As I think about the many stories I could write about cooking my way through last week's hurricane, I feel an abundance of gratitude that I can sit here and even ponder writing about the meals I made by candlelight, the cocktails invented with lack of ice, and the ways having a gas stove made it possible to not just survive but to thrive in my dark yet dry fourth floor walk-up just a few short blocks from some of the most devastating flooding to ever occur in Manhattan.
I won't complain. I am instead grateful to be able to tell you about how, when the power came back on, my daughter and I rode our bike uptown to the barely opened Trader Joe's to buy a few simple ingredients and a box of zippered plastic bags to eventually make ten pounds of granola for those whose hurricane stories were less romantic than our own.To create our Storm Relief Granola, I looked for ingredients that weren't too expensive but would go a long way and also actually taste good; sliced almonds, shredded coconut, and raisins ended up being the winning combination. By replacing half the usual binding fat (in my normal recipe it's olive oil) with coconut oil and by adding a spoonful of almond extract, we carried the theme further. This recipe makes quite a bit, and we tripled it, making about ten pounds total.
As we baked the granola on that freezing day, the heat came back on and the apartment got so toasty that we had to open the windows. Those who live in New York know this is a familiar cold-weather behavior. I noticed a man on the street, four flights below, stop and take a deep breath in, pointing his head up toward our place. That same rich coconut-almond scent is still in the walls of my apartment, days later. Even the hallway of my building is fragrant.
I had some anxiety about donating homemade food — would it be thrown away? would people suspect it was poisoned? — so I called a friend who is deeply involved in relief efforts and she simply said. "It's love!" So we took our bag full of granola and assorted household things like toilet paper and batteries to a drop-off site. The man looked at the bag's contents and smiled.
In the end, it wasn't a giant donation to the Red Cross and it wasn't a pallet of wool blankets, but it came from love. I hope this recipe serves you or someone who needs a little extra something. Maybe you'll make your own storm relief granola, or maybe this will give you ideas as you start planning your homemade holiday gifts, or perhaps you'll just make half a batch, enough to fill your home and neighborhood with a warm, comforting scent that might make someone smile, as if wrapping them up in a warm blanket.
Just do what you can.
Almond & Coconut Granola
Makes 12 cups
This recipe is super versatile: use any kind of nut (larger nuts like whole walnuts or pecans should be chopped), any other kind of dried fruit (currants, blueberries, cranberries, even little snipped pieces of dried mango or papaya), or go without either for the nut-allergic and fruit-adverse. Tip: add a tablespoon egg whites per cup of rolled oats to help make the granola more clumpy.
4 cups rolled oats (not quick-cooking)
2 cups sliced almonds
1 1/2 cups unsweetened shredded dried coconut
1 cup oat bran
3/4 cup brown sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons fine salt
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 cup coconut oil
1/2 cup olive oil
1/2 cup egg whites (optional)
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
1 cup raisins
Position two oven racks so that they divide the oven into even thirds. Preheat oven to 325°F.
In a large mixing bowl, combine the dry ingredients. In a smaller bowl combine the wet ingredients and whisk. Pour the wet ingredients over the dry ingredients and stir until well-combined. (Reserve the raisins for the final step)
Divide the granola mix between two sheet pans. Bake for 20 minutes, then carefully turn the mixture. Bake another 15-20 minutes, until it begins to brown.
Remove from the oven and carefully transfer the hot mixture to the large mixing bowl. Toss in the raisins until combined evenly then transfer the mixture back to the two sheet pans. Place in the oven for one more minute then remove the pans and allow the granola to cool completely in the pans. When cool, carefully break up the pieces and store in an air-tight container.
Related: How to Help Hurricane Sandy Victims
(Images: Sara Kate Gillingham-Ryan)