Blueberry Oat Bars (GF)

People eat with their eyes first, I tell my boyfriend, using this line every time something comes out of the oven that doesn't meet my definition of "cookbook cover." Presentation is everything

Taste matters, too,
he reminds me, digging a fork into whatever dessert I have dismissed. And he is right.

Since the coffee cake revelation of last year, my goal has been to soften my ideas of perfection. More recipes have been shared and fewer have been hidden from view. This approach hasn't been without its challenges, though. I still feel the uncertainty of whether something is exceptional enough to bring into your kitchen. Know your audience, I tell my students. How well do I know mine?

These blueberry oat bars were inspired by a strawberry bar of a similar nature from years past. I pulled them together on a cool Saturday morning, but when they came out of the oven, I hesitated. The jam had bled into the oats, dying them a dark shade of green; the oats had browned unevenly. The decision was made. Do you want a bite? I called to my boyfriend, rejecting the bars on looks alone. They are still warm. 

As any food blogger can tell you, once the fork reaches the pan, the opportunity for photography has fallen away. I took a forkful. Two. Three. I cut myself a square and was mid-bite when my boyfriend reached the kitchen. I am pretty sure this is the best thing I have ever eaten, I said between mouthfuls. I need to photograph these. 

I whisked the bars away before he could get a bite.

The taste easily makes up for whatever these bars may lack in looks. To create them, a layer of fruit preserves is sandwiched between an oatmeal crust. The texture is that of a chocolate chip cookie, hot and gooey from the oven (and it retains this texture for several days). The jam gives the bars a richness reminiscent of fudgeβ€”a little will go a long way when it comes to this dessert.

Since the fruit is the focus, use a high quality fruit preserve or jam (bonus if it has fruit pieces!). Homemade or store bought will work equally well so don't think or worry you are "cheating" if you take the easy way out.

Blueberry Oat Bars (gluten-free!) are simple to make and a joy to eat. An oatmeal crustβ€”made from oats, coconut oil, and brown sugarβ€”forms the base of the bars. A thick layer of fruit preserves are spread on top before baking and caramelizing in the oven. The bars are chewy on the edges, gooey in the middle, and very difficult to ignore.

Two Years Ago: Sunflower Seed Bread, Blackberry Fool, and Lime Curd Tart with Coconut Whipped Cream
Three Years Ago:Grapefruit Soda, Irene's Orange Rolls, S'mores Cupcakes, and Mai Tai
Four Years Ago:Thin Mint Brownies, Strawberry Pancakes, Roasted Pineapple, and Lemon Thins

Blueberry Oat Bars

Yields 16 servings

1/3 cup (70 grams) coconut oil, solid state
1/2 cup (100 grams) brown sugar, packed
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1  cup (90 grams) oat flour*/**
1 1/2 cups (135 grams) old fashioned oats**
1 tablespoon chia seeds (optional)
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup (~300 grams) fruit preserves or jam (I used blueberry fruit preserves)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (180 degrees C). Lightly grease an 8x8-inch pan.

In a large mixing bowl, mix together coconut oil and brown sugar until uniform. Add the egg and vanilla, mixing until blended. Stir in the oat flour, oats, chia seeds, baking soda, and salt. Batter will be slightly sticky. Using greased hands, press 3/4 of the batter into the bottom of the prepared pan. Spread preserves or jam evenly over the top. Crumble the remaining 1/4 of the batter evenly on top.

Bake for 25-30 minutes, or until lightly browned. Allow to cool slightly in pan before serving.

* To make oat flour, place old fashioned oats in a food processor and process until oats are a fine powder.

** To make gluten-free, use gluten-free rolled oats.

Honey Oat Bread

Honey Oat Bread

Honey Oat Bread

The wind is blowing outside my window with a fierceness only Mother Nature herself could bring. Another blizzard has descended, matching the winds of last Wednesday and the snow of last weekend. If the nine foot snow drift that appeared outside of my bedroom window this morning is any indication, it was only proper to spend the day wrapped up in sweaters and hiding under blankets. This winter, in particular, has been one of hot cocoa and warm ovens.

How could you have it any other way?

