In my family, we’re quite smitten with cultured and fermented foods. My brother Charlie makes his own pickles now, including pickled garlic which is quite potent, let me tell you. Delicious, yes, but oh my, that stuff is STRONG.
I’m not exactly sure when fermentation took up residence in our culinary conversations, but I’m glad it’s there now. For one thing, it leads to things like grilled cheese sandwiches with a puckery tangle of sauerkraut tucked in between bread and cheese. It lends the sandwich a similar tart quality as a smear of Dijon mustard does—a nice counterpoint to the rich crunchiness of buttered, skillet-seared bread and melted cheese. Charlie made me that sandwich not too long after I stepped off the plane in December, and I ate it alongside a medley of his homemade pickles. Afterward, I patted my belly, filled up with probiotic goodness.
Probiotics, I’ve come to learn, are a wonderful thing. I find the word “probiotics” a little odd because it sounds like a vitamin. But probiotics are really biotics, that is, living creatures. Bacteria and fungi. Does that sound gross to you? I’m a biologist, so it’s hard to gross me out with microorganisms (though I have a terrible fear of blood, which is why I could never go to medical school). My friend Ammie tells a hilarious story about making homemade creme fraiche for the first time. She was a nervous wreck about it, convinced that she would give her dinner guests deadly food poisoning with her poisonous creme fraiche. I thought the whole thing was hilarious because I didn’t even think twice about the safety of my homemade creme fraiche. It seemed utterly natural to me to add yogurt to heavy cream in a jar, shake vigorously, and leave it in the oven overnight. The next day: TA-DA! Beautiful, thick, heavenly creme fraiche, ready for anything and everything we might do with it.
As much as I love a good jar of homemade creme fraiche, yogurt and its probiotic cousins are my heroes for a very different reason. I don’t want to be too graphic here, but the food poisoning that I mentioned a few weeks ago lingered for about a week, leaving me vaguely miserable, with cramps and bloating, among other things. Something had to be done. I thought back to the last time I had gastrointestinal issues, and I remembered how I had solved the problem: with yogurt. It sounds so simple, right? I had noticed that if I had milk with a meal, I didn’t feel well afterward. If I had yogurt, I felt fine. So I started eating more yogurt, eager to heal my gut before a much-anticipated trip to California, and I was able to step on a plane bound for Los Angeles, feeling much perkier and ready for some mountains and sun.
With California in mind, I decided it couldn’t hurt to eat more yogurt to coax my body back to health. My favorite way to eat yogurt is to buy the plain stuff and then add goodies to it—fruit, granola, cocoa powder, or whatever else the pantry offers. Sometimes I’ll add a little sweetener, especially if I take the cocoa powder route. Last month, I made a fantastic granola that went beautifully with plain yogurt, a creamy sweet-tart confection for the 4 PM munchies. It felt just right for December, made with buttery pecans and sweet white chocolate and studded with bright little dried cranberries. I actually made two batches but neglected to tell you about it until now. But I don’t see any reason why we can’t have a festive granola with white chocolate and cranberries in January, especially one that tastes so good with yogurt. So here’s to intestinal health, yours and mine!
White Chocolate and Dried Cranberry Granola
Adapted from my favorite granola recipe template
Makes a little less than 5 cups
3 cups rolled oats
1/2 cup pecans, coarsely chopped
1/4 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
1/8 tsp. salt
6 tbsp. pure maple syrup
2 tbsp. canola oil
1/3 cup chopped white chocolate (real white chocolate, please!)
1/3 cup sweetened dried cranberries
1) Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F. Spray a large rimmed cookie sheet with cooking spray. I use my well-loved 10 x 15-inch pan for this.
2) In a large bowl, mix together the oats, pecans, coconut, and salt. In a small bowl or mixing cup, mix together the maple syrup and canola oil with a fork. Pour the syrup mixture over the oat mixture and mix with a spoon until everything is moistened and sticky.
3) Scrape the oat mixture onto the prepared cookie sheet and bake for 20 minutes, stirring with a spoon halfway through the baking. Stir again after the granola is done baking. Cool completely.
4) Pour the baked granola into a large bowl. Mix the white chocolate and cranberries into the oat mixture. Serve with plain yogurt. Store granola in a tightly sealed container.