Chewy Vanilla Bean Cinnamon Bars

At times, I struggle to live in the moment. I'm always looking forward, planning ahead, or dreaming about the future. When the everyday begins to grow lackluster, my mind wanders to exotic holidays through ancient cities and foreign landscapes or to the everyday moments of future life that may or may not come to pass. My head drifts above the clouds while my body goes through the daily routines.

I struggle to ground myself in the familiar day-to-day activities of making dinner and studying for exams.

In many ways, a part of me has always been a dreamer. When I was younger, I could never decide what I would be when I grew up. I could imagine the details of a life where I was an author, a zookeeper, a doctor, or an astronomer. I wanted to play a part in all of these lives. I never wanted to settle down, to make a real decision about life, because it felt like there was such a finality about doing so. I wanted to leave more doors open than I would ever hope to shut.

When I walk through home and furniture stores, I imagine my future home and how I'll fill the empty rooms. My home by the sea will hold worn wood furniture and carry the colors of the skies; my home in the woods will welcome long shadows, stone, and the spirit of a dancing flame. These daydreams feel so real in my head; I find myself too busy divining a future that I've failed to cover the white-walls in my current apartment to make my house feel more like a home.

As I've grown up, the dreamer in me has had her fair share of doses of reality. Decisions are inevitable (though never final) and every path has its share of ups and downs. Even when doing something I love, my head still floats above the clouds, wondering what may be around the next corner. As the ever wise JK Rowling cautioned me, "It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live." Those words struck such a chord.

The truth is that I have been forgetting to live in the present for quite awhile now. Instead of dreaming about becoming a mother or wife, a teacher or world traveler, I need to appreciate being a young woman with few ties to hold me down and high aspirations to lead my way. These days will pass too soon. Thanks for the reminder, Ms. Rowling.

These Vanilla Bean Cinnamon Bars have a little trick up their sleeves. Though they may appear to be cake-like in texture, they are actually pleasantly dense and chewy. Vanilla bean and cinnamon round out the flavor, while cornmeal lends the surprising texture. Topped with a light vanilla glaze, these bars may find a place in your fall rotation.

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Chewy Vanilla Bean Cinnamon Bars with Vanilla Glaze

Yields 8 x 8-inch pan

Vanilla Bean Cinnamon Bars
1 cup (200 grams) dark brown sugar, packed
6 tablespoons (85 grams) butter, melted
1/4 cup (60 ml) milk
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste (or 2 teaspoons vanilla extract)
1 cup (144 grams) finely ground cornmeal
1 cup (125 grams) all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
Pinch of salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (180 degrees C). Grease an 8 x 8-inch pan.

In a large mixing bowl, beat together the sugar, melted butter, milk, egg, and vanilla extract until smooth. Stir in the cornmeal, flour, cinnamon, baking powder, and salt.

Pour batter into prepared pan and bake for 30-40 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Cool bars before glazing.

Vanilla Glaze
1/2 cup (63 grams) powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon milk

Stir together all ingredients in a small bowl. If glaze is too thin, add more powdered sugar until it reaches the desired consistency. Likewise, if the glaze is too thick, thin with milk until it reaches the desired consistency. Lightly pour over cooled bars.