Cereal: A tribute to all things handmade

Granola Cereal Mixed

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.

Me with the Perez girls at Maureen's wedding.
Me with my cousins at Maureen’s wedding. Photo by Haring Photography

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.

Maureen, my cousin and maid of honor, at my wedding.
Maureen, my cousin and maid of honor, at my wedding. Photos by ES Photography

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.

Granola uncooked
Combining the wet and dry ingredients.

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.

The oats mixture, ready for the oven.

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!

Combining the finishing touches.

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:

Crunchy, Nutty, Chewy and Crisp Cereal
Recipe type: Breakfast
Serves: 24+
Prep time:
Cook time:
Total time:
High in protein and fiber, this cereal keeps you satisfied all morning long.
  • 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)
  1. Preheat oven to 300 degrees.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. Spread the mixture evenly over 2 large baking sheets lined with parchment paper or silpats, and bake for 20 minutes.
  5. 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.
  6. Repeat the previous step every 10 minutes, until oats have reached desired level of browning (about 20-30 minutes).
  7. Remove sheets from the oven, and cool.
  8. Once cooled, combine the oats mixture with the kamut (or puffed brown rice), bran flakes, and dried fruit.
  9. Store in an airtight container.
Some variations Maureen has done include:
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)



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Softball Snack: Homemade Granola Bars

Homemade Granola Bars
Homemade Granola Bars

Five years ago, when my husband and I were shul shopping, we searched for someplace that was more than just a spiritual home. Someplace that not only boasted outstanding clergy, enlightening programming, and breathtaking prayer spaces, but also valued its strong sense of community. Someplace where we’d find friends with various shared interests, whose kids would be friends with our future kids, and so on.  What we found is so much more.

Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills Softball Team enjoying a healthy snack before a big game.
Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills Softball Team enjoying a healthy snack before a big game.

For the past four years, my husband has found his little niche in the community on our synagogue’s softball team, and this year, stepped up to the plate as manager. Every Sunday morning, this group of grown men and women run around a baseball field, not quite living out their childhood fantasies of playing professional ball, but having a great time, nonetheless. At the end of the game, whether they won or lost (although, it’s always more fun when they win), the team is supportive and caring. The bonds they make on the field carry over to the real world, as well. For instance, one teammate, who works as an executive recruiter during the week, helped my husband successfully navigate a professional opportunity last year. They started working out the details in the dugout, and came up with a great plan that resulted in a sort of promotion at the office.

The connections made at the games aren’t limited to the team, either. There’s a regular group of us spouses, kids, and friends who line the stands, cheering and rooting for the team. I’d consider myself a regular at these games, and since in my family, we show our love and support through food, I sometimes arrive with snacks and drinks in tow.

The team plays hard.
The team plays hard.

Yesterday’s game was a tough one. I knew ahead of time that we’d be short a few strong players, so I thought I’d bring an energy-boosting nutritious snack to help fuel the team. Inspired by some of my favorite femme foodies, I tried my hand at the Smitten Kitchen’s adaptation of Ina Garten’s famous granola bars, which showcases the perfect blend of chewy, crunchy, and not-too-sweet goodness.

The manager (my husband) looks concerned.
The manager (my husband) looks concerned.

By the seventh inning, I could tell by the worried look on the incredibly handsome manager’s face that perhaps my granola bars weren’t going to swing the odds of winning in our favor. Still, our team showed great sportsmanship and had a good time. At the end of the day, that’s what this team is all about.

Good sportsmanship

On the upside, our number one fan looks like she had fun!

Our #1 Fan/Cheerleader.
Our #1 Fan/Cheerleader.

And…there’s always next week.



Homemade Granola Bars
Recipe type: Snack
Cuisine: American
Serves: 12-16
Prep time:
Cook time:
Total time:
The perfect blend of chewy, crunchy, and not-too-sweet goodness.
  • 2 cups old-fashioned oatmeal
  • 1 cup sliced almonds
  • 1 cup shredded coconut, loosely packed
  • ½ cup toasted wheat germ
  • ⅔ cup honey
  • 1½ tsp vanilla extract
  • ¼ tsp kosher salt
  • 1½ cup dried fruit, or a mix of dried fruit (I used chopped raisins, dried cranberries, dried cherries, and dried apricots)
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a 9x13-inch baking dish with parchment paper, and grease it with butter or cooking spray.
  2. Combine the oatmeal, almonds, and coconut together, spread on a baking sheet, and toast in the oven for 10-12 minutes until light brown. Transfer to a large mixing bowl.
  3. Lower the oven temperature to 300 degrees.
  4. Mix in the toasted wheat germ to the oatmeal mixture. Stir in the honey, vanilla, and salt, and mix until everything is well coated. Then add the dried fruit.
  5. Pour the mixture into the greased baking dish, and press it in firmly.
  6. Bake for 25-30 minutes, until golden brown. As soon as you remove the dish from the oven, use a potato masher to pack it in as tightly as possible.
  7. Allow to cool for at least 2 hours, and cut into bars using a serrated knife.
  8. Store in an airtight container in the freezer, if you like them crunchy. If you prefer them soft, leave them at room temperature.

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