Granola

I Can't Sleep Much These Days—So I Make Insomniac Granola

A ritual to soothe the mind (and make a darn good breakfast).

September 29, 2020
Photo by James Ransom

Since the pandemic, I’ve gotten into the annoying habit of waking up in the middle of the night—usually somewhere between 2:30 and 4:45 a.m. Anytime before 4, the only sensible thing to do is open Pride and Prejudice and hope the pleasing, Victorian-era repartee lulls me back to sleep until a more reasonable wakeup hour.

Once the clock hits 4:30, however, I can’t risk the inevitable snoozing-till-9 that will render me a zombie for the entire day. Instead I’ve started dragging myself out of bed every so often to bake...and of all things, I always choose granola. Granola is just quick and easy enough for a tired, distracted person to cobble together; plus, I almost always have rolled oats around.

I shuffle into the kitchen, stopping to bid good morning to Wolfie, the little orb spider to whom I’ve ceded almost the whole bathroom since he made a web by the sink last month. I worry he’s not getting enough insect traffic with the location he chose, but that’s kind of on him.

I preheat the oven, chop the pecans (that sound!), and measure the dry ingredients into a bowl. When I start on the wet ingredients, I realize that both of the half-empty honey jars in my pantry have crystallized. I set a pot of water to simmer on the stove and place a jar inside to dissolve the sugar crystals. This leaves me just enough time to Google whether headaches at the base of one’s skull are symptomatic of a brain tumor. It’s either that or stress, which seems to have an awful lot of vague symptoms. I resolve to dig deeper on WebMD right after I impulse buy this pajama set featuring cartoon pictures of fast food that I just scrolled by on my Instagram feed.

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Top Comment:
“Making granola when I am up in the middle of the night would be perfect, because usually what I do is eat...granola. This is very close to my go-to recipe but I also like pumpkin seeds and sometimes cardamom instead of or in addition to cinnamon.”
— Naomi W.
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The oven protests just in time, with a long beep announcing it’s preheated.

I coax the granola onto the baking sheet, reveling in its slow-motion cascade before suddenly crying out, “SHOOT!”, and hastily shoveling it back into the bowl. I’ve almost forgotten to line the baking sheet with parchment. Its corners still sport visible scratches from last time, when it came out of the oven coated in a shiny film of tooth-cracking caramel.

Speaking of tooth cracking, I make a note in the recipe ingredient list for my future half-asleep self to add the dried fruit after, not before, baking. I learned this the hard way back in the Before Times, when my crown popped out over breakfast and I had to schedule an emergency trip to the dentist after wallowing in stunned self-pity for a good half hour.

Before long, the granola starts going golden at the edges, and the aroma of cinnamon, toasting pecans, and coconut permeates the whole house.

“Alexa!” I command. “What’s the weather going to be like today?” She lights up but is unresponsive, so I open the back door and stick my hand out instead. Stephen the squirrel, who’d been industriously digging up my potted herbs to bury an acorn, stiffens, fixing me with a beady stare before he darts away, leaving a carnage of thrown dirt and broken parsley stems. “I see you!” I shout pointlessly after him.

I pour my first cup of coffee, then pull the tray out of the oven to let the granola cool. I know I can’t put them off much longer. The same thoughts that pervade my dreamscapes and startle me awake at night color these heavy days, too: Wildfires engulfing the west coast such that they turn my Chicago sky milky white. The catastrophic floods drowning the south, gushing meltwater in the Arctic. A global pandemic. Mass unemployment and food insecurity. The effects of systemic racism bubbling to the surface of every industry and institution.

I breathe in and out. My favorite part of granola-making has arrived, when I get to break it into big shards with my fingers and pop the crunchiest bits into my mouth. It rustles almost like taffeta as I break it up, and tastes mapley and toasty-sweet with a satisfying crunch.

“Oh, I bet Stephen would love to bury a few handfuls of this,” I mutter bitterly.

I hear my husband’s alarm go off; he promptly hits snooze. So far today, my tiny ecosystem is doing alright. And there’s warm granola for breakfast.


Toasted Coconut & Pecan Insomniac Granola

Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 22 minutes
Serves: 8 to 10

Ingredients

  • 4 cups rolled oats
  • 1 cup raw pecans, rough chopped
  • ½ cup coconut flakes
  • ½ cup shredded coconut
  • ½ teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ½ cup honey
  • ½ cup grapeseed or vegetable oil
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons maple syrup
  • ⅔ cup dried cranberries or cherries (don’t add till after baking!)
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

  2. In a large bowl, add the oats, pecans, coconut, salt and cinnamon, and stir until well mixed. Pour in the honey, oil and maple syrup, and stir with a spatula until evenly coated.

  3. Spread oat mixture on baking sheet in an even layer. Bake for 20 to22 minutes, stirring once about halfway through.

  4. Remove from the oven, sprinkle the dried fruit over while it’s still warm, and toss. Let cool in the pan for 15 or 20 minutes (longer if you like bigger clumps). Break up and store in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks.

What do you make when you can't sleep? Let us know in the comments.

