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.

Cranberry-Cherry Chocolate Bird Cookies

Are you ready for New Years, 2011, a new resolution, and some positive change? Do you want to clean up your health in the coming year (finally), but aren’t ready to cut yourself off from everything good and wonderful? Or do you simply want try a new take on an old tradition?

If so, I have a wonderful little recipe for you.  It’s actually a combination of two of my favorite cookie recipes.  And really, it’s amazing.  This is a classic chocolate chip cookie with a twist (or several), and you can customize it any way you like.  Personally, mine has an addition of millet and brown rice syrup.  The latter is what keeps these cookies moist for days and days and days, if you’re in the mood to limit yourself, and adds a bit of a unique taste that everyone adores.

I added dried cranberries and cherries, and only a teeny bit of chocolate chips, a combination with a great festive flavor, but certainly feel free to omit and add whatever you like.  To get oat flour without searching at a specialty shop, simply put oatmeal (any kind) in the food processor for a quick whiz.  You’ll find the oat flour adds a bit of earthy- flavor and texture. In a pinch, you can substitute part molasses for the brown rice syrup, but it will really change the taste!

Cranberry-Cherry Chocolate Bird Cookies, adapted from Whole Living & Culinate
To make gluten-free, swap in 2 cups of  Gluten Free Flour Mix instead of the wheat flours. 
 
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 cup oat flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 cup canola oil
1/2 cup brown-rice syrup
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg
1 Tbs. water
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 cup millet
3/4 cup dried cranberries and cherries
a handful chocolate chips
  •  In a medium bowl, whisk together the flours, baking soda, and salt.
  • In a large bowl, whisk together the oil, rice syrup, sugar, egg, water, and vanilla until completely blended. Stir the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients; fold in the millet, fruit, and chocolate. Cover and refrigerate for at least one hour or as long as overnight.
  • Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Scoop the dough by rounded tablespoons onto the baking sheet, spacing them 2 inches apart. Bake until light golden brown, 10 to 13 minutes.
  • Cool cookies on the baking sheets for 5 minutes, then transfer to a rack to cool completely. Repeat with the remaining dough.
 

Adventures in the Cherry Tree

It all began in Corvallis with our cherry tree. It’s the one that drips it’s cherry-laden limbs onto the sidewalk and begs passers-by to guiltily grab a few before they hurry on, hoping no one is looking.

Their inconspicuousness is touching given the evidence left behind.  Cherry pits. Not that I would care if they show up with their ladders and pick a bucket or ten.  Our tree is laden.

My first task as a college graduate is to pick cherries.  On a Sunday in a dress, with a very short ladder.  All the best cherries are of course higher than I can reach.  Unless I stand on the very top rung on tiptoes, carefully balancing myself so I can squirm higher to reach and not come toppling off the ladder.  Doing so would successfully entertain the neighbors.  Despite this, I for once maintain some dignity and forego the tree toppling episode.

At home in Hermiston, my father is also picking cherries.  His are being picked out of his fervent desire for a cherry pie.  The birds have other plans however, and unless the tree is picked now, there will be none left to satisfy a certain sweet tooth.  So they are picked slightly green because it is either him or the birds, and no one comes between Walter and pie.

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A week and a half later, the pie has still not been made.  The Corvallis cherries are nearly eaten, and dad is starting to hint more frequently.  I leave him a note on Father’s Day that he will indeed be receiving a pie shortly.

The notion of pitting all these lovely beasts takes a bit of working up to.  The cherry pitter you see, has been well used over the years and is on the verge of rusting over.  What with this and the fact that most of the remaining cherries are the not-quite-ripe-but-saved-from-the-birds variety, well you see my lack of enthusiasm.

Finally the day arrives when the crust has been mixed and chilled and there is nothing left to do but pit the cherries.  So I press on, and really it’s not so bad.  As the pie crisps in the oven and lovely smells start to fill the farmhouse, dad walks in the door after a long day of work. He knows exactly what this particular smell is.

It’s his cherry pie at last.

Recipes here and here.

For those that have had trouble with crusts, I will let you in on a little secret: Martha Stewart.  I make sure the ingredients are quite cold, use a mixer or food processor, and real butter.  I have never had a bad crust.  I swear :)