The oats in these snack-size cookies are full of heart-healthy omega-3s. For an even bigger dose, substitute ¼ cup ground flaxseed for ¼ cup oats.

Barley and I finally baked together.

I’ll say it again with enthusiasm: Barley and I finally baked together!

It’s not that Barley really didn’t want to, or doesn’t like to bake. In fact, it’s quite the contrary—deep down, Barley loves to bake —but baked goods simply don’t fit into his rigid food pyramid.

I’d been preheating the idea on low for months. “But Dad, together, we can make baked goods healthy!” I pleaded. But there was always an excuse–it was too mild outside, baked goods don’t do the body any good, the oven was too fickle… even though it had been repaired. (Ever since the oven conked out on Barley mid-yeast cake rising last year, he has been skeptical about using it, as though the oven is controlled by something other than age.)

For whatever reason–perhaps the chill in the air was just right, Barley missed baking for the holidays like he used to, or that his baked potatoes have been doing just that–when I visited him last, the stars aligned. “Well, alright,” Barley nodded when I posed the idea, surprisingly enough, on a day that even I didn’t feel like baking. But I happily, quickly, pulled out the ingredients I had brought over in the fall before he could change his mind—oats, ground flaxseed, whole wheat pastry flour—the latter two instantly peaking Barley’s curiosity by adding new specials to his usual menu of ingredients. He contributed the rest: cinnamon, vanilla extract, canola oil, brown sugar, chocolate chips, and most notably, whole walnuts. When I tried to deter him from shelling the entire bag, claiming that it “takes too long” in my New York state of mind, I soon realized that nothing takes too long for Barley, and certainly not spending time with me. This is a man who soaks his beans for hours rather than using canned. Time is but a continuum.

Before I was even finished mixing the dry ingredients, Barley had shelled every walnut in the recycled Planters peanut jar.  When I suggested toasting the nuts (as I normally do), Barley looked in a book to ensure my 350 degree suggestion was accurate, not just approximate. I taught him that we’d know the nuts were done when they became fragrant; afterward, he taught me to stop and smell the pestle he used to grind the nuts. Fragrant indeed.  Normally, in my haste, I use a food processor and never have the chance to smell the blade. And to my surprise, the shelled walnuts tasted so much more organic, well-rounded, and well, whole.  So-this-is-what-a-walnut-really-tastes-like kind of flavor.  Kind of like the way getting to know Barley really feels like. “See what I mean about these walnuts?” Barley asked. I sure did.

I’m still trying to convince Barley to teach me how to make my grandmother’s crumb cake the old-fashioned way, with (gasp) real butter, so that we can come up with a better-for-you version.  It might (sigh) take some time.

Oatmeal Chocolate Chippers

1/2 cup canola or safflower oil
1 omega-3-enriched egg
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
3/4 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp sea salt
1 1/2 cups rolled oats
3/4 cup semisweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup finely chopped nuts (pecans, walnuts, or almonds), toasted

1. Preheat oven to 350°F.

2. Whisk oil, egg, brown sugar, and vanilla extract in medium bowl until smooth. Combine flour, baking soda, cinnamon and salt in large bowl. Add oil mixture to bowl with flour mixture. Mix in oats, chocolate chips and nuts.

3. Chill dough 15 minutes in refrigerator.

4. Line baking sheet with parchment paper. Drop cookies 1” inch apart using rounded tablespoonfuls.

5. Bake 10 to 12 minutes or until edges are just golden. Transfer to a rack to cool.

Makes about 3 dozen cookies

Per cookie: 92 cal, 1 g pro, 10 g carb, 1 g fiber, 6 g fat, 1 g sat fat, 6 mg chol, 5 g sugars

*Toast nuts at 350°F 5 to 7 minutes or until fragrant and slightly golden.


My grandmother's basement is full of old treasures.

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We’re quite a pair on bikes, Barley and me.

