Strawberry-Rhubarb Crumble Bars (and an unexpected nomination)

straw rhubarb title

Did you know that I am a finalist for “Best Mom Blogger” in Washington Family Magazine’s 2014 “Best For Families” Awards?  Yeah, that took me by surprise, too.  While I am honored to be in the ranks alongside The Bloggess, The Pioneer Woman, Honest Toddler, and Momastery (the winner)…as you may or may not have noticed, I am not a mom.  Nor do I plan on becoming one anytime soon.  No babies, thank you very much.

The WFM’s “Best For Families” Awards span a huge amount of categories, covering all facets of family life.  My company is eligible for several of these categories, and have won the awards in the past (and we won this year, hurray!)  However, gathering the votes is based primarily on a huge write-in paper ballot (as the WFM’s online ballot is notoriously finicky).  We often make these paper ballots available to our friends, family, and customers if they would like to fill one out.  And my mother did just that.  And her friends did just that.  And (possibly) my friends did just that.  Since a certain percentage of these ballots must be filled out to make the ballot valid, we are often spent picking one another brains–“Has anyone gone to an allergist?”  “Anybody know a good tutoring service?”–to fill in enough categories.  This reason is why my boss and other members of our staff have been nominated for several odd categories: “Best Interior Designer”, “Best Electrician”, “Local Hero”, “Person You Wish Would Run For Preseident”.  Blanks needed filling, and people got a little silly.  I suppose now it is my turn.  As the only blogger some of my acquaintances know, presumably the “Mom” part of the category was ignored..  (Thanks, Mom.)  To wind down this story, if, by some coincidence, you have found your way here through the WFM’s BFF Awards, I am sorry to disappoint you on the lack of “Mom” status.  I can offer you delicious gluten-free food, but no commiseration or celebration of life’s joys with little ones.  Wait!  I have a dog…does that count?

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Finalist-status aside, M and I are on the road again, taking a meandering route down to North Carolina for his nephew’s birthday.  We’ll spend a few days at the beach on our way down.  This will be our last chance to get away before our work schedules return full swing.  It’ll be nice to meander and take our time as we go down the coast.  If the weather holds, we will try to get out to kayak!  I went kayaking for the first time on our cruise in January and loved it!  M has been kayaking since he was young, so it would be great to have a chance to go out again.  M’s nephew is having a water party.  With five year olds as the main attendees, I expect a lot of chaotic fun!  North Carolina also means a visit to Saxapahaw, our favorite tiny strip of town.  After coffee, we will poke around the general store to see if we can find any fun local products.  This time, finally, we will be prepared with a cooler for transport back home.  Last trip, I was a little concerned for the local steaks that we found.  They had been frozen, so they just barely made it home while still cold…

straw rhubarb bars cut

Many, many weeks ago, before camp, I mentioned some rhubarb bars.  They are made with the same base crust and crumble as my Caramel-Oat Cookie Bars, with the gooey caramel replaced with soft, sweet strawberry-rhubarb fruit filling.  You might be able to snap up the last stalks of rhubarb before the season ends, but you can also replace it with more strawberries, or another kind of fruit.  Without the tangy rhubarb to balance the sweetness, you may find you want to exclude the sugar in the filling as well. These are perfect when served warm with a spoonful or two of vanilla ice cream!

straw rhubarb bars topview

Strawberry-Rhubarb Crumble Bars

Serves: 15-24 (depending on cut size) | Prep Time: 15 min. | Cook time: 30 min.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F and prepare the base according to recipe directions.  For easy removal, line the pan with a sheet of parchment paper, and allow the edges to lay up the sides of the pan.

While the cookie base is cooking, combine the diced fruit and sprinkle with remaining ingredients.   Stir to combine and let mixture sit until the bar base is removed from the oven.  Allow the base to cool for five minutes, then spread the fruit mixture evenly over the base.  Sprinkle with reserved crumble topping.

Return to oven and bake for 20 minutes, until fruit is bubbling and the crumble is golden.  Allow to cool for about 15 minutes, then slice into bars.  Allow to cool completely.  Bars can be stored in a tightly-sealed container in the refrigerator for up to one week.

Spiced Brandied Cherries

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Hello, everyone out there not in post-camp life!  It’s good to be back!  Seven weeks of kids ended in a week-long plague that knocked me out hard for several days.  It was the run-of-the-mill virus that has been traveling around this summer: flu-like body aches and pains plus chest congestion.  Unfortunately, it kicked my asthma into the first major reaction I have had in years, and my lungs inflamed and shut up tight, keeping all of the muck from the cold down in my lungs and prolonging the misery.  Even now, the cough still lingers, though a quick course of prednisone calmed most of my asthma symptoms and I feel almost back to normal.  I was on so many over-the-counter cold treatments to get me through my last weekend of stage managing, I’ve wrecked my digestive tract.  I almost feel like I was gluten-ed.  Except, this doesn’t feel like gluten, and I know I haven’t eaten any.  Anyways, it does mean that I’ve put away all of my meds for now, and I’m focusing on restocking with probiotics and vitamins.  Hopefully, by this time next week, I will truly be back on track to ‘normal’.

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Sickness aside, I had a fantastic time at camp, as always.  I worked with a new age group and co-teacher, whom I have known for ages.  It is so interesting to see what just a year or two in the age difference of students makes.  My students were just young enough to really hold onto the last vestiges of carefree childhood.  Working with the teenagers in the past, I was always gratefully surprised when they acted against the stereotypes of their age–forgetting to worry about how they might look when asked to play a silly game or including the ‘weird kid’ in the circle at lunch.  This year, most of my students had not yet begun to truly cling to those shallow worries and concerns based, primarily, on the (imagined, real, or potential) judgement of their peers.  Most of them were still just “kids”, happy to be among friends old and new and eager to try anything–heedless of any risk that they might act “silly” or “uncool”.  I suppose I should stop being so surprised when my students shatter society’s stereotypical expectations.  Every year, every camp, every audition, I am left in awe of these students who prove time and time again that they are brave, they are talented, they are kind and inclusive, and so much better than I could ever hope.

