Once, four years ago, I asked my professor how she was doing.
“Full,” she said.
“Did you eat a big breakfast?” I asked. It was the morning.
“No, like full. Of everything.”
That’s how I feel lately: full. These days are spinning past, one after the other. I’m barely able to go to bed before the next one starts.
Sometimes the fullness feels broad and thrilling, as if I’m discovering everything there is to discover. Epiphanies land all around me, ready to be picked up and considered. My classes delight me and assure me that they are giving me something I will need in eight years.
But other times, the fullness turns into frenzy, and the spinning days make me sick. I can’t keep up. The epiphanies start to collect, drift into piles at the door so I can’t get out without jamming them all together. I’ll never get around to them.
That’s when I start to get discouraged. I’m doing so much that I’m doing nothing. My body hovers just above sickness, prepared to slip into full-blown cold and prevent me from working through the logjam of assignments, books, chores, errands, dishes, produce about to spoil on the counter.
On the verge of tears, I turn to Dan or call my mom, and they remind me that I’ve made yogurt and roasted a chicken and simmered the bones into broth. I baked crackers! And this delicious rye crumble, from which Dan and I have been slicing narrow wedges after dinner, before bed, and for breakfast. (I am convinced that desserts made with fruit qualify as breakfast.)
Rye Crumble Bars
I’ve mentioned Kim Boyce’s book before, and I bet this won’t be the last time. This makes a dense, jammy, barely salty tart-crumble. If you’re suspicious about rye, remember that it’s the caraway seeds that give rye its characteristic tang. I followed Kim’s recipe nearly exactly, using the pear butter that my mother-in-law, soon-to-be-sister-in-law (!), and I made last fall. Now that I’ve followed the recipe once, I’d make a few changes the second time around. Between the sugar in the pear butter and the sugar in the crust and crumble, the bars were too sweet; I’d cut back the sugar by half. She calls for whole oats, but then has you pulse them in a food processor. Preferring to wash fewer dishes, I bet you could get away with using quick oats or not grinding them. I’m also curious to try this without any all-purpose flour (substituting rye), at least in the topping. Finally, the recipe says they’re best on the first day and will last only two days, but we kept them in the fridge and the bars only got better. The saltiness got more pronounced, and they lasted longer, too. (Although not as long as you’d expect for only two people…!)
butter for the pan
1 1/2 cups jam, fruit butter, or compote
1/2 cup rye flour
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/3 cup brown sugar
1/2 tsp. kosher salt (If you’re using Morton’s or table salt, make this 1/4 tsp. Kim uses Diamond kosher salt, which is less salty than the other two.)
8 Tbsp. (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 cup whole rolled oats
3 Tbsp. brown sugar
1/4 cup plus 2 Tbsp. rye flour
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
3 Tbsp. sugar
1 tsp. kosher salt (again, Morton’s or table salt – 1/2 tsp.)
6 Tbsp. (3/4 stick) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
Preheat the oven to 275ºF, and grease a 9-inch springform pan with butter.
For the shortbread crust, stir together the flours, sugar, and salt in a medium bowl. Pour in the melted butter and the vanilla, and mix until it’s completely combined. Then dump the dough into the greased pan, and press it down. It doesn’t have to be smooth and flat, but there shouldn’t be any gaps. Put the pan in the freezer while you make the topping.
In a food processor, add the oats, sugars, flours, and salt, and pulse for 10 to 15 seconds, until the oats are no longer whole. Don’t grind them to a powder, either. Shake the mixture into the same bowl you made the crust in. Add the melted butter, and mix with your hands, until the butter feels evenly distributed. Set aside.
Remove the shortbread from the freezer and bake until golden, almost an hour. Remove the shortbread from the oven and turn it up to 350ºF.
While the oven is heating, spread the jam over the crust and then sprinkle the crumble over the top. Bake for about 50 to 55 minutes, again until golden.
Let the pan cool for 15 minutes, and then run a knife around the edge to loosen the crumble. Remove the pan’s outer ring. When the crumble is completely cool, cut it into wedges. Store in an airtight container in the fridge for up to a week.
Serves 2 to 16, depending on your crowd.