can we dumb it down | chocolate + cherry rye oatmeal cookies

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I don't love talking about politics, not here or anywhere else. I also don't love valentine's day. But I think, considering everything that's going on right now, that it's a bit hard to miss the irony. I walked into the store the other day and looked at the news stand at the front. The newspapers, headlines to the back page, filled with hate. Hate from the people for a campaign that's built on it; the words of its supporters. People killed, families torn apart. The shelf next to the papers, the valentine's cards. The pinks and reds and roses, telling husbands and wives and friends you love them.

I don't propose we all start to love everyone, because we don't all live in some fair trade commune in southern Philadelphia. Maybe we need to rethink about how we think about love. Perhaps it's been over complicated. Perhaps we should just dumb it down to acceptance and quiet respect. Not even acceptance, just tolerance. That there will be people who don't want to celebrate valentine's day. That there'll be girls who want to show off their hair and others who'd prefer to keep it covered. That there are happy families with parents who never married and content kids with parents who married in a church. That there are some guys that love toting guns and driving tractors and there are some who curate art and live in lofts with exposed brick.

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chocolate + cherry rye oatmeal cookies

Maybe it's because we're actually scared. Maybe have good reason to be. Maybe we're not as accepting as we thought we were. Maybe it's because fewer and fewer families are actually composed of a mother, a father, two kids, a dog, a suburban detached house with a double garage and a toyota. Maybe the acceptance of change is on the outside. Maybe we did it because it's the cool thing to do, to feign openness; maybe it became trendy. Maybe, deep down, we cling to tradition. The tradition that love is romance, or perhaps duty to care. For soul mates, your children, a sibling. Maybe it's what we were taught. We grew up watching TV shows were people give each other candy hearts and pink cards and wait breathlessly for the popular boy to ask them to the dance. But maybe things have changed. Maybe now there are people getting hurt, pushed aside, loosing opportunities. And there's no moral high ground. You know how you read everywhere, every day, that we can't go on eating processed wheat and sugar because it's just not modern? Not sustainable. Not healthy. People have seemed very happy to jump off the ship of what health food once was, into a very stormy sea and onto a very shaky lifeboat that is what eating well has now become. In the same way, maybe love as it once was isn't sustainable, healthy or modern. Would we abandon our ship of chocolates and slinky black dresses and acceptance being cool? Watch the sinking of the concept with which we're comfortable? People will moan that we have jumped ship and that I said it myself. That we're not all married in churches anymore, we're ok that some people don't marry at all, some of us are hipsters these days. But love was simply supposed to keep people afloat, stop them from getting hurt, stop the coldness. Whatever we've done, then, is far from love.

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On the one hand we've hijacked the concept. Not just that it's cool to claim tolerance. The number of bloggers and social media people who sign off with a 'love you friends'. People ask you in class whether you know the funny guy, and you're supposed to say 'him? I love him! he's so funny'. We're supposed to love our friends, right? So is this our broader, trendy definition? If it is, why I am I so put off by saying that I 'love' the neighbours? They're fine, but to say I love them would be going a bit far. Because, like everything else, we've taken love out of context sometimes, when kicking the tradition is cool and ok, detached. On the internet, it goes out to too many people to really think about. The funny guy? He'll never find out you said that.

Your friends? Well, maybe, you love them in a way. If love can encompass actual, quiet tolerance of individual quirks, warmth and acceptance, then it's there. Acceptance of differences and that you'll never see some things the same way, that your values and priorities might even clash. Maybe it's just not been something people think about. That love could be much simpler than the marriage-or-not debate, than a cold analysis of the number of broken families, and a whole lot more simple than dinner dates and bouquets. More rational than trying to make acceptance the new in thing. Maybe it could just be letting people walk down the street without feeling unsafe; or being able to take public transport without funny stares or being asked where you're from. Maybe we do love our friends because we put up with all their eccentricities, like we do our own family. Tolerance for differences has always been there, as part of love, in our living with kids and siblings and soul mates. Maybe we can stretch that out a bit - just the tolerance, to all the people around us. The hate has evolved, maybe it's time that love does too. It's not love as we know it. But then it's not just candy hearts and popular boys and the world as they said it was, either.

