Article and photo by Lisa Crockett
There are lots of ways to show someone that you love them, but my hands-down favorite way to express affection, friendship and love is by whipping up a treat in the kitchen. The smell of cinnamon and sugar wafting through the house just smells the way love should, don’t you think? And nothing makes me swoon more than something good to eat, lovingly prepared by a friend or loved-one (especially if they also assume clean-up duty.)
This time of year, I also appreciate a treat that helps me stay on track with resolutions and perhaps satisfies not only my sweet tooth, but my hunger as well. I love dessert with a capital “L,” and I have spent countless hours learning and perfecting the art of the sugar cookie, the chocolate cake, and the custard trifle. But as beautiful and delicious as any of those things are, they don’t make for a great full meal – trust me on this one, I’ve tried.
At the same time, giving someone a spinach salad or grilled salmon seems like kind of a weird way to say “Happy Valentine’s Day.” So for years I’ve baked cookies or dipped chocolates to express my love. I like to think the gifts and goodies I’ve made are tasty and rich, a nice treat. I have to admit, though, that they’re not terribly unexpected or out of the ordinary.
This year is different. At the holidays, my neighbor Jo Ann Schomerus brought me a batch of homemade granola in a beautiful glass container topped with a pretty bow. And even though the kitchen was overflowing with delicious cookies and candy of every kind, it was the granola that disappeared first. With all the activity of a busy house, the granola was a sweet treat I could grab on the go that also offered enough substance to leave me feeling satisfied. Studded with nuts and dried fruit, it tastes indulgent but also offers a nice punch of nutrients. Pepitas, hulled pumpkin seeds, give it a unique flavor to balance the syrup and honey that sweeten it and hold it together, and cranberry juice and dried cranberries not only taste good but make it look appealing too.
And, in a month that’s all about hearts, it’s nice to know that those ingredients also provide some heart-healthy fiber, “good” fat, and even some antioxidants. Add a little milk, and you’ve got some calcium – and a delicious breakfast. If your house is anything like mine, though, if you make this in the afternoon, it will be long gone by morning. You may want to make a double- or even triple-batch, because once you take a bite, it might be a little hard to share, even with your valentine.
CRANBERRY NUT GRANOLA
1/3 cup pepitas (shelled pumpkin seeds, available at Sprouts or Whole Foods)
1/4 cup shelled sunflower seeds
2/3 cup pure maple syrup
1/3 cup honey
1/4 cup unsweetened cranberry juice
1 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
1/2 cup roasted, salted almonds
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup unsweetened dried cranberries
Heat oven to 350 degrees. Spread pepitas and sunflower seeds on a rimmed baking sheet and bake until lightly toasted, 8 to 10 minutes. Set aside to cool.
Reduce oven temperature to 325 degrees and line baking sheet with parchment paper and spray with cooking spray. Whisk together maple syrup, honey, cranberry juice, and cinnamon.
In another bowl, mix together the oats, almonds, pepitas, sunflower seeds and salt. Pour the maple mixture over the oat mixture and stir thoroughly. Spread mixture onto the prepared baking sheet and bake for 20 minutes.
Remove pan from oven and stir in the cranberries and continue baking until granola is brown, approximately 10 to 20 minutes. Cool completely before storing in an airtight container or zip-top plastic bag.