Ritual Cooking: Granola

by Caroline

As a child, one of my favorite books was Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Farmer Boy, which details in mouth-watering specificity the meals cooked in Laura’s husband’s family when he was growing up. I remember beautiful descriptions of the breakfasts, particularly: pancakes stacked high with dollops of fresh butter and maple sugar; two kinds of fruit pie; a pinkly glazed ham …

I liked the abundance, sure, but I also liked the ritual and regularity of it all. Saturday mornings: the feast. Saturday nights: bath. Sunday mornings: church.

My childhood moved with some ritual and regularity, too, marked largely by the specific rhythms of church and garden, which I associated with my dad. My mom gave us our household routine; for instance, I remember a period of Saturday mornings when she would wash her long hair, and since she liked to let it air dry, we wouldn’t leave the house till afternoon. So she’d stir together bread dough; I’d help knead, and by the time the bread was ready to come out of the oven, her hair was dry and we could go out someplace.

My current life doesn’t feel like this at all. The routine feels very ad hoc, always shifting in response to the boys’ school and practice schedules. Laundry day comes whenever dirty clothes overflow the hampers, bread gets baked rarely, marketing happens at different grocery stores or farmer’s markets (we’re lucky to have so many to choose from) when we can squeeze it in between other errands.

The one fixed weekly cooking event, often but not always on Monday night, is baking granola. I eat this every morning, and usually Eli joins me for some “mama breakfast” too. The recipe is adapted from Nigella Lawson’s wonderful Feast (an aside: if you don’t have this cookbook, run out for it now. It doesn’t just offer great recipes, it’s beautifully written; the section on funeral feasts brings me to tears. The Chocolate Cake Hall of Fame is worth the price of the book alone [just please ignore her insistence that plastic wrap lining a cake pan won’t melt in the oven. It will. Skip that step.])

So here’s the granola recipe. It’s a fine thing to make with kids, as the measuring doesn’t need to be exact, and they love to scoop up the ingredients, dump them into a big bowl, and stir it all up with their hands.

6 cup rolled oats and/or raw multigrain cereal flakes (Trader Joe’s carries a nice barley-oat-rye-wheat flake mix that I use)
2 cup raw slivered almonds
1 cup raw pumpkin seeds
1 cup raw sesame seeds
1 cup raw sunflower seeds
1/2 cup ground flax meal
1/2 cup wheat germ
2 tsp cinnamon

2 tbsp vegetable oil
1 scant cup honey, rice syrup, maple syrup, or some combination thereof (I use half brown rice syrup and half honey)

1-2 cups dried cranberries or raisins (optional); add these after the granola has baked, otherwise they get too hard

Preheat oven to 320. Stir together all the dry ingredients in a large bowl until well combined (this part can be done with little kid hands).


Add the oil and honey or syrup, and combine well. Pour into two large, lightly oiled baking pans (I use two metal roasting pans) and bake for about 45 minutes, stirring two or three times along the way.

Remove from the oven then cool completely before storing in an airtight container.

Wonderballs (because it’s a bit too early for holiday baking)

by Caroline

It’s an in-between time right now. We have some Christmas decorations up (paper-glitter snowflakes, a wreath on the door) but not all (no tree, no stockings). The boys are opening up windows on the Advent calendar and counting down the days till Christmas, while I am counting down the (fewer) days till I can start some Christmas baking. I have past lists of cookies and treats to guide me, and some new recipes to try, and I will report back after the new year.

In the meantime, it’s time to stir up another batch of Wonderballs, originally published as Powerballs in Wondertime magazine. These are easy (the kids can make them!), keep in the freezer, and are a pretty healthy little burst of energy snack:

Makes 40-48

Mix together 1 cup peanut butter and 1 cup honey until smooth. Gradually add in 3 cups old fashioned oats and 1/2 cup ground flaxseed. Add 1 cup chocolate chips (I rarely reduce the chocolate in a recipe, but I do cut this by half, just to make it easier to form the balls; also, if you have mini chocolate chips, use those) and 1 cup any combination of chopped nuts and soft dried fruit (try 1/2 cup coarsely chopped peanuts and 1/4 cup each of raisins and dried cranberries) and mix gently in your stand mixer or smush together by hand.

Roll into Ping-Pong-size balls and, for maximum presentation value, put in paper mini muffin cups. You can eat them right away, but they’ll be less sticky after a night in the fridge. They freeze well too, layered on wax paper in an airtight container.

‘Tis the season… Pumpkin Bread

by Caroline

This time of year, I start baking even more than usual  and Eli doesn’t want to eat anything but another quick bread, be it apple, pear, banana or pumpkin. So I get him to bake with me, which he is happy to do, wielding his whisk with great care. I also try to adjust the recipes a bit to make them more nutritious; he thinks he can live on bread alone, and with this and some milk or yogurt on the side… Well, I still want him to eat green vegetables. But this is pretty good.

I started with a recipe from Gourmet magazine which hasn’t turned up on line yet; I cut the sugar, replaced the white flour with whole wheat, and replaced some of the oil with ground flaxseed. It’s light and delicious.

2 c whole wheat flour

6 T ground flax

3/4 t baking soda

1/2 t ground cinnamon

1/4 t ground allspice

1/4 t ground cloves

1/4 t ground ginger

1/4 t salt

2 large eggs

1/3 c water or milk

1 c brown sugar

1 c pumpkin puree

3 oz vegetable oil

1 t vanilla extract

1 c chopped toasted walnuts (optional; I leave them out because the kids don’t like them)

Preheat the oven to 350 and line a 9 x 5 inch baking pan with parchment.

