Stark Sisters Maple Almond Granola

‘Best of Boston’ Boston Magazine and ‘Best Mail Order Food Gift’ The New York Times, are just a few of the rave reviews Stark Sisters has garnered. Bon Appetit called it “one of the best we’ve ever tasted.” Featured in Boston Globe as “Hit of the Week,” Stark Sisters was dubbed “the Ultimate Granola.”

For almond lovers. For maple syrup lovers. For grain lovers. Allergies? Feel free to substitute one grain for another. If you want to use only oats, go for it. Although I like variety and believe each grain brings something different to the table. Yes, use only organic grains. It’s that important.

Years ago, we started making our granola with a non-GMO canola oil. (And, no, canola oil is not poisonous). Today, our kitchen prefers sunflower oil.

As most of you know, we made our Maple Almond granola in a not-so-sweet version, just for our shop. The recipe is the same except that you use half the amount of maple syrup.

The original recipe called for desiccated coconut, and you’ll see that here. In fact, we took out the coconut for commercial production. You can take it out, too, if you like.

Makes 12 servings.  Preheat oven to 300 degrees.

½ C dried unsweetened coconut 1 C barley flakes
3 C sliced almond 1 C maple syrup
2 C rolled oats ¼ C canola or sunflower oil
1 C wheat flakes 1 tsp real vanilla extract
1 C rye flakes ¼ tsp good salt

Mix dry ingredients except salt in a large bowl. (If you don’t have a large enough bowl, divide between two bowls. For example, 1 C oats in one bowl, and 1 C in a second bowl).

Pour wet ingredients over dry and mix well using your hands or a rubber spatula. Add salt and mix again. Make sure all grains are well-coated.

Spread granola in shallow pans and bake until golden brown and dry, about 1½ hours. Stir gently every 15-20 minutes. Baking times varies due to weather, the size of your pans, and your oven.

When granola is dry and golden brown, remove from oven and stir. Let cool completely before storing in airtight containers.

We started making this in our shop, right back in our kitchen, and the smell would bring everyone back to the kitchen. Our granola never got a chance to cool because people refused to wait for a portion. When we started making it behind the store in large quantities, the smell of maple syrup and almonds was everywhere in West Concord. It was heavenly.

Ah, memories. Now it’s time for new ones. Let us know when you make your own Stark Sisters Granola at home.

Goodbye, Stark Sisters Granola!

Stark Sisters Granola

It’s been 25 years. A quarter century. It’s been a good run. But we’re closing the doors on my Stark Sisters granola. We were beloved in Concord, and distributed coast to coast!

Back in the day, we were the only granola to sweeten all five flavors with pure maple syrup. Back in the day, we stirred by hand back on Beharrell Street. I’d run back and forth between the store and our granola factory, and it was a grand adventure. At one point we were padlocked by a government agency because our label said, “pure vanilla extract,” which, as it turned out, was against the law. One had to say, “natural flavors,” or list all the sub-ingredients of vanilla extract.

Our granolas were visually gorgeous because we stirred by hand, slow roasted, and left crunchy chunks. The taste was, of course, delicious.

Over the years we outgrew our space on Beharrell, and moved to a co-packer. They were able to keep the taste, but we lost the chunks because the granola was mixed by machine. To keep prices affordable, we cut a few tiny corners. Almonds, for example, went from thick slices to small bits. No big deal, maybe. But when we received another letter this spring saying we had to cut costs again, in a big way, or raise our prices in a big way, we couldn’t justify it anymore.

Yes, those recipes can still be found in our cookbooks (in home-size batches) and we hope you have them all because we like talking to you through our recipes! Our first cookbook, which had four different publishers and four different titles like Cooking Around the World, and If Kalimos Had a Chef, is out of print. This one has our Nutty Maple recipe (Nutty Maple Molasses in the book). One of my brothers found a used copy for 39 cents on Amazon…

Still in print, Eat Well be Happy: A Second Bite (our second cookbook) has the other four: Chocolate Berry, Maple Almond, Maple Raspberry Blueberry and Peanut Chocolate.

Our third cookbook, The Blue-Ribbon Edition: From Our Kitchen to Yours has no granola recipes, but it does have some of my other faves. On the next page, you’ll find our recipe for Stark Sisters Maple Almond Granola. You can write me, and I’ll send you all five recipes.

Supplementing for Beauty

This is a “Part 2.”  Part 1, last month, was “Eating for Beauty.”

For the purpose of this article, we’re adopting a very narrow view of “beauty.” We’re not going to talk about weight loss or weight gain. We’re not going to talk about putting on muscle. We’re not going to talk about a radiant smile or a scintillating personality. No, we’re going to focus on hair, skin, and nails. To narrow it down further, we’re not going to look at skin conditions. No discussion here of acne, eczema, or psoriasis. We’re going to focus only on improving the condition of otherwise healthy hair, skin and nails.

