Backyard Syruping

This New England transplant has learned that buckets on trees are one of the first reliable signs that spring is coming. And we’re so hungry for it.

IMG_5517Steam starts to rise from small sugar shacks in the hills, and on the weekends you can see fleece-jacketed neighbors wander toward these little barns like bears staggering out of hibernation, drawn to pancakes and company. The sap flows in the maple trees, the syrup soaks into the pancakes, and conversation gets lively again.

If you have even one maple tree in your backyard, you can distill some fortifying sweetness all on your own. Maple sugar season is brief and intense, like spring—the sweetest sap only flows when the days get just a little bit warm but nights are still cold. Practical magic like this is so worth attempting in even the smallest quantities—it reliably lifts me out of winter-induced fatigue and back to a state of wonder. Embarking on this process with your kids only magnifies the magic. Sugar from trees? Are we living in Candyland?

IMG_6858It doesn’t even have to be a sugar maple. Really! We tap two trees; one is a Norway maple, and the other a red maple. The sap from sugar maples has a naturally higher sugar content, which means less boiling time to get a very sweet syrup. But I love the hearty, complex maple flavor of our homemade syrup.

Our sugaring “operation” is completely lackadaisical. We really don’t know what the heck we’re doing, and you don’t have to either. I confess we’re in it for the process as much as the product. (Although, fair warning, you could get hooked and find yourself poring over University of Vermont studies of sugar content variation.) We don’t have a hydrometer or a candy thermometer. We don’t have a sugar shack or a cauldron over a fire, just a willingness to steam up the windows of the house on raw March evenings while we boil a few gallons of sap down to a level that tastes right. The difference between something that’s 1-5% sugar (the sap) and 65-70% sugar (syrup) is heat and patience. There’s got to be some kind of metaphor in there.

Tapping Your Trees

This is the only part of the process that requires a little bit of specialized equipment. You can purchase a few spiles (the taps that act as tiny sap faucets), buckets, and covers online in various places, but if you’re in a northerly region where syruping is common, your best bet is to visit a sugar shack and talk to the proprietor. I’ve never met one who didn’t love to jaw about the process. We got our handful of supplies from a maple producer who was switching from buckets to the new system of taps, lines, and tanks. (Bonus: you might get to eat some pancakes while you’re there.)

Supplies

drill
7/16ths inch drill bit
spile
hammer or mallet
bucket (optional – you can use any clean container that will hang off the spile)
lid

Choose a maple tree at least 10 inches around. This process does create a wound that the tree will need to heal, so make sure you choose a tree mature enough to handle it. Pick a spot on the trunk about 3-4 feet from the ground, on the sunniest (south facing) side, if possible. If you’ve tapped this tree before, make sure you pick a new spot at least 6 inches away from last year’s hole. IMG_5541Drill a hole at a slight upward angle (so the sap will flow down), 2 to 3 inches deep. You need to get past the bark, into the sapwood, but not into the heartwood of the tree.

Place the spile in the hole and tap it in with the hammer. You want to be gentle here; don’t split the wood, or your precious sap will leak out all over instead of dripping down the spile.

If you’ve chosen a warmish day, in just a few seconds you’ll find sap starting to drip off the end of the spile. I dare you not to grin with delight.

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If you’ve got a bucket, hang it on the hook to catch this steady drip, and put your cover in place, too. I love the thoughtful design of our old spiles; there’s a small hole on top to thread the cover’s wire through, creating a hinge. Simple and marvelous. If you’re using a plastic container, make a hole for the hook and position your container so the sap can flow in, but the top is shielded from rain and bugs.

Now just wait. We check our two-gallon buckets daily on our heartiest tree. If you’re using a smaller container, you might want to check more frequently.

Harvest and Boil

The bad news: it takes 40 to 50 gallons of sap to make a gallon of syrup. The good news: most of the process is pretty low-maintenance.

Supplies

flour sack towel or cheesecloth
colander or strainer
sap storage bucket (optional)
large deep roasting pan or stock pot
jar funnel (optional)
storage jars (I highly recommend glass)

Remove any bits of bark or adventurous insects by straining your sap through a colander lined with cheesecloth or a flour sack towel.

IMG_5488If you’ve got lots or can’t boil it off just now, you can store sap in a clean bucket outside or on a porch. Then onto the stove it goes, over a high flame. For a long, long time. If it’s not too cold to crack a window, that helps to vent the steam. You’ll find varying opinions on this, but I don’t mind steaming up the house, especially if we’re nursing spring colds. The sap doesn’t start to have much of a smell until it gets about 2/3 of the way boiled down, anyway, and then it smells like a walk in the woods and a batch of cookies all at once.

