play and play and play

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.


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!

46 comments on “play and play and play

  1. Beth @ Tasty Yummies

    There is nothing better than playing around with the ones you love, doing what you love the most! I love my job so much, that everyday I wake up I feel like I am playing “work”, ya know they way we all did as kids. I think that is the true testament to knowing you are following the right path in your life, if it all feels like fun and you wake up excited to do it all over again!
    This post made me so happy! These bars look so amazing Shauna and I love how much fun you could having playing with the different add-ins and oh, my, that photo is incredible! I honestly have never been more excited about one of your cookbooks coming out, than with this upcoming one! I am anxiously awaiting it :)


    Great post and the recipe looks delicious, as Mom’s sometimes we need to stop and be a kid again…..sounds like you are doing just fine! Good Momma and a hard worker, perfect combination, it will teach her the value of great parenting and good work ethic as well! I’m trying this recipe Sunday, thank you so much for sharing!

  3. Sue

    We’re going through the preschool selection process right now, and your words really resonated with me. Play, compassion, joy ~ all so important. vital.

    We’ve been deciding between a wonderful warm school that is play-based and child-centered vs. a school that is nice, but mainly considered good preparation for kindergarten. A no-brainer it seems… until we consider his food allergies: soy, gluten, dairy and nuts.

    The warm, inviting place has a wide open snack area with pretzels, milk, fruit and crackers ~ all great, but not for him. And when we asked the director about accommodating allergies, we were met with a vague “well, when we have those, we just ask the parents not to bring peanuts into the school.” The other school has a fantastic attitude toward re-framing allergies in non-disparaging ways… calling one child’s rice milk “Sophies special milk” for example and ensuring safe eating practices.

    So often it seems to come down to the see-saw of safety vs. playfulness. I ache to imagine that we have to permanently shield him from the world. But then again, we don’t let him play in traffic. We teach him to look both ways…

    On a side note, regarding sunflower butters ~ have you found one that has not been processed on equipment shared with other nuts? I’m having a dickens of a time finding one!

    thank you for your continuously inspiring work!

      1. Sue

        Thanks very much Erica! I had looked into SunButter but, sadly, they process soybeans on the same equipment and that excludes it for us. But even so, I appreciate the link! :)

  4. Kate

    Thank you! Beautiful post as always! It is quite unbelievable to me that as an early intervention speech pathologist, I have to teach parents and even an occasional preschool teacher that flash cards are NOT age-appropriate learning materials. My dear friend, an OT, often tells parents that their child’s full-time job is to play, not learn addition facts and how to read at 3 years old!
    How dull this life would be if we could not occasionally see the world through the eyes of children…

  5. Janine

    I was so touched by that interview with Maurice Sendak. I keep thinking about it: his vulnerability, his strength.

  6. Jenn Sutherland

    Oh my, I have been looking for just this sort of cookie for my own evening treat! Thank you, Shauna! I’m out of quinoa flakes, but I’m going to swing by the store on my way home tonight so I can pick some up. I can’t wait to taste these!

  7. Maryfe

    I love your post! I can relate with you as my daughter is also 3 years old and we play hide and seek just like you too. Three is such a fun age! I totally agree on the importance of play, and of learning about love, compassion, kindness and other values. Academics is not so important at this age in my opinion.

  8. Debbie

    Maurice Sendak was a guest on two episodes of The Colbert Report for a two part story recently. Stephen wanted his advice for writing a book. His dry wit matched Stephen’s and together they were hilarious. We watched it twice.

  9. valerie

    I too am in love with the world, especially since I began my gluten free lifestyle two weeks ago today. Thanks for all you do (especially the dishes!). Your books, your blog, all the great recipes and especially your positive outlook have made this transition seamless for me. I love “playing” with all the new grains that I’m discovering – amaranth, quinoa, the simple cornmeal. I love polenta slices, browned in a pan with olive oil, topped with oven roasted vegetables!

    I came across this interesting article today about the effects of wheat in our diets, wanted to share it with you:

    Thanks again Shauna. YES!

