Tart Cherry + Fig Granola

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A few weeks ago, I volunteered at a fun run organized by a student association on campus. It was the lowest-key race I’ve helped or taken part in and there were only a handful of runners participating. On the course, I stood amidst a bunch of trees in the park, pointing the way for runners and offering my cheers.

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I am the lamest of cheerleaders. I feel inadequate at motivating and lifting up. The words that come easily in print are the hardest to voice.

The course was three laps so I watched the runners progress through each mile. Because there were so few participants I got to know each of their fun-running styles, and consequently felt the need to up my cheering game each time they came around, from the first confident runner to the last couple walk/jogging together.

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At the end of the evening, one of the runners thanked me for being encouraging. You were really helpful; you motivated me to keep going, she said.

I swiveled around dramatically, making sure there was no one else she could be talking to before answering, Really!?!?

I was astonished.

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I spent the better part of winter reading Matthew Kelly’s book. In it he shares about figuring out how best to reach people. At the end of the day, it really is quite simple:  People need to be encouraged, he says.

I had underlined, ear-marked, and post-it noted that section, thinking how I wanted to practice encouragement in the ensuing months.

The funny thing about that runner thanking me for my invisible pompoms is that her words were equally encouraging.

Lifting each other up is a little gift that simply keeps on giving.

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Tart Cherry + Fig Granola

This granola is a little gift too. I don’t make granola often because I find the sweet flavors and crunchy textures mildly addicting and if I don’t practice some restraint, the whole batch will be eaten in one go. Numerous studies have shown that tart cherries are good for runners because they aid in reducing inflammation and increasing muscle recovery. While the amount of tart cherries in this granola are no where near the amount necessary to show real results, I am firm believer in the “every bit helps” philosophy, plus they taste good. We have a local business just up the road, Oregon Cherry Country, that grows and processes their own cherries and I usually purchase from them. Realistically, all the nuts, seeds, fruit, and even spices can be interchanged here. I really like the balance of the puffed cereal (like arrowhead mills or nature’s path brands, not rice krispies) with the oats, and the seeds, nuts, and fruits showcased here are among my favorites–change them up based on what you like or have! 

2 cups thick-rolled oats, gluten-free if necessary

2 cups puffed rice cereal

1/2 cup toasted hazelnuts, chopped

1/2 cup raw almonds, chopped

1/4 cup raw sunflower seeds

1/4 cup raw pumpkin seeds

3/4 tsp. salt

1/2 tsp. cinnamon

1/4 tsp. ground ginger

1/16 tsp. (a large pinch) cardamom

1/16 tsp. (a large pinch) cloves

1/16 tsp. (a large pinch) nutmeg

1/3 cup dried tart cherries

1/3 cup dried figs, chopped

1/4 cup coconut oil, melted

1/4 cup maple syrup

  • Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
  • Combine the dry ingredients, save the fruit, in a large bowl. Pour the liquids over the dry and use your hands to coat them all evenly. Spread the granola mixture on the baking sheet, press down gently, and roast in the oven for 25-30 minutes, rotating pan halfway through.
  • Remove from the oven and leave to cool before adding the dried fruit.

Spring Green Fennel Millet Cakes

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I look down at my black work pants. They’re starting to fade in the fold lines, and I have to use a lint roller to make them black again. My favorite blue sweater is comfy, but people are starting to associate me with it. There are likely a few researchers at work who cannot remember my name and instead refer to me as “Blue Sweater Girl.” My shabby black pumps have seen me through many long days of teaching over more than a couple school years, and my scarf was a gift given in my senior year of high school.

Back when I was 13, I spent many hours agonizing over my sense of poverty, and how my shoes weren’t the stylish ones all my friends had. I’m beyond being quite so sensitive these days, but still often feel that people must look at me and immediately think my clothes are more worn than a professional situation dictates. And boring. How frequently can you wear the same blue sweater before people start to notice?

My job is active, and I’m rarely in the same space all day; for this reason I take a little more liberty in regularly dressing in my most comfortable professional clothes. As I dressed this morning in the same blue sweater-scarf outfit, I briefly practiced awesome negative self-talk and went on with my day. “So what if I’m wearing the same outfit again?” I thought.

In the afternoon, I gained a good dose of perspective when the dental hygienist gushed about the blue sweater, the lovely scarf, and how my outfit just “went.” Then she practiced her own form of negative self talk by muttering, “Now I really feel like I need to go shopping.”

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Not-enoughness. We are all surrounded by it. Encouraged to go after more without enjoying what we have. I think about my blog, my writing, my running times, my friendships, my job, and yes, my wardrobe, and I compare myself to the world around me.

