I am here to tell you
First things first: thank you for the well wishes! That cold was a real heavyweight champion, the type that takes you down so hard that, for five or six days, your eyelids never make it above half-mast. I’m so glad that’s behind me. Though I did sneeze twice as I was typing that last sentence.
A couple of years ago, not long after we opened Delancey, back in the days when I was still cooking there every night and trying to write on the side and living on pizza and cookie dough and adrenaline and contemplating a third career as a mass murderer, my friend Brian came to Seattle. I guess I should specify that we weren’t really friends yet; I had been reading his blog for a while, but we had only met once, the previous spring, when I did a book reading in New York. Anyway, he came to Seattle as part of a vacation, and we met up one morning at the bakery next door to Delancey. We had some pastries and coffee, and then, before he left and I went to work, he reached into his bag and handed me a present from New York, a package of Early Bird Foods granola.
I was intrigued. I eat a lot of granola (except when I’m eating only pizza and cookie dough; see above), but I almost always make it myself. The store-bought kinds tend to be anemically pale and as sugary as dessert, and they cost a small fortune. I’ve written about three different granola recipes on this site – two more than any normal person needs, I acknowledge – and at any given time (except you-know-when; see above), one of them is sitting in a jar on my kitchen counter. But this Early Bird stuff was a gift, and I knew that the giver had good taste, so I tore open the bag, and here I am, two-plus years later, still thinking about it.
(Also, thinking about this film I bought for my Polaroid, and how I will not be buying it again.)
Still, I am not a regular granola buyer. I can’t justify the expense, not when I eat it almost every day. But I make an exception for the excellent Marge granola, made by my friend Megan, and whenever Brandon and I go to New Jersey to see his parents, I pick up a bag of Early Bird for us to eat with yogurt in the mornings. (I am not hardcore enough to travel with my own granola. Yet.) So the other day, when I saw a recipe for Early Bird’s Farmhand’s Choice granola pop up in the brilliant “Genius Recipes” column at Food52, I made a grocery list immediately. And now, a few days later, with a jar of it sitting on the counter, I am here to tell you that a person can never have too many granola recipes. Or, I don’t know, maybe you can, but hey, four is a totally reasonable number.
I see that you’re not convinced. I can explain. What sets this granola apart, I think, is its texture. It’s so light and crisp that it actually shatters between your teeth. This is not the kind of drudgery that makes your jaw ache halfway through the bowl. It’s mostly composed of the usuals – oats, nuts, and seeds – but what makes it special is that they’re bound together by a dark slurry of maple syrup, brown sugar, and olive oil, and that slurry that caramelizes in the oven to form a thin, crunchy lacquer over each nub and bit. When it bakes, it smells so tantalizing that I felt like clawing the oven door off its hinges. Nekisia Davis, the woman behind Early Bird Foods and its granola, is not shy with the olive oil, and I now see why. Not only does it help produce that terrific, crackly texture, but it also gives the granola a low, rumbling, savory quality that plays up the nuts and seeds and helps keep the sweetness in check. Oh, and she also adds unsweetened coconut chips, those big, flat shards that you might have seen in the bulk bins at your grocery store. They wind up deeply toasted, crackly as a potato chip. And the salt! I know it seems to be a theme around here lately, but this recipe really nails the sweet-savory thing. When Brandon sat down with his first bowl, I asked him if it was good enough to tell you about, and he yelled, YEAH! There you go.
Olive Oil and Maple Granola
Adapted from Nekisia Davis, Early Bird Foods, and Food 52
Nuts and seeds can add up, but I buy mine at Trader Joe’s or in the bulk section of my local grocery store, and that helps keep the cost down. I also was able to find coconut chips in bulk. (And if you’re wondering exactly what coconut chips are, here‘s a picture.)
The next time I make this, I might cut back a little on the brown sugar, but I recommend trying it as written first.
Preheat the oven to 300°F. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.
In a large bowl, combine the oats, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, coconut chips, pecans, light brown sugar, and salt. Stir to mix. Add the olive oil and maple syrup, and stir until well combined. Spread the mixture in an even layer on the prepared sheet pan. Bake, stirring every 15 minutes, until the granola is golden brown and toasted, about 45 minutes. Remove the granola from the oven, and season with more salt to taste. Cool completely on a wire rack. If you’d like, stir in some dried cherries. Store in an airtight container.
Note: Will keep at room temperature for up to a month.
Yield: about 7 cups