spicy holiday granola

Be attentive lest you miss the grace that passes before you, whether as small as a single birdsong or as broad as the rising sun of your own life restored. Be grateful, lest these pearls have been thrown to swine. And be ready to speak of it in the grandest or simplest words or deeds. You have not invented your own hope; it has sprung, green and living, from the grace that has rained upon you, has welled up from deepest springs, has come to you in steadfast rivers.
~ Steve Garnaas-Holmes

The winter sun is pouring through the kitchen windows as I type these words. The temperature outside hovers around 20 degrees, as warm as it will get today. With six inches of powdery snow on the ground, the world looks frosted, ready for Christmas. I’m trying to ready my spirit, too.

All month I’ve been making lists, crossing things off lists, making new lists – grocery lists, to-do lists, gift lists. Somehow the act of writing things down and crossing them out calms me, as if each small accomplishment or task completed brings me closer to. . .what exactly? The finish line?

Of course, the idea of completion is an illusion. There will be to-dos until the day when there aren’t, and I’m certainly not in any hurry to get there. Nor do I want to look at December 25 as the end of some silly holiday race.

So my challenge today, and every day this season, is to simply relax into the day’s doings, whatever they may be. One thing I’ve learned over the years is that the closer I stay to home and hearth during these short, dark days, the more peaceful I feel.

Slowing down, doing less, honoring my own need for quiet, I find there are margins around the to-do lists, room even in a busy day to pause and watch the woodpeckers and juncos at the bird feeder,  to bundle up for a walk with my son Henry, home from school this month, or to read a chapter or two of Jack Kornfield’s A Path With Heart, a classic that’s gently, wisely guiding me back to myself and to the precious people whose presence I treasure most.  It’s a time to light candles at the dinner table, to sit in a darkened living room with the Christmas tree before turning off lights and heading to bed, to rise early enough to bear witness to the sunrise.

There’s definitely been a shift in my gift-giving this year, fewer store-bought gifts and more donations made in honor of loved ones, more hand-made items that are crafted and sold locally, and more offerings from my kitchen.

I’ve shared a few of my favorite holiday recipes here before. But while my mom’s cranberry orange bread is a classic that need not be messed with, my annual granola is always a work in progress. This year’s batch, moistened with olive oil, sweetened with maple syrup, and spiced with cardamom, is a keeper: richly flavored, not too sweet, rather addictive. (Made without butter, it’s also vegan.)

I mailed off quite a few packages yesterday, which means I can linger here this morning on my kitchen stool, gazing out at the snow.

And now that I’ve crossed the post office off my list, I can also type up the tweaked (and somewhat approximate) recipe for you. Although I sometimes give homemade granola in beautiful, re-usable Weck jars, this year I ordered simple brown bags and hand-stamped them: fun, easy, and charming. You can get the bags I used here, the stamps and ink here and here.  I always keep a box of this parchment on hand, not only for granola but also for cookies, roasted vegetables, toasting nuts, and just about anything that goes on a cookie sheet.

The Buddhists have a saying: “You can never enter the same river twice.” By the same token, I’d propose, “You can never make the same granola recipe twice.” The beauty of homemade granola is that you’ll soon be playing around with all sorts of flavor combinations. Use the nuts and seeds that appeal to you. Cut back on the brown sugar for a more savory granola, or add melted butter for a toastier crunch. A middle eastern combo might include pistachios, with chopped apricots and dried rose petals tossed in after baking; a New England flavor is achieved with dried cranberries and dried blueberries. I’ve made versions using various combinations of grated orange zest, chia seeds, sesame seeds, hemp hearts, coconut flakes, cinnamon chips, dried banana slices, cacao powder, lavender buds, wheat germ, flax seeds, oat bran, honey instead of maple syrup, coconut oil instead of olive oil, even a few grinds of black pepper. Experiment, keep the flavors simple and complementary, take notes, and let your taste buds and imagination be your guide. (Note: items above are affiliate links.)

Happy baking, and may your holidays be warm and bright!


