Dalai Mama Dishes

by Catherine Newman

Catherine Newman cooks for the family

Dalai Mama Dishes

Catherine Newman cooks for the family

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Granola Bars

Posted September 28, 2009
Find more about dalai mama , bars , granola , snack
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These are chewy, salty, tangy, sweet. Four of my favorite flavors. (What? Chewy isn't a flavor? Sure it is.)

Don't be put off by Birdy's worried expression. Cutting the apricots with scissors is a lovely job for a child.

See? Here she looks merely baffled instead of anxious.

"Don't tell me you're putting *flax* in those!" Michael said, because he's so funny.

Waiting (and waiting) for the bars to cool.

Here are the crumbs. Artsy, no?

One bar escaped the wrapping frenzy.

But it did not last long.

The view into my lap while I'm attaching these photos here. Craney Crow, the kitten of kittens.

Okay, so his self-marinating single-serving pouches of sardines flopped, but inventor Stanley Mason enjoyed a great deal of success with the squeezable ketchup bottle, the disposable diaper, the Playtex "Wow" bra, and the granola bar. Were you born yet when the first granola bars came out in the 70s? I was, and it felt a lot like getting away with something, those Nature Valley double-pouches of health-sanctioned sweetness. They were cookies, but they weren't cookies, and you could tuck them in your rucksack when you were going out, for instance, to see James Taylor play for nuclear disarmament in Central Park. (Okay, I just Googled that, and it was actually 1982, by which point I likely has an armful of black rubber bracelets. Remember those?) Those were the days.

And, actually, those are still the days. Because my kids take these granola bars to school for snack, and they doubtless experience a similar, "I can't believe it's not cookies" feeling of righteous swindlery. But here's my theory about these, and about food in general: I'm more concerned with what they do have than with what they don't. And so, the fact that the bars are packed with whole grains and nuts, seeds and dried fruits, means that they're an excellent source of energy and nutrients, despite the sweet, greasy facts of butter and honey. Which is not to say that I wouldn't love to make these a little less sweet, but mostly that's because they simply taste too sweet to me. Unfortunately, when I try to cut back on the honey, they refuse to cohere into bars, and then the kids end up with wax-bags of oatish shards for their snack, which is somehow less exciting than a nice, tidy bar. I wonder how it would work if you added gelatin. Would that be too gross and horse-hoofy? Or what if you used jam for all or part of the honey? Forgive my thinking aloud here. I will try it and write back.

Of course, it might seem like a lot of work to make something you can readily buy, but the truth is that they come together quickly, and the only real investment of time comes with waiting for them to cool enough to cut. And you really do need to wait for them to cool enough, or you will end up with a cutting board heaped with maddening crumbs. I have gotten in the habit of spending Sunday mornings in school-week cooking mode: I make granola bars for snack and cookies for the lunchbox, and sometimes something else like breakfast granola or crackers or hummus--and it gives me a very happy, settled feeling as I move into the week. I am not entirely sure what's happening to me. It used to be that reading the Sunday paper with a thermos of coffee and Michael in his boxer shorts gave me a very happy, settled feeling as I moved into the week, and this seems still like a worthwhile use of time. So, if that's where you're at, while you're out buying the paper, go ahead and pick up a box of granola bars and a bag of cookies, and call it a day. But if you find yourself morphing into a weird caricature from Good Housekeeping, go ahead and try these granola bars.

Granola Bars
Makes about 20 bars
Active time: 20 minutes; total time: 50 minutes.

This is my version of an excellent Ina Garten recipe--she's the Barefoot Contessa, and I really love her no-nonsense style of cooking and eating. Of course the flax seed is my own personal addition here (surprise!) as is the large-ish amount of salt (surprise!). Also, I believe she uses cranberries, but I love dried cherries, and continue to swear by buying them at Trader Joe's. Use whatever dried fruit you like. Once the bars are cooled and cut, I wrap them individually in wax or parchment paper. Which makes me sound even more like I need to get a life. (Note: these are less sweet without the sugar, but they don't stick together quite as confidently. You decide.)

2 cups rolled oats (not instant or quick)
1 cup sliced almonds
1 cup shredded coconut, loosely packed
1/2 cup toasted wheat germ
1/4 cup ground flax seed
3 tablespoons butter
2/3 cup honey
1/4 cup brown sugar (optional)
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 teaspoon kosher salt (or half as much table salt)
1/2 cup chopped pitted dates (we just use those rolled date pieces that look like rabbit turds)
1/2 cup chopped dried apricots (I prefer California apricots to Turkish: they're tangier)
1/2 cup dried cherries

Heat the oven to 350, butter an 8- by 12-inch baking dish, and line it with parchment paper.

Mix the oats, almonds, and coconut together on a sheet pan and bake for 10 to 12 minutes, stirring occasionally, until lightly browned, then transfer the mixture to a large mixing bowl and stir in the wheat germ and flax meal.

Reduce the oven temperature to 300.

Place the butter, honey, brown sugar, vanilla, and salt in a small saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat. Cook and stir for a minute, then pour over the oat mixture and stir in the dates, apricots, and cherries. Stir well. Pour the mixture into the prepared pan. Even it out and press it flat with a spatula, then wet your fingers press it more firmly and evenly into the pan. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until light golden brown. Cool for at least 2 hours before cutting into squares or oblongs. Store airtight.

Get a printable version of this recipe.

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Granola Bars

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About Catherine Newman

Catherine Newman is the author of the memoir, Waiting for Birdy: A Year of Frantic Tedium, Neurotic Angst, and the Wild Magic of Growing a Family, available online and in bookstores nationwide.

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