our messy table

Month: April, 2014

a powerhouse

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When I re-stock our groceries every two weeks, I have my list clenched between my thumb and index fingers, my phone out to calculate costs (because you don’t want to know the truth about my mental math abilities), and my wild animal sliding back and forth in the cart’s seat, pointing at all of the round, ball-resembling objects proclaiming “baah!” and wagging his index finger accusingly at the other shoppers chanting “no, no, no!”.

We don’t buy lavish or random things because we live by a rather tight budget. And it works really well for us.

We always keep beans, a kind of grain, vegetable or chicken broth, canned tomatoes, rolled or steel-cut oats and peanut butter of stock. We buy the kiddo’s favorite cheese for snacks, tortillas, milk and eggs. Yogurt, sweet potatoes, whatever onion is cheapest and garlic. Applesauce, our standard flours, yeast, honey and maple syrup. I’ll grab whatever fruit is one sale, though blueberries and grapes are easiest. Sometimes I buy chicken hind-quarters. Usually we have to re-stock on cooking oils and butter. On a good day, I get Annie’s Graham bunnies as road food.

We have our standard greens to live by too: broccoli (usually frozen for our purposes) or cauliflower, whichever is cheaper that week. We usually get carrots, cabbage, and frozen peas. And our staple dark green: spinach… since my husband really does not like Kale.

Except sometimes this all gets very boring. And though I am a meal planner who likes to have her ducks in a row when it comes to food and money (since the two very much go hand-in-hand), I also sometimes get so sick of routine and spinach that I would sooner chuck it out the window before adding it to my soup, eggs or rice ever again. I would sooner set a field of spinach on fire. Line it along a kitty litter box. Use it as toilet paper for my toddler’s (I mean, my wild animal’s) number two’s!

And there I was at the grocery store the other evening, shopping by my lonesome. I tell you, for me, there has never been a more invigorating experience. My husband was home with the animal, and I was getting out and indulging myself in what odd activities keep me feeling sane and in control … sorting through my grocery list, analyzing prices and getting what food we needed without worrying about my son throwing himself onto the Gouda samples. I even organized the items in my cart just the way I thought they should be organized without a finger piercing the wrappers and jousting grapes.

And then I saw it, Chinese cabbage, and I remembered reading about it a few weeks back. I had often stopped and stared at its sensual shape and soft, dark leaves. And just like that, I threw it the cart (well.. I actually stacked it neatly in the veggie corner of the cart. But that’s beside the point, isn’t it?).

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. . .

Like its trendy, dark-leafed counterparts, Chinese cabbage, or bok choy as it is more commonly known, is a powerhouse of nutrition. It contains large amounts of Vitamin C, A and K. Vitamin C (I always think of Tang chimpanzees…) is an essential nutrient that protects the immune system. It is also believed to prevent prenatal problems, cardiovascular disease and even skin wrinkling. Vitamin A is essential to a functioning immune system, and Vitamin K for building strong bones and preventing heart disease.

Bok choy is also a source of calcium, magnesium, potassium, manganese and iron.

Because bok choy is mostly comprised of water, it’s important you make use of it roughly 2-3 days after you purchase it, before the head becomes wilty. The high water content also makes it lower in calories than spinach or kale.

Bok choy is light and slightly spicy in flavor. It is makes a delicious addition to stir fry and holds up particularly well in soup. Due to the gloomy and gusty weather as of late, we decided to make chicken soup with a small loaf of cornbread a few nights ago. I added a few heads of diced bok choy several minutes before the soup was done cooking. The finished product was pleasantly warm and mildly spicy. And though my wild animal kept the chicken to himself and fed the bok choy bits to me, I think that deep down he appreciated my grocey-shopping spontaneity.

