I knew it was coming. That SHOOSH (pause) SQUEAK (pause) FWOOOOSH (peep of victory) is such a familiar sound by now. Even with my back turned and my attention taken up by a pot of boiling something-or-other, I can identify every stage of a kitchen chair's journey from table to counter. The initial launch of felt feet across floorboards. The mid-course corrections as the vehicle veers off course. The final happy THWACK! as chair's back meets tile's edge. These sounds are as common in my kitchen as the fierce spitting of onions hitting hot oil, as beloved as my coffee grinder's shrill whirr. I just wasn't expecting it so soon.
But there she was, like she'd been doing it all her life, when in fact she's supposed to be on solid ground for another month or four. Or at least suspended mid-air, buckled and snug. At this age, both boys were watching from a safer perch, tucked happily into a pack on my back, one of those external frame numbers intended, I suppose, for long mountain hikes but used by me mostly in my kitchen. Eventually, rather closer to two years than one, they moved off of my back and onto a chair. There, on their fourteen-inch floating island, each boy has logged countless hours counter-side. Elbow-deep in flour, fingers gluey with egg. Concocting glorious, swampy kitchen-sink soups from carrot peels and pepper cores. Evaluating statistically significant samples of chocolate chips during each round of cookie-baking. QC and all that, to make sure the star ingredient hasn't spoiled between batches.
It's a little tricky at first, and a lot messy for always. Between the inevitable spills (kids, water, whole bowls of cake batter) and the unique energy a pre-K sous-chef (or two) brings to the counter, I suppose it might drive one mad. I've had my moments. But mostly I love it, welcome it, maybe all the more because my oldest can now stand on his own two feet. That Max can not only see the counter without support, but towers head and shoulder over it, is my first, best reminder that these kitchen-chair days are numbered.
And the backpack days are, it seems, history. Zoe's been in the backpack. Briefly. Plenty long enough to make it clear that she doesn't wish to observe life over someone else's shoulder. Front row seats are not nearly close enough for my girl. She wants to be on the field, in the mix, shoulder to shoulder with every other player, every other brother. To be where it's happening. And as often as not, in our house, it's happening at the kitchen counter.
Cue the kitchen chair, then. And welcome to the club, baby girl. There's a will there, no question, bigger even than that grin spread across your sweet face. Of course you found a way, to close the pesky gap between tuft-top and countertop, to open up a whole new horizon. Henry and I are making granola this morning. We're so glad you've joined us.
Where It's Happening Granola
This granola has roots in the original Barefoot Contessa Cookbook and a long-lost 1970's Sunset recipe my mom once gave me. But by now it has a personality all its own. It is crunchy and flavorful and not too sweet, everything I crave in granola. I eat it more as condiment than cereal, spooned over bowls of plain whole-milk yogurt and sliced bananas, or layered between vanilla yogurt and blueberries, parfait-style. This one makes me happy every time, crunchy and flavorful and not too sweet. It is also endlessly flexible, more model than marching orders. Macadamias can be swapped out for the almonds; hazlenuts for pecans. Throw in sesame seeds if you have some; leave out the wheat germ if you don't. (Buy some if you can, though: it adds irresistable crunch.) Dried fruit could be added if you prefer a bit of chew (I don't), but do add it after baking to keep it tender. You get the idea. Only the oil is essential: don't skimp. Really. It looks like a lot, but amortizes out to very little over the dozens of servings this (huge) batch yields. More to the point, the oil and honey combine to deliver a dreamy crunch. I guess I'd rather eat a little less of this scrumptious version than more of a limp, low-fat facsimile.
One recipe note: this is dead-simple and comes together in a flash, even with pint-sized sous-chefs. But just like a toddler on a chair, it requires your presence nearby, as it can burn quickly. Make it on a morning you have other projects close by, and set the kitchen timer to remind you to stir.
4 cups old-fashioned oats
3/4 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup honey
2 cups unsweetened, large-flake coconut
1 tsp. salt
1 Tablespoon maple extract
2 cups sliced almonds
3/4 cup wheat germ
1 cup chopped pecans
Preheat oven to 300. Place rack in middle position.
Measure oil, honey and maple extract into a small pot (oil first; then the honey will slide right out). Heat over medium, until honey warms and can be stirred into the oil, 4-5 minutes.
While liquids are heating, mix all remaining ingredients in a big bowl. Toss to combine.
When oil-honey mixture has dissolved, stir it into the dry mix. Hands make quick work of this (the more the merrier, if you give the hot liquid a few minutes to cool).
Spread sticky oat mixture evenly over a half-sheet (jelly roll) pan. Bake in the preheated 300 oven, stirring every 10 minutes, until golden brown, about 30 minutes. Stay close, and stir from the edges in, for even browning. Granola will crisp up as it cools.
Let cool completely (4-6 hours), then pack in air-tight containers. Stores beautifully at room temperature for weeks, maybe months (we've never managed to keep it longer).