Clumpy banana + almond butter granola with cacao nibs
I had all the best intentions of spending more time in this space in the weeks leading up to our departure for the wedding. And then next thing I knew I was standing in Denver Hospice, at the side of a beloved friend as he took his last breath. Have you ever watched someone take their very last breath? It's devastating. Haunting. Yet, strangely, one of the most beautiful things I've ever experienced. To witness him go in peace, surrounded by over a dozen people who would have probably switched him places, if they could? That was love. That was so much fucking love I thought my heart was going to burst.
It almost did, but not from the beauty. From the sorrow. From the pain that comes when you lose someone you love and deeply admire. From the tragedy and the fact that Steve was one of the most remarkable people I've ever met, yet suffered more than most of us would suffer in three lifetimes. That seemed so cruel. So unfair. But despite being handed the unfathomable, he found the beauty in everything. Even the mundane details of everyday life. It's what drew me to him, along with his smile that could, literally, light up a room. But the thing I loved most about Steve? He was the kind of person you went to on a bad day and left feeling refreshed and new, without a care in the world. Thom always said I was my happiest after spending a few hours in his presence, which I think speaks volumes about him as a person. I knew him for seven short months and somehow that man managed to refine my life in a profound way that has made me forever indebted to his legacy. His garden. His vision. He gave me new perspective. Reminded me of my purpose. And when the going got tough, he never failed to urge me to look on the bright side because shit could be worse, kid.
Those words carried me through the past month, but especially when our rather untimely home renovations clashed with the most colossal of meltdowns that resulted in a trip to the bridal shop and a brand new wedding dress, despite the fact that I already had a dress. I lost my appetite. My sense of belonging. My ability to think clearly and rationally (sorry, Thom). I cried so much my face burnt. So much I thought it was going to be red and puffy forever. I convinced Thom to go to the grocery because I feared I'd break down in aisle three, at the sight of saltines - the cracker on which Steve made it seem as though he existed for the last month of his life. I cried and cried and cried. So I went to the mountains. Because if there's one thing that can make your troubles seem petty and meaningless, it's hurling your battered body into the unknown at 7AM with a lady friend whose strength and positivity, it would seem, are completely and utterly infectious. Just like Steve's. We ate handfuls of granola and walked across a frozen lake. Then lost our shit when we realized we were WALKING ACROSS A FROZEN LAKE. We tripped and crawled and screamed like sissies but damnit, it felt so good. To be vulnerable and exposed. To be laughing so hard I forgot about my aching heart. To finally be able to wrap my mind around the fact that - after seven and a half years with Thom - we are finally doing the damn thing. We are getting married. And our journey to Ireland starts today.
It starts now.
Notes: Almonds are pretty expensive right now (which they should be), so if you don't want to splurge on almond butter, you can use peanut butter, instead. I actually use peanut butter most of the time, but was craving something a bit different for the trail. That, and I figured this recipe would pair perfectly with my double chocolate almond butter trail cookies. If you don't have coconut oil, feel free to use any other neutral flavored oil - but I highly recommend trying to get your hands on the coconut variety. I use bananas that are hella brown to help amp up the sweetness, but feel free to reduce up to two of the bananas with additional maple syrup - a tablespoon per banana.
CLUMPY BANANA + ALMOND BUTTER GRANOLA WITH CACAO NIBS
1/4 cup refined coconut oil
1/2 cup natural almond butter
3 tablespoons Grade B maple syrup
3 medium extra ripe bananas
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract (yes, tablespoon)
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
5 cups thick rolled oats
1/4 cup cacao nibs
1/2 cup roughly chopped almonds
In a small saucepan over medium heat, melt the coconut oil then stir in the almond butter and maple syrup. Heat just until the mixture is combined and gently bubbling, then remove from heat and set aside. In a large bowl, beat the bananas with a hand mixer on medium speed until mostly smooth. Slowly stir in the vanilla extract and almond butter mixture, and beat just until combined. Add the sea salt and rolled oats and toss to combine. The mixture will be fairly wet (and feel heavy) but we're going to let it sit for 10 minutes so the oats absorb the banana + almond goodness and become super flavorful. Spread the granola onto a large baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake at 400˚F for 24-28 minutes, making sure to toss the granola a couple of times while baking (to ensure even browning). During the last five minutes, add the cacao nibs and almonds, or you can add them when you remove the granola from the oven (although the cacao nibs and almonds are best when slightly toast-y). Allow granola to cool on the baking sheet then store, loosely covered, for up to a week.
Yield: 8-10 servings (or enough for two hungry hikers)