Chicken Soup with Bok Choy

Yield: 2 as main dish, 4 as side

• 4 cups chicken broth
• 2 cups water
• 2 ribs celery, diced
• 1 large yellow onion, diced
• 4 cloves garlic
• 1 tsp ginger, peeled and diced
• 1 lb. skinless chicken , I used breast**
• 3 heads bok choy, diced
• 1 ½ tsp soy sauce
• Squeeze lime juice
• Sea salt

Combine broth, water, celery, onion, garlic, and ginger in a medium saucepan; bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to medium, add chicken, and cook at a bare simmer until a thermometer inserted into thickest part of meat reaches 160 degrees, about 13 minutes. Remove chicken from broth. When cool enough to handle, tear or cut into pieces. Set aside.

Meanwhile, add bok choy to broth. Simmer until just tender, about 5 minutes. Stir in soy sauce and lime juice. Season with salt and add chicken pieces. Serve.

Notes:
*Vegetarians can withhold the meat and replace it with mushrooms, egg noodles, carrots and so on…
*You could also use chicken thigh, I imagine, and strip it from the bone.

with salad

 

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Though buying them in bulk is so much cheaper, I have had my qualms with dried beans. Don’t get me wrong. Grocery shopping feels like a small victory when I slide up the bulk handle and watch hundreds of marbley beans fall into my bag for only a few dollars. But I have learned the hard way that sometimes, when dried beans have been loafing in those bins for too long, the seed membrane can become extremely hard and never, ever soften. Therefore, the battle of crock pot vs. old bean has an unfortunate and predictable end (I’ll give you a hint… crunchy bean chili… crunchy bean tacos… crunchy bean non-paste).

Also, there is all the buzz about soaking your beans… whether or not soaking away the small amount of the phytates and tannins is worth also soaking away the… eerm..  flatulence-related substances.

Whatever, people. Black beans have their value either way. They have an ever-amazing protein-plus-fiber content that helps regulate the digestive process and blood sugar. Black beans also contain an impressive amount of antioxidants and anti-inflammatory phytonutrients which reduce the risk of certain cancers, particularly colon cancer.

Most often, I buy them canned because, as stated before, I have learned to not trust those bean bulk bins. I often wait until I see someone re-filling them , or if I can find a processing date that is fairly recent… like the last six months. But usually, canned beans and I are friends.

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Carrots. I recently learned (from Martha Stewart Living’s May addition, thank you) that Carotenoids, the antioxidant that gives this root vegetable its orange pigment may protect against heart disease, cataracts, and certain cancers. It’s a good thing, too. Because carrots are one of the few veggies I can confidently feed my son without have to guise with cheese.

We have all heard that brown rice is better for us than white… that white rice is just naked brown nice, almost fully stripped of its nutrition. By removing the hull (the outer most layer of the grain), you are also removing almost all of the Vitamin B, Vitamin B1, and Vitamin B6. You also lose half the manganese, phosphorus, iron, dietary fiber and essential fatty acids.

I mean, in my house, we still like white rice. We like our Arborio rice made into creamy risotto, a bed of long-grain white rice for grilled meat and vegetables, and Jasmin rice, fluffed with coconut and served with walnuts or cashews. It is hard to beat the easy and fluffy texture of well-prepared white rice. Regardless, with the help of black beans and carrots, the heft and heartiness of brown rice certainly has a place to nutritionally shine in this salad.

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This salad is a really nice one to have around for a quick pick-me-up snack, a filling on-the-road meal, or those its-late-and-I-don’t-want-to-think-about-dinner nights. I have enjoyed it under a fried egg, wrapped in a warm whole wheat tortilla, and cold, straight from the fidget. I think my son likes how tangy the dressing is because he rolls his finger around the bottom of the bowl to collect every drop. I also like how just a little of this salad fills me up for a long, long time.

You could probably substitute the rice for another grain, like farro, amaranth, or quinoa (or, you know, white rice;)). You could also swap the kale for another dark, leafy green or even chopped cabbage. All salads are adaptable! Let me know how your salad adventure goes!

