GRANOLA WAS not Megan Gordon’s plan. It was not even her backup plan.
It’s simply what happened after the thirty-something English teacher, who loved working with teenagers, was laid off from a San Francisco Bay Area high school. She took on a pay-the-rent job for a catering business. That led to a fascination with the restaurant’s bakery and plans for a new career where she would open a pie shop.
Fate intervened again when Gordon brought leftovers from the homemade granola she had been tinkering with to the farmers markets where she tested out baked goods. The toasty, slow-baked granola, “not often thought of as a specialty-food product,” sold out in a flash. It was portable, scalable and had a far longer shelf life than the fragile pies. Before long, Gordon was proprietor of Marge, a company named for her grandmother, specializing in packaged granolas and other breakfast cereals.
It led to a new life and a new hometown for Gordon, now a full-time business owner and food writer. Her first book, “Whole-Grain Mornings” ($22, Ten Speed Press), featuring seasonal breakfast recipes from oat cakes to wheat-berry shakshuka, was published earlier this year.
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Gordon had grown up “a total home baker” infatuated with sugar and decadence, but a later vegetarian diet influenced her to adopt protein-rich amaranth and buckwheat and other grains that also turned out to be good alternatives to refined white flours. In the book, she added oat flour to a version of the Boat Street Cafe’s beloved cornmeal custard, and used spelt, “a good starter flour” that swaps easily for all-purpose, in a killer gingerbread.
The whole-grain appeal to her is “not just nutrition,” she said. It’s textures and tastes; the idea that baked goods might have nutty or creamy elements instead of just cloying sugar.
In her granola, that played out in a signature recipe made with a mix of whole grains, nuts, seeds and olive oil. It’s less sweet, more salty and less processed than most packaged brands.
The turning point for Marge came when a Wall Street Journal writer ran across Gordon’s apricot-pistachio mix, and a blurb on it appeared in the newspaper in 2012. New orders began blinking in Gordon’s email inbox faster than she could count.
“I knew we were in a different place,” she said.
That was literally true as well.
Taking on new business responsibilities such as websites, Gordon had communicated long-distance with Seattle graphic artist Sam Schick after admiring his work on the Delancey restaurant site. Long conversations about food and life mixed with design details, and the work she loved came to include a person she loved.
After a year of two-state dating, when the time came to decide whether he would move to California or she would take on Seattle, the decision was influenced by Cafe Besalu croissants and Green Lake walks and Schick’s promise that she’d see the Northwest “really was paradise.”
At times, dealing with sacks of ingredients and boxes of FedEx orders stacked high, she does ask herself “How did I get here?” If it’s an odd spot for someone who always thought of herself as “a real planner,” it turned out well. For now, she and Schick are planning a wedding. She has her own small production facility in Georgetown, with Seattle-area Whole Foods stores stocking Marge products.
“It’s more factory than charming bakery,” she said. But there’s still plenty of charm to the product itself. “It’s literally mixed by hand every week, and I think you can taste that.”
Apricot Pistachio Granola
3 cups rolled oats
1 cup raw pistachios, coarsely chopped
1 cup raw pepitas
½ cup raw sesame seeds
½ cup raw sunflower seeds
1 teaspoon kosher salt
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground cardamom
½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract
½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
½ cup maple syrup
½ cup finely chopped dried apricots (about 10)
¼ cup diced crystallized ginger
1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Line a large, rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone mat.
2. 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.
3. 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.
4. 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.)
— from Megan Gordon’s “Whole-Grain Mornings”
Rebekah Denn is a Seattle freelancer who writes for The Seattle Times blog All You Can Eat. Reach her at email@example.com. John Lok is a Seattle Times staff photographer.