I couldn’t have been more than three years old. My brother, two years my senior, decided it would be a fantastic idea to get into all the ingredients in the pantry and I was the perfect man for the job. I mixed, poured, stirred, and layered until the floor of the kitchen was a Jackson Pollock masterpiece. I don’t remember the punishment but all these years I’ve kept that secret thrill of combining disparate flavors into one final product. This weekend? Exotic granola*.
For some reason I see granola as the perfect white canvas. The base remains the same: oats, canola oil, and honey. It’s the spices and flavors that can transform it from genericus gut-filler to magical life-enhancer. I start with an emotion and location. A windy autumn day calls reminds me of the rich woody smells of the Eastern forest: maple, walnut, and blackstrap molasses. In my mind the spices of fall include clove, cinnamon, and mace. Plump raisins finish off the perfect autumnal granola. What about summertime? Think flowers and a Hawaiian garden: vanilla, ginger, orange blossom. This weekend’s creation was exotic, so I thought of alluring destinations: the mist-draped mountains of Colombia, steamy jungles of Madagascar, Straits of Malacca, spice markets of Samarkand. My granola base was organic oats, honey, oil, and sliced almonds, followed by a splash of orange blossom water for a floral note, like passing by a window box of jasmine in the narrow alleys of a souk in Marrakech. Then I grated in some lemon rind and fresh ginger for more aroma and acidic bite. Fresh ground cardamom provided a mid-range spice and aroma to arouse curiosity. Now came the rich flavors, a solid platform for the crisp notes: cocoa powder and ground coffee. As I was sprinkling in the coffee I thought it could either be brilliant or a disaster. This is the tightrope of kitchen experimentation. Since I’m the only one who eats granola I’m okay with literally eating my own humble pie. I wished I had some dates but they’re out of season. If I’d had some liquid smoke flavoring I might’ve sprinkled that in too—imagine curls of smoke from a fire of fragrant cedar rising up from a punched tin brazier stoked by a sun-baked Bedouin with a white beard and indigo robes. But maybe it’s a good thing my granola wasn’t smoky.
How did it turn out? Let’s talk about the successes. Cocoa adds a rich bass note without giving an overt chocolate flavor. The cardamom and ginger were subtle enough to linger on the palate like music in the distance—intriguing but not overpowering. What didn’t work? The coffee grounds float in milk as if you’ve dropped dirt in your bowl. If you eat granola with yogurt this might not be a problem. I’m undecided on the flavor—I couldn’t taste much coffee and if it were ground to Turkish consistency it might really work in concert with the cocoa. I couldn’t taste the lemon at all, but maybe some lemon peel extract might give me the flavor I want. Would I make this again? Absolutely, but not right away. For my next granola I only need to know what season it is and where I want to go in the world.
*I know this is my stock granola photo. This last batch looks just like it but without the raisins.