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Black Bean and Brown Rice Salad with Roasted Carrots

Yield: 2-3 servings

  • 1 15 oz. can  black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 cup cooked brown rice (approximately ½ cup uncooked)
  • 5-6 medium carrots
  • ½ Tablespoon ground cumin
  • 1 Tablespoon olive oil
  • ½ Tablespoon maple syrup
  • Good pinch sea salt
  • ½ small yellow onion
  • ½ large handfuls baby kale
  • 1/3 cup pumpkin seeds

Dressing

  • 1 ½ Tablespoon lime juice
  • 1 ½ Tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 glug (eye-ball a teaspoon) maple syrup
  • Good pinch sea salt
  • Good pinch ground paprika

Cook brown rice and allow to cool completely.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Wash and remove tops from carrots, but leave the skin on.  Slice them however you like so long as the pieces are the same size so that they can cook evenly. Toss carrots with cumin, olive oil, maple syrup and salt. Lay out on a baking sheet and roast until carrots are fragrant and soft, about 20 minutes.

While carrots roast, prepare the rest of the salad. Whisk together the dressing ingredients and set aside. Fold the cooled cooked brown rice and black beans with kale and onion. When carrots are cool, add them as well.

In a dry skillet, roast pumpkin seeds over medium-high heat until they pop. Allow them to cook before adding them to the salad.

Drizzle dressing over salad. Enjoy.

whole wheat banana nut scones

 

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We have had an eventful past few weeks, which is surely not a bad thing. And yet, after this holiday weekend I hope to settle back into a more steady, more comfortable pace. I don’t particularly like being busy, for lack of a better word. And I have gathered that my son doesn’t  like us being busy either.

My son has gone to bed unexpectedly early tonight. He rubbed his eyes through his favorite dinner of mac and broc. He nestled deeply into my lap while we read books. He refused to take his bath. We pretty much just laid him in bed and he was out like a small light. His long, dark eye lashes resting heavily against his soft, wind blown cheeks.

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I am very uncomfortable with the idea of not understanding my son. I want to settle on answers to all the little mysteries about him. I want to decide that, yes… yes this is our routine, this is what he likes to eat, and this is what he understands and doesn’t. And then I proclaim it. I tell everyone who he is and how he is and what he will be like. Only for him to suddenly, quite drastically change. For him to outgrow his morning nap. For him to refuse to eat cheese. For him to decide that he simply must dunk all of his crackers/biscuits/cookies in yogurt.

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Its a funny phase that his 16-month-old little brain is imposing on our day. If I give him yogurt, he needs a biscuit to dunk. If I give him a biscuit, he demands the yogurt.

As endearing as his new craving may be, it gets a little boring spooning the yogurt and pulling out the box of belVita oat crackers (thanks for recommending them, Lisa) and bunny grahams.

So this morning, before we took off on a family affair, we made these fabulous scones inspired by one of Cookie and Kate’s latest post. I used loosely ground almonds instead of her choice of pecans or walnuts, though I trust going either way is an equally good choice. These scones are very hearty, nibbly, biscuit-like and just faintly sweet before the glaze. But with the maple glaze, they are both hearty and sweet-tooth satisfying. Along side a cup of black tea, these scones make for the perfect mid-morning snack. And if you ask a certain toddler, he would likely recommend dunking them in yogurt.

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Whole Wheat Banana Nut Scones

Yield 8 scones

Scones

  • 1 cup whole almonds
  • 2 cups whole wheat, spelt, or other whole grain flour
  • 1 Tablespoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 5 Tablespoon cold, unsalted butter
  • 3/4 cup mashed ripe banana (about 2 medium banana’s worth)
  • 1/3 cup heavy cream
  • 2 Tablespoon honey
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Maple Glaze

  • 1/2 cup confectioners sugar
  • 1/4 cup maple syrup
  • 1 Tablespoon melted butter
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • pinch salt

Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Place the almonds in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Toast the almonds in the oven until fragrant, about 5-10 minutes. Chop the almonds into very fine pieces. I ran mine through a food processor until they resembled a rough flour.

In a medium mixing bowl, combine the flour, almonds, baking powder, cinnamon, ginger and salt in a bowl and whisk together.

Use a pastry cutter to cut the butter into the dry ingredients. If you don’t have a pastry cutter, use a fork or your finger tips.

Measure the cream in a liquid measuring cup. Pour in the maple syrup and vanilla extract, and mix well. Then stir mashed banana into the cream mixture.