I tend to leave my stock pot on the back burner and just add more sap to it once there’s room. I figure all that boiling and re-boiling has got to kill any hardy microbes trying to set up shop. A wider pan evaporates faster, but the stock pot works fine for me. I turn on the burner as soon as I get home with kids and backpacks in tow, and I leave it on while I’m cooking dinner and all evening long, refilling it with the day’s harvest. After the sap has reduced to a couple of inches in the stock pot, taking on a bit of color and sweetness, I set it aside in a smaller saucepan until I have time to watch it more closely.

Finish and Store

This part requires a little more attention, but is still easy enough to keep an eye on while you’re pinging around the kitchen with other tasks. Boil your almost-syrup over more moderate heat now, testing its flavor and consistency with a spoon periodically.

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Two easy tests along the way: 1) I tend to notice more foaming when we’re getting to the final stages. 2) Drop some boiling syrup from a spoon into a jar of ice water. If it immediately forms a blob and sinks, you’re there.

When it looks and tastes like syrup, turn off the heat, and strain it into your jars while it’s still hot. The larger pores of cheesecloth work better than a flour sack towel for finished syrup, but I make do. Paper towels and coffee filters, however, are pretty useless here.

Place a clean lid on your jar, cool to room temperature, and refrigerate your syrup for up to three months. Not that it’ll last that long.

IMG_5472It really is a kind of magic, you know. According to a helpful FAQ from the University of Minnesota, chemical reactions take place in the boiling process to create the distinct brown color and maple flavor we adore. “Neither the exact nature of these reactions nor the identity of the reacting substances are known. That is why chemists have been unable to create an artificial maple syrup flavor that even remotely tastes like the real product.” Take that, Mrs. Butterworth.

Eat Up!

Try your homemade maple syrup in these favorite recipes:

Oatcakes

Pear and Almond Oatmeal

Melissa Clark’s Olive Oil Granola (but I make it with almonds)

And of course! Tall, Fluffy Buttermilk Pancakes from Smitten Kitchen

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Crickets

What a different world it is since I last wrote to you.

A world without Kev, who died almost a year ago now, and whose voice, mock-scolding or laughing with me, I still hear constantly, thank god. A world, starting today, without John Ashbery, a founding father if ever there was one.

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I carried this book in my backpack for more than a year. I have read it more times than any other single volume of poetry.

A world whose simmering dangers have bubbled up into more prominent awareness in a President Tr*mp era. (Fingers still crossed this is the shortest possible “era.”)

So buffeted are we by memories, elegies, news cycles, abandoned self-improvement regimes, that sometimes I’m actually stunned at constancy.IMG_7505

The ocean. Properties of drippy sandcastle design. My patient, unwavering husband. Turning butter and eggs and sugar and flour into muffins.

Last week I got to swoon for constancy a bit, sitting on a favorite beach, my only industry the meditation of castle building—and wrecking, and building atop the ruins—and the occasional fetching of a wind-snatched sunhat. Somehow it seems to have built a reserve of steadiness, and I’m ready to head back into the flow.

Surfing that wobbly balance of news consumption and activism to make myself some way useful and mostly skirt political despair. (Lately I like this podcast.) Putting up tomatoes.Buying new shoes for the girls and then what feels like a week later buying more new shoes for the girls because their toes are now busting through. Okay, September. Bring it.


Whole Grain Blueberry Muffins

These are amazingly soft and light without any white flour whatsoever, a magic trick achieved with the combination of finely ground oats and yogurt. The recipe struck me as a curiosity for that reason when I saw it in Real Simple. And then I had to make it just a little bit less healthy. With a sugared lid, since that’s how we roll. They’re still pretty tame in the butter and sugar category; you could honestly tell yourself you had oatmeal and yogurt for breakfast . . .

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Oh my god I forgot the sugared tops this time. Shit.

1 1/4 cups whole wheat pastry flour
1 cup old-fashioned rolled oats
1/4 cup pecans or slivered almonds, toasted
1/4 cup golden flaxseed meal (Bob’s Red Mill is a good brand, at your natural foods store, or substitute more nuts if you’re brave)
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp kosher salt

Heat the oven to 375. Add all the above ingredients to a food processor and pulse until finely ground. (Make sure your oats and nuts are ground well.)

