Sunday, November 9, 2008

Cranberry cinnamon breakfast bars

Is there anything more calming and comforting than the warm scent of cinnamon?

This Fall, I have been cooking and baking a lot with cinnamon, especially in some combination with apples or cranberries. And the scent strikes me every time, as if I forgot in a matter of hours just how lovely it was.

This wonderfully sweet and spicy scent brings up all sorts of good feelings and all manner of memories.

I remember moving out here with former boyfriend, driving all the way from Minneapolis in a pick-up truck, with a temperamental trailer hitched to the back. In the middle-of-nowhere-Montana, we stopped for a quick lunch (PB sandwiches – clearly well before I ever suspected a gluten intolerance) at a large gas station. We pulled off to the side of the parking lot, ate our lunch, and watched the fierce wind whip flags on flagpoles, blow leaves off of trees, and kick up dust all around us. We declared this spot the windiest city in the United States (move over Chicago!). Though there were mountains in the distance, the land around us was mostly flat, and you could see for miles and miles.

Once we were ready to get going again, former boyfriend turned the keys in the ignition and the truck refused to start. At about the 100th try, we walked over to the pay phone on the side of the building to call AAA for a tow or a jump (which ever one was needed). On the brick wall, next to the pay phone, hung a small bat. Yes, a bat, the animal, not the sporting equipment. It was upside-down and apparently chose that spot for it's bed.

We waited and waited for AAA. I took pictures of the horse at the fence next to our truck. We went back to the pay phone to call AAA and saw the bat had slid slightly lower down the wall. I browsed the little gift shop adjacent to the gas station. The bat slid further. We waited some more.

By the time AAA came to tow us to Bozeman (nearly 100 miles away), to the dodge dealership, it was almost dinner time and the little bat was nearly on the ground. We were dropped at the dealership minutes before they closed and they informed us they wouldn't get to even look at our truck for another week.

We couldn't wait in Bozeman for an entire week.

We returned to the truck, which now sat paralyzed in the dealership parking lot. We got in and it started to rain. The lights turned down in the dealership. I cried. We didn't know where we were going to go. We weren't within walking distance to ANYTHING. The dealership had given us a number for a smaller garage in the city, so we found a pay phone, called the number, and waited.

The man who arrived wore coveralls and was smoking a pipe. In a matter of moments, he had us hitched to his tow truck, had called his wife to help us find a room for the night, and we were on our way. He dropped us off at the motel and said he'd call us in the morning.

Overly hungry, tired, and worried, we had dinner at the little restaurant next to the motel. Former boyfriend ordered a slice of pie for dessert and I, too upset to really eat much, ordered tea. Apple cinnamon tea.

The tea somehow comforted me. I slowly began to feel better.

First thing in the morning, the same man from the garage called us in our motel room. He said the AC compressor seized up, freezing the entire engine. He could by-pass the compressor with a different belt or replace the compressor. We opted for the alternative belt option. And, voila! We were on our way.

I have thought a lot about that man over the years and I can't help but marvel at his genuine concern for us, total strangers stuck in his town. He was likely at dinner with his family when we called, but he drove out, picked us up, and took care of us when we were at a point of not even thinking clearly enough to take care of ourselves. Who else would have thought to secure us a place to stay right away? We weren't even thinking that far ahead.

Former boyfriend and I are not religious, but as we drove away that morning, back on the road to Portland, former boyfriend asked me, “Did that man have wings on his back?” And we both thought, yes.

That experience is actually what got me to start drinking tea. On our first grocery store trip in Portland, I picked up some of that apple cinnamon tea, along with peppermint, and some others. I had a hard time sleeping those first few weeks and I remember sitting alone at the kitchen table in the middle of the night, with former boyfriend fast asleep in the bedroom, sipping my tea. It helped, somehow.

Memories like that first cup of apple cinnamon tea flit through my mind yesterday as the warm smell of cinnamon came wafting from the kitchen. I had created a way to use cranberries in a healthy breakfast bar and I was waiting to see how they would turn out.

They turned out just like I wanted: a mostly fruit- and nut-filled bar you can hold in your hand and eat on the go, if necessary. Something sweet, yet low in sugar and full of fiber, protein, antioxidants, iron, and other good stuff.

Cranberry cinnamon breakfast bar:

1/3 cup tapioca flour

1 cup brown rice flour

1/3 cup coconut flour

1/3 cup teff flour

2 tsp baking powder

½ tsp xanthan gum

¼ tsp salt

1 tsp cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon allspice

1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

1 tsp vanilla

1 cup almonds, coarsely chopped

¼ cup wide-ribbon, unsweetened coconut

¼ cup honey or agave nectar or brown rice syrup

1 egg

1 ½ cup buttermilk (any milk and a Tablespoon apple cider vinegar)*

1 cup diced apples

1 cup fresh cranberries, chopped in half or quarters

3 tbs coconut oil

Prepare an 8-inch square pan (for thicker bars) or a 9x12-inch pan (for thinner bars) by either greasing the pan or lining it with parchment paper. Trim the excess paper from the edges of your pan with your kitchen scissors. Preheat your oven to 375F.

Throw the chopped almonds and the coconut into a skillet and toast over medium heat, stirring frequently, for a few minutes, until the coconut begins to brown and the mixture is nice and fragrant. Remove from skillet and set aside.

In a large bowl, mix your dry ingredients, including spices, until well blended. Add the milk, egg, honey, coconut oil, and vanilla and mix until just combined. Mix in the fruit, nuts, and coconut.

Press the mixture into your pan and bake at 375F for about 25-30 minutes until top begins to turn golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.


*To make buttermilk, take your favorite type of milk (moo cow or otherwise) and add a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar. Set aside for about 10 minutes before adding to the rest of the ingredients.

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