Rhubarb Almond Bars

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Last summer, I built a trio of large, self-watering cedar planters to start a deck garden. Our home is blessed with a large deck and, since the main living space overlooks the deck, I wanted to give it a little more life. Although we have plenty of yard space for a garden, we also have many critters (and deer) visiting frequently so it made more sense to elevate the garden to keep the plants safe from late night nibblers.

Each planter is 2 ft. by 6 ft., which leaves plenty of room for experimentation.

My interest in gardening is relatively new, but this hobby has quickly turned me into an enthusiastic plant lady. After killing every houseplant I attempted to grow up for many years, I was astonished when my black thumb seemingly turned green after moving into our house.

Apparently the trick for a green thumb is simply having large southeast facing windows—who knew?

Unfortunately, the first attempt at gardening in the outdoor planters was not very successful. In my eagerness to grow my own vegetables, I overplanted the space and didn’t do enough research on how to individually care for each plant. In addition, because the planters are self-watering (through a process of diffusion and soil osmosis), the plants with deep root systems ended up with root rot by midsummer.

By summer’s end, the only “successful” plants were the bell peppers (which grew only one picture perfect pepper each), the green beans, and the herb garden. Everything else—the tomatoes, cabbages, cucumbers, etc.—ended up producing very little or finally completing their slow death.

While the self-watering feature was definitely a curse, I only needed to water the plants once the entire season, so my laziness is more than willing to find a way to work within these constraints.

This year I am taking the failures of the previous summer and using them to (hopefully) do better this time around. To start, I did a little more planning and left more space for the plants to expand. Only plants with shallow root systems are allowed (peppers, onions, shallots, lettuce, carrots, herbs, green beans, flowers); the plants with larger root systems have been relegated to individual, well-draining containers (tomatoes).

I have my fingers crossed for now, but it will be another month or two before I’ll be able to label it a success or failure. Stay tuned.

I have plans to do a little landscaping and put in a rhubarb plant later this summer, but it will still be a couple years before we can harvest. Until then, the farmer’s market has everything I need.

I originally planned to make a strawberry rhubarb dessert, but I didn’t get around to baking until after the strawberries were past their prime. This recipe is all the better for it, because it allows the rhubarb flavor to truly shine. Paired with an almond oatmeal crust, these rhubarb-filled bars are a new way to enjoy this spring vegetable.

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This recipe for Rhubarb Almond Bars is an easy way to use and enjoy rhubarb. Almonds and oatmeal come together to form the base of the bars. Sliced raw rhubarb is added to the center (no cooking required!) before the bars are topped with the remaining crust and placed in the oven to bake. The nutty almond flavor compliments the tart rhubarb well. Cut into squares and serve warm, cold, or room temperature.

Rhubarb Almond Bars

Yields 16 servings (or 8 x 8-inch pan)

Almond Bars
6 tablespoons (100 grams) butter, room temperature
3/4 cup (150 grams) brown sugar, packed
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon almond extract
1 1/2 cups (150 grams) old-fashioned oats
1 cup (120 grams) all-purpose flour
1/2 cup (45 grams) sliced almonds
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt

Rhubarb Filling
3 cups (~14 ounces or 400 grams) fresh rhubarb, cut into 1/4-inch slices
1/4 cup (50 grams) granulated sugar
2 tablespoons cornstarch

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

For the almond base, beat together the butter and brown sugar in a large mixing bowl until uniform. Beat in the egg, vanilla, and almond extract, mixing until blended. Stir in the oats, flour, sliced almonds, baking soda, and salt. The batter will be slightly sticky. Using greased hands, press 2/3 of the batter into the bottom of the prepared pan. Set aside remaining batter.

For the rhubarb filling, stir together the sliced rhubarb, sugar, and cornstarch.

Spread the rhubarb filling over the top of the almond base. Crumble the remaining batter evenly on top. Bake for 40-45 minutes, or until lightly browned. Allow to cool slightly in pan before serving.

Lemon Almond Cake

The fog of early parenthood has finally lifted. I have emerged stronger—with a bigger heart, immeasurable patience, and the ability to function on limited sleep. I am starting to feel like myself again and it feels good.

I lost myself in those first few months, as I imagine happens often with new parents. With the newborn routine of eat-change-sleep on repeat every three hours, I felt like a shell of my former self. There wasn’t time to explore interests or hobbies—there was hardly time to sneak in a shower.

