Oh the pleasures of life with a toddler. Each morning, my husband and I are greeted by a little human climbing into our warm bed who wakes us with a shout of, "Get up! Want go downstairs now."
Sometimes we bargain back. "It's still dark. Wait till there's light..." or, holding up a cell phone, "Wait till it says seven-zero-zero, okay?"
It's always the same: Not happening, mom and dad.
So we tumble out of bed, find our way to the dining table, and out comes the...yep, that ubiquitous (in kid households, at least) box of machine-extruded cereal in the shape of small Os. We go through bowlfuls of the stuff.
My husband sits next to the toddler, who bounces on his chair, shoveling in the cereal, which drips with the local raw milk that's been poured over it.
From as early on as possible, we've been talking to our son about how veggies grow from dirt and fruit from bushes and trees. And, he's always come back with plenty of questions, mostly beginning with the word, "Why?"
"Why the flowers yellow?"
"Why the dog bark like that?"
Why, why, what, where?
"Where Os from?"
That is the question he has inevitably asked. Not sure, I have to answer. From a factory somewhere? A machine at the factory probably pushed out the Os? He looks at me, confused.
We've foraged for huckleberries and blackberries together, gone to a local farm to pick strawberries. Gleaned yellow plums from a friend's overflowing backyard tree.
We've done things like drive the thirty miles down to visit Thoughtful Food Farm to see where the hog we bought this year was pastured and slaughtered. Farmer Jeff even pulled up a four-pound, end-of-season beet for us to take home (and yes indeed, I did go home and hold it up to our dog's head to take pictures, for size comparison).
Little human and I managed to visit at least four farms this growing season, which I think is pretty good. By now, he has a sense of where food comes from.
But we haven't yet been to a factory to see how his beloved packaged cereal is made.
When you are around a young child who asks so many questions about the world, you might view the job of answering a million-and-one inquiries as tiresome. But what a wonderful thing it is, that natural curiosity!
If we could see everything as shiny, new and exciting too, the world might be a different place. Think about it. We might even be altogether different people. The kind who would, unprompted, start dancing around on the sidewalk. Or, jump up and down at the sight of the glowing full moon.
Why is it so important to ask where our food comes from, much less to know, or to know what is in it? Or, even further, to ask who grew it, produced it?
Does it really matter very much?
As human beings we innately have a need to know the meaning of things. Again, look at the toddler and his bevy of questions. But, it seems we have moved so far away from our natural state of curiosity that have we have become willing to accept as food a machine extruded or compressed item wrapped in cellophane which is then placed in a cardboard box printed with bright letters.
Nearly all of us accept this as the norm, even at times, our own family. But at least we are conscious of this. I'd like my son to know this kind of "food" exists and even allow him to try it so that he can eventually make his own choices about what to consume. Perhaps by then, the natural state of asking "Why?" or "What is this?" or "Where does this come from?" will be firmly and irrevocably entrenched in him.
Thankfully, this granola is one of those rare things my son is willing to eat instead of the Os. It's packed with rolled oats, toasted pecans, sunflower seeds, coconut, and maple syrup. No refined sugar. It's a family favorite, a granola we can agree on anytime in our house. We eat it for breakfast and as a snack, with or without milk or yogurt.
While there are many types of granola recipes out there, I like this one for its lack of sugar (other than the maple syrup) and its simplicity. I've adapted it slightly from Kim Boyce's terrific book, Good to the Grain.
We differ somewhat in our ingredients and cook times, but I've held onto Ms. Boyce's technique of boiling down the maple syrup to concentrate it then adding a bit of butter and kosher salt. The resulting granola has a beautiful, golden sheen and a hint of salty-sweetness. If you are like me and prefer to have a savory edge to your sweet things, then this granola is it.
You can toss a bit of dried fruit (blueberries, cranberries, raisins, etc.) in at the end as well if you need more sweetness. I don't bother with that. I'm a plain Jane kind of gal when it comes to my granola. But I'm also the first to admit that fruit is a delicious thing.
Try this out. You might start making it once a week like I do. For the toddler's sake, of course.
P.S. It also just occurred to me that this makes a great holiday gift too! Just pour some into a clear cellophane bag and tie it with a pretty ribbon and...c'est oila!
Maple Pecan Granola
Makes about 8 cups.
2 cups pecan halves or pieces
3 cups rolled oats
1 1/2 cups unsweetened coconut flakes
1/2 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
1/2 cup unsalted sunflower seeds
1 cup maple syrup, B-grade, preferably organic
2 ounces (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1 teaspoon kosher salt
Heat oven to 325 degrees.
Spread pecans onto a baking sheet and toast for 12 to 15 minutes until they begin to become fragrant and toasted.
Prepare two rimmed baking sheets. Butter them or use pieces of parchment paper to line the pan.
Place oat flakes, the two types of coconut and sunflower seeds in a large bowl. Add the toasted pecans (breaking some into halves and smaller pieces). Combine the ingredients with your hands.
For the syrup:
Measure the maple syrup into a small, heavy-bottomed saucepan. Place it over medium-high heat for about 8 minutes, until the syrup is reduced to 3/4 cup but no less (granola will lose its sheen). The syrup may bubble up. Reduce heat if needed, to prevent it from boiling over.
Measure the reduced syrup and then pour it back into the saucepan. Add the the butter and salt. Allow butter to melt, swirling the pan to help it along.
As soon as the butter melts, immediately pour the syrup over the oats mixture. Use a spatula to mix and coat every bit of the oat mixture with syrup. This means tossing, scraping and going over the mixture again with your spatula.
Spread granola in a single layer in each of your prepared baking sheets. The layer will be clumpy.
Bake for 10 minutes. Remove the sheets, shutting oven door as soon as possible, and scrape the edges of the granola to the center and the center areas to the outer edges. Try not to disturb the mixture too much, so that you retain clumps that will eventually turn delicious, crunchy and golden.
Rotate the sheets so the one that was on the top goes to the bottom rack and vice versa. This will ensure even cooking.
Repeat this process a second and third time, in 10 minute intervals, for a total cook time of 30 minutes. If you prefer your granola darker, you may want to leave it in longer, but do keep an eye on it. If you prefer it lighter, take it out 5 minutes before the end of the third bake.
Take baking pans out of the oven and allow the granola to cool completely so that crunchy clumps can form. Once cooled, you may add dried fruit if you like. If not, transfer to airtight containers.
This granola will keep for at least one week.