Something has been lost over the past few decades where, in the interest of modernizing ourselves, we have turned into consumers instead of producers. I think it a bit silly that I do not know how to sew, and far more absurd that I was thirty years old before I even attempted to bake bread. It isn't that I want to adorn myself with a bonnet, eschew makeup (God forbid), give up my car, and relinquish my Blackberry at the door, but more a desire to regain some independence that is driving me towards some of these more simple pleasures.
It would just be nice to know there is an alternative to automatically and blindly heading to a store when I need something, you know? As household items have broken recently, we have tried to see if we can make do or do without instead of mindlessly replacing everything, an exercise in which we have had wildly mixed results. The coffeepot and the laptop were both replaced within hours (and upgraded to boot), but it turns out that a lingerie bag and a little bit of manic cardio can take the place of a salad spinner, and a cast iron grill pan makes a more than adequate pizza stone. This is a work in progress, obviously, and is sure to be tested further.
It was in this spirit that I decided we needed to add some more snack foods to our cooking repertoire, mostly in the interest of demystifying those over-packaged and nutritionally impotent geegaws that so tempt young children. So far, so good on this front: French fries were fun to learn, as were onion rings, spicy dill pickles and, of course, all desserts we've made to date (truth be told, I would love to master potato chips as well, but I'm petrified of using a mandoline - my lack of grace could be to my detriment in this instance). And as soon as I can get my hands on a used food dehydrator, we will test our fruit drying skills to see if there is some way to convince my skeptical son that gummy candies are unnecessary to a happy childhood.
This week, to supplement our learning activities and to pad The Big Boy's lunchbox for his weekly four hours at 'school,' I snagged a recipe from Serious Eats for homemade granola bars. The post's author had already done much of the dirty work, substituting here and there in the original recipe to make for a more healthful bar and since that particular website is a little less, ah, crunchy than some of the others I read, and the ingredients were all items that I keep in our pantry at any given time, I was fairly confident from the get-go that this would appeal to the whole family.
I was also, it should be noted, willing to throw in a small handful of white chocolate chips to make these more palatable to children who might not yet be able to appreciate their mama's moral neuroses.
The recipe was surprisingly easy - I'm not sure why I assumed granola bars were either time-consuming or labor-intensive - and the end result was nothing short of addictive. I keep swearing I'm going to wrap them up and put them away, but I just can't stop eating them.
The bars are dense and chewy, ever-so-slightly rich, and just sweet enough that their healthfulness can be overlooked (I love it when that happens). The texture is heavier than commercial chewy granola bars, but less crispy-crumbly than the old-fashioned original kind. Even better, they are filling enough to make a lovely breakfast on the go. I will be eating a lot of these, I can tell. Actually, um, I've eaten three in the last hour alone - they're that good.
GRANOLA BARS (adapted from Serious Eats, makes 15 2x2 bars)
- 2 cups rolled oats (the extra-thick ones from Bob's Red Mill are particularly good)
- 1/2 cup unpacked light brown sugar
- 1/2 cup wheat germ
- 3/4 tsp ground cinnamon
- 1 cup whole wheat flour
- 2/3 cup dried, sweetened cranberries
- 1/4 cup slivered almonds
- 1/4 cup white chocolate chips (optional, to the purists)
- 3/4 tsp salt
- 1/2 cup honey
- 2 large egg whites
- 1/4 cup canola oil (or roasted nut oil)
- 1/4 cup very mashed banana
- 2 tsp vanilla extract
- In a 325 degree oven, toast the slivered almonds on a baking sheet until pale golden, about 8 to 10 minutes.
- In a large bowl, stir together the oats, sugar, wheat germ, cinnamon, flour, cranberries, toasted almonds, white chocolate chips, and salt.
- In a medium bowl, whisk together the honey, egg whites, oil, banana, and vanilla.
- Make a well in the middle of the dry ingredients, pour the honey mixture into the well, and stir together with a wooden spoon until everything is moistened.
- Pour mixture into a well-greased 9x13 glass baking dish, and pat into a rectangle. The rectangle may not reach all sides of the pan. Don't let that stress you out. Mine was short about 2 inches at one end.
- Bake at 350 degrees for 25 to 35 minutes, until edges begin to brown.
- Remove from oven, cool for no more than 5 minutes, and cut into squares (if you wait too long to cut them, they will not cut well). Let cool completely before removing from pan.