As I write this, a squirrel or some other small rodent scurries between or kitchen walls, unseen. It wants to break through the drywall in a mad sprint across the room to the stove where a batch of just made granola cools on the stovetop. Toasted coconut, nuts, oats, and raisins spiced with threads of orange peel and then twirled with butter and maple syrup is bound to make anyone scurry, animal or not. However, I wouldn’t call it squirrel food, far from it.
The critter (now lovingly referred as "squirrel," although it could also be a chipmunk, albeit an engorged one, since it thumps and hops as if it weighs five or more pounds) doesn't comes around for fresh baked granola, it also comes at the odd hours (usually at the very top and bottom of a day) I find myself writing, cooking, and washing dishes the pile of after dinner dishes. It runs laps inside the wall up and down the wooden beams click clacking its claws. It perceives succulent smells and keyboard music as an invitation to visit.
Coincidence? I don't think so.
Squirrel muse? You're pushing it.
A hungry granola-loving squirrel? More likely.
I hadn’t planned on telling you about the squirrel. Just the granola. But these stories have a way of slipping through as with the click clacking of squirrel claws, slow moving fingers arching over a laptop keyboard, and chugging cross-country trains that without fail, arrive in Portland, Oregon at least eight hours late.
The granola I’m talking about predates our kitchen squirrel. It dates back to the chugging Amtrak granola days. Those five meandering years between college and graduate school when I took several train trips across the country with bags of granola and an insatiable desire to study life through a camera lens.
It was on the Empire Builder, the train running from Chicago to Portland, when I played gin rummy with a few other twenty-something women who came from California, Oregon, and Australia. Somewhere in the middle of Idaho just as "Rummy" was called, I pulled out a bag of granola. It may have well been a bag of truth serum instead of baked oats, nuts, and fruit since it seemed that the more we ate the more intimate details were revealed. Now all I can remember about these strangers are details of their past loves and the ramen noodle bowls that they had been living off of for weeks at a time.
But, you’ll have that with granola. Strangers and train rides and squirrels. Hopefully, not all at once.
I made a double batch so I'm giving away a jar of my maple almond granola along with some greek yogurt samples, if you're interested.
Maple Almond Granola
Yield about 10 cups
4 cups rolled oats
¾ cup raw unsalted sunflower seeds (chopped)
1 cup raw unsalted almonds (chopped)
1 ½ cups unsweetened shredded coconut
grated zest of 2 oranges (use organic for best flavor and no pesticides)
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon sea salt
½ cup unsalted butter
¾ cup pure maple syrup
1 tablespoon raw almond butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
¼ teaspoon almond extract
1 ½ cups raisins
Preheat oven to 300 F. Set aside two rimmed baking sheets.
In a large mixing bowl, combine oats, sunflower seeds, almonds, coconut, orange zest, cinnamon, and salt.
In a small saucepan melt butter; add maple syrup and almond butter and whisk to thoroughly combine. Remove from heat and add extracts.
Slowly pour the maple butter mixture over the oat mixture and stir until everything is evenly coated.
Divide the mixture between the baking sheets and spread into an even layer. Bake until granola is dry and golden (about 40 minutes), stirring granola every 10 minutes so that it toasts evenly. Remove from oven; stir in the raisins. Allow to cool completely. Store in airtight jars or containers.
(This recipe is inspired by Heidi Swanson’s “Grain-ola” recipe found in Super Natural Cooking and Cynthia Lair’s “Maple Butter Nut Granola” found in Feeding the Whole Family).