Look closely at this here energy bar. You’ll see Washington hazelnuts – that nifty, almond-shaped DuChilly variety that doesn’t need skinning after a good roast. There are pistachios, and pepitas, and sunflower seeds. Glance again, and you’ll see sweetness in the form of dried apricots and cranberries.
There are things you won’t see, also. You won’t really notice the crispy rice cereal and date puree that binds the bars together. You won’t see the bar I squashed in the bottom of my computer bag this morning, or the way I turned the bag inside-out around my fist so I could eat said squished bar without spilling the stray bits into my keyboard at my favorite coffee shop. And you won’t see the first or second version of these bars – both of which got eaten, but neither of which held together the way I wanted.
What I wanted, and what I wanted to give you, was a crunchy, crackly, naturally sweetened, portable energy bar. I wanted a rice krispy treat for grown-ups – something with the process and allure of that old childhood treat, but much more lasting oomph. These are them. I love the secrets they reveal when I cut them open with a big, heavy knife, and I love that I can pack one discretely into my gym bag and eat it before zumba class. (Don’t knock it, people.) But what I love most is that I had the energy to make these bars over and over until I got them just right.
I’m the kind of person who finds it easier to complain most profusely in hindsight. It’s a talent I’ve cultivated over the years, perhaps because in my house growing up, whingeing never really got me anywhere. But if a certain something has already happened? I can bitch about the past with the best of ‘em. I had the worst blisters. That man next to me on the airplane had the most terrible stench. It was the driest sandwich bread I’ve ever tasted.
So now I can say how effing annoying it was that it’s hurt to chew for months, and that although it’s a decent party trick, I really don’t like it when my fingers turn white and blue at random all day long. And though there are many inconveniences in life that I’m happy to deal with, being constantly exhausted is not one of them. These past few months, lupus has not been fun. More than anything, I hated feeling that I was always searching for energy.
But here’s my good news: the new lupus drug I’m on is starting to erase all that. Slowly. Surely. Most mornings these days, I wake up more quickly than usual, because I’m so surprised to meet a body in a little less pain. I’m shocked that my ankles can creak and pop freely, because the connective tissue in my feet has started loosening. I’m startled, because these days, I have energy. I’m exercising. I’m gardening. (Nothing boosts an ego like having full-grown peas before the rest of the block.) And people, I’m cooking. I’m cooking a lot.
This past weekend, BlogHer Food, a conference that gathers bloggers and food writers from all over, was in Seattle. I spoke, and I listened, and after meeting and greeting and laughing and eating, I bussed myself home with lists and lists of ideas—new blogs to read, new recipes to write, new people to love. And every night, the second my child’s head hits the pillow, I start cooking. There’s been strawberry-vanilla jam from Food in Jars, and those fabulously smokey nut-dusted green beans from Ripe (AKA The Cookbooks Of My Summer), and these bars.
This. This feels good.
Nut and Seed Energy Bars (PDF)
I know, I know, it’s a boring title for a recipe. But here’s the thing: it doesn’t really matter which nuts and seeds you pack into these portable little snacks, as long as the total is about 5 cups. I didn’t want to get all didactic on you. Go wild. Also, use peanut butter instead of almond butter, if you’d like, or chopped dried cherries or raisins in place of the apricots or cranberries. Just do me a favor: when you’re mixing the whole thing together in a big bowl, when no one’s looking, stick a hand into the mixture and squeeze. Just for a second. It’s sticky and messy, but it’s also fun—and isn’t that what snacks should be?
If you can’t find DuChilly hazelnuts, which don’t require skinning, toast and skin regular hazelnuts separately.
Makes about 2 dozen squares
Active time: 15 minutes
1 cup raw pepitas
1 cup raw sunflower seeds
1 cup raw almonds
1 cup raw hazelnuts
1 cup raw (shelled) pistachios
10 dates, pitted
1/2 cup brown rice syrup
2 tablespoons maple syrup
2 teaspoons arrowroot powder
1/4 cup unsalted almond butter
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 cup dried cranberries
1/2 cup dried apricots, chopped
2 cups crispy rice cereal
Preheat the oven to 400°F.
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Add the pepitas, sunflower seeds, almonds, hazelnuts, and pistachios, stir to blend, and toast for 7 to 10 minutes, stirring once or twice, or until the seeds and nuts are lightly browned. Set aside.
Meanwhile, whirl the dates in a food processor fitted with the blade attachment until pureed. (The mixture will be thick and pasty.)
Add the brown rice and maple syrups to a large soup pot. Bring the syrups to a boil over medium heat. Add the arrowroot powder, almond butter, sea salt, and date puree, and whisk until smooth. Remove the pot from the heat. Stir in the toasted nuts and seeds, cranberries, and apricots, then gently fold in the cereal.
Line a 9- by 13-inch pan with parchment or waxed paper, so the paper comes all the way up the sides of the pan. Dump the seed and nut mixture into the pan, spreading it out in a roughly even layer. Press another sheet of parchment or waxed paper on top, and use a drinking glass or a spice jar to press and roll the mixture into a flat, even layer. Let the bars cool completely.
Peel the top layer of paper off, invert the bars onto a large cutting board, and peel off the other layer of paper. Using a really big knife, cut the bars into 2- by 2-inch squares. (Be decisive when you cut; meek cutting will result in bars with jagged edges.)
Store the bars in an airtight container at room temperature, up to 3 days, or wrap and freeze individually. Grab and go in the morning!