In a separate large bowl, whisk together:

4 tablespoons melted butter
1/2 cup white or light-brown sugar
1 cup plain yogurt (whole or lowfat)
1/4 cup milk
1 large egg
1 tsp vanilla

Add dry ingredients to your wet ones and stir until just combined. Gently fold in:

2 cups blueberries, frozen or fresh

Scoop into paper-lined muffin trays (these are sticky—if you don’t like paper liners, you could get away with parchment here, but not with cooking spray alone). My favorite tool for this is an ice cream scoop with the sweeper feature that kicks the dough out when you depress it. You can spray your scoop with cooking spray and that’s even easier.

Sprinkle the tops of your muffins-to-be with:

2 tablespoons sugar

Bake at 375 for 22 to 25 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool in muffin tins at least 15 minutes. Fear not the first day of school.

Pretend Spring

I dunno, guys. It’s pretty weird out there. Even Eileen Myles, my personal heroine of wedding/welding toughness, vulnerability and smarts, thinks it’s the end of the world. The latest Republican debate might give transcriptionists a seizure, or maybe anyone trying to follow it. We’re all lobbing election-related memes past each other on Facebook. That’s where I follow Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, which lets me know almost daily about a kid the age of mine who has killed or been killed senselessly by an unsecured firearm. Plenty of people are talking about America like it’s jumped the shark. The constant stream of reports about police brutality and debt-driven incarceration mount to a din; my outrage and despair seem only numbed and paralyzed by the frequency. The number of migrants fleeing into southeastern Europe has tripled in the past 2 months, though it hasn’t been cracking the headlines. I’ve had to supplant my afternoon public radio news habit with loud music I can belt along to. There’s only so much one can take.

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If only we all had such good attitudes about crashing.

It feels strange to walk outside and find crocuses thinking about being themselves, chart the diversifying birds daring their way up to the feeder, check the sap buckets, smell thawing earth. How can this be the same world? But it is this world I lean on to rescue me from the solipsism and anthropocentrism of our media diets. We belong to both of these fragile worlds. And each offers glimmers of beauty each day, beauty that is bound up with the struggle, not separate from it.

Read Something Beautiful

The absurd position of mothers in the only industrialized nation without mandated maternity leave is something that felt invisible to me when I became a mother only 7 short years ago. People are talking about it now, loudly, and that gives me hope:

Amy Westervelt wrote this great piece about how Having it All Kinda Sucks

Melinda Gates is talking about unpaid labor and how it affects women AND men in the global economy.

Lidia Yuknavitch writes lyrically and movingly about life’s complications, how “all the beginnings have endings in them.”

Make Something Amazing

If you have even one maple tree in your backyard, you can distill some fortifying sweetness. Practical magic like this is so worth attempting in even the smallest quantities—it always, always lifts me out of headline-induced nausea and back to a state of wonder.

Check back soon for a tutorial on making your own homemade small-batch syrup!

 

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Syrup spokesmodel and fairy princess

The Longest Shortest Month

I’m not from here. It always comes up in February, when I’m mystified by the hardy native New Englanders who are skating on the pond (isn’t that dangerous?!) and throwing themselves down the sides of mountains (ditto?!) all giddy and rosy-cheeked, while I am cursing the impossible curbside piles of filthy snow that send me face-planting into parking meters when I am just trying to put quarters into them. I’m from Ohio, so I did grow up with real winters, but we’re in another category ovah heah.

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This springtime farmshare haul seems like a pipe dream.

Ah, February, home of some of the most disgusting, outright unfriendly weather the year has to offer! Those of us who don’t get to flee to the tropics during school vacation week get to juggle playdates with cabin-fevered kiddos and nurse our conspiracy theories about February vacation week being some sort of winnowing plot to make the non-natives lose their already-sweaty grip on the cliff-edge of sanity. Or maybe it’s a conspiracy to sell lots of wine—a fellow parent made the convincing argument this week that we should be allowed to hook up to an IV drip of Rioja until at least March 1.

IMG_5009All of which is to say that it’s totally bonkers that it’s Lent right now. PSA: it’s February. Don’t Give Up Anything. You need it all. And also to say, on the Pollyanna side of things, that soon the sugar shacks will open, their steamy barns overflowing with pancakes and flannel shirts, and the bulb show will open, redolent with hyacinths and weirdly sexy tulips. Not yet, but soon. Until then, I bring you: bacon, butter, and cheese.

 


 

Roasted Vegetables with Polenta and Poached Eggs. And Bacon.

