Pair these whole-grain, sour-cherry shortbread bars with your morning coffee or as a sweet end to the day with your sweetheart.
The Food: Whole-Grain Sour-Cherry Jam Shortbread Bars
A lightly-sweetened, whole-wheat crust and sour-cherry jam make these shortbread bars wholesome enough for a breakfast and coffee treat, and indulgent enough for a dessert. The recipe comes together pretty quickly, but using a heart-shaped cookie cutter makes the final result feel even more special.
The Personal: Love, Work & Choice
If someone told me a few years ago, “Relationships take work,” I probably unintentionally rolled my eyes. Then I probably [intentionally?] shot tonal daggers from my hazel irises at this brilliant interlocutor. All these snarky eye rolls implied, “Ok genius, but I am a worker. I can even be an obsessive worker. Some have been so bold as to call me a workaholic, so why, why, WHY could I not seem to work on, or for, or in my relationship?”
No one seemed to have a handy guide for that work. No one offered the faintest clues as to what that work looked like. It was an interview without a job description, so I went on my own freakin’ journey, one wrought with plenty of pain, mistakes, mourning, and a fair bit of baking.
My journey to love started alone, but I quickly found a guide in Ta’lor Pinkston, aka The Heart Advocate, who became a compass and a positive voice in my head (I can’t seem to talk about love without talking about Ta’lor). Ta’lor taught me self-compassion as a foundation for self-love.
Through repetition, she taught me that my feelings matter, my feelings are valid, my voice matters, and I am allowed to speak up for myself even if I risk disappointing others. I worked on nurturing my voice. I worked on pushing through discomfort to speak my truths. I opened and opened.
Along this journey, I (
fell in) chose love. It started as an unlikely friendship. In lieu of assigning titles, we chose frequent check-ins, vulnerability, and exchange until the titles felt right and matched our reality. Every time a voice inside me said, “don’t reveal this,” I prioritized revealing it. I dug up pieces of myself I had buried for my entire life.
I came to see the dubious relationship “work” as relationship choices. I can choose to reveal my discomfort, or I can choose to let it fester into resentment and spiraling narratives. I can choose to be defensive, or I can choose to be accountable and progress.
And this notion of choice applies to all my relationships, not just romantic ones. I can choose to show up for my friends or shy away. I can choose to broach difficult conversations or choose to let bonds fizzle. I can choose to share my deepest feelings and go deep. And of course, I can choose to share my desserts. Shared desserts are always better in my book. Share these shortbread bars, for sure.
My path to love continues. I am by no means a weathered guru with all the answers, but I am someone who chooses to share what I’m learning because I believe in the power of conversation, especially if it can help spare someone some of the heartache I experienced. I’m also interested in what you have learned.
In that vein, here are some resources from actual experts that have helped me tremendously, both in my romantic relationships and friendships:
- The Enneagram Test: I’ve used this as a tool for my own self-growth and discovery, as well as a starting point for understanding different perspectives and motivations. It’s a helpful framework.
- The Five Love Languages by Dr. Gary Chapman
- Start with This Interview with authors Drs. Harville Henderson & Helen LaKelly Hunt. Then read Getting the Love You Want (Fun Fact: Alanis Morissette swears by this relationship approach.)
- This Interview with Drs. John and Julie Gottman, then join me in starting The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work (marriage could really be replaced with “relationship” as far as I am concerned)
The Fluff / Julep’s Corner:
Julep is a girl who wears her heart on her paws, and her love for my friend Chris is no secret. If love and dogs make you cry your eyes out (in a good way), then listen to this episode of This is Love with Phoebe Judge. It’s the story of Michael Hingson, who attributes his survival of the 9/11 attacks to his guide dog, Roselle. Good God, it cleared out every tear I had, but it thoroughly warmed my heart.
You Might Also Like: Savory Morning Oats with Maple Sausage & Cherry Sauce
If whole grains and cherries have piqued your interest, try this brunch variation from my book, The Gluten-Free Grains Cookbook. Oatmeal might not seem like it’d merit a spot at a brunch table, but when paired with maple breakfast sausage and saucy cherries, it’s a dish worthy of a spotlight, especially during these months when everyone just wants to hibernate.
Whole Grain Sour Cherry Jam Shortbread Bars
- 1 cup 2 sticks unsalted butter, cold and cut into cubes
- 1/2 cup coconut sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- ½ teaspoon almond extract
- 2 cups whole-wheat flour
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1 cup sour cherry jam (or flavor/fruit of choice)
- Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line an 8 x 8 pan with parchment on all sides and set it aside.
- In a stand mixer, use the paddle attachment to combine the butter, sugar, flour, salt, and vanilla and beat until the dough starts to come together, about 2 minutes. The dough will be crumbly.
- Press 2/3 of the shortbread dough into the prepared pan in an even layer. Top with the jam and spread into an even, thick layer. Crumble the remaining shortbread over the jam, making sure you leave some spots of jam visible. If the crumble covers too much, you can add a few dollops of extra jam for the visual contrast.
- Bake the bars for 25-30 minutes, until they are just golden brown.
- Allow the shortbread to cool before removing it from the pan and cutting it into the desired size and shape. Enjoy!