I’ve been playing a lot lately.
When Lucy is home, she mostly wants to play hide and seek with me. (And with her daddy when he is home. That’s a fine game.) Generally, she doesn’t quite understand the concept: “You count, Mama, and I’ll hide in my room!” I play along because she takes such joy in it. There’s such a delicious thrill to it, isn’t there? You hide in a place and for Lucy, that generally means she stands beside the lamp in our bedroom, red tutu on, big grin and you wait. You wait to hear footsteps. When she looks for me, she immediately shouts, “Mama, where are you?” The reunion when she finds me hiding behind the shower curtain is filled with giggling joy.
These days, as I’m writing up recipes as fast as I can and working on the sandwich bread recipe when I need a break from the computer Lucy is at preschool more often than she was a few weeks ago. I battled with this idea for awhile, until I realized I wasn’t being selfish. (And really, I have more than 1 full-time job at the moment.) She so enjoys the company of children her own age. We have found some wonderful schools on Vashon, preschools built on the ideas of kindness and compassion. And mostly, play. When I ask Lucy about her day, she always says first, “I just play and play and play.”
That’s how I have come up with all the recipes for this cookbook. I let go of making the “right” recipes or “best” recipes. I stopped trying to make food I don’t care about because I know other people want to see it. I’ve just been playing in the kitchen for months. All this playing has made me feel like a kid again.
This story on NPR today struck me. I recommend you read it, but the gist is this: we have forgotten to let our kids play. As a culture, we seem so hell bent on success with a capital S that we start pushing curriculum and flashcards and expectations long before kindergarten. However, it’s clear from the study this piece quotes that free play running around the yard pretending to be a soccer star actually promotes self-regulation in kids. In other words, kids learn how to handle their emotions, resist impulses, and learn self-discipline by playing.
Playing teaches us some of the most important lessons in life.
Playing is how we discover. Discovery is learning. Following our passions makes us happy. If we’re happy, we want to make other people happy. Everything else is just gravy for me.
And for our daughter. Listening to her talk to herself in her bedroom as I write this, long after she was “supposed to” be asleep is one of the best parts of my day. That kid has an imagination. For me, that’s one of the greatest gifts she could have to sustain her through life.
It’s clear from listening to this absolutely beautiful interview with Terry Gross that Maurice Sendak has been playing all his life. Last week, I stood in the living room, folding clothes and listening to him speak. I had another three recipes to write before I left the house to pick up Lucy, but I needed a lift. Some inspiration. Oh, did I find it in these words. I won’t say much, other than to say that I will never forget his raw eloquence. Especially when he said, in spite of all his losses, “I am in love with the world.”
Let’s be in love with the world.
And come on everybody, join me. Let’s play.
SUNFLOWER SEED BUTTER BARS WITH DRIED CRANBERRIES
Last week, I had plenty to cook before I could even sit down at the computer. However, every dish was already planned. I wanted to play. It turns out I needed a little spontaneous baking.
You see, Danny loves something sweet in the evening after he returns home from work. We eat dinner together, about 10 or 10:30. After that, I’m done. But he just can’t go to bed unless there’s some sweetness for him. When I was working on the dessert chapter every day, he was a happy man. For a few days last week, I was so buried in work that I had nothing for him for dessert. “How about a handful of chocolate chips?” I’d ask him. He would shake some out of the jar, a little sad. So, when I saw this piece about baking without flour on Twitter that day, I made the almond butter cookies within moments.
They were good. They certainly satisfied Danny’s sweet tooth. Since they were full of wholesome ingredients, I packed one in Lucy’s lunchbox. Happy playing. But without any flour or binder, they were just a touch greasy for me. So I turned them into bars, with sucanat and quinoa flakes, dried cherries instead of chocolate chips. Oh holy moley! We’re very fond of these right now. In fact, Danny just walked in the door. He’s going to be happy I made another batch.
230 grams (1 cup) sunflower seed butter
100 grams sucanat
100 grams raw sugar
60 grams quinoa flakes
1 large egg, at room temperature
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
60 grams almond slices
60 grams dried cranberries
Preparing to bake. Preheat the oven to 350°. Grease an 8-inch square baking pan.
Making the dough. Put the sunflower seed butter, the sucanat, and the raw sugar into the bowl of a stand mixer. (You could probably mix this all by hand, as well.) Run the mixer with the paddle attachment on medium speed until the butter and sugars are light and fluffy together. Add the quinoa flakes and mix until combined. Add the egg and mix until there is no visible egg in the dough. Add the baking soda, salt, and vanilla extract and mix the dough. Toss in the almond slices and cranberries and mix until just combined.
Baking the dough. At this point, the dough will be sticky to the touch. Plop the ball of dough in the baking pan. Lightly grease one of your hands with baking spray or a touch of canola oil. Use that hand to spread the dough out to all the edges of the pan, evenly. Bake until the center is starting to be firm to the touch and the edges are pulling away from the edges of the pan, about 30 to 40 minutes. Allow the bar cookies to cool completely before cutting into them.
Makes 1 pan of bar cookies.
Variations: you could use almond butter, cashew butter, or peanut butter in place of the sunflower seed butter. I really love the taste of sunflower seed butter plus using it means this could be safe for preschool.
If you are going to take this to preschool most of them have banned nuts from the premises be sure to sub in something different for the slivered almonds. Another fruit? Chocolate chips?
You could also make these as regular drop cookies. I’d make each one about 3 tablespoons big. Bake on a sheet tray until they are crisp on the edges and starting to set in the center.
If you don’t have sucanat or raw sugar, substitute your favorite dry sweeteners here. I bet those of you who are baking with honey than I am could figure out a good recipe for that too!