Adapted from this recipe at The Kitchn, with amazing Crack Broccoli from Catherine Newman.

2 medium heads broccoli
1 lb cremini or baby bella mushrooms, halved
3.5 tablespoons olive oil
2 teaspoons kosher salt, divided
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1 cup polenta
2 cups water
1 cup milk
3 tablespoons butter
1 cup grated parmesan or romano cheese
8 eggs
1 lb sliced bacon

Cook bacon:
Heat oven to 375. Place a metal cooling rack atop a rimmed baking sheet and lay your strips of bacon out on the cooling rack. (Yes, really! This works better than a broiling pan.) Bake about 12 minutes, depending on how thick your bacon is and how crispy you like it. You don’t need to turn the bacon, really! Hands-free bacon. Set it aside to cool.

Roast vegetables:
Turn the oven up to 475 and place a rimmed baking sheet in to heat.

Cut broccoli: The stems are fabulous here, so I like to do it this way: Peel the broccoli stem with a vegetable peeler. Trim off the woody end. Cut the stem in half, and trim the top into long-stemmed florets. Cut the remaining stem into french-fry-sized pieces. In a large bowl, toss the broccoli with 3 tablespoons of the olive oil, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon sugar. (Don’t leave out the sugar, it really helps with caramelization.)

Slice mushrooms in halves or quarters so they’re about evenly sized, and toss them with another 2 teaspoons olive oil in a separate small bowl.

When the oven is up to temp, carefully pull out the hot baking sheet and dump the broccoli onto it. Use tongs to quickly spread them out, maximizing stem-to-pan contact where you can. Stick it back in the oven for 6 minutes. Toss the broccoli with tongs, then add the mushrooms and return to the oven for 3-4 more minutes.

Make polenta:
In a medium saucepan, bring 2 cups water to a boil with 1 teaspoon salt. Pour polenta into the simmering water, whisking all the while, add milk, and turn to low. Let the polenta slowly blubber and plop on the back burner with a lid half on it for about 15 minutes, whisking occasionally. Add 3 tablespoons of butter and the cheese. Stir until melted.

Make eggs:
Fry or poach eggs to your preferred doneness.

Serve:
Scoop out some polenta and roasted vegetables on each plate. Add bacon. I like to plop my eggs on top of my polenta. Maybe let the kids have some juice, even if it means they’ll bounce off the walls like ping pong balls. Serves 4.

O What a Lovely Morning

At last we’ve got the coating of snow I’m used to here in New England, and it hasn’t yet turned all gray and impossible. In fact, fresh powder is magnifying today’s sun nearly to full sparkle mode. Even yesterday’s snow day was easy, since I already have Stella anyway on Mondays. The addition of Sophia meant they had each other to play with, and they happily traipsed upstairs and down, taking turns selling lollipops, mothering many dolls, teaching school, and being puppies. I could scarcely believe my good fortune. Minimal squabbling! We broke out the boo-boo buddy zero times! I mended a hole in a stuffed sheep’s armpit, drank coffee, folded laundry, mixed pizza dough, and roasted garlic. Later we baked cookies, read books, and had a singalong at the piano, like something out of Little Women. The whole time I’m thinking, What the hell? 

Getting a break from the constant uphill climb feels amazing, and scary, like the other shoe’s about to drop. But let’s not let the paranoiac win! Let’s just soak it up, bemused and wide-eyed and grateful. And let’s try to keep the ball rolling by starting tomorrow off with a good breakfast.


Pear and Almond Oatmeal

Serves 4 generously

2 cups rolled oats
4 cups water
1 large pinch salt
3 large ripe pears, peeled and diced
4 tablespoons sliced or slivered almonds
3 tablespoons maple syrup
2 tablespoons almond butter
1 tsp cinnamon sugar or cardamom sugar

Combine oats, water, and salt in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Simmer about five minutes, adding the pears in the last minute or two. Meanwhile, toast the almonds in a dry skillet, stirring frequently, until you can just start to smell them. Stir the syrup and almond butter into the oatmeal and divide among four bowls. Sprinkle cinnamon/cardamom sugar and toasted almonds atop each and serve.

Clean and Cozy

Ah, the late-January reckoning with New Year’s resolutions. After a couple weeks of eating right and exercising and going to bed on time and organizing the craft cupboard (again), I wash up on the potato-chip covered shoals of chocolate island. I give up trying to do everything right and just try to find something binge-worthy on Netflix. Well, maybe not give up, exactly. But the idealism of early January shuffles humbly into the realism of February.

