Friday, September 23, 2016

Mazurka Bars

Nearly a month ago, Matthew began the first grade and I can barely believe it! The school year has treated him well so far and my worries about how little real schoolwork we did together over the summer were entirely unfounded. In the three short weeks he has been in school, I have already seen a remarkable improvement in his penmanship, reading, and spelling. He absolutely adores his teacher and reminds me on a daily basis that "Mrs. Smith is really, really pretty!" His girlfriend Lillian (yes, they are apparently still an item) also has the same teacher and Matthew was over-the-moon about that. I've had to watch those two walk to class together holding hands nearly every morning.

The morning of Matthew's first day of school, he woke up bright and early, pulled on his uniform, and then excitedly milled about until it was time to go. Unfortunately, he had to entertain himself for a good three hours before school began since he chose to get up at 5:30 AM. Not to mention, his sisters were little bums that day and I had to practically drag them out of bed in order to make it to school on time. Emma was largely uncooperative for the pictures. In fact, while I was snapping these few sweet shots of Matthew and Lucy together, Emma was lying prostrated on the pavement behind me and kicking her limbs while protesting almost everything I was asking her to do simply because she was angry that I had separated her from the comforts of her bed.

She did eventually shape up and took a group picture with her siblings. I love comparing this image of the three of them to the back-to-school photo captured the previous year. What a difference a year makes! Why must they grow?

A lot has happened during these three short weeks of the school year. The kids and I participated in a 5K benefit race for the school. Paul chickened out and chose to go biking with a group of coworkers instead. Matthew and I did a couple practice runs in anticipation of the race and I was really impressed with his endurance. The plan was that Matthew and I would jog together while I also pushed both girls in the double stroller. Matthew was so excited especially when we picked up our race packs complete with our shirts and numbers. However, when the morning of the race dawned, he was completely unmotivated when he saw that it was storming outside. Rain or shine, I was determined to complete the run so I packed all the kids up and headed out in the pouring rain to the race location.

"But Mommy! We might get hit by lightening if we run in the storm!" Matthew worried aloud.
"Don't worry Matthew! I'm sure Father David has been praying really hard for good weather. It'll clear up!" I replied.

Amazingly, as soon as we arrived, the skies cleared a bit and the rain stopped just long enough for us to complete the race before it began pouring once more. It was truly a miracle.

The race was so much fun! Matthew whined after mile one but then finished strong. Emma was an awesome cheerleader, always encouraging me to go faster and cheering the other runners along. Lucy was a miserable, cranky mess who completely started freaking out once we hit mile two so I ended up pulling her out of the stroller and jogging with her on my hip for the remainder of the race. The girls and I crossed the finish line a few minutes ahead of Matthew and it was so fun to watch him come in towards the finish line. He loved seeing us, our pastor, his teachers, and friends cheering him on as he sprinted towards the finish line. He finished 51st out of 207 and I was so proud of him! It was so much fun to participate in the run as a family. Next time, we have to get that slacker husband of mine to join us.

The final, not-so-fun notable event of the school year so far was the outbreak of lice on the noggins of two of our children. Matthew and Lucy were both infested while Emma, Paul, and me were spared. Treating lice was one of the most nerve-wracking experiences of my life thus far. I cleaned, sanitized, bagged, shampooed, and scrubbed every item in our house and picked through every single piece of hair on Matthew and Lucy's head until I was sure that I had eliminated every louse and louse egg. I'm no smoker, but if I were, I would have gone through at least six packs a day during what I am now nostalgically referring to as "Lice Week.". I was so stressed out that I barely slept! Thankfully, we have eliminated the problem and Matthew is back at school completely lice-free and I am making it a personal goal to never, ever allow those nasty parasites to freely munch on the scalps of my children again!

Speaking of the munchies, my kid always comes home from school absolutely starving which is why it is always helpful to have some kind of snack on hand for him. I don't know if it is the age or the fact that he is growing even taller but Matthew has had the most voracious appetite lately. Last year, it was pretty common for him to come home from school with most of his lunch untouched but this year he has been demolishing everything I pack for him. In addition, he always requests an after-school-snack. I've been trying to have some type of treat on hand for him to munch on such as these Mazurka Bars. Mazurka bars are a traditional polish dessert made for special occasions that feature a buttery crust sandwiching fresh fruit. If you've ever been to a Great Harvest bakery, these mazurka bars are reminiscent to the addictive treat they sell called Savannah Bars. With an oatmeal and coconut base, these sweet treats are topped with fresh seasonal fruit and make a pretty hearty snack guaranteed to keep you energized until dinnertime. I used peaches and blueberries in mine because that's what we had on hand, but really you could use anything - thinly sliced apples, strawberries, pears, raspberries, blackberries - the choice is yours. Just don't overload them too much or they will be soggy. Although I have not yet tried it, I'm sure using a jam or preserve of your choice instead of fresh fruit would also make a great filling!

Mazurka Bars
adapted from Cakespy

For the Pastry:
1 1/4 cups sifted all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup dark brown sugar, firmly packed
6 ounces (1 1/2 sticks) cold butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 3/4 ounces (1/2 cup, firmly packed) shredded coconut
3/4 old fashioned or quick cooking (not "instant") oatmeal
2 ounces (generous 1/2 cup) toasted walnuts, cut medium fine

For the Fruit Filling:
Sliced peaches, blueberries, apples, pears, or fruit of choice, thinly sliced - enough to create a thin layer of fruit
Sugar to taste (usually a few tablespoons)

Adjust a rack to the upper third of the oven and preheat oven to 325 degrees.

Place the Flour, salt, and sugar in a mixing bowl. With a pastry blender cut in the butter until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Stir in the coconut, oatmeal, and walnuts.

Place half (about 3 cups) of the mixture in an unbuttered 8-inch-square cake pan. Press it evenly with your fingertips. Cover with a piece of wax paper and with the palm of your hand press against the paper to make a smooth, compact layer. Remove the wax paper.

Taste the fruit and toss with a bit of sugar until the sweetness level is satisfactory.

Place the fruit slices in an even layer. Sprinkle the remaining pastry evenly over the filling and repeat the directions for covering with wax paper and pressing smooth. Remove the wax paper.

Bake for 60-70 minutes until the top is barely firm to the touch.

Cool in the pan before serving for neater looking cuts. Can be served warm with ice cream or at room temperature as a snack!

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