One trade off for burning less petroleum fuel in my work is that I burn calories like mad. I work hard to eat well but have to eat well to keep working hard.
Several years ago when we still lived in Seattle, I was training for a three-day-run around Mt Ranier (96 miles) and working as a carpenter. Having a physical job (where I biked to work sites in the city) combined with high-mileage training made it hard to get enough calories. I was eating all the time and still hungry every two hours. I could pack away plenty of rich, home-cooked food during meals, but that wasn’t enough; I needed high-energy snacks. Eating handfuls of nuts and hard-boiled eggs worked well enough but I finally gave in and started eating two Cliff bars a day at work as well as eating them while running (part of endurance training is learning to eat while running). I quickly got sick of the cost and taste of Cliff bars. I thought, “Screw Cliff. If I can make my own yogurt, bread, and polenta, I can make my own energy bars.”
The below recipe is a modification of one that my mother-in-law sent to me back then. The original version used used corn syrup and peanut butter. I was sick of peanuts and peanut butter so I came up with this version.
1/2 cup low-salt almonds
1/2 cup dried apricots
1/2 cup dried cranberries
3 cups rolled oats
1 1/2 cups of puffed rice
1/4 cup wheat germ
2 Tbs vanilla protein powder
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
3/4 cup Brown rice syrup
3/4 cup Almond butter
I buy the oats and puffed rice in bulk. The rice is much smaller and better tasting than Rice Crispies.
Get the biggest bowl you own. This is a sloppy mixing process and you will want something with plenty of volume. I chop the first three ingredients in the small cup of a food processor. I usually prefer knife work to gadetry, but the food processor is the cleanest and fastest method for this task.
Start with the nuts. I chop the snot out of them –until the biggest ones are 1/8” (half the size of a pencil eraser). Then, add the apricots and cranberries and chop them until it looks like a gummi-bear massacre. It's easier to chop the dried fruit following the nuts since the leftover dust from the nuts cuts down on the stickiness factor.
Dump that into the bowl along with the rest of the dried ingredients and mix them together. Get a 9×13 pan and oil it slightly (I used canola oil).
Put the syrup, sugar, and almond butter in a small saucepan on low heat. I measure the syrup and almond butter in an oiled measuring cup so I can get the stuff back out again. Stir those three ingredients together in the sauce pan until it starts to bubble a little. You have to keep an eye on it and keep stirring from start to finish. You don’t want to deal with overcooked sugar –not fun.
Dump the hot mix into the bowl of dry ingredients, trying to keep the sticky mix surrounded by dry stuff. This requires creative mixing but will also make clean up much easier. You will only get so far stirring the goo and dry stuff together. Hand mixing –the Julia Child both-hands-in-the-bowl-way- is the best method to thoroughly combine all the ingredients evenly. Otherwise, it looks like there is not enough syrup to bind the dry ingredients together.
Once the syrup is cool enough, oil your hands and start mixing (doing this when the syrup is still hot will make you say "the sweariest of swears," as Karsten describes a certain word, since what is burning you is also suck to your skin. Experience, you are an effective teacher). I make a sticky ball, trying to get it to pick up the dry ingredients. Then, I break the ball apart and pick up more dry stuff with the stickier insides, mash it all together and repeat until I have one big ball of material and almost no leftover crumbs.
Place the ball into the pan and smash it to fit. The mix will still be easily molded at this stage. Let it sit in the pan for about an hour and then either turn the pan over and plop the mold onto a cutting board. I use a French knife to divide the sheet 3 x 4 to get 12 bars. You can go smaller if you like. You can wrap them in wax paper, butcher paper, or use small baggies. I reuse the wrappers because I’m cheap like that.
When I calculated the ingredient list and divided the total calories by 12, I got 300 calories per bar.
I came up with Almond-Crapricot bars (I don’t fear any corporate theft of my flavor name) to avoid buying and eating so much processed “energy bars”. Now, with kids in school, the overwhelming glut of junk food masquerading as healthy snacks in single-serving packs drives me nuts. We have some of those things, but I prefer to save that stuff for road trips, occasional school snacks, and other eat-on-the-move moments. If we’re at home, we rarely eat snacks that come in individual wrappers. We eat plenty of fruit, homemade yogurt, muffins, etc. I’m going to start making homemade energy bars again for myself and see what the kids think of them.
Former Marine Infantry Officer. Iraq Vet. Interested in Regenerative Agriculture at any scale.
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