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what i recall

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I wanted to write about my sister, Sara, because I made this granola for her. I have been searching the recesses of my memory for the last several days, trying to come up with the perfect story–you know, the one that encapsulates my relationship with my best friend, one of the people I most admire and my only sibling. And also somehow relates to granola. And birthdays.

Needless to say, that story does not seem to exist in my memory.

But with granola on my mind, I started thinking about breakfast, which Sara and I ate together when we were small, each and every morning, and I do remember that.

I wasn’t all that excited about breakfast back in those days. (I mean, it was fine. It wasn’t cake, but it was fine.) Yet alongside my general lack of enthusiasm, what I recall is happiness. On weekday mornings before school, Sara and I sat at the high table in our kitchen. My mom was there, too, pouring orange juice, packing lunches, joining us at the table.

We didn’t eat anything fancy on those mornings, just cereal, or English muffins with peanut butter and homemade strawberry jam, or warm toast spread with butter and generously sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar. Sometimes, on really good days, we ate my mother’s blueberry or bran muffins, or thick, soft slices of her loaves of honey-wheat bread. (On less-good days, we ate the dreaded bowls of oatmeal…which, it turns out, adult Stacy adores; I eat my oats with gusto nearly every morning.) We drank orange juice, and hot apple cider during autumn, and sometimes, on very special, very cold days, hot chocolate.

(Such delicacies as Pop-Tarts and Cocoa Puffs were reserved for the weekend. And though I shudder now, I loved them both.)

But regardless of what we ate and drank, Sara was sitting at the table with me. And if we were behaving true to form, I was blabbering, talking a mile a minute, and Sara was quieter. She listened and observed and spoke less often but with more wisdom. We were so different, yet I admired her so much. She was kind and beautiful and smart and interesting. (Still true.) I, being three years younger, was awkward and, well, less fully formed as a human being. (Perhaps also still true.) I have no idea why she spent so much time with me. But as far back as I can remember, she was my best friend.

And when I think about my life, about breakfasts and summer vacations and after school snacks and crafts and holidays and growing up, I think about her, and I am grateful. She is an integral part of a million everyday memories, the ones that seem so commonplace that they’re hard to recall with any kind of specificity.

It is like granola, actually. Granola, and breakfast, and the people we are closest to can seem so ordinary, and we sometimes misinterpret them as mundane or uninteresting. But the kind of everyday that describes those we love–or a granola this crisp and delicious–is anything but boring and simple.

Though these wishes are belated, as I couldn’t well post this recipe before the birthday granola made it to Minnesota…

Happy birthday, dear Sara. Thank you for making my everyday life so extraordinary.

And as for the granola, I’m far from the first to post this recipe, but I hope it will still be new to some in my readership. And if perhaps you’ve already heard everyone raving about this crunchy goodness but still haven’t made a batch, let me be the one to convince you, because this stuff is really delicious. It is sweet and salty, with all kinds of healthful goodness and big, crackling flakes of coconut throughout. The olive oil and maple syrup are a divine combination, and whatever minor variations you must make to suit your taste will be highly successful, I am sure.

This granola is wonderful in all of granola’s classic manifestations: with yogurt, covered in milk, atop oatmeal, sprinkled on ice cream, with various fresh fruits. But I think I like it best by the handful, preferably late at night.

Of course, I cannot be trusted with granola of any kind in my apartment, so maybe I’m not the best person to give an opinion on all of this. So let us turn to my wise, older sister: “Amazing,” she says.

I told you she was smart.

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Olive Oil and Maple Granola

Adapted from Melissa Clark’s In the Kitchen with A Good Appetite

Choose the nuts and dried fruits you like best. I used walnuts and dried cherries. Pecans would be lovely, as would dates and/or raisins. I used the amounts of sweeteners listed below and thought that the granola was delicious and plenty sweet. However, the original recipe calls for 3/4 cup maple syrup and 1/3 cup brown sugar, so feel free to bump up those amounts if you like!

3 cups old-fashioned rolled oats

1 1/4 – 1 1/2 cups coarsely chopped raw nuts

1 cup raw pumpkin seeds, hulled

1/4 cup raw sesame seeds, hulled (optional)

1 cup coconut chips

1/2 cup maple syrup

1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil

1/4 cup light brown sugar, packed

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 – 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg, ginger or cardamom

3/4 cup dried fruits, chopped if large

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees.

In a large bowl, combine all of the ingredients except for the dried fruits. Spread the mixture evenly on a large (about 11×17 inches), rimmed baking sheet.

Bake for approximately 45 minute, stirring every 10 minutes, or until the granola is golden brown and well toasted.

Mix in the dried fruits. Allow the granola to cool as much as you can, and then grab a handful and enjoy!

Yield: about 9 cups

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