To survive, I followed the mantra “one task a day.” Some days the only thing I accomplished was making dinner; other days it was making it to mama/baby yoga class so I could start the process of making my body feel like my own again. These small daily goals fueled me without overwhelming me.

It was the only balance I could seem to manage.

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Even though I enjoyed my time at home with sweet Baby N, I credit the act of going back to work with helping me reclaim my individuality. It’s true that I am a parent now, but that is not the only attribute that defines me. I welcome the daily challenges of being a high school teacher because my students remind me of the other aspects of myself that I appreciate (plus, the knowledge that summer break is around the corner eases the transition of being away from N during the day).

Although I’ve started to realize how important it is for me to have time for myself, I still very much struggle with allowing that dedicated time. Although the days feel long, the hours are short and time seems to evaporate into the ether. The great irony of parenthood is the knowledge that I could be more present for my daughter if I spend time away to recharge myself.

This balance between a parent and an individual with my own needs and desires will be a work in progress, but the journey is helping me understand myself on a new level, which I recognize is a gift in itself.

Lemon and almond is one of my favorite flavor combinations in spring. The sharpness of lemon and the nutty warmth of almond add both warmth and a wake up call to a palate that has been saturated in the comfort of winter. Taking advantage of a day off from school and Baby N’s napping schedule, I spent some much needed time in the kitchen. It wasn’t until I had finished the photographs that I realized this cake felt—and looked—remarkably familiar.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, after an exploration into the recipe archive, I noticed this lemon almond cake was quite similar to a lemon cake I had made the year prior (down to the exact date!). Mom brain, anyone?

I like to believe these resemblances work in my favor—this cake is so good, I unknowingly created a recipe for it twice. Perhaps that is all the encouragement you’ll need to turn on the oven, zest a couple lemons, and start baking.

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This Lemon Almond Cake brings together the warmth of almond with the spiritedness of lemon. The cake batter is infused with both lemon zest and lemon oil to give it a bright lemon flavor, and almond extract and almond flour to round out a nutty undertone. Once baked, the cake is brushed with a lemon glaze on the outer edges to give the cake additional flavor and to seal in the cake's moisture. This cake is perfect to serve plain and unadorned—the flavors are so vivid, it needs nothing else to feel complete.

Lemon Almond Cake

Yields 12 servings

Lemon Almond Cake
1 1/2 cups (300 grams) granulated sugar
Zest of 2 lemons
3/4 cup (180 mL) vegetable oil
4 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon almond extract
1 teaspoon lemon oil (optional)
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 1/4 cups (270 grams) all-purpose flour
3/4 cup (75 grams) almond flour
1 cup (250 mL) milk

Lemon Glaze
1/2 cup (100 grams) granulated sugar
Juice of 2 lemons

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (180 degrees C). Heavily grease and flour a 10-cup Bundt pan. Set aside.

For the lemon cake, place the granulated sugar and lemon zest in a large mixing bowl. Rub the sugar and zest together until fragrant. Whisk in the vegetable oil, eggs, vanilla extract, almond extract, lemon oil, salt, and baking powder. Alternate adding the flours and milk, stirring after each addition, until the batter is smooth and uniform in appearance. 

Pour batter into the prepared baking pan and bake for 45-55 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Allow cake to cool in pan for 15 minutes before unmolding.

While the cake is baking, prepare the glaze by heating the granulated sugar and lemon juice in a small saucepan until the sugar dissolves. Set aside. 

Place the cake on a cooling rack and brush the glaze over the cake, giving time for the glaze to absorb between layers. Allow the cake to cool completely and the glaze to set before cutting and serving.

Cold Brew with Vanilla Almond Milk Creamer

 
This post is sponsored through a partnership with    The J.M. Smucker Company © 2017. DD IP Holder LLC  . A ll thoughts and opinions are my own.

This post is sponsored through a partnership with The J.M. Smucker Company © 2017. DD IP Holder LLC. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

 

With warmer days approaching (and the end of the school year), my mind drifts towards the slower days of summer.  I've stuffed the sweaters into the back of the closet, bringing the t-shirts front and center.

A defining line between the cold and warm months, however, is my switch from hot coffee to cold brew. 

As a teacher, I drink my fair share of coffee. My favorite moments to enjoy a cup is relaxing after a long day at work, with my feet up on the couch, or on a slow-moving weekend morning.

Lately, I've been drinking Dunkin' Donuts Cold Brew. It's easy to prepare and has a smooth finish, with no acidity or bitter taste.

