Bark with a bite

Cinnamon is a good complement for baked goods, curries, drinks and side dishes.

There's something about cinnamon that makes me smile - it conjures up sense-memories of the wonderful foods that it perfumes. In ancient times, cinnamon, and its cousin cassia, indeed served as perfumes - but also as medicines, preservatives and seasonings, and both are mentioned in the Bible. In the days and weeks to come, as the weather grows colder, cinnamon can be particularly helpful, since it is considered to be a "warming spice." Cinnamon is actually one of the most ancient spices, produced from the bark of Cinnamomum zeylanicum, a tropical evergreen tree from the laurel family first discovered on the island of Sri Lanka (formerly Ceylon). In the rainy season, the bark is peeled off and dried in the sun for 24 hours, then scraped to remove the outer layer. When the inner layer dries, it curls into the characteristic paper-thin quill shape sold in spice jars. In traditional Eastern medicines, both cinnamon and cassia are considered to be appetite stimulants, strengtheners, digestive aids and useful in the treatment of bacteria and fungi, colds and flu. Today we know that it also contains impressive amounts of calcium, iron, potassium, manganese, zinc and even vitamins B3, A and C. In the kitchen, cinnamon complements cakes, sweet pastries and stewed fruits, but also curries, Moroccan tagines, chai tea and other beverages (see "Quickies" below). It is also a participant in curry powders, Moroccan ras-el-hanout, garam masala, barbecue spice blends, Cajun and even Asian spice blends and stocks. Whether cooking chicken, meat or grains, blend it with spices like turmeric, nutmeg, ginger, cumin, coriander seed, cloves, caraway, cardamom and allspice. Use the quills rather than the ground spice in dishes when the flavor is intended to infuse into a liquid medium. CARAWAY & CINNAMON-SCENTED BULGUR WHEAT Also delicious as a stuffing for chicken or Cornish hen. Makes 2 servings as a main dish, 4 as a side 4 1 cup medium bulgur wheat 4 1 Tbsp. olive oil 4 3⁄4 cup chopped onion 4 13⁄4 cup boiling water 4 1⁄2 tsp. caraway seeds 4 1⁄4 tsp. ground black pepper 4 1⁄2 tsp. ground cinnamon 4 1⁄4 tsp. ground cumin 4 1⁄2 cup raisins or dried cranberries 4 Salt to taste Heat the oil in a heavy frying pan with cover over medium heat. Gently saute the onion over medium-low heat till translucent, about 5 minutes, stirring often. Add the bulgur and toast for 2 minutes, stirring frequently. Add the water and spices, stir and cover and cook over very low heat for 10 minutes. Add the raisins and continue cooking an additional 5 minutes, or until the water is absorbed. Let rest 5 minutes before stirring the raisins in with a fork. OATMEAL-APPLE-CINNAMON MUFFINS These healthy delicious muffins are great to serve for breakfast, or to take to work or school. In season, peaches or pears may be substituted for the apple. Makes 12-15 servings 4 1 cup buttermilk 4 1 cup quick-cooking (not instant) oatmeal 4 1⁄2 cup raisins or apple-juice-sweetened cranberries 4 1 large egg 4 1⁄2 cup canola, oil 4 1⁄2 cup demerara sugar 4 1⁄2 cup whole-wheat flour 4 1⁄2 cup unbleached all-purpose white flour 4 1 tsp. baking powder 4 1⁄2 tsp. baking soda 4 1⁄4 tsp. salt (optional) 4 1 tsp. cinnamon 4 2 Tbsp. boiling water 4 1 cup finely cubed (unpeeled) apple Preheat the oven to 180ºC. Line a 12-cup muffin pan with paper liners. In a medium bowl, mix the oatmeal, buttermilk and raisins together with a fork. Set aside for 10 minutes. Blend in egg, oil and sugar. Sift the flours, baking powder, baking soda, salt and cinnamon into a large bowl. Make a well in the center, and stir in the oatmeal mixture. Use a wooden spoon to mix the ingredients together till smooth. Do not beat. Stir in boiling water, apple and raisins. Fill each muffin cup 3⁄4 full, and bake in the preheated oven for 20 minutes, or until a toothpick in the center comes out clean. QUICKIES CINNAMON SUGAR: Mix 1 cup of demerara sugar with 1 Tbsp. of ground cinnamon. CINNAMON-CLOVE INFUSED BEVERAGES Apple juice, cider, herb teas and even wine taste great when infused with a cinnamon stick and a few cloves. Heat but do not boil. Remove the spices after 15 minutes to avoid bitterness.