I’ll still contend that our resolutions are good for us. One leaf of kale has, like, 100% more vitamins in it than zero leaves of kale. Right? Though thank goodness for a little parmesan to soften the blow. Of just about anything, really . . .

Like many others, I wrote “Konmari the whole house” on my list, and have so far done five and a half things on my checklist of over 120 categories (thank you, Pinterest). IMG_5370But hey, the girls saw my dresser drawers and wanted theirs the same way, and they love it. It also means they can find their favorites without totally destroying the drawers, so it’s definitely a win. I’m not going to be thanking my purse anytime soon (though I do sometimes feel a little bad for the poor thing), but I am finding plenty to aspire to in Marie Kondo’s blockbuster home organizing book. I don’t follow the folding technique she details, but I discovered that for me, the important part is being able to see everything at once in my drawer, and if I just put an extra fold or two in shirts and pants, they’ll cooperate. It’s been a reminder that you don’t always have to follow things to the letter, and sometimes incremental improvement is just marvelous.

I also embarked on this Clean Eating Challenge, accomplishing almost a week of produce-and-prep-intensive menus before crying “Uncle!” and putting off Week 2 til further notice. I do want to get back to it, though. The menus are delicious and the portions plentiful! And the kids liked our rule that as long as they tried everything on their plates, they could ask for a grilled cheese instead. But man, that long grocery list was expensive! The Week 1 grocery list, multiplied to serve 3, ran us $350.

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Produce ahoy!

Zoiks! On the plus side, I’ve resolved to create my own Clean Eating challenge for a family of 4 that’s much less expensive but still nutritious, yummy, and kid-friendly. I’ll let you know when that’s ready.

This Clean Eating challenge was so expensive partly because of our truly messed up food marketing and distribution system, but let’s save that for another day. The other reason was that it’s geared for spring, so I was buying out of season produce that I normally get from my farmshare. Doh! We were eating nicoise salads for lunch on frigid days, which made them harder to fully appreciate. Clean eating for winter should be cozier, and this recipe fills the bill—and your belly.


 

Dal with Cauliflower and Peas

Adapted from this recipe at Better Homes and Gardens

2 tablespoons canola oil
1 cup chopped onion
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 tablespoons curry powder
2 tsp fresh ginger, grated
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cinnamon or garam masala
7 cups water (or use half vegetable stock and reduce salt to 1 tsp)
1 large head cauliflower, chopped in small florets (chop and include the white stem, too)
2 to 2 1/2 cups yellow lentils (sometimes called yellow split peas in the store)
3 cups frozen peas
6 to 12-ounce can coconut milk

In a large skillet or saute pan, fry the onion and tomato paste in the oil over medium heat until the onions are soft and the paste starts to stick a bit in places. Stir in curry powder, ginger, garlic, salt, and cinnamon. Add 1 cup water and scrape up the brown bits with a wooden spoon.

Pour all this into a slow cooker—or if you prefer to use your oven, make the whole shebang in a heavy dutch oven. Add the remaining 6 cups of water and the lentils. Stir and cook in your slow cooker on low for 7 hours or high for 4 hours, or in a 300 degree oven for 3 hours. The lentils will fall apart into a smooth soup when you stir. It’s self-pureeing!

Add the cauliflower, peas, and coconut milk and cook on low heat (whether slow cooker or oven) for another 20 to 30 minutes. This batch serves 6 generously and will probably give you some leftovers for weekday lunches too.

Serving ideas: This is great as a thick, hearty soup on its own, but can also be served over rice, with chapatis or nan, or alongside grilled chicken if you’re feasting. I’d love to serve this with grilled yogurt-marinated chicken, chapatis, and cucumber raita.

Oatcakes

Beginnings are slippery things. We hold our just-born babies close to us, sniffing them (I wanted to lick mine, like a mama lion). We gaze deeply into their dark puffy newborn eyes, looking for clues about the person they will become. As I write this, I have no idea how this blog may propel and companion my thinking, but hope is always a good reason to begin.

I have to start with oatcakes for a few reasons: First, my eldest daughter Sophia (she’s 7) and I have made them together so many times, I’m no longer permitted to make them without her assistance. She loves to cook with me, and I’m always looking for recipes where she can have a role. It’s a great bonding time for us, and a huge source of pride for her to eat, and give to others, food that she has made. She never gets tired of it. Oatcakes, she says, are “our specialty.” And they are.

