Good Eats and Sweet Treats from My Small Boston Kitchen

Cranberry Crumb Bars with Mulling Spices

The older I get, the more I come to realize the way memories take shape as they fade into the canvas of our lives. Moments of deep loss and suffering lose their heightened pain — a dull ache slowly replaces them — and those more perfect, luminescent moments soften too, so when you think back on them they’re simply shrouded in a warm glow. It’s the way we humans survive, I think, because those insane peaks and valleys would be all too much to bear if their strength and intensity never softened, making room for those that come next. Life is all about the ebb and flow — the good and the bad moments, the successes and failures — they all somehow work together to create a unique set of circumstances that paint the picture of each individual life.

I have learned so much this year. I thought 25 was a rough year, and then I lived through (most of) my 26th year, and I thought better of it. I lost every bit of myself in the process, before regaining what I’d lost, and growing so much more. Some days now, I feel as though I might explode when I look around me at this world we live in, so grateful just to be here, to have feelings, and thoughts, and the ability to make my own choices. Life never seems like such a gift as when you have to re-write your own from the ground up. Starting with nothing, and fumbling forwards into the unknown is not an easy experience, but I think it makes you better.

Cranberry Crumb Bars recipe - Sweetly Serendipity

This year, these last few months, I’ve been trying to start that re-writing process. I’m trying to find those few special things that make my life worth living — exercise, baking, music, riding (horse and bike), knitting; trying to spend more time with the people who make me feel good; and trying to enjoy the time I have alone with myself, rocking out to a dance party for one, or choreographing a car-ride-dance-routine on my way home from work. Who am I? I sometimes wonder. This girl is someone entirely new to me — full of life and love and spirit and happiness. And a lot of sadness and loss still, too, but somehow, it all evens out. It’s kind of a miracle, I think, the way the world just starts to fall into place. Even when it feels sloppy and unstable and imperfect, you’re making progress.

Cranberry Crumb Bars recipe - Sweetly Serendipity

I made these crumb bars for the 2nd installment of my Cookbook Club, a group I started in one of my most depleted moments, in an effort to make some new friends. The 2nd event was more relaxed than the 1st, and I found myself falling easily into conversation, enjoying the company of strangers, and relishing the delicious bites we all cooked from The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook. It was a moment of contentment, and there are hardly words to describe how peaceful it felt and grateful I was for it.

I decided recently, too, to try to open my heart again, to see if there’s someone new out there to receive it. I am such a hopeless romantic, and even though my battered heart isn’t healed just yet, I’ve not lost the hope of a lifetime love. I’m still not sure what I think about it all, or whether I’m really ready to dive in headfirst, but I’m at least proud of myself for taking a step towards a new future. It’s scary and uncertain and it requires putting aside a lot of fears and self conscious notions, but aren’t those the best things? The things that give you pause, that make your heart beat a little bit faster, make your palms clammy, and your mind a bit harried? I think they are.

Cranberry Crumb Bars-3

So these bars — these wonderfully autumnal cranberry bars, loaded with warm mulling spices that make you think of bulky sweaters and warm fires and family — they represent another new phase. Being happy. Finding contentment. Knowing that not every day is a good one, but not every day is a bad one either, and that’s okay. It rains and it snows, the sun shines and the warm air swirls softly around you. There is good and bad in everything, but you can choose what you want to see. Today, and every day, I choose hope. And light and happiness and finding the positive in people and seeing the beauty of small moments. Small moments made better by crumbly, buttery bars and sweet/tart cranberries, and the warmth of cinnamon and cloves and nutmeg and allspice, and all the love that went into making them.

Cranberry Crumb Bars with Mulling Spices

Ingredients

    Crumb
  • 16 tablespoons unsalted butter, cold
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon table salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1 large egg
  • Filling
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly grated orange zest
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons orange juice
  • 3 cups fresh cranberries
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch

Directions

  1. Preheat your oven to 375 degrees F. Line a 9×13 baking pan with parchment paper, and butter (or coat with cooking spray) the sides and the parchment.
  2. For the crumb mixture: In a large bowl, whisk together both flours, sugar, salt, baking powder, and spices. With a pastry blender or fork, cut the chilled butter and the egg into the flour mixture until it resembles a coarse meal. Pat half the crumb base into the bottom of your prepared pan. It will be thin -- that's exactly right!
  3. For the filling: In the bowl of a food processor, briefly pulse the filling ingredients until the cranberries are coarsely chopped but not pureed. Spread the filling evenly over the crumb base, then sprinkle the remaining crumbs evenly over the cranberry mixture.
  4. Bake the bars for 30 to 35 minutes, or until lightly browned on top. Cool completely before cutting.
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