The other day it was easy and breezy in Portland and I was missing steamy NY. This is the yin and yang of the journey. As I get farther away from where I’ve been, I am closer to realizing what matters to me. This Portland summer is altogether wonderfully mild… and sometimes that makes me feel complacent and underwhelmed. We’re about to take a plunge and attempt to live in the woods OFF THE GRID for a few months by ourselves. While this is something I have been dreaming about, here I am missing the most urban place on the planet.
But I was. I was jealous of the heat wave that everyone else is having. Yes, you heard me. I was wishing my face was melting off along with everyone else’s across the country. But I was especially missing NY, kind of how a widower would miss his deceased wife. You know, like missing her farts or the drool on the pillow or the way she always made a funny clicking sound with her false teeth when she was nervous. Those endearing little human things.
NY, I miss… the grimy foot “tan” that covers everything except my sandal strap from all the muck and grit you put on me; the throngs of half naked people strewn across your Great Lawn, each as white as the underbelly of a ginormous whale; the sweaty mesh of bodies in various states of dress narrowly missing each other as they travel your sidewalk; your rudeness and briskness on a weekday morning; your nonstop energy; your surging beat, overflowing with so many emotions and desires and untapped creativity; your ridiculously over- or under- priced food and those bad hot dog smells. New York, you are not the easiest place to be in the summer, but I do remember fondly how good it feels to be surviving together with millions, in your hot, stinking, beautiful loins.
So there, I said it. I miss NY. I miss my family and friends. I miss that luscious garden of my mother’s, out there in the boondocks in Connecticut. I miss all y’all.
Like I said, I was feeling sad. I think it was partially because of these blueberry and apricot bars. Baking is incredible. Despite all sorts of unknowable factors, when you bake, you try to be precise and consistent. You will yourself to pay attention… to measuring, to texture, to viscosity, to spreading out the layers just so, to letting it bake until it’s just golden. You spend all this energy attempting to be totally meticulous. But ultimately, when you put the pan in the oven, you feel you’re leaving it all to chance. In this meditative madness, things tend to just flow. And well, sometimes, you can get all emotional in the midst of baking a batch of cookies. Thankfully with baking, if it proves to be the cause of your woes, when that timer beeps you have also found a good cure all.
The inspiration for making these oat bars came from this awesome bakery in Portland called Nuvrei (still waiting on the recipe for their oat currant bar) and the base recipe came loosely from the date oat bars in Breakfast, Lunch, Tea. I wanted a bar with a chewy bottom and a crunchy top but that didn’t require a lot of extra work, and one that could hold the softer fruit filling. This recipe is dead simple.
These oat bars have a good structure but they’re also begging to fall apart into chewy little gobs (or be toasted for breakfast!); their sweetness is magnified by a good, tart berry; they start off wholesome but lend themselves to a little overindulgence. They may look like granola, but that oat gives way to a toasted richness with a hint of molasses. They’re full of sunshine and summer, but they’re also just a tad bit blue.
Even though you say you’re tough, NY, I know you’re just a Stay Puft Marshmallow Man inside. Just like me. So here, NY and all its inhabitants, I baked these especially FOR YOU.
Blueberry and apricot oat bars
These were chewy on the bottom and a little crunchy on top. The original recipe called for golden syrup and was probably more like a flapjack, but I used brown rice syrup. You could also try them with agave or maple syrup. Each of these sweeteners will have a slight affect on the texture of the overall cookie. Omitting the egg will make the bottom less caky. So experiment and suit yourself!
1 pint blueberries, washed
1 pint fresh apricots, washed, pitted and sliced
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon cardamom
1 teaspoon lemon juice
2 tablespoons raw sugar
2 2/3 cup rolled oats (not quick oats!)
1 cup whole wheat flour
Pinch of salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
2/3 cup unsalted butter, plus extra for greasing
2/3 cup raw sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons molasses
2 tablespoons brown rice syrup (agave, maple syrup, or if you must, corn syrup would all work, but result in varying textures; experiment!)
Preheat the oven to 350F. Butter a 9×9 pan and line it with parchment.
Put the blueberries, apricots, and 2 tablespoons raw sugar in a medium heavy-bottomed sauce pan and turn on to medium-low. Cook until the apricots are tender, about 10 minutes. If the mixture looks decidedly wet, add in 1-2 tablespoons whole wheat flour. You want the mixture to hold together but not be stiff, like a thin paste. Remove from heat and add in the vanilla, cardamom, and lemon juice. Stir and set aside.
In a bowl, mix the flour, salt, oats, and baking soda.
Heat the butter, sugar, molasses, and brown rice syrup in a medium heavy-bottomed sauce pan on medium-low until melted, about 5 minutes. Stir often to prevent from sticking. Put this over the oat mixture and mix until crumbly.
Split the oat mixture in half. In one half crack in the egg and mix around until just coasted. Press this egg + oat mixture into the bottom of a pan with a wooden spatula, making sure to coat evenly.
Spread the fruit mixture on top. Sprinkle and lightly press in the other 2nd half of the oat mixture until evenly covered.
Bake in the oven until golden brown, about 30 minutes. Remove and let cool, then cut into rectangles and enjoy!