Oatcakes also make me think of Boston, and chemo. We put this recipe into especially heavy rotation when my husband J was making his daily journey to Boston for radiation treatments, and simultaneously taking chemo pills. The schedule for his meds meant there was a very small window in which he could—and definitely needed to—eat before being strapped into the amazing contraption which would shoot protons at his brain, hopefully eradicating any rogue tumor cells that his amazing surgeon had not been able to excise. These nubby, yummy oatcakes fit the bill, completely portable, delicious enough to tempt even a chemo-wobbly stomach, full of healthy sustaining goodness–with plenty of sweet stuff. You know, for luck.

We are happily on the other side of those treatment days, and hope to be for good. Every six months we cross our fingers and receive the “all clear” again from J’s doctors, and let out a breath we didn’t know we were holding, and plunge back into daily life, which now includes another daughter, Stella, born just before J finished his chemo regimen. I’m hoping that another thing you’ll find here is honest coping, celebrating, and meeting the day’s uncertainties in good company.

We’re on equal footing here, my friends. None of us knows what lies ahead, but we do know we need each other on this journey, and we know that no matter what the day brings, we still gotta eat.

IMG_0350Make yourself some of these fantastic oatcakes, and you will always have breakfast in your hand. Freeze them, individually wrapped in plastic, and throw them in your bag on a rushed morning. You can hand them to carseated people, though maybe not while you are also searching for the requested Mister G CD at the morning’s first stoplight. I guarantee this will make you feel like one of those always-lipglossed supermoms. Nevermind the spit-up on your yoga pants! The false glow of perfection can be yours for just one morning! Then bask in a heroic aura when you give these by the dozen to a new mom who needs dense one-handed food (the oats are good for her milk supply!). Although I confess, they are hard to part with, even when you’ve made a double batch.

Sophia loves to mix the dry ingredients (when she was a little younger, she loved to luxuriate in the dry ingredients all the way up to her elbows) while I melt the butter and sugar portion of things together and toast the nuts. We always make a double batch, since they freeze so well and disappear so fast. Use a large ice-cream scoop, the kind you squeeze to make the little sweeping thing cross the scoop—it kicks the sticky dough out into a beautiful round lump. If you run out of room in your muffin tins, you can quite successfully deposit your scoops right on a greased or parchment-lined baking sheet; just be extra vigilant so they don’t burn on the bottom.


Oatcakes

adapted from Heidi Swanson, from her book Super Natural Every Day

Makes about 15 oatcakes

I reduce the amount of maple syrup called for, mainly just to economize, but I don’t miss the extra sweetness. These are a bit expensive to make, but you can substitute what you have hanging around (see variations below), and I often buy just the amount of fixins I need from the bulk bins at the co-op.

3 cups rolled oats

2 cups flour (I prefer whole wheat here, Heidi recommends spelt, but even plain old white flour works in a pinch)

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

2 teaspoons kosher salt

1/3 cup flax seeds (I like the golden ones)

3/4 cup walnuts, toasted in a dry pan and chopped

1 cup dried cherries, chopped

1/3 cup extra virgin coconut oil

1/3 cup unsalted butter

1/2 cup maple syrup (Heidi uses 3/4 cup)

1/2 cup sugar

2 eggs, lightly beaten

Preheat your oven to 350 (325 if you are using baking sheets instead of muffin tins), and spray or butter a muffin tin.

Combine the oats, flour, baking powder, salt, flax seeds, walnuts, and dried cherries in a very large bowl—a great job for small hands.

Meanwhile, melt the coconut oil and butter in a saucepan with the maple syrup and sugar, whisking occasionally, until melted. Pour the hot mess over the dry ingredients and mix thoroughly.

Add the eggs and mix through—the whole thing will be very sticky and heavy. Pack firmly into ice cream scoops (or olive-oil your hands and make firm balls), and deposit each in a muffin spot. Bake approximately 25 minutes.

Cool in the pan on a rack about 30 minutes, then use a paring knife to help you remove them from the pans (they come out really nicely!) and dig in. Cool leftovers completely and store, individually wrapped in plastic, on the counter for up to a week, or freeze for about six weeks.

VARIATIONS:

Instead of using flax seeds, walnuts, and dried cherries, try:

toasted almonds and coconut chips, and chopped dried apricots, or

toasted pecans and dried cranberries or raisins, or

toasted pepitas, brazil nuts, and coconut

These are flexible enough to accommodate most granola-inspired variations. Just make sure your mixture is sticky, without any dry patches, and they’ll turn out great. If you need to add a drizzle of maple syrup or an extra egg to make it work, go for it.