Honey Oat Bread
Honey Oat Bread

One of the dearest ways to spend a Sunday morning for me is baking bread. After the coffee has been brewed, I slowly pull the flour out of the cupboard and the yeast off the shelf, moving at the speed of the weekend. The morning may be filled with yawns (and flour may pepper the sides of my pajama pants), but bread is an act of patience and a practice in meditation. There can be no rush, for bread grows at its own pace, feeling out the air around it and reacting accordingly. It is this nature of bread, this uncontrollable spirit, that keeps me coming back time and again.

The scent of yeast and the feel of dough beneath my fingers is irreplaceable.

Honey Oat Bread

Honey and oatmeal are a classic comfort food combination, perfect for giving warmth to a wintery day. When approaching this bread, I wanted to find a way to make the oats a significant portion of the bread, lending a pronounced flavor to the final loaf. To do so, I ground up the oatmeal flakes in a food processor until they resembled flour, which working surprisingly well. The bread has a hint of honey, providing a pure sweetness which complements a spread of jam and acts as a spoon for potatoes and gravy.

It may be cold outside, but it is warm in my kitchen.

Honey Oat Bread

Honey Oat Bread is a standard dinner table bread. The subtlety of oats and honey allow the bread to be served with both sweet and savory foods. Before baking, the bread is brushed with warm honey and sprinkled with oats. When it emerges from the oven, the top takes on a golden color. If golden were a flavor, this bread would certainly match it. The honey soaked bites and toasted oats become the icing on the cake, so to speak. The bread keeps well for several days, bringing an element of joy to your favorite dishes.

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Pineapple Jam

Pineapple Jam

Pineapple Jam

I turned twenty-five years old yesterday. I have been on this earth for exactly a quarter of a century. In many ways, I am having a difficult time wrapping my mind around it. For the first time I feel, well, older. Perhaps, somehow, more grown up. I am wrapping up my final semester of graduate school, focusing on coursework much more than the social life I prized during university. Soon, however, the shoe will move to the other foot. I have been offered a job teaching high school science this fall and will very soon have lessons to plan, homework to correct, and students of my own to tend.

The times they are a-changin'.

Pineapple Jam Pineapple Jam

I feel very much an adult, as if the child within me has headed off to summer camp and I've been left behind, waving her goodbye. I go to bed at a reasonable hour each evening, balking at the idea of staying up beyond one in the morning for any reason whatsoever. My refrigerator is full of fruits and vegetables; I optimistically pack a healthy lunch each morning so I'll be forced to eat it when hunger kicks in (this trick, by the way, works wonders). My work ethic is an employer's dream, but I find myself working so frequently that I rarely let loose, leave the house, and do something fun. It's easy to get caught up in responsibilities and forget there is anything outside of them.

Perhaps, you could say, I'm learning how to become an adult, learning to take on new obligations, but not allow them to slowly take over the other pieces of my life. Trying to find a sense of balance in a world that is leaning too far in one direction. Growing up is hard.

Pineapple Jam

I think we should all be allowed a moment to say goodbye to the age we are leaving behind, a moment to grieve, a moment to celebrate, a moment to embrace the future, a moment to call our own and for which no one can judge us. Turning twenty five caught up with me last weekend. I realized, for the first time, that any sense of childhood was officially behind me. I filled up a glass of red wine, and then filled it up again, lamenting my burgeoning spider veins and faint laugh lines to my boyfriend. I walked out on the third story balcony to the apartment, bemoaning my impending old age as the lights in the courtyard made slow circles through air.

As if to show my despair at leaving childhood behind, I threw baby carrots at a neighborhood rabbit who was scampering through the grass below simply because an adult would never do that (the rabbit, I might add, did not seem to appreciate the free dinner). I gave up when I ran out of carrots, collapsing on the couch in front of an episode of Game of Thrones. I had my moment then, a little messy, a little unrefined, and then it passed as if it had never arrived.

The birthday has come and gone since then. The gifts have been unwrapped, the wishes wished, the candles blown out, and the peace made with growing older. Twenty five no longer feels so old anymore and I feel ready and even a little excited to embrace a new number. Thirty? Now that's old. :)

Pineapple Jam

Pineapple Jam has a unique flavor, both sweet and acidic, and complements a toasted English muffin well. Fresh, ripe pineapple is blended into small pieces and cooked down on the stove until it thickens and slightly caramelizes. The addition of vanilla adds a bright tone while a touch of molasses adds a greater depth of flavor. The jam can be finished with a bit of lime zest for a bold twist, but it isn't necessary to create a rounded flavor.

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