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Why I Make Granola in the Middle of the Night

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Since the pandemic, I’ve gotten into the annoying habit of waking up in the middle of the night—usually somewhere between 2:30 and 4:45 a.m. Anytime before 4, the only sensible thing to do is open Pride and Prejudice and hope the pleasing, Victorian-era repartee lulls me back to sleep until a more reasonable wakeup hour.

Once the clock hits 4:30, however, I can’t risk the inevitable snoozing-till-9 that will render me a zombie for the entire day. Instead I’ve started dragging myself out of bed every so often to bake…and of all things, I always choose granola. Granola is just quick and easy enough for a tired, distracted person to cobble together; plus, I almost always have rolled oats around.

I shuffle into the kitchen, stopping to bid good morning to Wolfie, the little orb spider to whom I’ve ceded almost the whole bathroom since he made a web by the sink last month. I worry he’s not getting enough insect traffic with the location he chose, but that’s kind of on him.

I preheat the oven, chop the pecans (that sound!), and measure the dry ingredients into a bowl. When I start on the wet ingredients, I realize that both of the half-empty honey jars in my pantry have crystallized. I set a pot of water to simmer on the stove and place a jar inside to dissolve the sugar crystals. This leaves me just enough time to Google whether headaches at the base of one’s skull are symptomatic of a brain tumor. It’s either that or stress, which seems to have an awful lot of vague symptoms. I resolve to dig deeper on WebMD right after I impulse buy this pajama set featuring cartoon pictures of fast food that I just scrolled by on my Instagram feed.

The oven protests just in time, with a long beep announcing it’s preheated.

I coax the granola onto the baking sheet, reveling in its slow-motion cascade before suddenly crying out, “SHOOT!”, and hastily shoveling it back into the bowl. I’ve almost forgotten to line the baking sheet with parchment. Its corners still sport visible scratches from last time, when it came out of the oven coated in a shiny film of tooth-cracking caramel.

Speaking of tooth cracking, I make a note in the recipe ingredient list for my future half-asleep self to add the dried fruit after, not before, baking. I learned this the hard way back in the Before Times, when my crown popped out over breakfast and I had to schedule an emergency trip to the dentist after wallowing in stunned self-pity for a good half hour.

Before long, the granola starts going golden at the edges, and the aroma of cinnamon, toasting pecans, and coconut permeates the whole house.

“Alexa!” I command. “What’s the weather going to be like today?” She lights up but is unresponsive, so I open the back door and stick my hand out instead. Stephen the squirrel, who’d been industriously digging up my potted herbs to bury an acorn, stiffens, fixing me with a beady stare before he darts away, leaving a carnage of thrown dirt and broken parsley stems. “I see you!” I shout pointlessly after him.

I pour my first cup of coffee, then pull the tray out of the oven to let the granola cool. I know I can’t put them off much longer. The same thoughts that pervade my dreamscapes and startle me awake at night color these heavy days, too: Wildfires engulfing the west coast such that they turn my Chicago sky milky white. The catastrophic floods drowning the south, gushing meltwater in the Arctic. A global pandemic. Mass unemployment and food insecurity. The effects of systemic racism bubbling to the surface of every industry and institution.

I breathe in and out. My favorite part of granola-making has arrived, when I get to break it into big shards with my fingers and pop the crunchiest bits into my mouth. It rustles almost like taffeta as I break it up, and tastes mapley and toasty-sweet with a satisfying crunch.

“Oh, I bet Stephen would love to bury a few handfuls of this,” I mutter bitterly.

I hear my husband’s alarm go off; he promptly hits snooze. So far today, my tiny ecosystem is doing alright. And there’s warm granola for breakfast.

Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 22 minutes
Serves: 8 to 10

Ingredients

  • 4 cups rolled oats
  • 1 cup raw pecans, rough chopped
  • ½ cup coconut flakes
  • ½ cup shredded coconut
  • ½ tsp fine salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ½ cup honey
  • ½ cup grapeseed or vegetable oil
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons maple syrup
  • ⅔ cup dried cranberries or cherries (don’t add till after baking!)
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

  2. In a large bowl, add the oats, pecans, coconut, salt and cinnamon, and stir until well mixed. Pour in the honey, oil and maple syrup, and stir with a spatula until evenly coated.

  3. Spread oat mixture on baking sheet in an even layer. Bake for 20 to22 minutes, stirring once about halfway through.

  4. Remove from the oven, sprinkle the dried fruit over while it’s still warm, and toss. Let cool in the pan for 15 or 20 minutes (longer if you like bigger clumps). Break up and store in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks.


What do you make when you can’t sleep? Let us know in the comments.

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