It has been some time since I’ve written. My absence from this creative space has not been for naught, certainly not for a lack of vision. I’ve found myself embedded in a new space, an authentic place that melds my various identities as a mom, a writer, a food lover and an idealist. I have missed writing, though, and have been caught up in waves of guilt and unease, a thin line of stress tugging just below the surface. I’m not whole unless I’m writing.
Prior to becoming a mom I resolutely grappled with an ever-ephemeral self-constructed idea of my life, always tangled in cobwebs of my own history, tripping over branches of scrambled self-identity. That’s usually how it unfurls, when faced with career decisions; insecurity and self-doubt vigorously tossed about in a wind chamber.
Contemplating my return to work left me muted, mostly anxious, always disoriented and only occasionally nostalgic, my aspirations a nebulous muddled mess. Time off to raise my son was a gift, the most cherished, perfectly flawed and wondrous time of my life. As a mother I discovered the most transformative, deeply nurturing version of myself. How could this possibly translate to my professional life? How could I successfully drift from being a mom to being reborn as a working mom? I felt pretty clueless.
Then an opportunity unfurled this past summer, one that defines my very nature. I have been teaching cooking to children, which is stunningly and perfectly inspiring. I get to watch kids gain an appreciation for the visceral feeling of kneading homemade gnocchi dough with their hands, the sticky, tacky mess caught between their small fingers. In one class we made pesto with mortars and pestles, the kids channeling their post-school day exuberance into pulverizing spicy garlic, perky basil and floppy spinach into aromatic paste. Kids become intrepid when they prepare foods with their own hands, trying ingredients that scare them, sometimes even disconcertingly repulse them, like the abundant spinach in the pesto. It genuinely ignites a fire bringing them recipes that are a sum greater than their parts, observing them fall for new foods and flavors.
I follow the same tenets of cooking at home, and this granola bar recipe is most definitely a sum greater than its parts. For my son and any lover of portable snacks, and for parents who love healthy snacks masquerading as sugary treats, I created a granola bar that is chewy, sweet and sticky, and dense with protein and vitamins. As of late, my son has become quite besotted with creamy, nutty sunbutter, which packs a protein punch, and serves to bind the bars together. The bars are nut-free to boot, which is essential for his school snack time.
The recipe could not be simpler. The batter uses a combination of ingredients with varying textures- chewy and crunchy chia seeds, crackly crispy rice cereal, baked rolled oats and flax seed mixed with honey, date paste, sunbutter and dappled with bittersweet chocolate shavings. Pour the batter into a pan, mold it and refrigerate. No need to bake the bars. The resulting snack is subtly crackly, giving way to a chewy softness. It is safe to say that the bars were a big hit with kids and adults.
Becoming a teacher has broadened my cooking style, which is inspired by my training as passionate home cook and mother. Food should be fun, adventurous, delightful and curious. I love to teach the recipes my son loves, those that bridge the gap between healthy, seasonal, tactile and most importantly, delicious.
Sweet, Salty, Crackly Granola Bars
2 cups rolled oats
1 cup packed Medjool dates, pitted
1/4 cup honey
1/2 cup sunbutter
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 tablespoons chia seeds
3 tablespoons flax seed (ground or whole)
1/2 cup crispy rice cereal
Small fine sea salt
1/4 cup bittersweet chocolate shavings or finely chopped chocolate chunks, divided
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a 9×9 rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. To make chocolate shavings, use a large knife and press down on edges of chocolate squares until you get thin, crumbly shavings. Set aside in a small bowl.
2. Spread oats on a rimmed baking sheet and bake for 10 to 12 minutes. Let cook completely.
3. While oats bake, warm honey and sunbutter in a small pan over medium-low heat. Add dates to a food processor and blend until smooth.
4. Stir together oats, flax seed, chia seeds and rice cereal in a large bowl. Add date paste and sunbutter mixture to the bowl, along with vanilla extract, salt and half the chocolate shavings. Gently combine the mixture by hand.
5. Spread mixture in the prepared pan using parchment or wax paper to press the mixture firmly into the shape of the pan. Sprinkle the second half of the chocolate evenly over the granola bars and press firmly into the mixture, again using the wax paper or parchment. Keep covered and let set in the refrigerator for about an hour.
6. Remove pan from the refrigerator and cut into bars. Store in an airtight container for several days, or in the refrigerator, covered, for up to a week.
Yield: Makes about 12.