Granola is one of the joys of life. You can enjoy it plain, molded together like a popcorn ball, or sprinkled over ice cream or fruit. This past year, I learned that it is very easy to make, because you can buy the ingredients at a stall in the Central Market of Alajuela in whatever quantity you want, and you can add what you like and subtract what you don’t. There are no set rules for granola.
I have reasons for shopping in the Central Market. I hate going into big supermarkets where you travel through miles of aisles looking for what you want and then find so many brands and sizes and varieties that you need a day just to read all the labels.
In the Central Market, you step up to a counter and ask for what you want and then toss it into your canvas shopping bag, thus saving the earth from having to digest one more plastic bag. Besides, for me it’s simply more convenient to stop at the market, which is close to the bus station in Alajuela, northwest of the capital.
Driving to a supermarket means using fuel, encouraging more ugly parking lots, risking accidents, and the constant bother of someone asking if I’d sell them my 1978 Land Cruiser. Some people, like my brother, say I’m an out-of-date Luddite. I say I’m ecofriendly. Besides, the bus conveniently stops in front of my house.
As far as the Land Cruiser goes, how often have I felt like I was being stalked only to find that someone wants to buy the car? It may be old, covered with cat paw prints and a little slow on grades so that even tractors pass, but it is not for sale. Besides, somewhere in its depths there’s an earring I lost years ago, and hopefully some day I may find it.
The market is also a good place to watch human nature, an endlessly surprising activity. For example: Ever notice how everyone has to play with the rice, corn and chicken feed in the bins? What is it about a barrel full of kernels that overcomes even grown men with the temptation to plunge their hands in?
There’s also Toño’s stall, which sells cat food, among many other things, and always has a couple of cats lounging around for customers to pet. It’s good advertising, Toño says.
In the market stalls, you can buy the amount you need: one envelope, one cigarette and a match, or three kilos of loose flour (harina suelta), for which you do want a plastic bag.
The disadvantage for some in buying at the market is that you have to ask for what you want in Spanish, although you can always point. So, for those who need a little boost to buy their granola ingredients, I’ll provide the recipe with the Spanish words (see box). If reading the words out loud still embarrasses you, make up a list and hand it to the clerk. A quarter kilo (cuarto kilo) will get you enough seeds, germ and nuts for several batches of granola.
Mitzi’s Make-It-Yourself Granola Recipe
1 cup (una taza) oatmeal (avena)
1/2 cup (media taza) sesame seeds (ajonjolí)
1/4 cup (cuarta taza) wheat germ (germen de trigo)
Chopped peanuts (maní picado)
1/8 cup (octavo de taza) molasses (melaza) or honey (miel de abeja) or both
1/8 cup cooking oil (aceite)
1/4 cup brown sugar (tapa dulce rayada or azúcar moreno)
Mix it all up, then spread it in a pan over low heat, stirring constantly, or toast it in an oven but remove to stir every few minutes. If at first you don’t succeed, slightly burnt granola isn’t bad either.
Add raisins (pasas) or candied cherries (cerezas) after toasting so they don’t shrivel up and look like little bugs. Or worse.
When cool, place the granola in a glass container, making sure it’s really clean and aired out so that your granola doesn’t come out tasting like pickles or horseradish. And remember, if you’re disappointed in the results, it makes good bird food.