It was a love thang that made Megan Gordon pull up stumps, as we say in the old country, and relocate from Oakland to Seattle in the winter of 2012. That proved to be a good move on both the personal and professional front.
The cookbook reflects Gordon's sunny, healthful, can-do sensibility and thoughtful approach to pretty much every thing she takes on. That includes her granola business, Marge, which has gone gangbusters since she headed further north and has received nice nods from The Wall Street Journal and Sunset.
Gordon, a former regular contributor to this column, is also my friend (full disclosure). My son misses her occasional fruit pies and pop tarts, treats that found their way into our home courtesy of her recipe development work. And I miss my galpal, colleague, and hiking buddy. We may have lost Megan to Sam and Seattle but every time I whip up a batch of granola, pretty much weekly these days, I think of Megan, happily ensconced in her new home in the Pacific Northwest.
Thankfully, she's headed down to the Bay Area soon on her book tour, so catch her while you can at the events listed here. Below, Gordon muses on starting the day right and the particular pleasures of breakfast. She also shares a savory and sweet recipe from her cookbook. Here's to a hearty and healthy new year all.
What's the philosophy behind your new cookbook?
I hope to introduce new grains and make them approachable for the home cook. Whole grains can still have connotations of dusty bulk bins and hippy grocery stores. In this book I seek to change that by introducing home cooks to grains that may be new to them (millet, farro, amaranth) with recipes that appeal to both sweet and savory breakfast eaters.
Whole grains are the center of each recipe – they’re how I like to start my day because they’re filling, yet don’t weigh me down, and are packed with protein and fiber. But that being said, you won’t find recipes lacking in indulgence either: There's Cheesy Chive Millet Grits, Quick Breakfast Fried Rice, and a Strawberry Oat Breakfast Crisp. I’m more of a savory kind of breakfast person these days so you’ll find recipes in this book that, for some folks, might be unexpected at the breakfast table. Dishes like Zucchini Farro Cakes, savory tarts, frittatas, and a buckwheat hash.
This book recognizes that what we eat on a workday Wednesday morning looks drastically different from what we might prepare on a leisurely Sunday. And similarly, my morning meals on a cold, blustery January morning look a lot different than they do in the bright morning light of July. I recognize the different way we eat with a seasonal organization and categories within each season that include “Busy Weekdays,” “Slow Sundays” and “Brunch.” In this way, I hope the book becomes a truly useful morning resource (with sections on storing and cooking grains as well as useful information on building a whole-grain pantry) for home cooks looking for something healthy and delicious to prepare for themselves, their families, or their friends.
I also want readers to feel empowered to take a recipe or idea from this book and make it their own. We’re all different kinds of cooks and eaters and in Whole-Grain Mornings I’ve given readers numerous ideas for ways to think beyond the recipe. Also, there are dozens of “make ahead” suggestions aiming to make morning meals more do-able on a daily basis without major prep or cook time.
Is this a health cookbook?
I don’t consider it a “health book” or a reference on whole-grain cooking. You’ll find cheese and butter and even bacon in these pages. But each recipe features whole grains as the star because they’re a nourishing way to start the morning.
Are you a "breakfast is the most important meal of the day" kinda gal?
Breakfast is the cornerstone of the day. Even if it’s small and effortless--a bowl of my Triple-Coconut Quinoa Porridge on the way out the door—it’s giving your body the nutrition you need to get the day started. And, I think, it sends the message that, amidst all the craziness in our day-to-day lives, feeding yourself well is important.
Why did you start your own granola company?
I began Marge Granola largely by accident. I was a high school English teacher and was laid off, so I started working at a restaurant in their catering department, became curious with what was going on in the bakery, and began helping out. Soon I decided that was really what I wanted to do full time – on my own. I began Marge as a baking business in the Bay Area that sold mostly pies and some granola at farmers' markets and to private clients. But the granola was what people were talking about, what got covered in the press, and what I most enjoyed making. So when I moved up to Seattle, it’s what I decided to focus on full time. Now, it's distributed up and down the West Coast and moving East, we do a brisk online business, and I'm selling it at Seattle farmers' markets, which is a great way to connect to my new community.
Is granola your standard breakfast then?
In the warmer months, absolutely. I love to dress up plain yogurt with Marge granola and seasonal berries. It’s a great travel snack and I’ve started to fold granola into cookies and bars to amp up the texture, crunch, and nutrition. In the winter months, I’m an oatmeal gal. But always whole grains, regardless of the season.
Is there anything about winter that impacts what's at the breakfast table in your home?
Winter is a time that welcomes turning inward and slowing down a bit. While the reality of hectic weekdays simply doesn’t allow for that terribly often, I love to try new recipes and ways to prepare old favorites in the winter. That's reflected in my book in my take on muffins: Pear Hazelnut Oat; porridge: Savory Barley with Mushrooms and Parmesan; and baked goods: Whole-Grain Gingerbread. Winter tends to be a time, too, when the indulgence of the holidays becomes apparent and cleaner, lighter meals are welcome. That's why I focus on whole, unprocessed ingredients and natural sugars in my healthy spins on comfort staples such as whole-grain pancake mix, homemade almond milk, infused honeys, and DIY yogurt.
