Do you know what I heard last week? Birds. More than one. Chirping. Making happy bird noises, the sweetest sound I’ve heard in months.
I don’t know about you, but I am in desperate need of a treat to get me through right now, something to look forward to during a week (really, month) that just started and already feels forever long and speeding by at the same time. I can’t even talk about the weather anymore (forget Hoth, it’s like living on planet Winter, minus the androgynous natives–how’s that for an obscure literary reference?).
Instead, I’m thinking about good things on the horizon, the things I’m working on, towards, for that are requiring all my energy but will hopefully lead to even better things. Green things and the new little garden plot I just rented nearby (any suggestions of edibles to grow in a 4×8 raised bed are more than welcome, by the way). I’m eating carrots and oranges literally by the bag-ful; if I start to look like an Oompa Loompa, well, now you’ll know why. I’ve been making giant salads by the bowl with my newly acquired vinaigrette-making skills.
I’m also working my way through/eating up/giving away my remaining jars of jam from last year (want some? I have more!) because, believe it or not, rhubarb and strawberries will be here not-soon-enough. I’ve been searching for an easy not-cookie baked-good-type use for jam for awhile and finally found this recipe months ago. Of course then I kept losing it before I had a chance to make it, finding it and losing it again. I wish I had made it the first time!
This is a perfect all-purpose treat–it takes minimal effort to throw together, easy enough even to satisfy a craving after work on a weeknight. Use any type of jam (homemade or storebought that’s been languishing in your fridge since Christmas), any nuts (even some nut butter mixed into the dough), a mix of flours, any spices. The crust and crumble are deliciously cookie-like but sturdy enough to be a perfect counterpoint to the sticky, jammy center.
I’ve made it twice in two weeks, ending up with totally different treats each time (#1: all whole-wheat, orange zest, mace, toasted walnuts, blueberry-orange jam. #2: 2 parts whole wheat/1 part white flour, cinnamon, toasted almonds, raspberry-blackberry jam) and am excited to play with even more variations. Plum jam with cardamom and walnuts, maybe some rye flour? Strawberry or grape with peanuts and peanut butter in the dough? Peach or rhubarb with ginger?
So how are you doing, what’s getting you through? Am I the only one insanely excited about chirpy birds right now (please tell me I’m not)?
Jam and Nut Bars
Makes anywhere from 9 to 16 bars. Adapted from these, which are an adaptation of a Marta Stewart recipe. The variations are pretty much only limited by your imagination and I’d love to hear any combinations you come up with!
1/2 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1/4 cup sugar
1 1/2 cups flour (I like 1 cup whole wheat pastry flour + 1/2 cup white flour)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4-1/2 teaspoon cinnamon or other spices
1 cup toasted and coarsely chopped almonds or other nuts
1 cup jam
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter an 8-inch square baking pan.
In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, salt, baking powder, and spices. In a large bowl, cream together butter and sugars until light and fluffy. Add egg and beat well. Gradually add flour until just combined. Stir in about 3/4 cup of the nuts.
Press half of the dough evenly into the bottom of the prepared pan. In a small bowl, whisk the jam (add a teaspoon of hot water if jam is stiff) to loosen. Spread jam evenly over the dough, leaving a 1/4 inch border around the edge.
Take marble-sized clumps of the remaining dough and scatter them evenly over the top of the bars, being sure to cover the jam-free edges. Sprinkle with remaining chopped nuts.
Bake in the preheated oven until the top is puffed and golden and just slightly firm to the touch, about 35 to 45 minutes. Cool completely in the pan before cutting. The bars keep well, covered, at room temperature for at least a few days.