I’m utterly fascinated by strangers. There’s just something about the fact that these people — next to me on the sidewalk, waiting for the same train, in an apartment down the street — are immersed in lives that, to them, feel as complex and weighty and wondrous and singular as my own. They have their own dreams and ambitions, families and friends, layered pasts and unknown futures. It boggles my mind.
Like other avid people watchers (some of you included, I am sure), I observe the people around me with as much subtlety as I can muster. When we’re out together, Ben and I concoct histories for the people we see. He’s so funny and so witty; it feels like a wonderful victory when my stories make him laugh.
When I travel, and everyone around me is new and unfamiliar, this fascination is all the more pronounced. And in many ways, I still have the sensation of being a visitor here; I can count on my two hands the number of times I’ve unexpectedly bumped into someone I have seen before or, better yet, actually know. (Most recently, a girl at the bus stop wearing bright pink sneakers told me she liked my [entirely nondescript] flats. I saw her at a drugstore across town only days later, still wearing those unforgettable shoes. After I got over the shoe part of it, I was thrilled to realize I was seeing folks around town.)
All of these strangers are complex beings with fears and worries that keep them up at night, problems both slight and immense, dreams and desires no less deserving of fulfillment than my own. It makes me feel small, in the best of ways. And it reminds me that I’m probably not the only one who isn’t as brave as she wants to be, who sometimes feels like she’s swinging her hands through the darkness to find her way.
Thankfully, there are oatcakes. (They help more than you might think!) Small but so hearty, these are strength disguised as a baked good. They are absolutely delicious, healthful, filling and hefty enough to get you and me and all of the strangers through most anything. They remind me to take care of myself — that I can snack on more than just rice cakes and apples. And when I am losing the argument in my head, eating one of these feels like a statement: you are worthwhile, you can be brave, you will make it.
A treat like this is rare. Though it holds the shape of one, the oatcake is most certainly not a muffin — they don’t make muffins this sturdy. And while called a cake, it’s too hearty for dessert unless your dinner left you wanting. But an oatcake is perfect for any hunger and weariness that might strike between meals. It is dense, with a consistent texture punctuated with nubbly walnuts, and boasts a balance of mellow maple sweetness and sea salt that is simply divine. I have a penchant for breaking pieces off of scones and muffins to eat them bit by bit; with its bumpy top and tight crumb, an oatcake is built for that.
Oatcakes will stand up well in your purse as you head to work, in your backpack as you trudge off to school, in your hand as you embark on an adventure. This has been tested: the one I toted across town yesterday was completely unscathed. And last fall, I made a batch for a camping trip; they carried us through a weekend of rain and cold and laughter in the woods.
I hope you’re not tiring too much of this talk about transition and being new to California, or of all of my sentimentality. I can’t seem to muster much else. And so I offer you this recipe, the smallest of what brings me strength, just in case you need it, too.
Adapted from Heidi Swanson‘s Super Natural Every Day
3 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
2 cups spelt / whole wheat pastry / white whole wheat flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
2 teaspoons fine-grain sea salt
1/4 cup flax seeds
3/4 cup chopped walnuts, lightly toasted
1/3 cup extra-virgin coconut oil
1/3 cup unsalted butter
3/4 cup maple syrup
1/3 – 1/2 cup natural cane sugar (depending on your preference for sweetness)
2 eggs, lightly beaten
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Butter a standard 12-cup muffin pan.
In a large mixing bowl, combine the oats, flour, baking powder, salt, flax seeds and walnuts.
In a medium saucepan over low heat, combine the coconut oil, butter, maple syrup and sugar. Stir gently as the ingredients melt together. Don’t let the mixture get too hot. Remove the pan from the heat as soon as the butter has melted and the sugar has dissolved.
Pour the warm coconut oil mixture over the oat mixture. Stir a bit, add the eggs and stir again until everything comes together into a wet dough. Spoon the dough into the muffin cups. It will fill them just to the rims.
Bake the oatcakes for 25 to 30 minutes, until the edges of the cakes are deeply golden. Remove the pan from the oven and let cool for a few minutes. Then, run a knife around the cakes and tip them out onto a cooling rack. (They pop out quite easily.)
Serve warm or at room temperature. The oatcakes travel well and, wrapped tightly, will keep for several days.
Yield: 12 oatcakes