  10. leela

    so true. i was lucky to grow up in the country with lots of neighbor kids and all we did (especially in summer) was play outside for hours. i’m pretty sure that exploration, using your imagination, and having to figure things out for yourself make you far more able to cope with stress and navigate the world.

    i don’t remember having to worry about homework or the other things that seem to promise, as you say, “success with a capital S,” and i’ve done just fine. i’m actually about to graduate from law school, so even according to traditional notions of “success” i think lots of unstructured play in childhood really pays off in the long run. lucy’s a lucky girl.

  11. Archer

    I love this invitation to play. It really is an amazing feeling of freedom inside to be in love with the world, and I love how toddlers are never disillusioned from that. Love your writing about Lu.

    1. Archer

      One other thing I forgot to say. Have you ever read the book: 168 Hours? Really good. Anyways, the author works full time, but has a son. She talks about how she feels as though her time with her son is a lot richer, fuller, & more present, in the time she spends with him outside of her work. She compares the quality of time spent with kids in working moms vs. stay at home moms. Just thought that was interesting.

  12. Kiki

    I love how you write about a variety of topics. Play is SO important. Our two boys (10 and soon to be 12) are doing a strength and agility course. A friend invited them so I said okay. They LOVE it! They had gotten away from doing creative play. Riding bikes and playing baseball or basketball had become the norm in our ‘hood. What I love about this course is that it has gotten them to go outside and play creatively. They were playing “war” games and pretending to fight the enemy. One of our neighbors heard them yelling to “take cover” and “shoot”. She was a little concerned at first, but then watched them work as a team to defeat the enemy. They came home so happy! Usually when they are playing ball, one of them comes home mad because the other one wasn’t being fair etc. My friends and I played creatively till we were about 16. Oh! how I remember those days with so much warmth. I forget that I NEED it too! I’m going to go out with them and help defeat the enemy!

  13. Kathy

    I was just thinking about the fun I had this weekend with our Granddaughter.
    We haven’t seen her for some time (a sad situation) and now she is living with us.
    I don’t think she got to play much in the last 6 years. She is 12 now. We went to the park twice this weekend, even in the rain, and just played. Chased the birds thru rocks at Alki Beach, ran down trails along the Duwamish River. Just had fun. Grandpa took her fishing. She was just beaming and kept saying how much she loved us and that she had such a great time just playing.
    At our age we sometimes forget just to play and have fun. I’m not sure who had more fun playing her or us.

  14. Kimberly

    Play is so vital to developing children for many of the reasons the NPR article raised.

    I am currently childless, but sometimes I get exhausted just *reading* about parenting because it seems like everybody is so willing to tell you that You Are Doing It Wrong.

    Lucy is very lucky indeed to spend these years playing!

  15. Joanne

    I want to play and play and play but it seems as an adult I’m always doing and doing with no joy in what I do. Oh well, I’m sure I’m not alone in this. Love the sound of this dessert: healthy & delicious!

  16. Paula

    Always love reading your blog…gives me so many great ideas for new and wholesome meals!!

    I’m new to using quinoa flakes in baking do you have to do anything to them before use?

    1. shauna

      Nope! You just shake them out of the box. I’ve really grown to love them in baked goods. You can use them in many recipes that call for oats, as well.

  17. Meandy Bishop

    With four kids of my own, I understand the play time. Need to have lots of it in my house, in fact there are so many toys, not expensive ones, but just enough to make them happy. Counting frogs, marbles tiny stuffed animals, and the list goes on. I am looking forward for your book to come out. I have been gluten free for 8 years now, and have taken lots of recipes out of books that promised to be good and tasted like cardboard instead. I know yours will be different, better. etc. I have been thinking of doing the same with my recipes, but don’t know where or how to start really. So I look forward to yours.

  18. Suze

    Lovely post, Shauna. Playing is definitely where it’s at for youngsters. And I know that I don’t do enough of it as an adult! Can’t wait to try the recipe. I think my husband will love it too.

