly-processed foods just made me feel funny. Bisquick pancakes gave me a headache, and doughnuts made me nauseous and shaky. It was embarrassing; I was often asked something to the equivalent of, “You’re twelve years old. What the hell’s wrong with you?” (the profanity, of course, only being implied at that point to my untainted ears).

One time in grad school I was staying at a friend’s mom’s house. For breakfast one morning, we filled our bowls with what I think was my very first taste of homemade granola. It was not candy-sweet, was filled with huge chunks of almonds, and stuck to your ribs. After finishing breakfast, I felt satisfied and energized, without a shred of guilt. It was a great way to start the day, so I procured the recipe.

In the years since, I’ve tried many more granola recipes. And most of them are good, for a change, but by the end of the batch I’m sick of them (especially ones with heavy flavors, such as zested oranges or pumpkin pie spices). I always go back to this one. It’s wonderfully versatile, and leaves much room for improvisation. You can use more/less sweetener, or substitute fun things like maple syrup (I went through a short-lived molasses phase at one point). You can also add a variety of seeds, nuts, and other grains (the batch in the photo has millet and sesame seeds); the only rule is to keep the dry ingredients somewhat consistent with the original volume, or your granola will be too dry. This makes a big batch — you need two half-sheet pans to bake it; but it halves well, albeit with some odd measurements.

The recipe is named for my friend Taff’s mom, who shared with me her recipe. Make it, experiment with it, and get out there to save the world. Or maybe just get the laundry done.

Ms. Hellmann’s Granola

*You can find most of these ingredients in a supermarket, but will have better luck and spend less money if you can get them at a whole food grocery.

Preheat oven to 350º, and lightly coat two rimmed half-sheet pans with cooking spray.

Mix together in a very large bowl:

  • 8 cups old-fashioned (not quick-cooking) rolled oats
  • 1 cup raw wheat germ
  • 1 cup oat bran
  • 1/2 – 1 cup whole wheat flour (more flour makes chunkier granola)
  • 1 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
  • 1 cup nuts, roughly chopped (I typically use almonds or pecans, and usually double that amount, since I like nutty granola)

In a microwaveable medium-sized bowl, combine

  • 3/4 cup water
  • 3/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 1/2 cup honey
  • 1/2 cup light brown sugar
  • 1 tsp salt

Microwave for about 1-2 minutes, or until the sugar dissolves. Stir well, then add to the liquid mixture

  • 1 tsp vanilla extract

Pour the liquid mixture over the oat mixture, and stir very well, so that all the dry ingredients are coated. Press gently into the pans, trying to keep an even thickness to prevent over-browning. Bake for 15 minutes. Remove pans from the oven, and using a spatula, flip and stir chunks of the granola, then return pans to the oven. Bake another 10-15 minutes, or until your desired toasty-golden-color is reached. Remove the pans to cooling racks and let cool completely (granola will dry out and turn crunchy as it cools). Feel free at this point to stir in your favorite dried fruit; store in an airtight container (avoid plastic bags if possible, they give it an off-flavor) for up to a week or more.

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