Monday, December 5, 2011

Gratitude and Granola

Today I found a penny on the pavement. I picked it up and made a wish. It made me happy.

I tossed the rusty brown coin into my purse, fumbled for my keys, wrangled myself into the car and shut the door. Immediately, I was enveloped by the sun-baked, silent squishiness of my mobile cocoon. 
Ah, silence, solitude…I took a deep breath and thought to myself, no one can find me here…at least for the next few minutes.
Click. I locked the door, put back my head, closed my eyes and let my mind drift freely, for just a minute or two, beyond the gallon of milk I forgot to buy, the dentist appointment I just remembered, and the distinctive aroma of soccer socks and four day-old lunches wafting from the nether regions of my SUV.
I started to think about that penny.
Would my wish come true? What a gift to just sit for a minute, there alone in the middle of the mall parking lot, and think good thoughts…all for the price of someone’s lost penny. “It’s the little things”, I thought, "those little injections of emotional B-12 that transform ordinary days into a string of bite-sized extraordinary moments…if we let them."
I began to rewind my day, my week, my month…focusing less and less every second on my marinating car and that forgotten gallon of milk and more and more on the penny and some of the countless other opportunities someone or something recently gave me to smile. I thought about…
The rumpled stranger just minutes ago in the check-out line who said “God Bless You” when I sneezed…and really meant it.

An old school-mate I ran into at my reunion and our conversation about my Mom and the cardboard costumes she made for our second grade Christmas play.

The fact that Mom still lives down the street and helps me with every costume I make to this day.

The distinctive humor of an 8-year old boy aptly demonstrated when he is given a set of markers and asked to decorate his sister’s birthday gift wrap...

..and a teenage sister still sweet enough to sit with him and his buddies and help them decorate gingerbread houses.

The smell of coffee drifting upstairs and the confidence that every morning, without fail, Charlie will grind me a fresh batch of beans and perch them atop my favorite cup, ready for me to brew when I eventually stumble down.

This morning's milk in reindeer glasses and knowing we get to use them for a whole month.

Christmas ornaments made from macaroni.

A perfect pear plucked from a friend’s tree.


Gratitude is a powerful elixir and I felt quiet and full from its effects. I slowly lifted my head. It was time to go. My groceries were melting, I needed to call that dentist before his office closed for the day, and it was my turn to pick up the kids from the Dojo. I would probably be late. I should call.

I looked down at my phone and realized that my outdated Star Trek mock flip communicator-style phone had died...again. Now I’ve really gotta go. I looked back, began to pull out and caught eyes with the woman who had been waiting for my parking spot. She glared back at me, raised her hands in frustration and tapped on her steering wheel as I pulled away.
"Someone needs a penny," I thought. So I shot her a sincere smile and said a little prayer that her day would get better.
I started to think more about the little things I try to do to create bright moments in friends and strangers’ days and challenged myself to work consciously toward creating more of them.
Maybe tomorrow morning I’ll sneak out to Charlie’s frosty car-sicle a few minutes early and blast the heater for him. Perhaps I’ll pull my neighbor’s garbage cans in from the street for her today before she gets home from work. And, for sure, the next time I drop a penny on the ground, I’ll leave it there for someone else to find. I hope their wish comes true.
With the holidays here, it is no surprise that one of my favorite ways to spread good cheer, so to speak, is through the gift of something yummy. Although I don’t always have my act together, I try to almost always have, on-hand, something homemade to bring to friends' homes when we go-a-visitin’.
There’s something so retro-licious about the whole "hostess gift" thing. Nothing big…just a few little hand soaps, a set of taper candles or a jar of Farmer’s Market local honey; it’s a lost tradition for the most part, it seems, but one of those little niceties that is worth bringing back...don't you think?

So, here’s an idea for you to chew on: homemade granola. It doesn’t get much easier (note my four-year-old jammie-clad assistant in the photos below) and makes for a fun and unusual presentation. I grabbed some cool little jars at the new Dollar Store in town (OK, I admit it...I'm excited) whipped up a crunchy batch and set it aside to bring to Mike and Lib’s party this Saturday night.
I’m guessing they won’t be getting a jar of homemade granola from any of their other guests and I’d like to think it will bring a smile to their faces Sunday morning when they push aside the half-empty bottles of wine and find it on their counter…that’s the effect I’m going for anyway!
Here's what you will need...most of the items are simple pantry basics...

Sprinkle the nuts over the oats on a rimmed baking sheet (no need to butter or oil the pan).

 ...then drizzle the decadent goo over the oats and nuts...

...and toss to coat.

Sprinkle and mix with brown sugar, cinnamon and kosher salt.

Bake at 350° for about 5-10 minutes until the nuts begin to turn very light brown, checking and stirring once or twice along the way. Remove from the oven, add the coconut, stir well, return to the oven and bake for another 5-10 minutes or so, making sure nothing scorches and the coconut toasts just right.

Remove from the oven, sprinkle in your dried fruit (I used golden raisins and cranberries this time), toss and cool.

Honey Almond Granola

Preheat oven to 350°.

Mix on a rimmed baking sheet:
  • 2 1/2 cups oats
  • 1 cup slivered almonds (or other nuts)

  • 1/4 cup unsalted butter

Add to it:
  • 1/4 cup honey
Drizzle mixture over nuts and oats, mix well.

Sprinkle over, mix in and bake, stirring often, until lightly browned:
  • 1/3 cup packed brown sugar
  • cinnamon to taste
  • kosher salt to taste
Sprinkle over, mix and bake until golden brown:
  • 1 cup flaked coconut
Add, mix in and toss to cool:
  • 1 cup dried fruit to taste (try raisins, cranberries, apricots...)

Makes about 4 cups