It cannot be overstated just how excellent a January spiff-up can be.
I know, I know, the month is half through. All this deep cleaning nonsense should be done and gone. Don't tell my cleaning gene. It's a shy and fickle thing. Might just flee, if we fuss about timing. As it is, we're carrying on just fine, at our own steady, halting, haphazard pace.
The spices, it seems, were just the beginning. Going Through has become something of a pastime. Zoë will ask what we'll do, today, and my answer invariably starts with "Oh, Going Through... (insert drawer/cupboard/closet/ contained chaos here)". You could call it organizing, I guess, but that sounds a bit stern, a bit pursed in the lips. This has been organizing of a different order, the what-do-we-want-of-our-days-anyway-and-how-can-where-we-bump-about-help-us-get-there? sort.
The good sort. The invigorating sort.
We've emptied and assessed and culled the gadgets. Re-arranged drawers. Gutted the chocolate cupboard. Taken stock of the silverware. (Goodbye *gulp* baby spoons.)
Four years after moving in, the food processor discs finally found a home. Also, the tangly meat thermometer, the wide kitchen scale, the potato masher, which is all pointy elbows and too-long legs, the gawky teen of the kitchen community.
The pantry's been loved, beans here, grains there, long lost polenta at last found. We held a much-needed cracker shelf day of reckoning. Tossed three giant cello bags holding a combined total of six stale crumbs. And wondered, for the umpteenth time, why there are always, always, two pretzels sacks open.
We've hosted a jar and lid reunion. Inventoried vinegars. Tidied teas. There weren't all that many of either, but we found a few slackers, gave them the boot. Odd beverages and condiments, you're on notice: no loitering allowed, no prisoners taken.
One weird tall skinny cupboard found its calling. On a whim, I evicted the trays and racks and 18-pound iron griddle I never ever use. In their place went our two trusty bread tins, our much-loved popover pans, and our pizza peel, the one that set me back a buck at the Ballard Goodwill, years ago. The one I've long stored around the corner, and down the hall, and in a broom closet, under five cast iron skillets. The one I groan about excavating every time we make pizza. Which is, like, every week.
Never occurred to me it might fit in the kitchen.
Broken dolls have been mended. Closets, edited. Games, organized. Basement storage, rationalized.
Sort of. A small area. Okay, a box. Not anything like all. But a start.
Kung Fu Sock Monkey Pajamas have been made!
(Using up stash counts as cleaning, right? Right! Also, my middle name is Enable!)
Mostly, it's all still a mess. My desk is a Class-A Disaster Zone. The coat closet needs a liability waiver. Garage: Gag-order. No comment. Partly, this is due to the upside-down, inside-out manner in which I clean. Farthest reaches first, for better or worse. This whole whirlwhind began after I wiped down the lone laundry room shelf, a few weeks back. The ancient laundry room, in the deepest darkest corner, of the deep dark basement, that I affectionately think of as the dungeon. I love the dungeon. It's an honor to have one.
Still, it's not as if the aforementioned shelf ever sees the light of day. Or the eyes of company. Or has any reason to be scoured when stacks, piles, and messes multiply everywhere. Unchecked.
But my eyes see it, all the time, and its grime had irked me for months. We'll leave aside, for the moment, the becauses of why I didn't hop on it any sooner. What matters, for our purposes today, is that I finally did wipe the darn thing down. Tossed old junk. Lined up good junk. Generally gave it a good going over. And every time I do a load of wash, and I do a lot of loads of wash, I startle just a little and thrill rather a lot over that tiny, hidden pocket of clean. It's like one of those mousy brown Boden coats with the hip Brit electric dot lining, SURPRISE!
(To experience this level of satisfaction over a shelf is, I'm fairly certain, confirmation I'm old.)
And partly, the enduring disarray is due to the natural order of things. Cleaning with kids is shoveling snow in a blizzard. That silverware purge led to a chopstick revival, with many sets tried out in turn. Those PJ's made a nice dent in the stash, and a nice mess of the sewing corner. Game tidying leads to game playing. Crayon donating to crayon coloring.
And if you set out to arrange art supplies, you might find sealing wax. And chances are, you'll want to play with fire, and melt some. And melting the wax will lead to discussions of letters and secret messages and middle ages. And all that medieval talk might lead to this book, and a knight's helmet. A dame's, also. And those helmets will require glue, and scissors, and cardstock, and when you go to put those away, you might notice the art cupboard's a bit of a mess ... and is in need of a bit of arranging.
It's all very Mouse-and-Cookie-ish. It makes me just a tiny bit batty.
I wouldn't have it any other way.
Probably because I'm just as prone as they are to a good bout of distraction. If you give a Molly an empty jar, chances are she'll want some maple macadamia granola to fill it...
Fact is, we keep granola on hand almost always, and had been out since Thanksgiving. Somehow, December got away from me. When we set the pantry to rights, we found we had everything for a fresh batch. Which is good, since I've been meaning to bring you some granola for a while now. I didn't realize what a long while, until I clicked on a file called "granola 2.0". There, if the above and below bowl parade's any indication, is proof positive that I've meant several times to talk granola. Also, that I am part Danish, part English, and part plain whole milk yogurt, sliced bananas, and oats.
