Saturday, August 13, 2011

A Seedy Tale

It's just about everyone's favorite snack. But it's also a flower, a vegetable, a clothing dye, an ointment, and a snake bite remedy. It can grow to 20 feet high and produce a flower 2 feet in diameter. It has a brown center that's packed with seeds. What is it?

If you guessed Sunflower, you're right. Although the plant is native to North America, it is now grown all around the world. The seeds are large, sprout easily, and do their best when sown directly in a hot, sunny spot.

The resultant plant does well in nearly any kind of soil, fends for itself during drought, and seldom has disease or insect problems. The large, yellow flowerhead with its center of brown seeds numbering in the hundreds is attractive to birds, squirrels, mice, and any other seed-eating critter poking around the garden--including man.

It's the seeds that man and beast fight over. They are miniature power houses packed with unsaturated fats, protein, fiber, vitamin E, copper, zinc, selenium and high in magnesium and contain absolutely no cholesterol. The seeds are considered to be a great energy source and according to nutritionists, a single handful will temporarily satisfy a person's hunger.

One year when my kids were quite young, I bought a pack of sunflower seeds and sent them out to the garden to plant them wherever they wished. Weeks later, I began noticing sunflowers sprouting all around the house. I suspected more than a few seeds had been dropped on their way to the garden, even though the kids claimed only to have planted them where they'd been told.

Almost overnight I was awash in gangly green plants that hovered over everything else in the yard, and looked more like scrawny scarecrows with bright yellow heads than the prim plantings one would expect in a suburban home. It didn't take the birds long to begin noticing the seed-maturing stage. They checked daily to see how things were progressing, but no more than did my own kids who thought the minute the flower appeared it was time to cut it off and eat the seeds.

It was a daily ritual to check the seed production and I tired of the game way too soon. At my wit's end with all the begging to get the seeds into their stomachs, I finally gave in and cut the flowerheads off.

We were supposed to let them dry for at least a week but the kids wouldn't hear of it. So I spread newspapers on the kitchen table and let them have at it. We had seeds and fluff and a general mess all over the kitchen, but once the seeds were pretty much separated out, we gave them a good rinse and laid them on a cookie sheet.

I sprayed them with salt and olive oil and roasted them to a golden brown. They were crispy and nutty and doggone addicting. All 4 dozen of them. I had told the kids it was too soon to pick them. Sometimes a visual lesson is a better teacher than any verbal argument.

Sunflower, Cranberry & Oat Granola Bars

1 1/2 cups quick oatmeal
3/4 cup sunflower kernels, roasted and salted
1/2 cup coconut
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1/4 cup toasted wheat germ
1/4 cup whole-wheat flour
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. nutmeg
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1/3 cup packed brown sugar
1/3 cup agave nectar

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Put all the dry ingredients into a large bowl. Stir to combine and set aside.

Mix the vegetable oil, brown sugar and agave nectar and bring to a boil over medium heat. Pour over the dry ingredients and stir till everything is well coated. Press the mixture into a greased 8x8x2 inch square baking pan. Sprinkle with additional sunflower seeds and coconut if desired. Bake 25-30 minutes or until slightly browned around the edges. Remove from oven. While the bars are still warm, press the surface gently with the back of a spoon to flatten them. Score into bars with a knife. Let cool completely.  Makes 24 bars that are easy to carry in a purse, pocket, or briefcase.

Copyright 2011 by Sandra L Keith, All rights reserved

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