Pour the banana mixture into the dry mixture and combine with a big spoon. At first it will seem like there isn’t enough liquid to wet the dough, but keep mixing until you have thoroughly incorporated the wet and dry ingredients. When it comes to batter as dry as scone’s, I use my hands to knead the last of the flour into the dough.

On a flat surface, form dough into a circle that’s about an inch deep all around. Use a knife or pastry cutter to cut the circle into 8 even slices.

Separate slices and place on the baking sheet covered with parchment paper. Bake for 15 minutes to 17 or until lightly golden brown.

While the scones are baking, whisk together the glaze ingredients in a small bowl until smooth and creamy. Let the scones cool for a few minutes, then drizzle the glaze generously over the scones. Drink with tea. Dunk in yogurt. Or eat on the go. Happy Easter!

 

 

 

 

blondies

 

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I was first introduced to spelt flour almost a year ago while visiting friends up North. I was breast feeding my son at the time and he was throwing up… a lot. I mean, “pass the baby” at family events made for an intense wet t-shirt contest.

In an attempt to bring his puking down a notch, I cut dairy, processed wheat and sugar out of my diet for a 3 month cleans. So I was hesitant when my friend announced that the tall stack of steaming Norwegian pancakes served at breakfast was made from spelt flour.

He politely informed me that spelt is not only a whole grain, but it is also easier to digest than wheat. And though spelt flour is not a gluten-free flour, many people who are gluten-intolerant can digest spelt flour without the bad side-affects. I was elated and ate Norwegian pancakes gluttonously. And that was the beginning of a beautiful relationship (between me and spelt flour. But I like my friends, too).

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I was curious about spelt flour and started digging for more information when we got home. I found out that spelt is a very nutritious grain. For instance, spelt is high in fiber and manganese. This means that it helps your body maintain normal blood sugar levels, promotes optimal functions of your thyroid gland and keeps your bones strong. Spelt also helps your body utilize key nutrients.

With all these joyful perks in mind, I keep a stash of spelt flour the cupboard at all times for those dreary, “this calls for brownies!” days and those all-too-often, “heck… I want to make a pound cake” days. I have swapped out all-purpose wheat flour for spelt with pizza dough, biscuits, cookies, muffins and quick breads galore. It is an easy 1:1 swap, though I have found that spelt does absorb a little more liquid than all-purpose white flour. Sometimes I add a little extra milk, water or oil, depending on the recipe.

. . .

I was skimming the internet for snack-time inspiration the other day when I found these chocolate-coconut blondies. I was instantly smitten. The only little problem was large quantity of sugar (1 whole tightly-packed cup!) to flour ratio. I decided a bit of tinkering was in order.

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If you have never substituted maple syrup for brown sugar, consider this the day to do so. Though maple syrup is still a high-calorie sweetener, and you should by no means be guzzling it down like a silver bullet or start dunking your bananas in it like shrimp in butter (because I never do this…), maple syrup does have some nutritional value. Not to the extent of other natural sweeteners, like raw honey, for instance. But the perks are there:

Maple syrup, in fact, has high mineral content. It contains zinc and manganese which help ward-off illness. It also contains calcium and potassium. Maple syrup is loaded with plant-based compounds called polyphenols which work as powerful antioxidants. And like raw honey, maple syrup may help prevent inflammatory diseases like cancer, osteoporosis, and Alzheimer’s.

Lastly, swapping maple syrup for processed sugar in baked goods may leave you less likely to experience that gas and bloating we are all too well familiar with.

               . . .

Sometimes I refer to maple syrup as liquid gold because it is very delicious, and also very expensive. I wanted the blondies to be sweet but I didn’t want to pour a whole cup of maple syrup into them. So I comprised and took the sugar amounts down a notch and split them evenly. I was really pleased with the results.

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The brown sugar offered the blondies a tender, cakey crumb. The maple syrup yielded a crackly, sheeny surface and filled my kitchen with the aromas of the gods.

And the coconut. Its not the taste… it’s the texture! is what my husband shouts whenever I add my beloved unsweetened flaky coconut to baked goods. I keep hoping he will just give in and like it. The past 4 years have proven my hopes futile.