Maple Olive Oil Cardamom Granola

9 cups old-fashioned rolled oats

2 cups raw pumpkin seeds

2 cups raw sunflower seeds

2 cups walnuts

2 cups sliced or slivered almonds

2 cups pecans

1 ½ cups grade B maple syrup

2 cups extra virgin olive oil

1 cup dark brown sugar

1 T.  vanilla

Maldon’s salt flakes or coarse sea salt to taste

1 T. cinnamon

1 T. cardamom

6 cups of mixed dried fruits – this year I used golden raisins, cherries, and cranberries.

¾ C. minced crystallized ginger.

  1. Heat oven to 300° F.
  2. Place oats, nuts and seeds, syrup, olive oil, sugar, spices, and 4 teaspoons salt (more or less according to preference) in a large bowl and mix until well combined. Taste-test for spiciness and add more if granola seems too bland. Spread granola mixture in an even layer (not too heavily — give it room!) on 3 rimmed baking sheets lined with parchment. Transfer to oven and bake, stirring and rotating pans every 10 to 15 minutes, until granola is toasted, about 45 minutes.
  3. Remove granola from oven, pour into a large bowl, and season with more salt to taste. Stir in the dried fruits and the ginger. Reuse the parchment paper for the next batch. Let granola cool completely before serving, packing in gift bags, or storing in an airtight container for up to 1 month. Granola freezes beautifully in zip-lock plastic bags.

books for giving–there’s still time

I’ve heard from quite a few readers who plan to give copies of Moments of Seeing this season. That means so much to me, and I’d love to make it even easier for you. For the month of December only, I’m offering signed copies of Moments of Seeing for just $15, a savings of 25% off the list price of $20.  Buy four copies (or any combination of my books totaling $60) and your shipping is free. I’ll tuck in a bookmark, too!

Click here to order.

The link takes you to my husband Steve’s small company, Earth, Sky & Water, where you may well be tempted to do some other holiday shopping.  I especially love the new holiday themed notecards and keep asking him to bring more of them home for me.  Perfect stocking stuffers and hostess gifts.

for my reflections & inspiration

your comments

  1. Thank you! Can’t wait to make this and love the validation I feel about staying near hearth and home. Last night took a moment to drink a mug of hot milk in the livingroom with all lights out but the tree. I felt tugging at me the thought of turning on the computer or TV or opening a book but I kept resisting and instead just stayed with the company of the tree and it was WONDERFUL.

  2. Katherine Cox Stevenson says:

    Lovely! Thank you. I am so with you, “One thing I’ve learned over the years is that the closer I stay to home and hearth during these short, dark days, the more peaceful I feel.”

  3. you are heavenly. i sometimes sit here and read you awestruck that another heart beats to so similar a rhythm: staying close to home and hearth, puttering about the kitchen. each year i seem to be becoming quieter and simpler. and richer. oh so much richer….

    thank you for all your gentle goodness. peace be to you, and all who wander by here…

  4. Your writing brings me to a place I haven’t been for a very long time. Thank you for reminding me of a part of myself that has long been dormant. Might be too late to do this year but I’m starting a folder of ideas for next year. With much gratitude for your words and spirit, Laurie

  5. Cardamom has been one of my favorite flavors lately, but it hasn’t made it into my granola. Will have to try it!

  6. Love the photos, especially the one of you and Henry in the snow! Happy holiday season to the Lewers/Kenison clan. Hope to see you all next summer!

  7. Thank you for the recipe. I was just sitting here taking it easy after throwing a dinner last night for close friends. Sometimes, I feel guilty taking time off, but my husband remarked,”Who’s judging you?” Then I read your article. We are too harsh on ourselves at times. We need to appreciate the serenity of the moment, and just be. Thank you for helping us to see what is right before us.

  8. This looks delicious, Katrina, and thank you for sharing your recipe. This year I am doing many food gifts and donations as well. Quarts of French onion soup and pasta sauce along with the usual holiday things. The granola is a marvelous idea!

  9. Thank you, thank you for the recipe and for your gift of words. You always know exactly what I’m thinking and what a gift to be able to share it so beautifully. I made the granola this morning and it is delicious! Cardamom is my favorite. My friends will love it. Happy holidays!

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