Cocoa-Nutty Granola to Soothe a Wobbly Soul: Low Sugar High Protein Granola Recipe

Yesterday was hard. You know those days when your soul just aches? I was having one of those.

The day started out with a business rejection that stung a bit. It happens all the time when you put yourself out there as much as I do, but it never really gets easier, at least for me. I had also been feeling really emotional since the weekend. I think it was a combination of factors:

1) Our daughter Celia is halfway into a month away and almost completely out of contact because she is in a remote village in Central America, and I miss her a ton.

2) On Saturday night, Andrew and I saw the documentary Amy about Amy Winehouse, the unbelievably talented and tortured British singer and song writer. I love her music. The movie was so powerful, and I was just so sad thinking about how badly she treated herself, how no one who loved her was able to protect her, and what an amazing soul was lost when she died. The movie really got to me, and I’ve been listening to her record Back to Black ever since.

3) But here’s what’s upsetting me most. I know it’s the one because every time I think about it tears spring to my eyes.

My wonderful, beautiful, creative friend Lisa Flaxman, who died of breast cancer 6 years ago, would have turned 50 recently. Her youngest son Zachary became a bar mitzvah the same weekend as her birthday. I’ve been thinking about her so much and how much she has missed and is missed.

My friend Lisa Flaxman
My friend Lisa Flaxman

I decided to pull together a tea for her friends to remember her in honor of her 50th, and planning it has me thinking about her even more than usual. Even after six years, nearly every time I think of her I weep big salty tears for all she suffered, all she lost, and what an enormous hole there will always be in her family’s and friends’ lives.

Also, I just miss her so very much. If I was feeling blue, she knew just what to say to crack me up, or she’d show up at my door with a taste of some food she’d cooked for me to try, and we’d make fun of all of the neuroses we shared. After all this time, Lisa continues to occupy a special place in my heart and sometimes that place just feels empty now. (In addition to her many other talents, Lisa was a wonderful poet. I’ll share a couple of poems that Lisa wrote below the granola recipe.)

Anyways, I had been meaning to make granola for a while, and when my friend Allison Soffer gave me some of her delicious homemade granola. I was inspired to make my own version. I sprinkle a little granola on my yogurt and cherries every morning, and I would much prefer to make it rather than buying it. Plus it’s just so easy to make, it’s almost silly not to.

Our 18-year-old, Solomon, has been home this summer, working a few jobs before he heads to college next month. Yesterday he didn’t have to be anywhere so he was hanging out at home all day and was in a chatty mood. I asked him if he wanted to make granola with me. Usually when I ask if they want to make something with me, the kids say “No, thanks,” so I’m used to rejection. But Solomon has been really into cooking lately, and so this time he said, “Sure.” I would drop anything, anytime to cook with Solomon or Celia. I so love spending time with them that way.

We decided to use Allison’s recipe as a starting point and make it our own. Solomon suggested adding some cocoa nibs (which are roasted and fermented bits of cocoa beans) to the granola, which made me think of also adding some unsweetened cocoa powder to enhance the rich chocolate flavor without adding sugar. Neither of us really likes dried fruit in our granola, so we left that out.

When I cook with kids (well, in this case, a young adult) I solicit their ideas and encourage them to smell and taste each of the ingredients to see what appeals to them. It empowers them to be creative and trust their own preferences. We tasted pistachio nuts and cashews to see which we thought would taste better in our granola. I had a slight preference for the pistachios; he for the cashews, so we decided to use half of each. He smelled the cinnamon and scooped in a generous amount.

Our granola was nutty, toasty, fragrant and delectable. When it was ready, Solomon sprinkled a good heap of it on top of yogurt and ate it for a snack. I gobbled a couple of handfuls and stored the rest in an air tight container for us to enjoy in the coming weeks. Maybe I’ll separate out a couple of jars to share with friends, as Lisa would have done for me.

After we baked, Solomon gave me a huge hug. He thanked me for helping him learn not just how to cook but how to adapt recipes to make them his own. His good mood was infectious, and spending time in the kitchen with my sweet boy, along with the scent and taste of homemade baked granola, were just what I needed yesterday to soothe my wobbly soul.

Cocoa-Nutty Granola (Low Sugar High Protein Granola Recipe)

When I was 10 years old, I used to bake granola and sell it door-to-door to raise money for the Leukemia Society. I don’t know why, since it’s so easy to make at home, but for many years after that I got in the habit of buying granola to sprinkle on my morning yogurt.