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But there are cookies and there will be cookies as long as I'm around :) since I posted the house loaf cake a few weeks ago, I now present the house cookie. I pretty much sum up its amazingess in the recipe header but seriously. So good. Rye flour isn't bitter as you may have thought, it's actually quite mild if used with sweet, rich goodies (cherries, hi) and the cocoa really highlights the beautiful colour. The little flecks of oatmeal add some chunky texture and the cherries are so moist and sweet. They'll be a bit more puck-like than regular cookies because of the oil but still. So good. To share, on Valentine's Day. Whether with your little loved crowd or a bigger crew. treat yourself. Big hugs and cookies for you all xx

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Ps. I would've made something for any doggie loves you have but Prune is meant to be on a diet (!!!!) so you could make these if you'd like, my monkeys are crazy about them.

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chocolate + cherry rye oatmeal cookies

Little pucks of goodness - slightly malty rye, the color and richness of dark cocoa. Plump, velvety, sweet cherries. Light flecks of chewy oatmeal. Infinitely loveable. 
// makes 18-20 medium cookies // dairy free

1 cup (110g) rye flour
2/3 cup (70g) rolled oats
1/3 cup (40g) natural cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup (100g) dark muscavado sugar
1/4 cup (50g) turbinado sugar
1 free range egg
1/3cup (75g) melted coconut oil
1/2 cup (75g) unsweetened dried cherries, coarsely chopped if large
1 -2 tablespoons of any milk, as needed


Preheat the oven to 180’C, 350’F. Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper and set aside.

In a large bowl, combine the rye flour, rolled oats, salt, baking soda. Add the cocoa powder, you may need to sift it into the bowl if it’s very clumpy. Mix together so evenly combined and set aside.

In a small bowl, add the melted coconut oil and the two sugars, stir well with a flexible spatula. Beat in the egg and vanilla extract.

Combine the wet mix with the dry oat mix and stir together well, you may need to use a stiff wooden spoon for this since the dough is quite thick. If it’s way too dry (this depends on the cut of your rye flour) slowly add a little milk, teaspoon at a time. Fold in the dried cherries.

Using a medium cookie scoop or heaped tablespoons, portion out the dough. Use the bottom of a glass/measuring cup to flatten each poof into a disk, leaving about 3cm/ an inch between.

Bake the cookies for 13-15 minutes, rotating the sheets halfway through.

Allow to cool on the sheets for about 2 minutes, then transfer to a cooling rack to cool completely.

The cookies will keep for about 4 days in an airtight container, but are something else straight from the oven 

notes

I think these could take some other goodies as add-ins too – about 1/2 cup worth. Hazelnuts might be nice. If you’re feeling decadent, half a cup (75gish) chopped dark chocolate would be amazing. Next time…


more chocolate

like a cold snap | pear-cocoa muffins with a walnut crumb

nutmeg and pear | honey-sweetened pear-cocoa muffins with walnut crumble (gf+dairy free)
nutmeg and pear | honey-sweetened pear-cocoa muffins with walnut crumble (gf+dairy free)

"L'hiver", he said to me. "Il fait froid". I had a working understanding of French, I understood more than I could speak. Winter, he'd said, it's cold. And it was bitter, Belgium was snowed in. The flakes had fallen, thick and hard for the past few days, it was Friday afternoon. Our first snow day. I think we almost died when we heard school was cancelled. Our bedroom was the loft room so the sloped windows were blacked out and the garden had become - just white, like Jack Frost had been visiting. The skeletal ribs of trees were lightly dusted, the whole garden looked soft and downy, it was magic. There was a sweet hush, a feeling of coziness, that the neighborhood was under a soft quilt.

