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On Cooking Southern: Fruit Loops of the Breakfast World, Let’s Unite

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SOUTHERNISM OF THE WEEK
Can’t dance, can’t sing, and it’s too wet to plow: Texas-originated expression implying that we might as well just go on and do a certain something– like win that next ball game or finish cleaning out the office.


HEALTHY THINGS TO DO WITH CEREAL

Experts say breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Those experts have more in mind than a bowl of Cocoa Puffs or Cap’n Crunch, however temporarily satisfying such cereals might be as a post-deadline snack.

They do have their uses.

Personally, I have never been much of a cereal girl, except when my inherited Methodist tendency kicks in for topping casseroles with crushed, buttered corn flakes. I’m more of a boiled egg and granola-yogurt-fruit breakfaster.

Some people, though, rely solely on cereal to kick-start their day. But as nutritionists nationwide say repeatedly, all cereals are not created equal. Many are loaded with empty calories and processed sugars, which can trigger blood-sugar spikes and dips in sensitive individuals.

So what’s a poor cereal-lover to do? I say make up your own healthier version.

For example, transform that somewhat dubious cereal into a nutrient-laden power bar. Your body will thank you at the end of a 5-mile jog or tomorrow morning’s three-hour conference call.

Or make up your own granola. It’s delicious.

I made the change after biting into one rock-hard-raisin too many contained in commercial granola, and after questioning the origin of the honey in the listed ingredients. NOTE: Many commercial food processors buy honey from Indonesia, Argentina, Uruguay, Mexico and India. Yet clinicians agree that locally grown honey helps reduce allergic reactions in people with compromised immune systems.

We’re fortunate in Lafayette County to have excellent sources for homegrown honey. It’s local gold. When combined with old-fashioned rolled oats, nuts, seeds, dried fruit and commercial cereal, that local honey represents a culinary goldmine for personal health.

So go ahead. Call me a hippydippy granola chick. I embrace the tag. You won’t find this fruitloop laden with Mom-guilt for failure to cook a hot breakfast.


HOMEMADE GRANOLA
Use fresh lemon and orange juice and zest – you’ll need one lemon and one small orange such as a Halo or Clementine. Select the dried fruit of personal choice — cranberries, apricots, peaches, banana chips, apples, dates, raisins, coconut.

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4 c of old-fashioned rolled oats

1 c sliced almonds

1/2 c raw sunflower seeds

1/2 c wheat germ

1/2 tsp ground cinnamon

1/2 c light brown sugar

1/3 c honey

2 T lemon juice

1 T lemon zest

1 T orange zest

2 T orange juice

2 c fine-chopped dried fruit (I use chopped dates, craisins and golden raisins)

Combine oatmeal, seeds, nuts, wheat germ & cinnamon in large bowl. Combine sugar and honey in saucepan, bring to boil on medium heat Remove from heat; add lemon & orange rinds and juices. Toss liquid mixture with dry mixture. Coat a large, rimmed baking sheet with nonstick cooking spray. Spread out mixture in pan; bake at 300˚F for 30 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes until golden brown. Cool in pan on rack. Add dried fruits. Store in an airtight container. YIELD: about 7 cups.


PEANUTTY POWER BARS
Who doesn’t love Rice Krispie bars, made up primarily of toasted rice cereal and marshmallows? There’s a healthier bar just waiting to be made without the marshmallows. This peanut butter bar tastes just like those expensive power bars sold in the nutrition section of the grocery store.

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1/2 c dry roasted salted peanuts

1/2 c roasted sunflower seeds

2 c chopped dates and golden raisins, or other dried fruit such as cherries

2 c rolled or instant oats

2 c toasted rice cereal such as Rice Krispies

1/4 c toasted wheat germ

1/2 c crunchy peanut butter

1/2 c packed light brown sugar

1/2 c light corn syrup or honey

1 tsp vanilla extract

Coat a 9-by-13-inch baking pan with nonstick cooking spray (I use Pam olive oil).

Combine the nuts, seeds, fruit, oats, rice cereal and wheat germ in a large bowl. Combine the peanut butter, brown sugar and liquid sweetener (corn syrup or honey) in a large microwaveable bowl. Cover with waxed paper and microwave on high until bubbling (12 to 2 minutes). Stir in vanilla.

Pour the hot mixture over dry ingredients; toss and stir until completely incorporated. Use a spatula to transfer to the prepared pan Spread evenly. Coat hands with nonstick cooking spray and press down mixture to remove air pockets.

Allow pan to sit for about 1 hour at room temperature to set up. Cut down the center and then cut each half into 8 bars. To store: wrap individual bars in plastic wrap. Will keep at room temperature for up to 1 week, or freeze well for up to a month.


ALMOND HONEY ENERGY BAR
I adapted this health-oriented recipe from one in the January/February issue of EatingWell. It’s a must-have for anyone who loves almonds. The almond butter is located near the peanut butter in the store. Coconut sugar and turbinado sugar are available in our local Walmart next to the regular sugar.

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1 c old-fashioned rolled oats

1/4 c sliced almonds, chopped

1/4 c sunflower seeds

1 T white sesame seeds

1 c cereal such as toasted rice (Rice Krispies) or puffed wheat

1/3 c dried cranberries (craisins)

1/3 c chopped dried apricots

1/3 c chopped golden raisins

1/4 c creamy almond butter

1/4 c honey

1/4 c coconut sugar or organic turbinado sugar

1/2 tsp vanilla extract

1/8 tsp salt

Preheat oven to 350˚F. Coat an 8-inch square baking pan with nonstick cooking spray.

Spread oats, almonds, sunflower and sesame seeds on a large rimmed baking sheet. Bake about 10 minutes, shaking after 5 minutes — until the oats become lightly toasted and the nuts become fragrant.

Transfer toasted goodies to a large mixing bowl. Add the cereal and fruit, tossing gently until combined.

In a small saucepan, combine the almond butter, honey, vanilla and salt. Heat on medium-low for 2 to 5 minutes, stirring regularly, until mixture bubbles.

Pour bubbling mixture over the dry ingredients and toss with spoon or spatula until completely coated. Scrape out with spatula into prepared pan, smoothing evenly. Coat hands with cooking spray and press mixture to remove air pockets and create an even, firm layer. Refrigerate until firm, about 30 minutes to 1 hour, and cut into 8 bars. These bars tend to be crumbly. After a few days, go ahead and crumble the leftover bars (if any), to convert back into “granola.”


Laurie Triplette is a writer, historian and accredited appraiser of fine arts, dedicated to preserving Southern culture and foodways. Author of the award-winning community family cookbook GIMME SOME SUGAR, DARLIN’, and editor of ZEBRA TALES (Tailgating Recipes from the Ladies of the NFLRA), Triplette is a member of the Association of Food Journalists, Southern Foodways Alliance and the Southern Food and Beverage Museum. Check out the GIMME SOME SUGAR, DARLIN’ website and follow Laurie’s food adventures on Facebook and Twitter.

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