I love Maine for many reasons, and one of them is the easy access to maple syrup.

Health food’s answer to refined white sugar (and its evil twin, high fructose corn syrup), this delightful amber liquid can be purchased by the gallon at this time of year. (Assuming you have strong arms and a thick wallet.)

Maple syrup is filled with cancer-fighting compounds and other good-for-us nutrients. Maple syrup is also expensive. (A quart jug typically sells for $20 to $30, depending on where you buy it.)

But I view the high cost as a virtue.

One of the problems with white sugar is that it’s cheap. What’s to stop us from heaping it on oatmeal, tossing some in the tomato sauce or whipping up sugar cookies? Not the price tag.

Because maple syrup is expensive it reminds us it is a precious gift from nature to be savored and used with a light touch. And who among us couldn’t use a reminder to eat fewer sweets?

While maple syrup is worlds apart from bland white sugar in terms of taste, it also tends to be less cloyingly sweet. For all these reasons, it is the sweetener of choice in my kitchen, where I use it in both sweet and savory dishes.

To demonstrate the broad range of uses for maple syrup, I give you two examples of the many places you can use maple syrup. The stir-fry sauce is my go-to recipe for a quick weeknight meal, and the blueberry cake with coconut vanilla frosting is a recipe I developed for my son’s first birthday party. Both create tasty dishes free of refined sugar and full of flavor.

 

Garlic-ginger stir-fry sauce

¼ cup finely diced garlic

¼ cup finely diced ginger root

2/3 cup tamari or soy sauce

¼ cup maple syrup

3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar

1 dash toasted sesame oil

Mix all ingredients together and use immediately or store in the refrigerator for up to three days.

Makes enough to pair with 6 cups of cooked rice or an equivalent amount of cooked noodles (roughly 30 ounces of dried noodles).

Wild Maine blueberry cake with coconut vanilla frosting

CAKE:

3 cups whole grain spelt flour

1½ teaspoons baking soda

¾ cup virgin coconut oil, melted

1½ cups non-dairy milk

2 teaspoons orange or lemon juice, freshly squeezed

½ cup maple syrup

1½ cups wild Maine blueberries, fresh or frozen

To prepare the cake, preheat oven to 400 and lightly oil two 8-inch cake pans. Whisk together flour and baking soda. Mix in the melted coconut oil until completely incorporated.

If the milk and maple syrup have been refrigerated, heat them over low heat in a saucepan until the mixture is warm but not hot. Add milk and syrup mixture to flour, along with the freshly squeezed juice. Mix together.

If using fresh blueberries, fold them into the batter. Be sure not to overmix, as the batter will turn blue. Fill the cake pans.

If using frozen blueberries, add the batter to the cake pans without the blueberries. Then drop the blueberries by spoonfuls into the batter and swirl the berries (pushing them toward the bottom of the pan).

Bake the cakes for 45 minutes, until a toothpick placed in the center comes out clean.

FROSTING:

24 ounces silken tofu

2 tablespoons vanilla extract

11/2 cups virgin coconut oil

1/2 cup maple syrup

Add tofu, vanilla and maple syrup to a food processor or blender and blend until smooth. Use a spatula as needed to scrape down the sides.

Then pour the mixture into a saucepan. Turn the heat to medium low. Add the coconut oil and let the tofu mixture simmer for 15 minutes. This allows some of the water from the tofu to evaporate and the coconut oil to melt.

Pour the mixture back into the food processor or blender and blend for about a minute. Finally pour the mixture into a storage container, cover and refrigerate for at least six hours before using. Should a thin layer of coconut oil float to the top while cooling, it will create a hard crust at the top. Remove this before using.

 

FILLING AND TOPPING:

Fresh blueberries

1 jar fruit juice-sweetened wild blueberry jam (8- to 9-ounce jar)

To assemble the cake, place one of the cake layers on a serving dish or cake stand. Then spread the blueberry jam across the top of this cake. Next add a layer of frosting. Top with the second layer of cake.

Frost the top of the cake and the sides. Decorate with fresh blueberries.

Once frosted, the cake should be stored in the refrigerator until ready to serve to ensure the frosting stays firm.

Avery Yale Kamila is a freelancer who lives in Portland, where she writes about health food and uses maple syrup to make her cooking sweeter. She can be reached at:avery.kamila@gmail.com

Twitter: AveryYaleKamila