I’ve always found it fitting that the term in Spanish for first cousin, prima hermana, literally translates to cousin sister. While separated only by distance, my maternal cousins have always felt more like sisters than anything else, and were treated as such, for better or for worse. My younger cousin, Christine, the baby in the bunch, bore the brunt of most of the family pranks and teases. Although, she made it easy, when she claimed she came from the planet “Petwee,” and kept up the facade for a good many years. As someone known for marching to the beat of her own drum, she’s had an independent spirit for as long as I can remember, and has since grown into a real trailblazer. I like to think that our casting her as the “booger girl” in our home-made music video back in the day helped to thicken her skin a little, and prepare her for her world travels. If nothing else, it makes for good campfire stories.
My older cousin, Leanne, who influenced my taste in music (ahem, Gloria Estefan) and shared my appreciation for a certain boy-bander (ahem, Jordan Knight), was the older sister I always wanted. I’m pretty sure her natural curls are responsible for a few of my ridiculously failed perms back in the day. As the leader of the pack, and built-in babysitter, Leanne was often tasked with judging the kids’ family dance competitions, while the adults indulged in a little Sabado Gigante in the other room. Us youngsters trusted her judgement and wisdom, and we knew that her word was law. Those arbitrating skills have not gone to waste, as she grew up to be a well-respected attorney.
And then there’s Maureen, the cousin with whom I am closest in age. When we weren’t recreating the choreography from Dirty Dancing and the Rhythm Nation video, or perfecting our makeover skills with over-the-top hair and makeup that looked more like we were preparing for war, we were slip-sliding our way across wet floors, despite my Aunt’s clear warning that “el piso esta mojado!!” (Read: The floor is really wet!). Maureen was the first to identify my old lady tendencies, and to call me out on being a 65-year-old trapped in a 12-year-old’s body. We’d stay up late, philosophizing the wonders of the world and giggling until our bellies ached, but at the end of the day, she just got me. While we don’t get to see each other as much these days, whenever we get together, it’s as if no time has passed, and we pick up right where we left off.
On a recent visit to Maureen’s neck of the woods, she and I had a deep conversation about the therapeutic qualities of working with our hands. As a trained Physical Therapist, Maureen knows a thing or two about working with her hands, but it wasn’t this type of work that we were discussing. There’s something about using ones own skills, strength, and talents to produce a product for the sole enjoyment of someone else. And the fact that whatever you made was handmade, means that your gift is completely one-of-a-kind, and made with love. For me, you can really see this philosophy when I entertain, and go above and beyond my normal weekday fare to make my guests feel acknowledged and appreciated. For Maureen, it’s her new venture into the world of custom Letterpress. With each order, Maureen creatively creates a specific design, and using an old letterpress, she painstakingly cranks out each piece by hand.
With the recent launch of MadeByMaureen.com, I thought it would be fitting to present a recipe initially shared with me by Maureen, herself. I can certainly see why someone would choose the convenience of buying a box of cereal at the market over making some yourself, but after tasting one bowlful of this homemade variety, you might just change your mind. Rich in protein and high in fiber, this is the only cereal that has ever kept me satisfied for an extended period of time. While the list of ingredients calls solely for whole foods, it may seem like the “healthy” cereals you remember that taste like dust and air, but don’t let that fool you. With just the right amount of honey-kissed sweetness and the chewy bite from the dried fruit, I don’t miss the sugar cereals one bit. My mother-in-law likes to grab a dry handful for a snack on the go, but I prefer the more traditional route served in a bowl with cold milk. Even my 18-month-old nephew, Eli, gave this recipe his stamp of approval with an audible “Mmmmm” after a little taste. Clearly, he is developing a discerning palate with that critique!
Since Maureen and I have a tendency to gift much of our batches away, we appreciate the fact that this simple recipe produces quite a bit of cereal. We also love the fact that the core recipe is easily adaptable to the seasons. Looking for a Fall flavor? How about maple and cinnamon paired with pepitas and pecans? Want something more geared towards Winter? How about adding a bit of cocoa powder, to remind you of a cup of warm hot chocolate? There’s really no wrong way to mix and match nuts, fruit and spices, and I urge you to experiment to find the combination you like best.
To get you started, I present to you the combination that gets me going in the mornings:
- ⅓ cup organic extra virgin coconut oil
- ½ cup honey
- 2 tbs vanilla extract
- 1 tsp salt
- 1½ tsp ground cinnamon
- 6 cups thick cut oats (or old fashioned rolled oats)
- 2 cups chopped nuts (I use sliced almonds, chopped pecans and walnuts)
- 2 cups puffed kamut or puffed brown rice
- 2 cups bran flakes
- 1 cup dried fruit (I use Trader Joe's Dried Berry Medley, which has cherries, blueberries, and strawberries)
- Preheat oven to 300 degrees.
- In a small saucepan over low flame, heat the coconut oil, honey, vanilla extract, salt, and cinnamon, stirring constantly until salt and honey have dissolved. Set aside.
- In a very large bowl, combine the oats and nuts. Drizzle the oil/honey mixture over the oats and nuts, and stir until completely coated.
- Spread the mixture evenly over 2 large baking sheets lined with parchment paper or silpats, and bake for 20 minutes.
- Remove the sheets from the oven. Use a spatula to mix the oats, and re-spread them out evenly. Return the sheets to the oven, and alternate the sheet from the top and bottom racks. Bake for another 10 minutes.
- Repeat the previous step every 10 minutes, until oats have reached desired level of browning (about 20-30 minutes).
- Remove sheets from the oven, and cool.
- Once cooled, combine the oats mixture with the kamut (or puffed brown rice), bran flakes, and dried fruit.
- Store in an airtight container.
Kahlua and Amaretto
Vanilla ginger (Adding ginger powder in place of the cinnamon to the oats)
Maple almond pecan (adding maple syrup to the mix, and slightly less honey)
Cinnamon/Nutmeg (nice in the Fall/Winter)