For starters, Barley has a small cowbell attached to his main method of transport, which he begins incessantly ringing at least two blocks behind pedestrians–to let them know that he’s approaching, of course. Reminiscent of the way he used to honk his horn when driving through a tunnel or around a blind curve in the road–“Beeep-be-beep-beep!”–it was always very rhythmic–I imagine that habit must have taken him back to his drum corps days. (He used to tell me stories about how, during parades, he and the other snare drummers always crescendoed their way through the underpasses to hear the reverberations of their efforts.)

It’s nothing new–Barley was always cautious. So cautious, in fact, that growing up, when he used to tote us around in our van, a sticker on his dashboard read: “For safety, do not exceed 55 MPH.” (It was written on a pumpkin sticker that must have been leftover from Halloween.) That being said, I’m pretty much used to passersby, well, doing just that. And considering some of my favorite bike riding memories date back to when I was buckled up in a baby seat behind him, I was really only concerned with the kind of penny candy I’d pick out when we got to the drug store–not double takes from pedestrians.

Barley’s bike seat cushion, fashioned out of plastic grocery bags, sits parallel to a basket of supplies that’s reinforced with McDonald’s french fry cardboard, which, I assume, was added for a splash of color. Supplies include–but are not limited to–a Gatorade bottle full of water (always full), a beach chair and/or towel (weather-dependent), and an insulated cooler bag (for frozen groceries), all neatly secured via bungee cord. There’s a battery-operated headlight fastened onto the handle bars, along with a cracked, rusted “rearview mirror.” Sure, one of Barley’s hidden talents is turning trash into treasure, but that has to do with a greater, even more apparent talent: Barley’s glass–or Gatorade bottle for that matter–is always at least half-full. And that’s a big gulp to swallow for a daughter who misses almost as much as her father does–a Mom but not a spouse, a family, a house.

“You must be an opportunist,” the high school gym teacher told Barley as a freshman, waiting on line for a gym uniform. Then, he tossed Barley the very last shirt in the box. It’s true–Barley would probably describe the mirror on his bike as weather-proof, rather than rusty. He’s continually awed by simple pleasures–supermarket specials; crashing waves, sunshine, and seedlings; a makeshift drum set and records for accompaniment; Wheel of Fortune and Fodor’s books from the public library. After showing him pictures from a recent cross-country college renuion, he was genuinely happy that I was able to experience so much, stressing how important it is to stay in touch with close friends and to stop and see the sights. He even thanked me for “bringing the trip” to him. Simply put, Barley feels “lucky” that he has “food, clothing, shelter, wheels,”  and everything else he could possibly need to survive, including his “three miracles”–myself, my sister, and brother.

Years later, I found myself giggling behind Barley again on our bike ride–this time at the quirky guy ringing the cowbell in front of me–greeting the stares with a yep-that’s-my-Dad kind of smile. “You look like Robin Hood’s girlfriend!” Dad shouted back as we rode, admiring my cherry red peacoat and forest green pashmina trailing behind him. (I guess it’s better than looking like the spitting image of Shirley MacLaine he once pegged me for as a kid; no offense to Shirley, but as a green-eyed brunette, I never did see the connection.) But I surely can see that choosing to be half-full is even better than being a kid in a candy store…or even Robin Hood’s girlfriend. It’s like being a regular miracle on wheels.

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--The Cake Vendor of Krakow, Poland, a short story Barley transcribed for me by hand from a book and adapted to incorporate our family history. His Polish grandmother, who taught him how to bake, is the main character.

IMG_0100Barley recommends an overripe banana and heaping tablespoons of Wheat Germ. To add even more protein, use fat-free plain Greek yogurt.

“It’s Cameo White over Rustoleum Yellow,” Barley said as I entered the yard through the back gate. He was in the enclosed porch, or “solarium,” as he calls it, painting the trim. It was fair, sunny, and dry–perfect weather for painting, Barley noted, as I watched him, clad in a white lab coat and matching goggles, repaint the last quarter of the trim. It was like watching a chemist named Bob Ross host a home-improvement show, as he explained that the marigold-colored paint he originally chose clashed with the silver siding. I nodded in agreement, realizing where my artistic eye must come from. Come to think of it, my high school studio art teacher always described my talent as “conscientious.”