Whisk together the dry ingredients in one bowl, then whisk together the remaining ingredients in a second bowl. Add the wet to the dry and whisk until blended and smooth. Pour batter into prepared pan.

Bake for 45 minutes, until the bread is firm to the touch and a tester inserted into the middle of the loaf comes out clean. Baked goods with flax in them tend to brown pretty quickly, so if your bread is getting  dark and the loaf isn’t cooked through yet, just cover it lightly with foil and continue baking.

Snickerdoodle Muffins

posted by Caroline

If you settle Eli for a nap, he’ll want to read a book first.

So you’ll bring out one of his best-loved books.

When you’re finished reading the book, he’ll want another.

And another.

When you say they’re all gone, he’ll ask you for a sip of water before sleeping.

So you refill his water bottle and he has a long drink.

Having a long drink makes him realize he needs to pee, so you walk him to the bathroom.

When he’s in the bathroom, he’ll see his bathtub Titanic, which will remind him of the lake he dug in the sandbox at preschool this morning.

So you talk all about preschool, where his friend made sand-cinnamon muffins. “Speaking of muffins,” he says, “I want to make muffins!”

So you offer to make some, but only after he naps.

So he settles into bed thinking about muffins, and wakes up ninety minutes later saying “Muffins! Let’s make some!”

So you get out the ingredients, and your muffin tins, and less than an hour later you eat muffins topped with your friend’s homemade strawberry jam. Yum.

Snickerdoodle Muffins

Adapted from the Joy of Cooking

Preheat oven to 400; line a standard 12-cup muffin tin with paper cups (this is an excellent job for a preschool helper)

Whisk together in a large bowl (the larger the bowl, the less chance your helper will scatter flour on your floor):
2 c all-purpose flour
1 T baking powder
½ t salt
1 t cinnamon
6 T flax seed meal

Whisk together in another large bowl (again, the larger the bowl the better for your  young helper):
2 large eggs
1 c milk
2/3 c brown sugar
6 T melted butter or vegetable oil
1 t vanilla

Add to the flour mixture and stir together lightly, just until the dry ingredients are moistened. Perhaps take the spoon out of your helper’s hand now so that the batter doesn’t get overmixed. Divide the batter among the muffin cups. Bake until a toothpick inserted in the middle of one or two muffins comes out clean, 12-15 minutes.

Take the muffins out of the pan and place them on a wire rack to cool. While they’re cooling a bit, put 1 T of butter in a heatproof dish, and let it melt in your cooling oven. By the time the butter’s melted, the muffins will be cool enough for your helper to brush with melted butter, and sprinkle with sugar and cinnamon. Eat with jam, or not.


posted by Caroline

At home, I am a miser with berries. I haven’t quite gotten over the sticker shock when I pick up a basket of organic berries. But I fork over the money, thinking of the farmers who will use the income to pay their employees a decent wage, feed their children, buy health insurance.

Still, I can’t help but want to dole out the fruit in small doses, save it for special occasions, offer an inexpensive apple instead. Much as I adore summer fruit, much as I hate to see the glorious variety of strawberries, blueberries, raspberries,  ollallaberries, nectarines, apricots, peaches, plums, pluots, aprium, and plumcots give way to four straight months of apples and pears, much as I regret all the torn-out magazine recipes that I didn’t get a chance to try, the frugal New Englander in me is honestly a tiny little bit relieved when the summer bounty is past and we’re back to apples and pears. Pears and apples.

Which is why every summer I make a point of bringing the boys to visit my parents’ home in the Connecticut woods, where they can eat all the berries they like. This year we arrived in late August, between the two raspberry crops, but there were a couple quarts in the freezer which the boys ate, thawed, on their breakfast cereal. Ben picked both blueberries, paraphrasing Blueberries for Sal (“Kerplink! Kerplank! Kerplunk!”) as he did, and blackberries, toughing out the sharp thorns longer than I would have expected, and then proudly showed off his harvest to everyone in the house.

Both boys ate little peaches, some no more than two or three bites, the speckled skin hiding a perfect sweet-tart balance.

And my dad peeled and cut up about forty of them for me to bake into a peach and blackberry crisp:

The boys gathered windfall apples and admired the last small green pears of the season. They tried gooseberries (not a hit), and if we’d stayed one more day, I would have thawed some of July’s strawberries and rhubarb for a pie.

Of course, the price of these fruits is harder to figure. First there is time. My dad planted the orchard before there was a house on this property; I was a kid when I helped him line up the trees, unable to share his vision of an orchard through the tangled brush, but happy enough to play along. The berries have been planted more recently, but some only this year matured enough to produce a decent harvest. And then there is care. The blueberries (transplants from a patch near my late grandfather’s house) need to be netted from the birds, the trees pruned and fenced to protect them from deer, the more delicate plants mulched for winter. And then there is the harvesting, and the processing — freezing some whole, some hulled, others peeled and pitted.

There is no way to pay for all this bounty, except to say thank you, and eat, and say thank you again.

And so when the boys crowded into the kitchen asking for a snack, I’d say, “How about some berries?” and fill their bowls.