In the years before Dan and I were married, I housesat for a handful of families. They usually had dogs that needed company, but sometimes it was cats or plants.
I’ve never known anything as strange and intimate as housesitting. Other people trust you enough to inhabit their living space, with their spoons and pans and bedsheets and bath powder, and to live in it as if you were they. I try always to keep my presence quiet, minimizing the traces of my having been there, moving about in patterns the house will recognize. I don’t want to disturb the animals, although I never seem to love them in the right way. They’re usually relieved to see me go.
When you housesit, you’re not a guest; you’re supposed to pretend you’re the usual inhabitant. Yes, I always walk my dog in the snowdrifts at Sanctuary Woods. Yes, I always play Johnny Cash from the CD player in the corner of my kitchen when I bake chocolate cake. Yes, I wash my hair with sage-scented shampoo and drink carbonated water from my Soda Stream and watch indie films by Norwegian directors and sleep between luxurious sheets and bountiful pillows. Yes, I live here.
Living in someone else’s house heightens your awareness of furniture and artwork, doors and cookware. Someone has chosen each of these things, loves it and lives with it daily. William Morris, the textile and typeface designer, socialist, and writer of the Arts and Crafts movement, once said, “Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.” I am sure that these homeowners follow that principle. I find myself noticing the paintings and photographs, wondering where this jar or that book came from, imagining that someday I’ll be able to fill my house with only things that are well-used or well-loved.
Inhabiting someone else’s space means using what they use, learning to love what they love. Part of this is cooking and eating according to their kitchen habits. Sometimes this serves only to frustrate: where do you keep your cheese grater? Other times, it offers a chance to learn something new, for instance, how to care for a cast iron pan. Occasionally, it introduces something destined to become a part of my life, such as this granola.
I discovered this nutty granola in a jar on the counter of Jackie and John’s house while staying with their dalmatians Gunnar and Gracie. The first time I noticed it was in the afternoon, when I had arrived home after work. I scooped a spoonful into a shallow bowl and leaned against the sink and ate, while the dogs whined for their dinner. Then I scooped a little more, and before I knew it, I’d eaten four bowlfuls. Luckily, Jackie and John kept the recipe taped to the refrigerator.
John passed away last December, after a short but terrible battle with cancer. It’s the same cancer that our beloved seminary professor has just been diagnosed with and that my grandma’s sister died from a few years ago. It’s not a kind cancer.
Now, I make the granola at home almost once a month. It used to remind me of sitting with Gunnar and Gracie and living in the yellow house with the wild front garden, but now it reminds me of John and makes me ache for Jackie and prompts me to pray.
John’s Pretty Good Granola
with a few adjustments
8 cups rolled oats (not quick oats)
1 1/2 cups unsweetened flaked coconut
1 cup All-Bran cereal
1 cup unsalted peanuts
1/2 cup flaxseed
1 cup wheat germ
1 cup sunflower seed kernels
1-2 cups mixed chopped nuts (pecans, walnuts, almonds, etc.)
2 Tbsp. ground cinnamon
2/3 cup canola or vegetable oil
1 cup peanut butter
1/2 cup honey
2 cups raisins, dried cherries, other dried fruit (optional)
Preheat oven to 350ºF.
Mix dry ingredients (all but oil, peanut butter, and honey) in the biggest bowl you have. Spread across two 9×13 cookie sheets with sides or two 9×13 pans. Stir 1/3 cup oil into the granola mixture on each pan.
Bake for at least 45 minutes, stirring and rotating the pans every 15 minutes.
Remove the pans from the oven, add 1/2 cup peanut butter to each pan, and stir thoroughly. Then add 1/4 cup honey to each sheet and mix well.
If you’d like, stir in the dried fruit. Cherries and golden raisins are my favorites. The granola keeps on the counter for about a week, and for a month in the refrigerator.