Barley, in fact, is very artistically inspired. Travel books and newspapers, his monthly calendar, even matchbooks open all kinds of creative windows for him: Recently, he repaired the top-half of a broken picture frame by putting a waterfront scene inside and securing a window shade, pulled halfway down, to cover up the crack in the glass. For me, it’s inspiring to see how he takes pride in his work just by hanging it on the wall…regardless of how few are lucky enough to witness his genius. He also gave his shed a French Country-style transformation, adorning a vibrant window frame with a flower box full of geraniums. When I was maybe 10 years old, I came home from school to find Barley busy painting a new “tree house” he built for me, meaning it had a bark-brown trunk and a leafy-green roof. It was complete with plexiglass windows and curtains, too. Despite my mother’s incredulousness at the new structure that consumed the side of our backyard, it was rooted in love. And I loved every minute that I spent inside of that thing.

Barley's Artistic To-Dos

One of Barley's artistic to-do lists

When they were ready, we shared Barley’s “Better” Banana Cream Pies at at an outdoor cafe–a bistro table and chairs that he set up for us next to the garden. Simple, wholesome, and delicious, Barley’s recipe is exactly like one of my own. Discovering these commonalities gave me an appetite to discover even more of them, while adding color to my palate and new meaning to the term “comfort food.”

Here’s our little version of creamy white over banana yellow:

3/4 cup organic fat-free plain yogurt
Generous dash pure vanilla extract (we like Nielsen-Massey Madagascar Bourbon)
1/8 tsp ground cinnamon
1 medium banana, sliced into 1/2″-thick rounds
2 Tbsp Honey Crunch or Original Toasted Wheat Germ

1. Combine yogurt, vanilla extract, and cinnamon in glass measuring cup.

2. Place banana in small serving bowl. Pour yogurt mixture on top to coat. Garnish with additional cinnamon, if desired.

3. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and freeze 3 hours or until firm.

4.  Top with Wheat Germ before serving.

Makes 1 serving

Per serving: 230 cal, 13 g pro, 48 g carb, 5 g fiber, 2 g fat, 0.5 g sat fat, 4 mg chol, 24 g sugars

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I’m delivering a freshly baked batch to Barley tomorrow. For a more decadent dozen, add antioxidant-rich dark chocolate chips to the batter.

1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp sea salt
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/8 tsp ground cloves
1/8 tsp ground nutmeg
1/2 cup safflower or canola oil
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1/3 cup natural cane sugar
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
2 omega-3-enriched eggs
1 1/2 cups finely grated gold zucchini (about 1 1/2 medium)*

1. Preheat oven to 350F. Line or coat a 12-cup muffin pan with cooking spray.

2. Whisk flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg in large bowl.

3. Beat oil, sugars, and vanilla extract until well combined, adding eggs one at a time, about 2 minutes. Add zucchini, then flour mixture, in batches, until just combined.

4. Divide batter among prepared muffin cups. Bake 30 minutes, or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.

Makes 12 muffins

Per muffin: 189 cal, 3 g pro, 22 g carb, 2.5 g fiber, 11 g fat, 1.5 g sat fat, 36 mg chol, 12 g sugars

*Gold zucchini yield a slightly softer muffin,  but green are just as moist and tasty.

My ever-patient, best childhood friend picked me up from the train…again. And as we drove past Barley’s house to find a parking spot, I knew he’d be there–I could see into the screen door. Moments before visits like these, there’s a certain feeling that takes hold of my stomach. Kind of like anxious butterflies. Not like the first-day-of-school butterflies I had this week, but more like the fluttering anticipation of bittersweetness. Days spent with Barley are a melt-in-your-mind experience, followed by the bitter aftertaste of separation. It’s really no wonder I love chocolate; I love just like chocolate.

