Culture: Don’t punish yourself says Gastrono-me's Gemma Simmonite, standing up to the new year diet bullies with a granola recipe that can be as good or as bad as you like
After the jingle of Christmas and the pop of New Year’s Eve, January is, let’s face it, a bit of a damp squib.
Headlines everywhere ring out the so-called benefits of different diets. There’s also Dry January, and more recently Veganuary – great ideas I suppose in theory (more so if its motivated for charity), but am I right in saying it all feels a little punishing? Puritanical even? Surely it just adds to the seasonal misery and trepidation we all feel at the beginning of the year? Let’s face it, however much you love your job, it’s still blinking hard to go back to work after a lovely festive break, and even harder still just to crawl out of bed of a morning.
We already feel a little sad and sluggish, podgy and pale even. We could do without being bullied and chided into some version of healthy that an organisation feels would benefit us. Blimey, we want an incentive to get out of our warm beds on a miserable winter’s morning, not more reasons to pull the covers back over and stay put.
I am a strong believer in moderation when needed. After a holiday of rich food, we instinctively know what will put us right. We ought to trust our instincts more and not be harangued into things by a guzzling engine that is purely there to make money out of us. A wise woman I once knew and loved very much used the phrase “I know my body”. I feel we must all say we know ‘our’ bodies, and stand up for ourselves. If we feel the need to diet, then we will do so. If we want to cut out that glass of wine with dinner, we will because we feel like it. But Lord, we won’t do it because we’ve been dictated to. Because I guarantee you, in roughly a month or two from now, that same industry will be selling us the idea of a perfect Easter treat complete with Easter eggs, buttery hot cross buns and roast lamb!
So. . .despite all this rebellious rhetoric, why am I giving you a recipe for granola? Surely it’s a recipe that could sit quite happily in one of those ‘New Year, New You’ articles. Isn’t it a miserable hard-hearted cereal that you struggle to swallow, and the less exciting sister to muesli? Nope.
It’s a recipe in its own right, and when I named it Lola Granola for our menu at Gastrono-Me, I did so for a very good reason. It can be made to be as good or as bad as you like! The name Lola has been famously sung about by many musicians and definitely has a sexy, headstrong allure to it, and I think it gives granola a bit of heart, sass even. Its benefits are that it can be adapted to your palate, diet and yearnings. If you’re fancying dabbling with coconut oil, great, use it instead of the vegetable oil I’ve used. If you want to sprinkle it with seeds, fling them in. But if you abhor squidgy sultanas, banish them! There is no getting it wrong, no messing it up. It is simply a delicious toasty hotchpotch of ingredients and I promise it will give you a reason to get up, even on the darkest of mornings. So go on, take control, enjoy adapting it to you, because believe me, you really do know your own body.
This recipe will make loads! Just put it in an airtight container when cooled, it will last beautifully for a couple of months.
450g Jumbo rolled oats (jumbo oats are sometimes tricky to find, I get mine in Holland & Barrett)
80g dried apricots
80g Craisins (dried cranberries, but you could use raisins or sultanas)
80g chopped dates (I call these ‘nature’s candy’, fab if you’re not adding much syrup)
60-80g seed blend (I particularly like sunflower, pumpkin and linseeds)
220g of chopped nuts (I like flaked almonds and pistachios, or just use what’s left from Christmas)
3 tablespoons of vegetable oil
80ml of maple syrup
50ml of honey
A capful of vanilla extract, but almond
works well too
½ teaspoon of nutmeg
½ teaspoon of ginger
Pre-heat your oven to 150°C/300°F.
You will need two largeish baking sheets, ones with a slight lip help prevent the mix spilling over.
Pour the oats into a large bowl, then add the rest of your dry ingredients, make sure they’re all chopped to roughly the same size – I find a pair of scissors is good for snipping the slippery apricots, just make sure you are careful!
Mix your spices into the wet mix and give it a whisk with a fork, until combined.
Pour the wet mix over the oats and give it a really good stir, so the oats are all coated. If it looks a little dry, add a tiny bit more of the honey or maple syrup. The oats should look glossy.
Tip it all onto your baking sheets, spreading out carefully into a single layer as much as possible.
Bake for around 30-35 minutes, moving it around occasionally so it all toasts evenly. Your Lola Granola mix should be looking golden brown and toasty, the smell will be sublime.
Let it cool before putting it into an airtight container.
Delicious with icy cold milk or with yoghurt. But you could also add it to homemade muffins, or just bag it up for a great energy-fuelled snack.
Gemma is executive chef and co-creator of Gastrono-me, which re-opens on Abbeygate Street in March after a successful five-and-half years in St John’s Street.