bravo for breakfast

Crunchy, nutty granola for all the early birds out there

I chose my bedroom at home for one reason, and one reason only: its proximity to the kitchen. This isn’t just because I enjoy the occasional late-night sneaky snack, or even because I’m lazy and want the shortest walk. Mostly, it’s because I love breakfast, and the promise of the day’s first meal is the only thing that can lure me out of bed.

I’ve been conditioning myself to be a morning person my whole life. My parents are both early risers, and I have always envied the way they relish those wee morning hours. Every day, my mom makes two cups of strong pour-over coffee, and she and my dad sit by the woodstove and read the paper while the rest of the world snoozes. I think they might be robots.

During sleepovers when I was a kid, my best friend Josie would wake up hours before me and read her book while I slumbered the day away. I’d wake up feeling guilty and annoyed. Josie had gotten through three chapters, and I hadn’t done a darn thing!

So early on, I forced myself to be a morning person. The only way to get me to do anything, essentially, is to bribe me with food.  So, I motivated myself by becoming a breakfast master. I cultivated an unadulterated love for breakfast foods of all kinds. I adopted adoration for caffeine. I learned how to make eggs of every variety, pancakes, crepes, French toast, grits, scones, oatmeal, and any other remotely breakfasty food I could think of. It quickly became “my thing.” And slowly but surely, I grew to love my morning ritual.

It’s still difficult for me to tear myself away from my bed and my teddy bear Nancy in the morning. I doubt it will ever become much easier—I think some people are just wired to rise with the sun, and I’m not one of them. But I am wired to eat breakfast, that’s for sure.

Just like at home, my room at Brown is the closest to the kitchen. Most days, I wake up first, when the apartment is still dark, quiet, and cold. It’s tough to leave Nancy, who I know is devastated to see me go, but I drag myself the few steps into the kitchen, where my kettle and coffee grounds are waiting patiently for their first pour. And then I have the best part of my day: my solitary breakfast moment.

I’ve had the same thing for breakfast almost every day in college: a cup of hot, strong coffee with milk, a vitamin supplement, and a bowl of plain yogurt with granola. Once I bought vanilla bean yogurt and it ruined my mornings for a week. The granola is usually store-bought, but sometimes when I have a spare hour, I’ll make my own.

It’s tricky to write a recipe for granola because it’s all about working with what you’ve got. The best granolas, I’ve found, have a little something random thrown in—some weird seeds in a plastic bag in the back of your cabinet, a little thyme, those goji berries you bought three months ago when you heard they were a superfood. This is a recipe for basic granola with some of my favorite ingredients, but the key is to experiment with whatever’s lying around.

Early Riser Granola

3 cups rolled oats
3 cups nuts and seeds (I especially like walnuts, almonds, flax seeds, and shredded coconut. You want a variety of textures, with some crunchy things, and some chewy.)
½ cup sweetener (I’m partial to maple syrup, but you can also use honey or agave nectar)
½ cup oil (I like coconut, but you can also use vegetable, olive, nut, or grapeseed)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
½ teaspoon spice (I skip this step, but many people use cinnamon, cardamom, or nutmeg)
½ teaspoon salt
1 egg, if you want clumpy granola
¼ cup dried fruit (cranberries, raisins, and goji berries are popular)

Heat oven to 350°. Mix oats, nuts, and seeds in a large bowl. In a separate bowl, whisk sweetener, oil, vanilla, spices, salt, and egg if you’re using it. Slowly add wet ingredients to the oat mixture, stirring constantly. When dry ingredients are coated, but there is no excess liquid in the bowl, transfer granola to a baking sheet. It should be about a half-inch thick, and you can pack it down if you want clumpier granola.

Bake for 30 minutes. Take it out and stir with a spatula, exposing the undercooked portions. Bake for about 15 more minutes. Monitor to make sure it doesn’t overcook—remove when it is just browning. Let cool, and add dried fruit. Store in jars or plastic containers. Enjoy with milk, yogurt, or just by the handful!