And it’s a shame. Because dry, flaky coconut, though high in fat, does contain some fiber. A better source of the nutritional value of coconut would be coconut meat, oil or milk. But he doesn’t have to know that.

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So, here you have it. Blondies in all their nutritional goodness: Spelt, maple syrup and coconut. Throw in some bittersweet chocolate for more antioxidants, and if you ask me, keep the butter just the way it is. I like to bathe in real butter every now and then.

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Chocolate-Coconut Blondies

Yields 12-16 blondies

  • ½ cup unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
  • 1/3 cup lightly packed light brown sugar
  • 1/3 pure maple syrup
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 cup spelt flour
  • ½ teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/8 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
  • ¼ cup unsweetened coconut flakes
  • ½ cup chopped bittersweet chocolate

Heat oven to 350 degrees F. Butter an 8-inch square baking pan and line with parchment paper, leaving two flaps hanging over the edges of the pan. Butter and flour the parchment paper.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the melted butter, brown sugar and maple syrup. Whisk in the egg and beat by hand until mixture is slightly pale, about 2 minutes. Whisk in the vanilla extract.

In another medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Add all at once to the butter and sugar mixture and stir until just incorporated. Fold in the coconut, chocolate, and walnuts.

Spread batter into the prepared pan and smooth with a spatula. Scatter the remaining chocolate and walnuts across the top. Place in the oven and bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until a skewer inserted in the center comes out clean. Blondies will be golden brown.

Remove pan from oven and allow to cool for at least 20 minutes before removing blondies from the pan. Slice into pieces lengthwise and crosswise, making them as large or small as you like.

Notes

*You could also throw in ½ cup or so of chopped walnuts or pecans.

*I would venture to add even less brown sugar next time I make these. They were plenty sweet. If you try this, let me know how it goes!

*My blondies were soft and a little crumby. I might add another egg the next time around.

an introduction

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Our table isn’t even usually messy. I am a little obsessive when it comes to clean counters. This could be the root of all my stress – this claustrophobia. This insatiable need for space.

When I asked my husband what I should name this blog, “Our Messy Table” was the first things he said. I didn’t like it. It was too literal. Too blunt. It even looks heavy up there, its Times New Roman font weighed down by the belligerent “O” and the stocky “M”. And as I said before, I don’t function well in messy spaces, let alone around messy tables.

And then I thought about it quietly. I let the name float around in the back of my thoughts for a few weeks. “Our Messy Table” resonated with me somehow.

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One day, it clicked.

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Much to my self-diagnosed OCD horror, tables can’t always be clean. Counters can’t always be clear. Floors are never spotless.

Because sometimes you have to cook dinner and chicken fat sprays everywhere. Sometimes your 16-month-old pushes a chair to the counter and knocks the 3 day’s-worth of accumulated compost onto the floor. Sometimes your husband wears his work boots through the house again. And sometimes you are babysitting two toddlers and also trying to make cupcakes… enough said.

So here we are. With the name I didn’t like very much, and still don’t really like that much, to serve perspective.

That as we cook dinner…

… as I let toddlers taste-test peanut butter honey sauces and make play dough and water color paintings…

… and as I watch my dog shake fur all over and into my wine glass…

… it is going to be okay.

Our table is a little messy. And thank goodness, life goes on.

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I don’t like the idea of a foodie… to me, the word just sounds stupid. And it implies a type of snobbery I don’t ever want to convey to my friends or family. I will eat almost any kind of food set before me. I will drink any kind of wine. And though I don’t personally like beer, my husband’s favorite beer is the one in front of him. We like food. We like drinks. We like to be social about. Especially if it is fried in oil or all done up with cream, butter and all that tastes like heaven.

But I also believe in the power of nutrition on a day-to-day basis. I think there is definitely a place for indulgence. For late-night ice frozen custard and third helpings of frozen pizza and celebratory cake. But I am also a minimalist who fears excess. In our home, my husband, son and I eat simply. We try to eat locally and whole, and even shop organic when we can afford it. We want to be good stewards of the earth and to our bodies. And therefore, we want our son to grow up knowing the value in eating healthfully, but also the restorative balance in taking on the spoonful of salted caramel buttercream frosting.