  19. Steph

    Now I needed a lift, and came here and got one from you. Thank you again for your wonderful thoughts. Play truly is so, so important. I think as adults we forget the importance of play, being so involved in being serious and getting things done. I know I certainly did for a time whilst I was in a very bad relationship. I was so fortunate in coming out of it that I got involved in a new hobby – where nearly every warm up involved play. It’s such a joy, and the rediscovery of it all seems all the sweeter. I feel alive again, and much of it is thanks to play.

    Thank you also for this recipe – it sounds wonderful! I think I shall have to try this one soon.

  20. Sara

    I was driving somewhere when I heard the Maurice Sendak interview and thought I was going to have to pull over. It was incredible, and I can’t help but think of that every time we read Where the Wild Things Are–somehow it’s even better now.

  21. Ilke

    Yes, we forget to “play” and sometimes reminded in a harsh way.
    I have to listen to the interview. I dont know why it is so hard sometimes to let go off the “supposed to” and take more risks, enjoy life more.

  22. Aimee E.

    This post really touched my heart and reading the NPR story was so enlightening. It brought back so many memories of when my brother and I grew up playing outside (always!) by the hours inventing, creating, climbing trees, riding bikes…imagining! What a difference it is today for kids – the pressure to excel is out of hand. Happy you found a wonderful pre-school for Lucy that seems to savor some of the good stuff 😉

  23. Jess

    I just wanted to say thank you so much for your wonderful site! I found your page about a year ago when I was going through testing for celiac disease. As it turns out, I do have a mild wheat allergy, though no celiac (thankfully!). But! Your recipes are wonderful whether I’m gluten-free or not. I’ve bookmarked and tried many. And, I do have friends that are celiac, and I love all of the recipe options here. It’s so much more fun to be able to cook so that everyone can enjoy the food without restrictions! Best of luck with the book!

  24. Cooking Gluten-Free with Anna

    Hi, I also was touched by Sendak’s interview on NPR, and the article about playing. Play is important, on so many levels. I find it hard at times to let go and enjoy the moment, to let my body run with it. That’s what kids do…let their bodies fully express their emotions. One place where I do feel comfortable doing this, is in the kitchen, cooking and baking. Love it! Having to cook gluten-free, one has to be inventive and creative. Another place is dancing, but that’s another story…

    Thank you for a your wonderful stories and recipes.

  25. Jane@Maids

    I also love to play with my kids, i feel im a child again it makes my stress go out.
    I really like this post of yours and still browsing the other post. have a great day.

  26. Megan

    Yes, I agree we need to let our kids just play. My son is now 18 months and he is getting daily report cards from his school…they are now frequently saying “he had trouble listening today…” My response is: He’s a boy first of all, and he’s only 18 months. I had asked for them to give me a time when he didn’t listen and his teacher said that he didn’t want to sit for snack, he wanted to keep playing…I just laughed :)
    I am definitely going to try these bars, but being very new to gluten free cooking…what is “sucanat”? and is it easy to find at a Whole Foods or a Sprouts grocery?

  27. Sarah

    These are delicious!!!! And addictive. Make sure you have people around to share these with or you will eat the whole pan yourself. You have been warned!

    I substituted peanut butter and raisins and played with the sweetner so I could use what I had on hand, and they far exceeded my expectations! I had some quinoa flakes that I didn’t know what to do with and this was the perfect solution. I will make this again and again. I am wondering if anyone has tried using liquid sweetners?

  28. Michelle @ Spinning Spoons

    This post made me so happy – I’m glad you have time to play in your life! Taking the time to cook and photograph and record has been such an uplifting part of my life these days… I’m excited to try out this recipe!

  29. Julia {The Roasted Root}

    Like Michelle who commented above me, your post made me smile. Kudos to you for living in the moment and enjoying the simple pleasures in life – like having fun!! I like most Americans forget to kick back and just play every once in a while….you forget how much fun it can be until you finally go for it and then think to yourself, “why haven’t I been playing this whole time?” Thanks for the reminder. Your recipe looks delicious as well and I am looking forward to trying it 😉

  30. tara

    I want to make these today! Can I use GF oats for the quinoa flakes to save myself a trip to the store?

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