I'm beginning to feel as though spring will never emerge. It's difficult to be optimistic, when March was so warm and now a blanket of snow is covering the tulips, Sylvia's daffs and even my optimistic hyacinths. But, you can't rush the cherry blossoms, the Japanese are famous for saying. Winter will loosen it's white, furled grip on northern Michigan only when Mother Nature is ready. Fortunately for us, the maple trees have already woken up to send their precious sap back up into the veins of the trees to make those green leaves. Gathering sap, clear like pure fresh water, is a marked event in the northern latitudes. Locals have their bags, spouts and fire pits ready to go by the beginning of March. The sap really begins to flow when the daily temps are above freezing while the nightly temps dip back below freezing. It's a time honored tradition here, made routine like getting dressed in the morning. I love this season. For one, it means winter is finally ebbing slowly away, and spring and all of her bounty is right around the corner. Maple syrup, then ramps, morels, then asparagus, strawberries and on and on... ohhh, we sigh and rejoice. A religious exaltation. A big yawn and stretch- then we wake up and get to work.
When I first moved to northern Michigan, I did not even know that maple syrup came from trees. Isn't that silly? Every person that lives in Michigan or the northern latitudes knows that syrup comes from trees. But, I didn't.
Now, I know that these magnificent creatures are indeed our friends, sort of like another earth mother that feeds us or shares with us their life giving blood-syrup. I am forever grateful to these beautiful trees that allow us to take their sap and turn it into something more wonderful than you can even imagine. Delicious and nutritious syrup that I can drizzle over pancakes, over oats, over sweet potatoes.
Astoundingly, it takes between 50-80 gallons of clear sap to boil down to one gallon of golden, amber syrup. Collection takes time, as does the boiling down. Most people cook their sap down outside in sugar shacks. Sugar shacks are everywhere in northern Michigan.
The golden syrup is delicious drizzled over pancakes, incorporated into sweet potatoes, ladled over oats for a toasty granola. I purchase my maple syrup direct from my local farmer, Wayne at Mayfield's Farm in Mayfield. It's delicious.
I love cooking with this specially handcrafted maple syrup. It's toasty, musty and smells like a Northern Michigan forest. There are so many things that I love to make with it. Here's a granola bar that doesn't reek of sugar and artificial ingredients. These bars are dense with sweet, nutritional goodness. Genmaicha tea acts as a super secret flavoring that blends with the maple syrup that binds nuts, seeds and spices. (Genmaicha is a brown rice and green tea. ) Only healthy ingredients go into this bar. It's tasty, and is a nutritional powerhouse ! I gather up all of my ingredients; oats, pecans, dates, pumpkin seeds, maple syrup- then i get busy. This isn't a difficult recipe. You'll please many a cookie lover with this easy to make granola bar.
Genmaicha Granola Bars by Sarah Copeland
This recipe makes 12 small bars.
- 2 cups / 170g old fashioned oats
- 1/2 cups millet
- 1/3 cup raw sunflower seeds
- 1 T sesame seeds
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
- 1/3 cup toasted skin-on almonds
- 1 cup dates packed tightly no pitts!
- 1/3 cup maple syrup
- 1/4 cup honey
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla
- 1 T genmaicha tea leaves
1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Line an 8x8 square pan with parchment paper so that it overlaps the pan.
2. Stir the oats, millet, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, cinnamon and salt in a medium bowl.
3. Pulse the pecans and almonds in a food processor until coarsely chopped. Stir into the oat mixture.
4. Pulse the dates in a food processor until a thick paste forms. Add the maple syrup, honey, and vanilla and pulse until a puree forms. Scrape out the puree with a rubber spatula and stir into the oat mixture. Add the genmaicha tea leaves and continue stirring (hands are good!) until the oats and nuts are sticky and coated with the puree. If it doesn't clump together easily, add up to 1 T maple syrup.
5. Transfer the granola to a prepared baking pan and press into a smooth, even layer. Bake until you see the edges brown, about 25 minutes. Transfer to the counter to cool slightly while in the pan. Grab the flaps of the parchment paper and lift out the entire batch. Transfer to a cutting board. Cut into 12 bars while they are still warm. Store in an airtight container for up to 1 week. Or freeze.