We spoke granola once, long ago, and that formula remains the foundation for what we do. But shortly after I posted that recipe, I changed a few things. Critical, oat-altering, delectable things. That very same week, Melissa Clark ran Nekisia Davis' now-famous olive oil granola recipe. Comic timing, kitchen-style. I didn't try it instantly, for four obvious reasons, namely four quarts of fresh homemade granola. But I tore it out, for trying ASAP.
I've never looked back, since ASAP.
Now, olive oil granola is, by now, about as cutting edge as clay tablets and cuneiform. Many pens have put into words far finer than mine the pure joy of this treatment. I cannot describe better, toot louder, squeal higher, over why this variation trumps all. I can only tell you, since fall of 2009, that I've personally set some fifty-plus pounds of oats aswim in olive oil.
And that I finally tired of toggling between versions, mine and that bedraggled yellow Times tear sheet.
So in the spirit of clean cupboards and full jars (and streamlining my future granola-making sessions), I'm setting down here our house granola 2.0. What elevates it to second generation status is an extra hit of salt, a cut of maple syrup, pumpkin seeds, and that signature slug of olive oil. The olive oil's the game-changer, somehow nailing an inimitable loft, a featherweight crisp, for which this recipe's rightly famous.
It also works a second magic, less obvious, no less important, on the flavor of the stuff. It does a little dance with the sugar, rounds it out, ripens it. If ordinary granola is sweet like noon sun, bright, clear, unmodulated, olive-oiled granola is blue hour sweet, rich, inflected, eloquent.
I owe Early Bird a letter of thanks, for forever changing our granola. Someday, I may even try their recipe. To date, I've merely plucked those four parts, and bolted them on to our old faithfuls. Coconut chips galore, for their fantastic crisp crunch. Wheat germ, which coats the oats like panko does tempura. Sesame seeds, tiny toasty nutty pings, like so many edible french knots. Maple extract, the barrel-chested baritone to maple syrup's waifish soprano. Salted macadamias. Salted macadamias. Just a few. More than plenty. Enough to make each bowl a treasure hunt.
I leave off all spice, favoring instead the pure buttery crunch of the nuts and grains. Similarly, I don't add dried fruit, even though I adore tart dried cherries and apricots elsewhere. I prefer the flexibility of adding something fresh, bananas, berries. Also, I find the lurking moisture in dried fruit over time compromises the oats' addictive shatter. I get a little wild-eyed about that shatter. Do not get between me and my shatter.
And that is the beauty of DIY granola: you can tweak and noodge to suit. Don't eat wheat? Leave out the germ, and use Bob's GF oats. Macadamias not in the budget? Pecans beguile. Walnuts, also. Maple extract not your thing? Double up the syrup; I'll still be your friend. Feel like granola's too much of a project, babysitting an oven for an hour? Quadruple the recipe below, and bake up enough to last clear through Q1. That's what I do. Indeed, to write up what follows, I first had to put pencil to paper, to divide cups, pounds and tablespoons into some semblance of reasonable.
My own recipe begins with "16 cups old-fashioned oats". I make six half-sheet pans, at one go. Maybe someday I'll tire of this version. But for now, I can't see making it any other way.
Sources: I buy whole salted macadamia nuts and slivered almonds from Costco; and the sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds and coconut chips from the bulk section of a well-stocked grocery store. Trader Joe's can also be a great source for nuts and seeds. For maple extract, try here, or the baking aisle, near the almond and vanilla extracts. For oats, we use good old Quaker.
Variations: I use the 1/2 cup of brown sugar, as we usually eat this over plain, unsweetened yogurt. If you like a less sweet granola, or a sweeter yogurt, decrease the sugar to 1/3 cup. As to the salt, I adore two teaspoons, which is not salty so much as bright. For invisible, stealthy salt, decrease to 1 1/2 teaspoons.
4 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
2 1/2 cups unsweetened coconut chips
1 1/2 cups slivered almonds
8 ounces salted macadamia nuts, roughly chopped
1/2 cup raw pumpkin seeds, hulled
1/2 cup raw sesame seeds
1/2 cup raw wheat germ
1 1/2-2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/3-1/2 cup light brown sugar
2/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 cup real maple syrup (ideally grade b), or 1/2 cup syrup + 1/2 cup honey
2 teaspoons maple extract
Preheat oven to 275°, and place two racks in middle positions. Line 2 rimmed baking trays (half sheet pans) with parchment, such that paper extends an inch or so beyond all edges. This will prevent granola from direct contact with your tray, and make clean up effortless.
In a large bowl, combine oats, coconut, almonds, macadamias, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, wheat germ, salt, and brown sugar. Toss well with clean hands to combine, then pour over olive oil, syrup, and honey and/or maple extract, if using. Stir well to distribute liquids and combine, using hands if needed to coat dry ingredients with wet.
Tip mixture onto parchment-lined sheets, spreading to the corners in a roughly even layer. Place in preheated oven, and set timer for 25 minutes. When timer beeps, give both trays a stir, paying special attention to the corners, which will toast and brown first. Bake another 20-40 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes, until granola is golden brown in color, and your kitchen is overcome with its scent. Granola will still be a bit shiny, but no longer wet. Remove granola, leave on trays, and let cool completely to room temperature, 3-4 hours. Alternatively, turn oven off, and leave granola in the dark oven to cool. Either way, granola will crisp as it cools, taking on its characteristic shatter only after several hours. When completely cool, transfer to an airtight container.
Granola keeps, beautifully, airtight, for months. As long as there are no humans around.