SO… about these granola bars:

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I have used many granola bars recipes, all of which have included time on the oven. What I love about these is that there are only 5 ingredients and that they require no bake-time. Just let them set in the fridge for 15 minutes and you are good to go.

Did I mention they only require 5 little ingredients?

Oats… I just love them. My 16-month-old and I eat old fashioned oatmeal every morning – his with a bit of brown sugar and coconut milk, mine with a bit of peanut butter and honey. For me, oats are the ultimate whole grain because they contain a special fiber that decreases bad cholesterol and contain unique antioxidants. Oats also stabilize blood sugar.

Some fun facts about honey- I buy raw honey (straight from the comb) because not only is it more flavorful, but it also contains all of its original nutritional properties. Most commercial honey (the little honey bears, for instance) have been pasteurized so that it contains little to no pollen. Without pollen, it isn’t technically honey. It’s just sweet, mild-flavored syrup. Pasteurized honey also lacks most of the healthful benefits of raw honey (Vitamin A and C, digestive properties, stabilized blood sugar, anti-inflammatory properties, anti-viral and fungal properties.. I could go on..)

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I love dates because they are so naturally sweet and chewy (I also love prunes, but lets not get into that now). And like most items, they are cheaper when purchased in bulk. However, dates have a sticky surface that can harbor bad bacteria and germs. When I buy dates in bulk, I am always sure to wash them. Otherwise, dates and loaded with fiber, iron, potassium, and manganese and copper (good for your bones!).

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Like most young American families, we blow through every jar of peanut butter as if it were a season of House Of Cards. For us, natural peanut butter is the way to go. Not because we think we are better than everyone who buys commercial peanut butter. But because we honestly like it better. And it is much, much better for you.

Commercial brand peanut butter, though it is certainly a source of protein, is also a source of much sugar, sodium and partially hydrogenated vegetable oil. Natural peanut butter is closer to nature and is high in Vitamin E (for your immune system) and B6 (for your brain and metabolism). Natural peanut butter also contains potassium, fiber, and the saturated fats your body needs.

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And almonds. Unfortunately, my husband is really allergic to all tree nuts. So when I make these bars for him, they contain chocolate chips instead of almonds (which is obviously still delicious). Almonds are a “high satiety food” that aid in weight management. Almonds have also been proven to reduce bad cholesterol. They are high in Vitamin B6, Vitamin A (good for your vision and immune system) and also contains Vitamin E.

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Did I put you to sleep?
I hope not! Because here is the good part!

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Roasted Almond Granola Bars

Yield 10 bars

• 1 cup packed dates, pitted
• 1/4 cup honey
• 1/4 cup creamy salted natural peanut butter or almond butter
• 1 cup almonds
• 1 1/2 cups rolled oats

Process dates in a food processor until small bits remain. It should form a “dough” like consistency, or roll into a ball.

Toast your oats in a 350 degree oven for 15-ish minutes or until slightly golden brown.

Place oats, almonds and dates in a bowl – set aside.

Warm honey and peanut butter in a small saucepan over low heat. Stir and pour over oat mixture and then mix, breaking up the dates to disperse throughout.

Once thoroughly mixed, transfer to an 8×8 dish or other small pan lined with plastic wrap or parchment paper so they lift out easily.

Press down firmly until uniformly flattened. Cover with parchment or plastic wrap, and let set in fridge or freezer for 15-20 minutes to harden.

Remove bars from pan and chop into 10 even bars. Store in an airtight container for up to a few days. I kept mine in the freezer to keep them extra fresh, but it isn’t necessary.

Notes

*You can easily substitute the honey for maple syrup or agave.
*If your dates don’t feel sticky and moist, soak them in water for 10 minutes then drain before processing. This will ultimately help hold the bars together better.
*Optional additions: chocolate chips, dried fruit, coconut, etc.
*A loaf pan might work, but will yield thicker bars.