Saturday, December 21, 2013

The Gift of Granola

The only problem with the Golden Rule is individual taste. 

To acknowledge our kids' hardworking teachers this holiday season, I sent the kids to class with gift jars of homemade granola. I did hesitate, wondering how my offering would be received inside the public school system. At the end of the day, it was fun to hear their reports.

Granola is such an interesting food, from a sociological angle. I have written elsewhere about granola's fascinating religious roots: Adventist and enema enthusiast Dr. John Harvey Kellogg came up with the food for his sanitarium clients in the late nineteenth century. Nearly a century later, this breakfast of health nuts reappeared as part of hippie culture with its emphasis on returning to nature. General Mills began marketing Nature Valley granola bars in 1975.

My mom bought granola for us in the 1980's and quickly learned to make it herself with raw ingredients purchased in bulk from Seventh-Day Adventists. Granola soon went with the homeschooling movement like butter goes with bread. It was a staple at the cult training centers where I worked in the 1990's. My recipe is very similar to the one used in their kitchens. I remember my homeschooled friends concocting a shortcut version of granola in their cabins on the Nikolai Bauman, our ship-hotel in Moscow in 1993, using canned milk, hoarded butter, and rolled oats.

During my year in the Philippines, I ate granola with yogurt nearly every morning, both expertly prepared by my meticulous housekeeper and cook. Every time I slice a banana or mango over a bowl of yogurt and a scoop of homemade granola, I am carried back to tropical palm trees and volcanic mountains. A group of Filipino pastors were so taken with granola, they gathered into the guest house kitchen to see firsthand how it was made.

Growing up with granola, I tend to forget that this protein-rich whole-grain cereal was not ubiquitous in earlier generations, or in other pockets of American culture. And thus the varied responses of my children's teachers, as reported back to me:

"What is it?"
"Cinnamon granola."
"What do you do with it?"
"It's a cereal."
"Oh. I can't wait to try it over Christmas break."
"Is this granola?! Thank you!"

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