I will not warble on nostalgically about my epic, awesome students, since I already have on this blog and certainly will again in the future.  Auditions for our fall shows are in just seven weeks, and I will be overflowing with kid-spiration once more.  Anyways, in spite of the crazy schedule and usual exhaustion accompanying my summers, I felt that I did a little better with my meal-planning game.  I only gave up on dinner and had us go out/get take away about once a week–and a few of those times were planned social outings.  Last year was pretty dismal for the home-cooked meals.  We spent way too much money.  This year I planned familiar, easy dinners that wouldn’t seem so daunting when we got home.  On the weekends, I managed to play a little in the kitchen, including this canning project that I wanted to share before cherry season left us.

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Our farmers market has had beautiful cherries for several weeks, now, though the season is beginning to wind down.  I had been looking into preserving fruit–beyond cooking them down into jams and jellies.  While plenty of recipes preserved fruit pieces in juice and sugar syrup, when I stumbled upon the piles of fruit+booze preserving recipes, I knew I had struck gold.  I’ve already shared some spiked canning recipes, and these spiced, brandied cherries seemed like the perfect addition to that corner of this blog.  But, here is where I have to lay out the facts: I haven’t actually tried these cherries.  At least not at their full potential.  I did taste a fruit after the cooking (pre-canning) process, and I have had a lot of syrup left over since I made a larger batch.  Both were delightful.  But the true potential for these cherries comes from stewing and sitting for at least a month, to really let the flavors build and combine.  I’ve still got a couple weeks left before I can try these babies.  I’d like to think that there is something a little daring in making up a batch and waiting so long to try the result.  Maybe that is my sickness-addled brain talking, since I really cannot imagine the finished product being bad when the syrup and cooked fruit were so lovely. Speaking of, I’ve been using the syrup in all sorts of cocktails and sodas (stir a few spoonfuls into ginger beer…trust me).  I’d like to ladle some over ice cream as well, but I keep forgetting to grab some at the store.  There is plenty of boozy, delicious potential here!  Why don’t you make your own before cherry season is over?

Don’t be afraid of the canning part.  Seriously.  I have conquered water baths without any sort of rack or special pot and done just fine.  As long as you have a soup pot that is tall enough to allow the jars to be covered by an inch of war, you are good to go. If my lids don’t pop when I remove them from the water bath, I boil the jar in the water again.  It works like a charm!  With all the sugar and alcohol in here, these cherries would certainly last for a while in the fridge, if you really want to avoid the canning process.

Also, invest in a cherry pitter.  I know.  I really didn’t want to buy one.  With the exception of my madeleine pan (because madeleine cookies are totally worth it), everything else in my kitchen serves multiple purposes.  But given the mess that the juice makes, a cherry pitter is totally worth the ease and speed it provides for recipes like these.  Plus I now have one less excuse to not make cherry pie!  I found one that has a “juice guard” that helps with the splatter and let me buzz through this batch of cherries in less than ten minutes.  And, technically, it can pit olives, too.  There’s multi-purpose, right?

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Brandied Cherries

Makes: 3-4 half-pint jars | Prep: 20 minutes | Cook/Process: 30 minutes

  • 3 heaping cups cherries (about 1 lb)
  • 3/4 c. sugar
  • 3 Tbsp. water
  • 1/4 c. lemon juice
  • 1/2 c. brandy
  • 1 star anise pod
  • 1 tsp whole cloves
  • 1 small cinnamon stick
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract

Prepare your canning jars: sterilize the glass jars in a hot-cycle of your dishwasher, or boil the jars, along with lids and rings, for 10 minutes.  Turn the heat to low and keep the jars warm while you prepare the fruit.

Wash the cherries well.  Remove all stems and pit the fruit.  Ripe, unblemished fruit is best–since we are using them whole, cutting away the blemishes makes for a less-pretty end result and might cause the fruit to come apart and squish in the syrup.  The taste should still be fine, so make your own choice to cut out the blemishes or just use un-bruised fruit.

Combine the sugar, water, lemon juice, anise, cinnamon, and cloves in a large sauce pan.  Cook over medium heat, stirring often, until the sugar dissolves, about 5 minutes.  Stir in brandy, then add the prepared cherries.  Bring to a boil, then turn heat to medium-low and simmer for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Remove the mixture from heat.  Fish out the hard spices (anise pods, cloves, cinnamon stick) and stir in vanilla extract.

Remove the jars from the water bath.  Turn heat to high to bring the water to a boil once more.  Ladle first the cherries, then the syrup into the jars, until they are filled up to 1/2 in from the top of the jar (right where the screw-rings begin).  Wipe the edges of the jar clean with a dry paper towel, then top jars with lids.  Hand screw the rings onto the jars loosely–just until you hit resistance.  (If not canning the cherries, screw the rings tightly and allow to cool).  When all jars are prepared, gently lower into boiling water.  Make sure the jars are covered by an inch of water.  Boil  in water bath for 10 minutes.  Remove jars and place on a rack to cool.  Within a few minutes, the lids should “pop” and the button at the center will compress.  This lets you know it is sealed.  If it does not compress, boil for another ten minutes in a water bath.  Allow sealed jars to cool undisturbed for 24 hours.  Screw the rings on tightly and store in a cool, dry place for at least a month before opening.

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