Before I moved to the Pacific Northwest, the word ‘lavender’ evoked nothing more than the color of sweater sets, smelly hand lotion from that chain body products store in the mall, or maybe a perfume that a grandma would give you for Christmas. I knew it was a flower of some sort, but all I could tell you was that it was purple, and it must only grow in the high plateaus of Tibet or something because nothing exotic like that could grow in cold and windy Chicago. There, we grow crab grass for fun (Look! It’s Green!!)
Therefore, moving to Seattle was an eye-opening experience for all things ripe, green, and colorful long past Labor Day. The first winter I spent here I was stunned to find my good German neighbor tending his garden beds in January. What? January?? The idea that things grew and thrived year-round was a revelation to me. His garden was full of richly-colored leaves. His kale was green and plucky, thick and deep in color, the leaves fat with the cool winter rain of the day before. I thought, well, if those little plants can thrive here year-round, I suppose I may also.
When I eventually made my way down to Pike Place Market on an exploratory mission with my foodie friend Beth, also new to the city and a future nutritionist, we were delighted to find the most exuberant flowers in every color imaginable (and some I never imagined.) Wrapped in cool weather jackets and scarves, the oranges and yellows cried out from their brown paper wrapping – won’t you take me home? Irresistible as golden puppies. I wanted to take them all home.
Mark's lavender sketch
Beth and I eventually stopped at a stall that was covered in purple flowers. There were sweet-smelling sachets of burlap to put in drawers, lip balms, and tiny jars of even tinier purple flowers. Lavender. The jars were labeled ‘culinary lavender’ which meant, of course, that one would be mine. The lavender scent was distinctive, but also somehow familiar to me, jogging memories as to when I was working as a server at Chicago’s Hot Chocolate restaurant and the chef made a batch of lavender shortbread for the cookie display case. It stuck in my memory because I’d never seen or tasted anything like it, sweet and floral but not heady and overbearing like the scent of roses can be. Lavender, you are such a shy and seductive one.
Beth and I bought one jar each, tucked them into our purses, and made a commitment to finding out what all the fuss was about with this little perennial.
At Beth’s house we went straight to her computer and found online so many recipes that called for lavender… lavender biscotti, scones and cookies, meringues, muffins and even pizza. We wanted something quick and simple - instant gratification. Lavender Honey Bunches: six ingredients, not including the lavender, and all basic pantry items. Oats, honey, butter, coconut oil, coconut flakes, and we used sucanat in place of the brown sugar. Ooohh so good. And they’re even mildly virtuous with all those oats, coconut and honey! These two soon-to-be nutritionists were sighing and hmmmm-ing and congratulating ourselves because, well, we must be the first ones on earth to make this recipe (with modifications) in such a superior and tasty way. We both like to think we put Martha to shame.
Two years and one thousand batches of various baked goods later, I have returned to this recipe and still feel it’s one of my favorites. So I make these once again, on the occasion of our friends Eric and Cristina’s baby boy being born. These sweet bunches should enliven our sleep-deprived friends, I hope.
This time I pluck the lavender from our friends’ own flower garden, smiling and smelling my hands. Now it is a familiar friend, a way to say goodbye to August, with a bloom that makes me stop and stoop to put my nose near like a bumble-bee searching for sweetness.
Coming to Seattle two years ago sweetness was what I was searching for, and it seems I’ve found it in so many ways.
Lavender Honey Bunches
Modified from a recipe from Purple Haze Lavender Ltd’s website
4 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
2 cups unsweetened flaked coconut
½ teaspoon sea salt
2/3 cup sucanat (or brown sugar)
1/2 cup honey
1/2 cup butter
1/3 cup coconut oil
1 1/2 teaspoons dried lavender
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Take one cup of the rolled oats and whirl in a food processor until it becomes a coarse flour. Combine this flour with the rest of the oats, coconut and salt in a large mixing bowl. In a heavy saucepan bring sucanat, honey, butter coconut oil and lavender to a boil. Pour over dry ingredients and mix well. Drop dough by the spoonful into a muffin tin, pressing them lightly so they form into the round shape of the tin, until the mixtures reaches the top edge of the muffin cups. Bake for 12-15 minutes until lightly golden, being careful not to overbake. Now this next step is important, after taking the cookies out of the oven, let them cool completely so that they set and firm… or else they will fall apart when you try to remove them. These should come out chewy, if not reduce baking time by a few minutes.