Hair, Skin & Nails Combos: Usually Not Worth It

We sell these, and they’re reasonably popular.  And I certainly wouldn’t talk anyone out of using them.  But for the most part, they’re too broad-spectrum to do any one thing in particular – lots of nutrients, but small doses of all of them.  Combos to address conditions as diverse as acne, psoriasis, hair loss, etc. – but none of them in any meaningful way.  They’ wouldn’t be my first choice.

Silica: one supplement for hair, skin and nails

Silicon is an element found in the Earth’s crust, more prevalent even than carbon.  It’s also found in the body, concentrated in our strongest tissues: hair, nails, bones, and blood vessels.

While there is no daily value for silica (yet), we now understand that it is crucial for collagen synthesis.  (Collagen is the “mortar” or “glue” that holds connective tissues together).

Silica strengthens and increases the growth rate of hair and nails.  It also supports the skin, where it reduces fine wrinkles and increases the appearance of fullness.  Research suggests it can also strengthen the bones, and increase elasticity in the blood vessels.

A 2007 study examined the effect of two silica pills daily (10 mg total) in healthy women with fine hair.  24 women took silica pills, and 24 took a placebo.  After 9 months, the women taking silica had measurably thicker hair, vs. no benefit in the placebo group.  There were also benefits in elasticity and hear breakability.

Another study examined the effect of the same two silica pills on sun-damaged skin.  25 women took silica, while another 25 took a placebo.  After 20 weeks, the women in the placebo group had rougher skin than when they started; the women taking the silica had smoother skin.  The same study also found that silica significantly strengthened fingernails, and prevent them from cracking.

Good sources of silica include whole grains, some vegetables (cucumbers especially), mineral waters, and (the #1 source in the American diet) beer.  Bioavailability (absorption) of silica can vary from food to food, and sometimes even how ripe that food is.  To be sure you’re getting the silica you want, look to supplements, and in particular, a stabilized, highly bioavailable form called orthosilicic acid.  All the research I cited above, and more, used this form.

Biotin: B-Vitamin for Hair & Nails

Biotin is an unofficial member of the B-vitamin family, a necessary nutrient that plays a role in regulating blood sugar, processing fats, and generating energy.  Biotin supplementation can also increase the growth rate and strength of hair and nails.

Almost all the research here is on livestock.  So, not fingernails, but hooves and claws.  Where it works just fine, actually.  Research aside, I can say that quite a few of our customers use biotin, and it works very well.  A standard dose is 5 mg, once or twice a day.

Sheng Fa Wan: Chinese Formula for Thinning Hair

An herbal cure for baldness would make some lucky scientist (or herbalist) a millionaire.  This product falls a little short of that.  First, it doesn’t address hormone-driven male pattern baldness.  However, it does help, some of the time, when people are losing hair in general – the sort of situation where your hair is thinning, and you see it coming off on the brush or the comb.

I know there are a lot of formulas out there purporting to do similar things.  Many of them have similar ingredients.  For some reason, this is the one that seems to work.

Bioactive Peptides: Specialized Collagen Protein for Healthy Skin

Collagen is the “bricks and mortars” of our skin, our joints, and much of our internal workings.  And you can certainly take collagen supplements in the form of pills, powders, and chews, and they usually have some benefit if you stick to them consistently.

Having said that, the research out there isn’t on collagen (generic) so much as bioactive collagen peptides, very specific, often patented and trademarked collagen products made by enzymatically breaking down larger collagen molecules into smaller, more digestible, chunks.

One study examined a product called Verisol® on 114 middle-aged women, who took either 2.5 grams of Verisol® or a placebo once a day.  After 8 weeks, the Verisol® group showed a 20% reduction the depth of fine wrinkles vs. the placebo group.  The benefits persisted for at least 4 weeks after the study concluded.

There are other studies using other products, showing similar benefits.  But I’ll stop here so as not to bore anyone.  Also, Verisol® is the one we carry.

Royal Jelly: From the Queen Bee to You

Royal Jelly is the special food that beehives feed their queen.  It’s packed with all sorts of Mysterious Deep Nutrition (for lack of a better or more scientific phrase).  Royal jelly advocates passionately extol its virtues for energy, vitality, and immune and endocrine health.  Royal jelly has also been an integral part of Debra’s beauty regimen for decades.  She says “Years ago, I remember seeing some Scandinavian studies that said royal jelly not only improved the texture of the skin, but also helped minimize fine lines and wrinkles…. I’ve been using it ever since.   I always feel it makes my skin look brighter and more alive.”

The royal jelly Debra uses is actually more than just royal jelly.  It’s a brand-name product from a company called Y.S. Bee, where the royal jelly is mixed into a base of raw honey, with bee pollen and ginseng.

Borage Oil: Relief for Dry Skin, from the Inside Out

Borage oil comes from the seed of a little blue flower.  It’s our richest source of the essential fatty acid abbreviated GLA, also found in evening primrose oil.  And GLA is one of the very best thing we can use for skin that is dry, dry, dry… and just a little inflamed.  You can take borage oil by mouth – 1 tsp of the oil, or 2 to 3 1,000-mg capsules is a good daily dose – and you can put it directly on the skin.  It’s the base of the home-made face cream Debra has been making, and using, and teaching classes on, forever.

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