Saturday, January 2, 2016

Easy Homemade Granola Recipe

Once you've made your own easy homemade granola, you'll be spoiled!

Another bonus to shopping at our weekly farmer's market is the wonderful variety of fresh dried fruits and nuts available from our fantastic vendors. Wow- I feel truly spoiled to have year-round access to this local bounty, so I'm very happy to support them with my loyalty. If you have access to locally grown dried fruit and nuts, this granola will turn out even better!

I started eating granola again once I discovered how easy it to make it myself. Store bought granola is either very expensive for the good ones, and the not-so-good ones are too sugary or just taste awful (in my humble opinion!). I love it sprinkled over good quality plain yogurt, or by itself as a snack (warning: it's rather addicting too). I make it slightly sweet using only pure maple syrup and local honey, generously supplied by my neighbor as a trade for pruning her fruit trees.

Here's my recipe below, adapted from my old and yellowing, but trusty Deaf Smith Country Cookbook (published in 1973). I make a large batch each time because it doesn't last long in my home. And it's quite flexible as to the amounts of dried fruit and nuts that you want add. Make it simple or load it up as I do with dried cranberries, mixed raisins, walnuts, almonds, sesame and sunflower seeds, and even a bit of candied Buddha hand lemon

Ingredients and Method

1. Mix together in a large bowl:
5 cups raw oats (not quick cooking type)
1 cup raw almonds, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup raw walnuts, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup each raw sesame and sunflower seeds
1/2 cup sweetened cranberries
1/2 cup raisins (I get some beautiful ones from my farmer's market that are from a mix of grapes)
1/4 cup candied Buddha hand lemon, chopped and drain of simple syrup

2. Add the wet ingredients:
First add 1/2 cup of a vegetable oil such as safflower oil and stir it in very well to coat the dry ingredients. Use the same measuring cup and measure 1/2 cup of pure maple syrup, or honey, or combine them so that they add up to 1/2 cup (I love the combination of maple syrup and honey). Add 1 teaspoon of pure vanilla.
Mix these into the granola and stir to coat very well. 

Parchment paper is essential to avoid granola sticking to the pans

3. To bake:
Line two baking sheets with parchment paper (trust me, you won't want to skip the paper!) and spread the granola mixture evenly onto the two baking sheets. It will make a thick layer, but I found that it works just fine if you bake the two sheets side by side for about 10 minutes at 335 degrees F*, then check the granola to make sure it's not getting too toasty or burning. Stir it up (the edges tend to brown more quickly) then return to the oven and bake a few minutes more (5 to 10 minutes). Tip: make sure you set a timer to remind you because a few minutes makes the difference between pleasantly toasted and burnt!
*You may have to test your oven and see if you need to bake at a lower or slightly higher temperature.

Tip: I let the baking sheets cool on racks set on my counter top. As the trays cool, stir the granola to break up the clumps. Wait until it's completely cooled before storing in an air-tight container (if you store it before it has cooled, it will get soggy- ugh!). 

Adding chopped, candied Buddha hand lemon lends a citrusy flavor

As I mentioned, this recipe is very flexible, so feel free to experiment with the amount or kinds of fruit and nuts, and the level of sweetness. I don't even measure out the dry ingredients anymore and it turns out nicely each time. To my taste this recipe makes mildly sweet, very satisfying granola. I'm fortunate in that we can buy our dried fruit and nuts from our farmer's market so we have access to unusual and delicious varieties, and you can't beat the freshness. Enjoy!

See my recipe and method for candied Buddha hand lemon here.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Life After Conventional Gardens: a Liberating Experience

A climate appropriate garden is a beautiful garden!

Now that 2015 is waning and lawn replacements rebates are uncertain (in Santa Clara County, as of this writing) there are plenty of reasons to go ahead with your lawn replacement projects. I hope to continue to see more people taking action to replace high water-use gardens with climate appropriate ones. The current severe drought has forced us to rethink our gardens, and it's been a liberating experience for many.

Several of my garden design clients have been very pleased and excited by their new water-saving gardens that offer flowers and seasonal beauty to enjoy, as well as fresh herbs for the kitchen. I have the impression that many homeowners (especially non-gardeners) have traditional lawns as default landscaping, since it's difficult to figure out what to do otherwise. 

Besides the water savings, a huge bonus is not having to mow and fertilize a high maintenance lawn. A careful selection of appropriate plants leads to a low maintenance garden- that's also liberating!

But even if a patch of lawn is desired (for example, in a kids play area), there are several alternatives to conventional high water-use turf. See the Delta Bluegrass website to learn more. Native grasses offer seasonal beauty and elegance, but are not yet as tough as varieties that have been bred to withstand lots of foot traffic. 

An urn as a recirculating fountain attracts birds to this new garden (former lawn)

In the photos above, a garden we installed last May has grown to be a lush pollinator garden with native and ornamental sages, plus prolific culinary herbs for the kitchen (near the recirculating fountain, above). 
The photo below shows the garden after the lawn died and before the garden re-design:

Former conventional lawn before garden make-over 

A discarded but very nice pedestal fountain in the photo above was repurposed into a charming succulent planter by drilling holes into it so that irrigation tubing could be put in place (top photo). Succulents (as a group) are a great choices for low-water gardens. This group includes sedums, agaves, echeverias, sempervivums, aloes, as well as cacti. Nurseries have greatly expanded their offerings of succulents to meet the current demand.

The image below demonstrates the drama and color that succulents bring to the garden. 

Echeverias are paired with a large sculptural agave for an attractive color scheme
Photo taken at Succulent Gardens, Castroville, CA

The good news is that if you are ready to rethink your conventional landscape and make a liberating shift to a more climate appropriate one, there are more resources than ever to help you make the transition.

Here are some inspirational links to get you started:

Inspiring images of low-water gardens, Sunset Magazine

Santa Clara Valley Master Gardeners Drought Information page- chock full of resources

Xerces Society information page for creating pollinator gardens in California

Garden designed by Patricia Larenas, Urban Artichoke, Mountain View, CA
Garden installed by Jackie Marsey, Paradise Landscape and Garden, San Jose, CA

 Photos by: Patricia Larenas, Urban Artichoke

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Lawn Replacement Rebates Extended Through 2015

Flowering shrubs and herbs replaced a front yard lawn in Palo Alto 

Lawn replacement rebates for homes and businesses in Santa Clara Valley have been extended at the current elevated rates through the end of 2015. This news was expected after Governor Brown's recent executive order requiring mandatory statewide reductions in water use.

A kitchen herb garden replaced the lawn near the front door - my favorite lawn replacement trick!

Most homeowners in the county can expect $2 per square foot of qualifying lawn (or swimming pool), and Palo Alto residents enjoy a whopping $4 per square foot ($2 of this rebate temporarily ran out at the end of last year, but has been renewed to $4). The rebate applies to currently irrigated lawns and functioning swimming pools.

For details visit the Santa Clara Valley Water District website or call their hotline at 408.630.2554.

Photos: A lawn replacement installed July 2014 by Jackie Marsey, Paradise Garden and Landscape, and designed by me.

Photo credits: Patricia Larenas, Urban Artichoke