I don’t need to. We don’t need to. We only need to be our best self, and to be kinder to her or him. We can all use a good dose of perspective. We are all good enough. In this new season let’s step outside our heads, refocus our energy  and send out our light.

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Spring Green Fennel Millet Cakes
The Recipe Redux challenged us to celebrate patties and Paddy’s Day all month long. These patty cakes are versatile, crunchy, filling, slightly sweet, and have that clean-spring-green look and feeling about them that we crave as the sun comes out and the flowers and trees blossom again. Make up a big batch or two and snack on them throughout the week. 
 
1 cup cooked millet
1 cup cooked small white beans
3/4 cup shredded carrots (about 1 large) 
A large handful of spinach leaves
1/3 cup raw almonds, chopped and toasted
1 cup diced fennel bulb
1/2 cup golden raisins
1 egg or flax egg (1 Tbs. + 3 Tbs. warm water)
salt and pepper, to taste
  • Prepare millet and white beans. Shred carrots and chop and toast almonds.
  • In a food processor, measure in millet, beans, carrots, and spinach. Process until the beans are no longer whole, but make sure the mixture is not entirely smooth.
  • Pour out the millet-bean mixture into a medium bowl, and then incorporate the remaining ingredients. Salt and pepper to taste prior to adding the egg.
  • Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Lay parchment paper onto a baking stone or pan. Using a round cooking cutter (about 3 inches in diameter) for structure, scoop the mixture into 8 cakes directly onto the baking stone.
  • Bake for 15-20 minutes and then using a spatula, turn the cakes. Bake for 5 minutes more.
  • Remove from the oven and cool before eating.

Blackberry Lemon Coconut Cream Bars

Friday morning, summer ended.  From my office window, I watched dark clouds blow in and with them came all autumn’s wet and windy glory, leaves swirling through the mist.  I trudged through the garden after school, feet tingly wet, and with muddy fingers, pulled fallen cornstalks, bolted lettuce, and withered melon vines.  I reminisced back to July and August, and even the day before, Thursday, when I was still picking blackberries, knowing all too soon, the weather would change.

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Each year I hoped they’d keep, knew they would not.  – Seamus Heaney

Blackberries. Blackberry picking. Our new apartment complex cozies up to the forest on this edge of town. Wild briers take over here, and to my delight, I have noshed on blackberries for weeks. While not many have found their way into a bucket for later, I’ve made it a mission to send summer off proper like with lemony-coconut cream blackberry bars. They just so happen to be raw, vegan, gluten-free, and super easy.

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Though the photos are a delicious mess, I’d still like to tell you about all the layers of goodness. Dates, nuts and spices make up the salty-sweet bottom layer, followed by fluffy coconut cream with a hint of lemon. The topping, so simple and divine, is pureed berries mixed with a bit of chia seeds to help it set. If they fall apart coming out of the pan, that means you were like me and in being overly anxious to taste, weren’t patient. That’s fine. As is running to snag some frozen berries from the store if all the wild ones in your area are long gone. Relish the last day of summer with me before snuggling into that sweater and pumpkin spice latte.

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This recipe is part of September’s Recipe Redux challenge to create a healthy no-cook dessert. 
 
Lemon Coconut Cream Blackberry Bars {raw, vegan & gluten-free}, inspired by Sprouted Kitchen
4-5 medjool dates, pitted
1/4 cup raw walnut pieces, toasted
1/4 cup raw almonds, toasted
1/2 cup almond meal
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. coconut oil
pinch of salt
1 15 oz. can full-fat coconut milk, chilled
2 Tbs. powdered sugar
zest from 1/2 a lemon
1 tsp. vanilla extract
2 cups blackberries
1 Tbs. chia seed
Stevia extract, to taste 
  • In a food processor, combine dates, nuts, cinnamon, oil and salt.  Puree until finely chopped and the mixture sticks together when pinched with your fingers.  Turn out into a square baking dish (I used a 6 x 8 glass container).
  • Open the chilled coconut milk and without stirring, spoon out the cream layer into a medium bowl.  With a fine mesh strainer, pour out the remainder of the can and keep all the cream that is in the top.  Reserve the watery milk for another use.
  • Whip the coconut cream along with the powdered sugar, lemon zest, and vanilla.  Pour atop the nut layer.
  • In the food processor, puree berries and chia seed until smooth.  Add stevia or sugar to taste.  Pour atop the cream layer, and set into the refrigerator to set for at least 2 hours.  (Or dig in and make a mess, like I did!)