On Sunday nights, I prep the cold brew by placing two coffee pouches into a two-quart pitcher with four cups of water and leave it to steep in the refrigerator overnight. The next morning, I remove the pouches, add a few cups of water to dilute it to my taste, and it is ready to enjoy. Best of all, the pitcher lasts the rest of the week so the work is complete in two simple steps.

One of my favorite cold brew tricks is to freeze some of the cold brew into ice cubes after it has finished brewing. Then, when it's time to enjoy the coffee, I add a few cold brew cubes. The drink stays cold longer, and the coffee cubes prevent the drink from becoming watered down as the ice melts. 

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I prefer my cold brew with creamer to add a hint of flavor and sweetness. After finding disappointment with dairy-free brands, I set out to create my own. As I often do for a dairy-free alternative, I reached for the can of full-fat coconut milk. While homemade coconut milk creamer works well in hot beverages, the fat separates to the top when it hits a cold beverage, rendering it undrinkable.

Almonds, however, do the job and do it well.

This homemade almond milk creamer holds together well in a cold drink and lends itself to customization. To give the creamer its creaminess, I follow a similar approach as I do with my recipe for homemade almond milk. The difference is that I add less water when blending so the almond milk is concentrated. 

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With pure vanilla extract for flavor and maple syrup to sweeten to taste, this homemade almond milk creamer is complete. I adore this creamer because it mimics the coffee house experience with simple, wholesome ingredients.

The coffee creamer may appear to separate if it is left to rest, but a quick swirl of the glass will bring it back to a uniform appearance. Use as much or as little as you like in your next glass of cold brew.

 
 

This cold brew with homemade vanilla almond milk creamer works as a great afternoon pick-me-up. Brewed with Dunkin' Donuts Cold Brew Coffee Packs, the coffee has a smooth, rich finish. I prefer to enjoy it with homemade creamer flavored with vanilla and sweetened with maple syrup, but you can customize the drink to your taste. Enjoy!

One Year Ago: Strawberry Scones
Two Years Ago: Chocolate Hazelnut Rolls
Three Years Ago: Blueberry Oat Bars (GF)  & Peanut Butter Chocolate Chunk Cookies (GF)
Four Years Ago: Chocolate Blackberry Cupcakes
Five Years Ago:  Sunflower Seed Bread, Blackberry Fool, Lime Curd Tart, & Honey Chocolate Chunk Cookies
Six Years Ago: Tiramisu Cake, Peanut Butter Cornmeal Cookies, Honey Wheat Cake, & Chocolate Almond Ice Cream
Seven Years Ago:  Chocolate-Filled Buns, Malted Chocolate Chip Cookies, & Parmesan Poppy Seed Crackers

Cold Brew with Vanilla Almond Milk Creamer

Yields 6 servings

1 pouch Dunkin’ Donuts Cold Brew Coffee Packs
1 cup (120 grams) raw almonds
3 1/2 cups (830 mL) filtered water, divided
3-5 tablespoons maple syrup, to taste
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

The cold brew and almond milk creamer need to be started the evening before serving.

To prepare the cold brew coffee, follow the directions according to the package.

To prepare the almond milk creamer, place almonds in a container and cover with 2 cups filtered water. Seal container and allow to soak overnight, for at least 8 hours or up to 2 days.

Strain almonds and rinse with fresh water. (The almonds release phytic acid while soaking, which prevents the body from absorbing nutrients; rinsing the almonds removes this acid.) Place almonds and 1 1/2 cups filtered water in a blender. Blend on high for 2-3 minutes. Using a nut bag, layered cheesecloth, or fine mesh strainer, strain the almond milk to remove the pulp. If using the fine mesh strainer, run the milk through several times to eliminate pulp. The leftover pulp can be used in smoothies, muffins, or bread, or it can be dehydrated and used in the same manner as almond flour. Add maple syrup and vanilla extract to the almond milk.

Keep the almond milk creamer refrigerated. It should stay fresh for 5 to 7 days. The creamer may undergo separation in the refrigerator. Give the creamer a good shake and it will come back together quickly.

To prepare the cold brew coffee drink, place prepared cold brew in a glass with ice and add almond milk creamer to taste. For best results, freeze some of the cold brew into ice cubes in advance. This method keeps the cold brew chilled and prevents it from getting watered down as the ice melts.


©The J.M. Smucker Company © 2017. DD IP Holder LLC