Social distancing gives me more time alone with my thoughts. And while many of my thoughts are about sourcing, cooking and eating great local food, other thoughts can be more worrisome.

I’ve not had this much time to think since August 2007. At that point, we’d just moved to England and had yet to make social connections because everyone else on the island was on holiday elsewhere. Some alone time is great. Too much alone time gets me perseverating about what could have been and what could happen any day now. Neither are good directions to wander toward during a global pandemic.

What saved me from my rabbit hole of what-ifs back then was The Norfolk Coast Path. This network of walking trails runs 84 miles from Hunstanton to Hopton-on-Sea along the northeasterly bump of England that points toward Amsterdam. We walked past striped red and white chalk cliffs cascading into the North Sea; through sand dunes, salt marsh and pine woods that supported wild blackberry brambles, natterjack toads and leggy dragonflies; along beaches with seals sunning themselves on the sand; and, over walls built to protect England from Roman, Norman and German invaders alike. Walking these trails, we found distraction from our loneliness, exercise for our nervous energy, communion with our natural surroundings and occasional good cheer should we happen upon a pub.

What has saved me from my deep well of what-ifs when we first began the current social distancing process was an email from the Harpswell Heritage Land Trust. It explained that while the organization had to cancel all of its scheduled programming until further notice, “our preserves and trails are open! Whether you’ve visited them a hundred times or are new to Harpswell, our trails and preserves provide a safe place to enjoy the beauty of the Maine coast, explore, play, get some exercise, connect with family, breath in the fresh air, relax and clear your mind.”

It may seem obvious – seeing as I live in a state blessed with an 84-member strong state land trust network, a conglomerate whose landing website lets visitors sort their options by county, alphabetically or cartographically – that I’d be out there taking in the vistas and the vitality every day. But it wasn’t until now – with social distancing as the catalyst – that I am tapping these trails at the rate that is good for my mental health and at a distance from others that keeps us all safe.

Columnist Christine Burns Rudalevige dips a flapjack into melted chocolate. You can also add chocolate by stirring chips into the batter. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

British Peanut Butter Flapjacks
While both can be consumed at breakfast, British flapjacks are more like American granola bars than they are American pancakes. Basic pantry ingredients – butter, sugar and oats – combine into chewy, calorie-dense squares perfect for snacking before, during or after a long walk. A nice thing about these easy-to-make baked goodies is that they can be adapted to whatever is in your larder. I don’t put the chocolate chips in the bars but instead melt them and then dip the corners of each square into the chocolate. Allow the chocolate to cool and harden before serving the flapjacks.


Makes 16 squares

1 cup light brown sugar
2/3 cup Lyle’s Golden Syrup (or corn syrup or a combination of 1/3 cup honey plus 1/3 cup maple syrup)
1/2 cup crunchy peanut butter
1/2 cup butter
3 cups rolled oats
Pinch of salt
1/2 cup optional add-ins (dark chocolate chips, chopped dried fruit or nuts, shredded coconut)

Line a 9- by 9-inch square pan with parchment paper. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

In a large saucepan, combine the brown sugar, syrup, peanut butter and butter and place the mixture over low heat. Stir until it is a smooth paste and the butter has melted. Remove the pan from heat. Stir in oats, salt and add-ins, if using.

When the ingredients are completely incorporated, transfer the batter to the prepared pan. Bake until the flapjacks are golden brown, about 20 minutes. Cool completely and cut into squares. Store for up to a week in an airtight container.

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