This version, which I developed with my son Solomon, is low in sugar, high in protein and fiber, and we think it’s wonderfully delicious. It felt great to get back to my granola-making roots.

Note: Because we use less sugar than many granola recipes, you won’t get the clusters that you do in the more dessert-y granolas, which can have as much sugar and as many calories as a candy bar or a can of soda. Think of this as a nourishing indulgence that you can enjoy daily. We prefer it without dried fruit, but it’s also wonderful with dried cherries, cranberries, or apricots. Thanks to Allison Soffer, whose tasty recipe was our starting point.

Prep (10 minutes) + Cook (25 minutes)

11 servings, 1/2 cup


  • 4 cups old fashioned oats (or use 3 cups of oats and 1 cup of whole grain flakes such as Nature’s Path Heritage Flakes)
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened finely shredded coconut
  • 1 cup shelled unsalted pistachios or coarsely chopped cashews (or use 1/2 and 1/2)
  • 1 Tbsp. cocoa nibs (also called raw chocolate or cacao) (optional)
  • 1 tsp. unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1/4 – 1/2 tsp. coarse salt, to taste
  • 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 cup pure maple syrup
  • 1 Tbsp. melted coconut oil, or use canola oil
  • 1 cup dried cherries, halved, or use cranberries, raisins or chopped dried apricots (optional)


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spray a large baking sheet with nonstick cooking spray (I’ve been using 100% pure avocado oil from Chosen Foods).

In a large mixing bowl, combine all of the dry ingredients (oats through cinnamon) except the dried fruit. In a large measuring cup, combine the syrup and the oil. Pour the mixture over the dry ingredients and mix until evenly coated.

Spread the granola on the baking sheet and bake it for 20 – 25 minutes, stirring once after 15 minutes, until it is golden brown. Watch carefully for the last 5 minutes to be sure to take it out before it gets too browned. Stir in the cherries or other dried fruit, if desired.

Let it cool and store covered tightly for up to a month (it freezes well, too).

Nutritional Information per Serving (% based upon Daily Values): 

Calories 253, Total Fat 11.5g, 17.5%, Saturated Fat 4.5g, 22.5%, Cholesterol 0mg, 0%, Sodium 74.5mg, 3%, Carbohydrate 34g, 11.5%, Dietary Fiber 5g, 19.5%, Sugar 10.5g, Protein 6.5g


Two poems from Glances at Time: A young mother’s journey with breast cancer by Lisa Flaxman

Vivi’s Kitchen

To Aviva

Yesterday, I went back
to Vivi’s kitchen
where we cooked side by side
talking about food and recipes and ideas
making ricotta and broccoli and sauce
and laughing about “mixed green salad and a crusty loaf of bread”
We had each one child and a meeting of the minds
and when we were done we had created something
we both would remember
had started us on a journey that now,
seven years later, almost eight
seems like seconds.
We roasted, we grilled, we baked, we toasted
watching our bucket heads run around and bang the toilet lids
and get covered with chocolate pudding
Now we read cookbooks, and talk and talk and talk
about things we never dreamed we’d talk of
and in the future,
we’ll talk about things we never dream we’ll talk of
all the while, roasting, grilling, baking and toasting
to many more

True Friend

She tells me I’m beautiful when I look at her
with red eyes and a fuzz covered hat
She tells me I look great for someone going through
what I’m going through
She tells me that I’m amazing for continuing to work
through near complete exhaustion
She picks up my daughter from school and casually
drops off food to taste
She calls me up each day to see how I am feeling
and knows how to cheer me up
She treats me like the normal person I used to be
My friend

13 Responses

  1. I’m fighting back tears as I write this because I remember your friendship and the beauty of Lisa’s soul, as well as her smile. This post brings perspective and positive feelings to a subject many would normally shy away from – the loss of a close friend – while reminding me and other readers that Lisa would smile as you connect your loss to the incredible love you have for her and for your family. Thank you for giving us this incredible reflection.

  2. Recipe update: We didn’t have enough oats for the second batch so we used 3 cups of oats and 1 cup of Nature’s Path Heritage Flakes and we might have liked it even better that way!

  3. What a beautiful post – I don’t know you, but having had you in my kitchen for – almost 10 years?! – I feel like I do. Hugs and love to you.

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