Upon greeting, Barley closes his eyes as I hug him and I can’t help but wonder when the last time he had one was. A real, no frills, I-love-you hug. Not one of those nice-to-see-you, pity hugs. He knew I was planning to come sometime soon–I wrote it in my last postcard–but he is always pleasantly surprised to see his youngest, just like any other Dad.

There’s hardly time or space to paint a complete portrait of the day, but here are a few bittersweet things I learned about Barley during my visit:

1) Barley has a drawer (with my name on it) which houses all of the mail I send him, or anything that makes him think of me, really. From my college football team’s scores (dating back to my years there) to magazine mastheads bearing my name.

2) Barley now keeps a key (with my name on it) in a secret hiding spot just for me. (He also kept the note I left in the mailbox the last time I couldn’t get in, right next to an old Christmas present that I gave him. He has since rewrapped it in the same paper and labeled its contents for safekeeping.)

3) Barley’s oven broke awhile back and although it was fixed, he hasn’t really baked since. He’s going to test it out before my next visit, so that we can start baking together. (Likely something with dark chocolate.)

A prized card and wrapper from chocolate I once sent to Barley, and a comic strip that made him think of me.

Shaped like biscotti, these omega-3-packed treats crumble like cookies:

1 cup oat flour*
1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1 cup white whole wheat flour or all-purpose flour
1/4 cup almond meal**
3/4 cup natural cane sugar
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp sea salt
3 omega-3-enriched eggs
1 cup canola oil
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
1 tsp almond extract
3/4 cup chopped toasted almonds
1/2 cup sweetened, dried cranberries

1. Preheat oven to 350F. Line baking sheet with aluminum foil and coat lightly with oil. Set aside.

2. Combine flours, almond meal, sugar, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt in large bowl.

3. Whisk eggs, oil, and vanilla and almond extracts in small bowl.

4. Make a well in center of flour mixture. Add egg mixture and mix until just combined. Stir in cranberries and almonds.

5. Place dough on prepared baking sheet and shape into a flat loaf using hands. Bake until light brown, about 30 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool slightly.

6. Use a serrated knife to cut loaf into 1/2″-thick slices, cutting longer pieces in half. Lay flat on baking sheet and bake, in batches, 10 minutes, or until lightly browned.

Makes 2 dozen pieces (halved)

Per piece: 210 cal, 4 g pro, 20 carb, 2 g fiber, 13.5 g fat, 1.5 g sat fat, 27 mg chol, 8 g sugars

*Make your own oat flour using old-fashioned oats in a food processor.
**
Make your own almond meal using raw almonds in a food processor.

–Recipe inspired from Organic and Chic by Sarah Magid.

This weekend marks my second attempt to bake with my Dad, Barley, since I tried to visit him in the winter. Last time, a best friend graciously picked me up from the train station, and even stopped so that I could get eggs and walnuts on the way. I was hoping to learn how to make his Cinnamon-Walnut Foldovers, a cookie that he used to bake around the holidays.  I knew it would be a challenge, because that was back when Barley used real butter, but as a food and health editor, I thought we could put our heads together and come up with a just-as-tasty, butterless version.

After ringing the doorbell multiple times, I searched the garage hiding spot for the key, while my friend patiently waited–one of the few friends who, like me, can find the comedy in these situations. (Growing up next door to me, Barley was once a close friend of her parents, and she still calls him “Uncle.”) I couldn’t find the key amidst all of the “collectibles” Barley finds when he’s out on his many walking excursions. Plus, now that his big blue Volkswagen Vanagon no longer runs, it’s permanently parked  in my grandmother’s garage, leaving little room for wedging oneself around the clutter. I told my friend that I would just wait, it wasn’t that cold, and Barley would be back soon, I just knew it.

Eventually, she drove me back to the train station, in exchange for a dozen eggs. I later learned that Barley was home, just napping, or “recharging his batteries,” as he often does. So this time, instead of buying ingredients, I’m bringing Crumbly Cranberry-Almond Biscotti with me. Here’s hoping I don’t have to enjoy it all by myself!