I’m reaching a more adult age, or so I’m told. Word on the street is that this means my metabolism will soon plummet, leaving me no way to burn through the finer foods of life like I always have done. I mean, my diet’s nothing outrageous. I don’t subsist only on potato chips and Mountain Dew, but a delicious meal is one of my favorite indulgences.
I don’t ever want to be told I can’t eat the things I love to eat, so I’ve been thinking a lot lately about being more deliberate about what I eat, rather than throwing junk willy-nilly at my poor system.
One thing I eat too much of is sugar (I’m not alone in this, for sure). Sugar, crazily, infests everything we eat, and we all know it’s not great for you. There are things that need refined sugars, like meringues and divinity (yum!), but pasta sauce, cereal and soy milk (really?) are not those things. And so I’m trying to make it go away where it’s not needed.
Why am I going on and on about this?
Granola bars. They’re totally yummy, they make great quick snacks while you’re on your bike, at work, on a road trip, wherever. But when you start looking at the packaging it’s clear they’re hardly more than tarted up candy bars. I’ve got a Clif Mojo bar here that I snagged on Bike to Work day last month, and the first ingredient is Organic Brown Rice Syrup. There’s 12 grams of sugar in it (none of it is processed sugar, which is great, but a sweetener is still the main ingredient).
If the recommended daily allowance of sugar is 40 grams, then this little bar has already put you over a quarter of the way there. Not much room left for a cupcake later.
So this is one of the healthiest options around?
I guess I’ll just have to make my own.
Granola bars a la Bicitoreña
My basic theory of the granola bar is that it’s just trail mix that sticks together. I want a bar to be filling, good for me, and not cloyingly sweet. I want it to taste delicious, otherwise I won’t actually eat it and I’ll just go buy a Snickers bar instead, and then what’s the point of this whole exercise?
The recipe I adapted this from called for a half cup of sugar, but I find that leaving that out is just fine. I prefer for my sweetness to come from the fruit bits and honey, instead. It’s a bit crumblier than a store-bought bar, and I’ve read that putting an egg in can help bind it together. I’ve never tried it, but I suppose in the name of science I should do so and report back. Stay tuned.
My recipe is all about using what I have in my cupboard at the time I make the bars. Essentially, it’s got 4 parts:
- grains: rolled oats, puffed rice, etc.
- dried fruits ‘n nuts: I often get Trader Joe’s trail mixes, or just buy things individually in bulk. I chop up big pieces so they’re more manageable to eat.
- stickiness: peanut butter, honey, agave syrup, olive oil, butter.
- spices: cinnamon, nutmeg (both give the illusion of sweetness without actual sugar), dash cayenne (try it before you knock it).
1 1/2 cups oats
1/3 cup oat flour*
1 T ground flax seed
1/4 t cinnamon
1/4 t nutmeg
1 t salt
2 cups fruits ‘n nuts
1/2 cup peanut butter**
1/4 cup honey or agave syrup
6 T melted butter or olive oil***
1 t vanilla
Chop your nuts and fruits. This time I used orange-flavored cranberries, macadamia nuts, almonds and pumpkin seeds.
Grind your oat flour. I use a giant food processor that demolishes anything you throw at it (thanks mom-in-law!).
Mix all the dry ingredients together.
Mix all the wet ingredients together. Add to the dry ingredients all at once. Mix.
The mixture should be crumbly, not gloppy, with most of the body coming from the peanut butter rather than a sticky syrup.
Press it into a greased 9″ x 9″ pan, then bake at 350 for 30 minutes until golden (photo below is pre-baked).
Let it cool for a few minutes before cutting it into bars, but don’t let it cool completely or it’ll break rather than cut. Enjoy!
*Just pulse your oats in a food processor or blender. In a pinch you could use whole wheat flour, but that tends to produce a denser bar.
**I used almond butter this time around because it was in my cupboard from forever ago and I figured it should probably be used up. I prefer the stronger flavor that peanut butter gives.
***In the interest of healthiness I’ve left this out in the past, but the bars get super crumbly. Also, butter is tasty.