Our house was on top of a small hill, the driveway was at least 250m long and very steep. Since school was cancelled anyway, we persuaded our dad not to start shovelling - we were going sledding. We didn't have those nice wooden sleds, rather these plastic things, almost like saucers, that you just sat on, pushed off, curled your legs under and hoped for the best. They made for a pretty exhilarating ride and pretty wet clothes. So we spent the next few hours happily running up the driveway, finding new and more perilous ways to 'ride' those sleds.

Our neighbors were an elderly couple who lived at the bottom of that hill. Number 6 was a charming white cottage, mint green shutters, a small wooden deck, a row of tidy trees. They kept two sheep in their hilly garden, a few greenhouses and all winter I'd watch the smoke rise from their chimney, smell the veggie soup. They often spoke in Dutch with my dad, I knew they were nice people, but I was a shy 12 year old who didn't speak much of the language, I'd offer a wave and a smile when we passed them. The man's name was Frans and he'd come out along his snowy driveway to check his mailbox, which is where my sister and I crash landed every time our sleds brought us down. I knew he spoke both French and Dutch and under pressure to say something, I think I mumbled 'bonjour', he'd said hello, big smiles, weather talk for the 2 kids who enlivened the neighborhood. I think he was happy, to see us scrambling around in the snow, the town was aging, we brought with us the shrieks of laughter and spontaneous joy that add something to a white Christmas. After that he'd often wave, and we started to bring Therese and Frans muffins. Nothing fancy, maybe banana, blueberry if we were feeling creative, just a friendly neighbor thing.

In their garden they grew beautiful fruits and vegetables in weathered glasshouses. the vines were heavy with purple grapes, green stalks slumped under the weight of tomatoes and zucchini in summer, when they'd bring the overflow of their produce. Quiet, hardworking people who'd toiled away for years, actually living for a while in what became our house while they worked to build their own. They'd made something out of that small, hilly patch of land.

nutmeg and pear | honey-sweetened pear-cocoa muffins with walnut crumble (gf+dairy free)

I grew up fast in those years. Snow went from being a fun novelty to an added chore, 4am we'd be out in -15 degrees darkness, listening to the tune of a Siberian wind that ate through our ski jackets. The charm quickly faded, and so did Frans. Dementia gets the best of them. It was fast, sudden, bitter, like a cold snap. My first funeral, gray February, dark spirits, black clothes, stone village church. He'd written us a letter, probably one of the last he wrote, he thanked us for the muffins, said he remembered us. Therese would visit him at the care home often, and we'd go down to the cottage, with muffins. To share with Frans, we'd say. And he remembered us as the two girls with the snow and the hill, the sleds. That winter had been years ago, I was way too cool to play in the snow, I preferred to clear it, salt it, watch it melt. I wondered what Frans would think, the melting snow made me think of childhood, giving way under the grit that life throws at it.

nutmeg and pear | honey-sweetened pear-cocoa muffins with walnut crumble (gf+dairy free)

Till the day we left Belgium we went to see Therese. We branched out from muffins to tea - Therese loved tea, we'd buy it whenever we went anywhere new. Peppermint tea from Tanzania, earl grey from England, Darjeeling from India all passed through the doorway of that stone cottage. We'd talk about frans sometimes (my Dutch had improved to monosyllables at this point. It's not so hard to say 'ja' is it?) and she'd always say, whenever she brought the muffins and said it was from the snow girls, his face would light up, like that weak winter sun.

I have a little folder in my desk drawer. A few birthday cards from my sister, some from my grandparents and my dad. The rest are letters from Therese. She writes in her spidery script, I write back in my broken Dutch. If there was one person who I wish could see this blog, it's her. It doesn't snow much here, but when it does, I think of that house, when they were both there, the smell of a wood fire and the small figure of Frans, fetching logs, him raising a pale hand in greeting. Bittersweet, just like the winter.

nutmeg and pear | honey-sweetened pear-cocoa muffins with walnut crumble (gf+dairy free)