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Joannie
    Joannie
  • jpriddy
    jpriddy
  • Eglyntine
    Eglyntine
  • Momi Cruz Malspeis
    Momi Cruz Malspeis
  • Naomi Ward Raimon
    Naomi Ward Raimon
Chicago-based food critic & freelance writer

28 Comments

Joannie October 4, 2020
Enjoyed reading your piece. This recipe looks so delish, looking forward to trying. I’m so glad someone else names their squirrels. I’m just north of the city. I wonder if your Stephen knows my Jim Noodle Train...
 
Author Comment
Maggie H. October 5, 2020
Jim, you sneak! There's a good chance they've met once or twice at the city/suburbs inter-branch meetings.
 
jpriddy October 4, 2020
Yes, me too, though I make larger batches and include sesame, pumpkin, and sunflower seeds. (Note: Pride & Prejudice is not a "Victorian" film or novel. Jane Austen died twenty years before Queen Victoria was crowned.)
 
Author Comment
Maggie H. October 4, 2020
Yep, you're right. She wrote it during the Romantic period, but the writing style is more foreshadowing of Victorian because it comments on social conventions of the time. I guess I should've said style rather than era, but there you go.
 
Eglyntine October 3, 2020
This was served to me in my feed at 3:45am, had a good giggle bout that.

Glad you're all up with me, gave me great comfort. And I've taken granola off my farmer's market list for today.
 
Author Comment
Maggie H. October 5, 2020
Good morning! I usually am, grinding my teeth and thinking up names for the insects in my house! Hope you enjoy the granola. 🤗
 
Momi C. October 3, 2020
It's 4:40 and I'm sitting here with my coffee enjoying the smell of cinnamon wafting through the house. I've been awake since 1:30 and didn't stumble across your post until 4:00. I wasn't looking for a granola recipe, but you put me right in the mood with your entertaining story. I'm looking forward to reading more from you! Thanks!
 
Author Comment
Maggie H. October 3, 2020
I'm so glad you found it, and I hope you love the granola. ❤️
 
Momi C. October 3, 2020
It was truly wonderful! I followed the recipe exactly and it was just the right amount of sweet with the honey and maple syrup! Now it's time for a. Afternoon nap. Thanks again!
 
Naomi W. October 2, 2020
Well, we should call each other and have a cup of Sleepytime tea together at 4 a.m! Making granola when I am up in the middle of the night would be perfect, because usually what I do is eat...granola. This is very close to my go-to recipe but I also like pumpkin seeds and sometimes cardamom instead of or in addition to cinnamon.
 
Author Comment
Maggie H. October 3, 2020
Count me in! LOVE the cardamom idea--I'm going to dust some into my next insomniac batch! ❤️
 
Bonniesue October 2, 2020
I usually eat, not cook when I’m up in the middle of the night, but this sounds fantastic, even if made in the daytime.
 
Author Comment
Maggie H. October 2, 2020
I can confirm that it is! 🤗
 
gonzofarmer October 2, 2020
this recipe sounds amazing, and while I can sorta relate to much of the creation story, at the same time it made me question whether the conspicuous consumption and home automation of late warranted another Fight Club movie..
 
Author Comment
Maggie H. October 2, 2020
Could be, but I have to learn how to punch.
 
Jean B. October 1, 2020
My go to middle of the night treat is a grilled cheese. I can usually sleep again after. I was just thinking of making a batch of granola and this looks like a perfect recipe. I have everything. Thank you
 
Author Comment
Maggie H. October 2, 2020
You're so welcome! Hope you enjoy this mix of things! <3
 
CynthiaD September 30, 2020
Love your humor and the granola!!
 
SugarAddicted September 30, 2020
I normally never read the posts before the recipes- but you are the exception! You really have a wonderful ability to draw people in with your writing
 
Marushkah September 30, 2020
I loved reading your letter! Had me chuckling... I often wake in the middle of the night but never think to bake! Could start a new possibly bad habit (?!) I will try this recipe, love all the ingredients! 😊
 
Laurie 4. September 30, 2020
I enjoyed Maggie's writing so much that I signed up for the newsletter.
 
Author Comment
Maggie H. September 30, 2020
Thank you! That means the world! ❤️
 
Margaret_Q September 30, 2020
Well, this was a lovely read after being awake since 4am. I feel all of these macro worried and micro joys as well. I'll try remember to get this recipe together the next time I can't sleep too.
Thank you for this humanness!
 
Finnjo September 30, 2020
Such a lovely read when I found it in the early hours. I was sleeping badly myself but crept down and made this and felt much calmer. It’s delicious. Thank YOU🤍
 
Author Comment
Maggie H. September 30, 2020
I'm so glad this resonated! Thank you for reading and for the kind words. Any nuts work! Any fruits work! Base-of-skull headaches aren't necessarily certain death! <3
 
Author Comment
Maggie H. September 30, 2020
I'm so glad! Nothing like the smell of granola baking. My dentist tells me that we're also collectively grinding and/or clenching our teeth as well. This will be my next essay, followed by a very soft-textured recipe. 🤗
 
Brinda A. September 30, 2020
Maggie, I bought a mouth guard last week for this exact reason!!!! (I ground so much that my teeth made squeaking noises and woke up my partner...and me.)
 
Author Comment
Maggie H. September 30, 2020
Oh NO, Brinda! (BTW I got fitted for one at the dentist on Monday!) 😨🤗