Well, it has finally happened. My thoughtless and cavalier approach to my diet has finally caught up with me. I have been informed by my doctor that I have got to lose some weight and I have six months to show significant progress. My health is on the line here and that is serious business. I have embarked on a plan to get myself to a reasonable level of fitness for my age. This includes watching my caloric intake like a hawk.
This is not the first time I’ve made this kind effort. And I know I’m not alone. Weight loss is a gazillion dollar industry as America faces an epidemic of diabetes. But everyone is different and what works for one person might not work for all. For me and my particular health situation, I have decided to cut out carbs, sugars and processed foods and stick to a very low fat diet. I’m eating a lot of fresh fruits and veggies, low fat proteins, fat free dairy and whole grains. Breakfast has always been a challenge for me. Unless its Sunday morning and there are pancakes and bacon involved, I’m not much of a breakfast person. For the past 5 or 6 years, my breakfast of choice has been toast with butter and jam, none of which is included in my current diet plan. So, my first big change starts with the first meal of the day, the one nutritionists say is the most important. And what better way to start the day than with whole grains. I decided to make granola my breakfast of choice.
Most commercially made granola is heavily processed and loaded with sugar and preservatives. And the granola that isn’t highly processed costs a small fortune. When I priced the ingredients, I discovered that I could make my own granola for a fraction of the cost. In addition, making my own granola would allow me to control the amount of sugar and fat and I could make it exactly the way I like it. While there is sugar in this recipe, it is a much smaller amount per serving than you’d find in a store brand. I found a recipe, adjusted it according to my own taste and procured what I needed. The oats, sweetener and oil are the key ingredients, everything else up to your personal taste. You can use any kind of nuts you like, any kind of spices and you can even add things like coconut, flax seed or wheat germ. This recipe makes a lot of granola, but you can always cut it in half if you want.
FRUIT AND NUT GRANOLA
6 cups of rolled oats
half a cup of dark brown sugar, packed
half a cup of honey, maple syrup or a combination of the two (I used raw honey and local maple syrup combined)
half a cup of canola oil
1 cup of almonds (slivered, sliced or whole. i like mine whole)
1 cup of chopped walnuts (I like big chunks)
1 tbsp of vanilla
1 tbsp of cinnamon
The zest of one orange, grated
half a teaspoon of salt (it balances out the flavor)
1 1/2 cups of raisins, dried cranberries or dried cherries, or a combination of any dried fruit you like
Good granola is quite simple to make. Even though the oven temperature is relatively low, it does burn easily, so you really have to keep an eye on it while it’s baking. Set your oven to 250 degree, line two baking sheets with foil and spray them with non-stick cooking spray. In a big bowl, combine the oats, brown sugar, nuts, seasonings and zest. In a small bowl, mix together the honey, maple syrup, vanilla and oil. Pour the wet ingredients over the dry and mix everything very thoroughly to insure that all the oats and nuts are coated, making sure to break up any clumps of brown sugar as you mix. I found that my hands were the very best tools for this job.
Once your granola is thoroughly mixed, spread it out onto the baking pans in even layers and place them in the oven. Your granola will take an hour and a half to toast properly, but you will need to stir it up every 15 minutes or so to make sure its cooking evenly. And it might take less time depending on your oven. The finished granola should be deep brown and crispy, but not burned or overly dark. Keep an eye on the nuts. If they look like they’re getting too browned, take the granola out and it will probably be done. When it’s still warm, sprinkle the dried fruit over the top and gently toss it it to warm slightly. Let the granola cool completely before putting it in airtight containers for storage. It should last for at least a month if not longer. Homemade granola is great mixed in with yogurt, added to your favorite fruit crumble topping or just by itself with ice cold milk. It also makes an excellent gift sealed in a decorative jar. And your house will smell fantastic for the next coupe of days. Granola isn’t just for hippies, its good for everyone! Give it a try.