Breakfast, like many aspects of my life at the farm, was a sort of ritual. Nearly every day at roughly the same time, the volunteers ate the same thing - quick-cooking oats - made in the same pot with the same spoon from the same neon-colored plastic bowls. When the weather was nice we would eat outside, perched on or alongside the tree trunk table just outside the casita.
Each meal called for certain condiments that we'd transfer from the warped shelves above the stove to the table just before eating. Breakfast required the most extensive selection - jars of honey, ground flaxseed, raisins, bee pollen. The tables would be completely covered with them and our arms would tangle as we reached across to grab them.
In the beginning we made just oatmeal, cooked in our biggest pot. When one day our supply was low, Lucy suggested we add polenta to bulk it up. There was no going back after that. Polenta became a delicious must. When we had apples we would chop them, scatter them over mix, and when we had extra milk, we would add it as well.
When Lucy left, Kat took over the oatmeal duty. That meant Sarah and I were responsible for gathering the jars and preparing the bowls alongside the sink so we were ready to go as soon as the oatmeal was.
The processes of every morning were very much the same, yet no two breakfasts were alike. I looked forward to every one, and missed them on the weekends when started the day with coffee and pastries in town.
For years I used to forgo breakfast. In high school I'd occasionally remember to make oatmeal to carry with me in a plastic cup on the ride there. Coffee and a banana sustained me in college. Coming back from Argentina, though, I found myself craving homemade breakfasts - not pancakes or eggs, but big bowls of granola or muesli, and a side of oatmeal, fortified with polenta, of course.
6 c rolled oats
3/4 cup slivered almonds
1/2 c sesame seeds
1/2 c sunflower seeds
1/2 c copped walnuts or cashews
1 c raisins and cranberries
grated zest of 2 or 3 oranges
1/2 c honey
1/4 c orange juice
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp cardamom
Preheat the oven to 300 F.
Place a 9x13 roasting pan (a baking sheet will work, too, but the high edges of the roasting pan are helpful) over a burner on medium-low. Pour the oats into the pan and cook to toast them, stirring occasionally for about 3 -5 minutes, until the oats begin to change color and become fragrant.
Add the nuts and seeds. Cook, stirring frequently for another two minutes or so, until they become lightly toasted as well. Remove from the heat. Add the orange zest, honey, juice, cinnamon, ginger, cardamom, and dried fruit. Mix to thoroughly coat the oat-nut mixture with the spices and sweeteners. Spread the mixture evenly on the pan. Bake for 20 minutes, stirring twice so the granola does not burn, until it is evenly golden brown and no longer moist. The granola can begin to burn very quickly, so watch it carefully.
It is okay if the finished granola still feels slightly soft when it comes out of the oven. It will crisp as it cools. At this point you can stir the granola a bit so it doesn't harden into connected pieces, if you like looser granola, or let it cool completely before breaking it up for a chunkier granola.