by Mary Jane Butters Welcoming the day - Running late? How often do you grab a banana on the way out of the house in the morning, or say to yourself that you'll eat something later, that you aren't really hungry yet? Breakfast is probably your most important meal. It sets the tone for the rest of the day and gives you the needed energy to embark on your day's activities. If you find that you rarely have time for breakfast, start setting the alarm a half hour earlier than usual. Mornings are difficult for some people, but once you get used to rising earlier, you'll look forward to capturing that early morning energy. This time of year we have the added pleasure of awakening to sun streaming through the windows, welcoming us in ways that simply don't happen during the darker winter months.
If you are part of a family with children, waking up early also gives you some valuable time alone before joining the rush for school or work. If you're able to get outside for a walk before breakfast, it's a natural and pleasurable way to stretch your body after a night's sleep. If you stay inside, then a stretching routine or journaling is a good way to start the day. After stretching and writing, you'll be ready for a simple, easy and nutritious breakfast prior to heading off to work. For those of you who work at home, the breakfast part of your morning is vital. It's just too easy to tell yourself that you'll eat later, but when later comes, you still haven't taken the time to sit down for a nourishing meal.
Today, we hear a lot about healthful diets -- eat lots of fresh fruit and vegetables, eggs, fish, nuts and seeds, beans and legumes. Nuts and seeds, which are high in protein and fats and provide a variety of minerals and vitamins, come alive in homemade granola. You can make it when you have time, and eat it when you don't.
If you've never ventured into the kitchen, or try to avoid it, making your own granola is one of the easiest and most rewarding places to start. Once you have the necessary ingredients on your shelves or refrigerator, you won't have to restock individual ingredients very often. When you run out, just pull out your bags or jars and start mixing.
The first time you go to the store, put these on your shopping list: rolled oats, barley flakes, rye flakes, oat bran, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, pecans, whole almonds, cashew pieces, walnut pieces, shredded coconut (unsweetened). You probably already have some honey, vanilla and oil, which help to make your granola crunchy and flavorful. Buying in bulk is the most economical, and it's best to purchase organically grown food whenever possible.
Eating granola definitely has its health benefits. According to the Centre for Natural Healing, in Ashland, Oregon, "the current epidemic of illnesses relating to impaired immune function (chronic fatigue syndrome, AIDS, most cancers, candidiasis, allergies) is evidence of the effects of consuming pollutants and pesticides."
When you're ready to start on your granola, preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Choose a large bowl, mixing spoon, a small saucepan and two baking pans. In the bowl, add 5 cups rolled oats; 1 cup each of barley flakes, rye flakes, oat bran, sunflower seeds and shredded coconut; and 1/2 cup each of sesame seeds, whole almonds, walnut pieces and pecan or cashew pieces. In the saucepan, stir over low heat 1/2 cup of canola oil, 1/2 cup of honey, and a teaspoon of vanilla. Don't boil, but simply warm enough so that the oil and honey mix well together. Mix the dry ingredients with the mixing spoon and then pour the warm liquid into the middle. Stir it well, making sure that the dry ingredients are evenly moistened. Divide the mixture into two baking pans and set side by side in the oven. After about 10 minutes or so, take out both pans and stir, making sure the granola isn't sticking. Put back in the oven for another 10 minutes or more. When the granola starts to turn golden brown, turn the oven off and take it out to cool. Bake longer for extra crunchiness.
A favorite with kids is to serve it up warm, covered with milk. Try hazelnut milk or almond milk if you're avoiding dairy. For a wholesome breakfast, top your bowl of granola with cut-up fresh seasonal fruit (bananas, apples, pears, blueberries or strawberries). If you like dried fruit in your granola, add it to the whole batch after it comes out of the oven. After it cools, break up the granola into chunks and store in a glass container. A small bowl of homemade granola, topped with fresh fruit, is a great way to welcome the day.