And if there was one person who'd love these muffins it would be Frans. A gluten and dairy free, honey-ish muffin with a walnut streusel is sort of a far cry from those muffs but hey, proof of my improvement as a baker. This recipe makes quite a few muffs, but it's that giving season. You could give some away - maybe you know an elderly neighbor who's spending their first Christmas alone? Or there's the Amazon delivery guy who brings you a parcel at 9pm on a freezing Friday night when you're sitting in front of a fire feeling smug/snug. Or you could freeze some, or just eat them, they're mostly fruit, if you need persuasion. If you don't want/need them gluten free, I've added a spelt flour variation in the notes under the recipe. Chocolate, pears and substitutions? I spoil you. The crazy starts now, you ready? Wishing you a warm + cozy festive season, give a lot if you can, stock up on salt. Jeez I'm a cynic. Go string up your lights, this grinch did plans to do sothis weekend! Hugs guys xo


PEAR-COCOA MUFFINS WITH A WALNUT CRUMB

// dairy & gluten free // makes 12-14 medium muffs

A cozy cold weather muffin, light from seasonal pear and slightly sweet with honey, but rich with cocoa. Sprinkle with a nutty crumble that's a nice contrast to the fudgy muffin


3/4 cup (68g) oat flour, certified gf if necessary
3/4 cup (98g) buckwheat flour
1/4 cup (50g) natural cocoa powder
2 tablespoons (14g) flax meal
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 free range egg
1/3 cup (80ml) milk of choice – I used almond, use what you have
3 tablespoons (45ml) honey
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil (45ml)
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3 medium pears (about 400g) ripe but firm pears, grated

// crumb topping
Heaped 1/4 cup walnuts (35g), chopped
1/4 cups rolled oats (24g)
1 tablespoon turbinado sugar *
1 tablespoon soft / room temperature coconut oil

preheat your oven to 180’C or 350’F. Line about 13 muffin tin – holes, evenly over 2 trays.

start by making the crumb topping. Add all the ingredients to a small bowl, mix with your fingers till the oil is no longer clumpy and the mix looks sandy. Leave in the fridge till you need it again.

in a large bowl, mix the flours, flax meal, baking powder and soda, salt, cinnamon and cocoa powder till evenly combined

in another medium bowl, add the honey, vanilla, oil, and milk, whisk till well combined; add the egg and whisk again

add the wet mix to the the dry flour mix and gently combine – once evenly moist, add the pear and again gently fold to combine

add about 1/4 cup (4 tablespoons) to each muffin case, they can be filled quite high . Sprinkle a heaped tablespoon of streusel on top of each and pat it down gently, to adhere.

bake for about 20-22 minutes, till the top of the muffin springs back when touched. Because of the moisture of the pear, they always appear ‘underdone’ if you test with a skewer, so check the tops. The moisture is what makes the muffin so fudgy and special

they keep in an airtight container for about 3 days, but the extra freeze well in feeezer bags.

notes

*Turbinado sugar is also known as raw sugar, which it is, essentially (it’s a sneaky one- in the UK It goes under demerara sugar).  Where you want some texture, you’ll often find turbinado – crumbles, streusels, I also use it in cookies and pies. It’s a pretty golden brown color with big grains and is very unrefined, which is my jam of course. It’s made by simply crushing sugar cane and dehydrating the juice so it retains all the minerals and vitamins which is pretty sweet for sugar (lame pun). It’s also easy to find at any supermarket, I can find the supermarkets own brand.

You can use any nuts you want in place of the walnuts, hazelnuts would be good too. And of course, the streusel is entirely optional, but fun! For another option, you can use 1 1/2 cups + a heaped tablespoon (175g) spelt flour instead of the gf flours and flax. I’ve tried it, they are the tiniest bit less fudgy but no less great and maybe easier for some of you.
I think you could halve this for about 6-7 muffins if you’re ok with having half an egg hanging around – whisk the whole egg and weigh it, add half. Use the other half in scramble eggs or I think you could keep it in the fridge for a few days for egg wash for pies or scones? Never tried, just a thought.