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in case you need it


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.

dry ingredients for oatcakes

ready to melt

mixed ingredients

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.


oatcake, with coffee


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

18 Comments (Add Yours)

  1. I never get tired of your insights in fact lately I feel a stranger in this retirement phase of my life. Even today, your thoughts bring me to my brief encounter at the Soc Security Office where I watched as so many came to ask some serious questions and I had but 3 small ones. I wondered about each stranger and his or her life and questions and problems. Oh my life is complicated isn’t it. The reirement learning curve and the job seeking curve are similar just slanted a different way

    Happy Trails to you

    • Thanks for this sweet comment. Life IS complicated — I’m comforted, though, by the reminder that we are all in it together. Hope retirement continues making more and more sense as you go along its way!

  2. I for one am not tired of hearing about any of the things you’ve mentioned. You have such a soothing and uplifting tone to your writing and those oatcakes look amazing! I’m bookmarking this for next year when I’ve relocated across the country and am feeling new myself!

    • That’s just the encouragement I needed — thank you, Sarah. And yes: these will serve you well as you explore a new home!

  3. If it was me making those oakcakes, they might be a tiny bit short on that butter & sugar mixture in that pan. Looks amazing – can’t wait to try ’em!

    • I am quite sure you would thoroughly appreciate these! AND I can’t think why they wouldn’t turn out just splendidly with extra coconut oil to replace the butter.

  4. Hahaha…Dave & I concoct stories about strangers too! It’s crazy the things we come up with, especially Dave. In airports especially, we dream up all sorts of stories about who and where people are dashing off too…or leaving from… ;)

    I am so enjoying your blog…and not tiring of any of your thoughts, experiences, and reflections.

  5. Not tired of it at all. I love reading your musings. I too, find strangers fascinating. We’re all fighting some type of battle…I try to remember to have grace even when people are grumpy. Lovely looking oatcakes!

  6. Hi Sara, you may not remember me, but we were both at Luisa’s reading of her book in Danville. I found your site through comments on hers. I’m so glad I did. This is a beautiful place.
    I didn’t know of you before that day, and to me you felt like a pretty brave stranger :). Lovely post.

  7. I was thinking Stacy but typed Sara, because that’s what my eyes saw in the comment above. Sorry for that.

    • Oh, yes, of course! I do remember you. I’m glad we’ve now met virtually, too. ;) Thank you so much for your kind words. I’ll surely be exploring your blog now as well!

  8. Ah I completely agree! I always wonder what it means when you bump into strangers multiple times, is it fate or coincidence?
    I also love that travelling makes you so much more open to speaking to strangers, I promised myself I would do the same when I was at home but I seem to have reverted back to relying on friends!
    Here’s to finding out about the unknown, part of the reason I love reading your blog :)

    • Talking to strangers more often is definitely a good goal, and often not an easy one to accomplish — but so often it turns out well. Thanks for your comment and encouragement!

  9. I am not tired of it at all! It’s so interesting to hear your new perspective on a place that’s so familiar to me. And yes, I love people watching too. :)

    • Thanks, Kimberley. I think the familiarity of you and other locals and my wide-eyed newness balance out quite nicely, and the varying perspectives keep us ALL on our toes. ;)