For those who don’t truly appreciate it, food is reduced to pure sustenance. It is merely calories to produce energy, with little regard for the unique qualities of its many varieties. Cheddar, brie, and provolone are all just “cheese.” Rye, baguettes, and cornbread are simply “bread.” Salmon, tuna and shrimp are all carelessly slapped with the label “fish.”
Now this is not meant to sound judgmental. There are plenty of things for which I have an embarrassing lack of knowledge and appreciation. I couldn’t differentiate between Mozart, Beethoven and Chopin if you paid me, and there are about eight paintings whose artists I could actually name (don’t tell my college Art History professor.)
What the art buff, music lover and I share is the emotional connections we have to our respective interests. This is not the “I stuff my face with Ben & Jerry’s when I’m sad” type of emotional food relationship. Rather, it is an appreciation and acknowledgement of the thoughts, feelings and memories I associate with food. Take my bread example. As a foodie, I acknowledge and adore the sweet flavor of cornbread, the chewy texture of baguettes, and the beautiful ying-yang swirl of rye bread. My experience with these breads, however, travels far beyond the five basic senses. Cornbread evokes feelings of holiday cheer as I reminisce times spent enjoying my mom’s oyster dressing at Thanksgiving and Christmas. I cannot eat a baguette without thinking of my sweet friend Alexis and the countless laughs we shared over our lengthy soup dinners in Paris. I feel a sense of content with the faintest smell of Rye bread, as it reminds me of my dad’s love for a simple turkey mayo sandwich on Rye.
Food, to me, is stories. It is people, events, places, it is feelings. As such, my favorite foods to eat and prepare are those for which I have positive emotional associations. Foods that remind me of happy occasions, of loved ones, of beautiful places. Which brings us (finally) to the granola. Now just to be clear, my “positive emotional association” with this granola has nothing to do with the fact that we share a name. While it does have something to do with its crispy texture and robust flavor, the primary reason I love for this particular recipe is that connects me to my wonderful Aunt Patsy. She made this granola for us years ago, and ever since then I consider it to be Aunt Patsy’s granola (sorry, Eleven Madison Park.) While there are thousands of granola recipes out there, this one is and will always be my favorite because it reminds me of times spent with one of the sweestest, funniest, smartest ladies you will ever have the pleasure of meeting.
Just like Aunt Patsy, this granola is neither fussy nor pretentious. It is wholesome, comforting and straightforward. This recipe is not bogged down by dozens of high-sugar add-ins like many other granolas, but rather sticks with a short list of high-quality ingredients. What really puts this recipe above the rest is the addition of salt and olive oil, which gives the cereal an unexpected savory twist that enhances all accompanying flavors. Each bite is filled with a surprising melody of textures and flavors that is both satisfying yet puzzling.
Warning: there is one bad thing about this granola. YOU WILL NOT BE ABLE TO CONTROL YOURSELF AND YOU MAY EAT THE ENTIRE BATCH.
I encourage you to explore the associations and emotions you have with food. It is easy to ignore, but makes eating and preparing food immensely more enjoyable.
- 2 ¾ cups rolled oats
- 1 cup shelled pistachios (I have also used pecans)
- 1 cup unsweetened coconut chips
- ⅓ cup pumpkin seeds
- 1 tablespoon kosher salt
- ½ cup light brown sugar
- ⅓ cup maple syrup
- ⅓ cup extra virgin olive oil
- ¾ cup dried sour cherries, chopped
- Preheat oven to 300.Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.
- In a large bowl, mix together the oats, pistachios/pecans, coconut, pumpkin seeds and salt.
- Over low heat, warm the sugar, syrup and olive oil in a small saucepan until the sugar has just dissolved.
- Fold liquids into the oat mixture, making sure to coat all of the dry ingredients.
- Spread granola mixture on baking sheet. Bake until dry and lightly golden, 40-45 minutes, stirring granola a few times during baking.
- Remove granola from oven, and mix into it the dried sour cherries. Allow to cool to room temperature before transferring to a storage container.