Did you discover anything surprising while researching whole-grain recipes for this book?
Yes, new preparations for grains, for example, baking quinoa with honey and seeds to create a crunchy topping for yogurt. Or frying up farro and shredded zucchini to make breakfast fritters. I learned to love millet, my new go-to grain of choice. It’s often dismissed as bird seed but it has a mild flavor that’s reminiscent of corn and is quick-cooking and delicious as a simple porridge, grits, or in grain bowls. I also learned something I’d always suspected was true: simplicity rules. When I first got my book contract I went out and bought a fancy rice cooker that had settings to cook all different kinds of grains. Ultimately I returned it and used the sturdy pot I’ve had since college. The fewer bells and whistles in the morning hours, the better!
Book signing & granola tasting: Anthropologie, February 7, 11am-1pm, Berkeley
Better breakfasts cooking class: 18 Reasons, February 8, 3:30pm-6:30pm, San Francisco
Book talk, signing & granola tasting: Book Passage, February 9, 1pm, Corte Madera
Recipe: Apricot Pistachio Granola
This is a version of the granola that the Wall Street Journal wrote about on a Saturday morning in early June of 2012. Once you develop product flavors for a business, you don’t get to continue altering them once the packaging is printed and customers fall in love with it. However, I’ve taken to adding sunflower seeds and crystallized ginger when I make this at home.
Makes about 8 cups
Morning Notes: Buying apricots from bulk bins with a high turnover is always a good bet because they’re likely much fresher than packaged dried fruits. You can also buy diced dried apricots, which is what I do for Marge.
3 cups / 300 g rolled oats
1 cup / 130 g raw pistachios, coarsely chopped
1 cup / 130 g raw pepitas
1⁄2 cup / 60 g raw sesame seeds
1⁄2 cup / 60 g raw sunflower seeds
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1⁄4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1⁄2 teaspoon ground cardamom
1⁄2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1⁄2 cup / 120 ml extra-virgin olive oil
1⁄2 cup / 120 ml maple syrup
1⁄2 cup / 75 g finely chopped dried apricots (about 10 dried apricots)
1⁄4 cup / 25 g diced crystallized ginger
Preheat the oven to 325°F. Line a large rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper
or a silicone mat.
In a large bowl, stir together the oats, pistachios, pepitas, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, salt, cinnamon, and cardamom.
Add the vanilla, olive oil, and maple syrup and stir to combine. I use my hands at this point so that all of the wet and dry ingredients are evenly mixed together. Turn the mixture out onto the prepared baking sheet and spread in an even layer.
Bake until fragrant and golden brown, 35 to 40 minutes. Stir every 15 to 20 minutes to ensure the granola bakes evenly. Remove from the oven and let cool completely on the baking sheet. If the granola doesn’t seem as toasty and crunchy as you’d like, it will firm up considerably as it cools. Stir in the apricots and crystallized ginger once the granola has cooled. Store in an airtight container for 3 to 4 weeks or refrigerate for up to 6 weeks (if refrigerating, keep the apricots in a separate sealed bag and add them as you enjoy your granola so they don’t become hard and dry.
Recipe: Greens and Grains Scramble
This is the breakfast Sam and I probably eat most often regardless of the season. In truth, it’s usually a dish we whip up as a late breakfast on weekdays when we’re both working from home and most emails have been returned. It’s wonderfully versatile and allows you to use up any leftover grains you have from previous meals, folding in leafy greens for a bit of color. In that sense, think of it more as a template rather than a hard-and-fast approach. Any leafy greens and most grains will work, although I veer away from small, delicate grains like amaranth because they can get lost in the dish.
Serves 2, heartily
4 large eggs, beaten
1 tablespoon milk
1⁄4 teaspoon kosher salt
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 green onion, white and light green parts, finely chopped (about 1 tablespoon)
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 heaping cup / 240 ml well-packed chopped leafy greens (such as kale, Swiss chard leaves without ribs, or spinach)
1⁄2 cup / 120 ml cooked whole grains (wheat berries, farro, barley, or millet)
1 tablespoon chopped fresh chives
Freshly ground black pepper
Crusty bread, toasted English muffins, or warm corn tortillas, for serving
In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs, milk, and kosher salt; set aside. Heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil in a sauté pan over medium heat. Add the green onion and garlic and sauté until soft, 1 to 2 minutes. Add the greens, grains, and remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil and sauté until the greens are wilted and the grains are warmed through, 3 to 5 minutes.
Decrease the heat to low and pour in the egg mixture, gently stirring to comingle them with the greens and grains. Continue stirring until they’re softly scrambled, 2 to 3 minutes. Remove from the heat, stir in the chives, and season with pepper.
Serve hot with a sprinkling of flaky salt on top, and crusty bread, toasted English muffins, or warm corn tortillas alongside.
Make It Your Own: Stirring in grated Parmesan cheese or a creamy chèvre is always nice. For a splurge in the late fall or early winter, I can’t think of a much better way to begin the morning than cooking up a handful of chanterelles in a bit of butter and folding them into the eggs.