He kept inviting me to come out and help. To watch him build the fires and help carry the sap. And I wanted to go, but things kept getting in the way. Or I kept letting them...that's actually more like it. With a gentle sense of urgency he kept calling to invite me out to the woods. He called again and again. He has teenagers, and a busy wife, and a lot of years of wisdom. And a lot of patience. "We only have a few weeks left," he reminded me. "We could make it fun for the little girls too if you need to bring them out with you," he says because he knows I have small children and it might be hard to get some time away from them.
Well yesterday my time was up. He made one more patient phone call to declare that tomorrow was going to be the last day of boiling because the trees were changing and the time for collecting the sap was up...my time was up.
So we went out. To the woods. The little girls and I. I was so excited to pull up the gravel drive. When he saw us, he could have said, "It's about time," but he didn't. He's not like that. "I'm so glad you came," was the perfect thing to say. Then he showed us his project and we took a walk in the woods.
"See here girls. This is the sap. It's very watery. It's going to be sweet and a wonderful golden color. It just needs time." It's one thing now, but if you give it time. And attention. And a little heat. It can turn into another thing entirely. I feel like that sometimes.
"Peek in here girls. Be careful. It's boiling down. It's way too hot to touch right now, but if you give it time, you'll be able to hold it in your hands." It just needs time to cool off. I feel like that sometimes.
This day was about maple sap. And how it runs. And how chasing it doesn't get you anywhere. But it was also about time. And how it runs. And how chasing it doesn't get you anywhere. How you have to wait for it to come to you. And enjoy it while it lasts. And find someone to share it with before the time is up.
It's about time.
Maple Oat Bread
To do the bread exactly the way I did it on this day requires a walk through the woods and an understanding friend. It requires you to leap across the kitchen screaming NO!NO!NO! when the 3 year old says, "Mom can I stir the flour with the turkey butt feather that I found in the woods?" It requires the patiently prepared syrup from a tree in The Middle. But you don't have to do it exactly the way I did it to have a tremendous amount of success. There are a few places in this recipe where you can go your own way...and I hope you will. Give yourself 3 hours of time to prepare this subtly sweet loaf. It is great with a savory soup or sliced thin and slathered with butter. The recipe doubles very easily if you feel compelled to make an extra loaf for a friend.
1 cup quick oats
1 cup boiling water
2 1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast
1/3 cup warm water
1/2 cup maple syrup (I used the real stuff here, but I promise I won't judge you if all you've got on hand is the cheapy stuff from the grocery store.)
2 teaspoon canola oil
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
3 1/2 cups all purpose flour, plus more for kneading
1 egg white, lightly beaten
2 tablespoons quick oats
1. In a small bowl, combine the 1 cup of oats and the boiling water. Let stand for a few minutes until the water is completely absorbed. In a large bowl, combine the yeast with the 1/3 cup warm water and let stand until foamy. When your yeast is nice and frothy, add the syrup, oil, salt, oat mixture and 2 cups of the flour. Stir well with a wooden smooth until smooth. Add enough of the remaining flour as you continue to stir until the dough stops sticking to the bowl.
2. Turn out onto a lightly floured surface and knead for 8 minutes adding additional flour by small handfuls until the dough stops sticking to you and your surface. Place dough in a bowl coated with cooking spray, turning once to coat all sides. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm spot for 1 hour. Dough will double in size.
3. Punch dough down and turn out onto a lightly floured surface. Shape the dough into a round. The dough will be very flat at this point. Place the dough into a 9 inch, round cake pan that has been well coated with cooking spray. (You could skip this part and just place the round of dough on a greased baking sheet but your loaf will bake up flatter and a bit more dense. If you don't have a 9 inch pan, use a smaller size, or a pie dish, or a corning-ware casserole dish with the lid off. Any round pan will work fine. The point of using some kind of container here is to keep the loaf from spreading out too much during the second rise.) Coat the top of the loaf lightly with cooking spray, cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place for 45 minutes.
4. After the dough has risen, brush the top with the egg white and sprinkle the top with the remaining oats. Bake for 30-35 minutes or until golden brown. Remove the loaf from the pan and allow it to cool on a wire rack.