Friday, July 20, 2012

Living through a Microscope: Experiment #11 - Delicious bits of simple energy (Homemade Larabars & Energy Bites)

Butterfly Bush Flower

If you had asked me a few nights ago (or about a month ago) if I loved having kids, I may have thrown something sharp and heavy in the general direction of your head. Or something wiggly and squishy. Something that looked like a toddler. A toddler who woke up every 90 minutes screaming for her “taggie” that was hiding somewhere in the midst of the chaos that is our house.

But, on most days, I will be able to answer without the use of projectiles. Sure, as I sit in the bathroom with four fists pounding on the door and 2 squeaky voices screaming, “Mama! Mama! Mama!” I wish I could be like Tracy Jordan in 30 Rock and have a standing semiweekly hotel reservation for one hour to be able “to poop in peace!” Sure, it’s frustrating that 8 of my waking hours are spent sitting on the bathroom floor waiting for someone to poop, wiping someone’s poop or spraying someone’s poop off a diaper. Sure, it would be nice if the only poop I had to wipe was my own.  (Can you tell that Madeline is potty training and my world seems full of poop?)

Despite all the poop, on most days, I love having kids.  I love that I get to dig out my old science books to explain to Nora how the food she eats becomes her hair. I love that I get to climb trees, build forts and play in the mud.

Spider web - egg sack?
But what I love most is kids’ uncanny ability to appreciate the tiniest details. The stuff we screech past in our quest to get as much done is as little amount of time as possible. How water feels as it flows around your hands. The sound of grass when it tickles your chin. How one mourning dove sits on the same spot on our roof every morning. Where you can feel each specific taste on your tongue. A sparkling flower petal. A spider web. A droplet of sap. The lone piece of goose poop in a giant open field (I just can’t escape poop).

Most awesome microscope ever!
Nora got a $5 mini-microscope for Christmas, so we’ve spent a lot of time looking at things in their simplest, purest form (I also learned a super spiffy trick for taking macro pictures without a macro lens, so there are lots of pictures in this post – thanks, Ben!). I had forgotten how beautiful and surreal things can be when you look really, really closely.

I’m a big picture person and details are frequently lost in my scattered brain. I often forget that sometimes you have to look at the parts to appreciate the whole. So the past month I’ve really been trying to slow down, break things down, revel in simplicity. 

In the midst of this simplifying, I discovered Larabars. Delicious, nutritious, excruciatingly expensive. Fruit and nuts. That’s it. Simple as you can get.

I love them, Nora loves them, Madeline loves them, Nick enjoys them and Lidia doesn’t have a choice.

I bet I can make them, I told myself. Oh yeah. Super simple. Fast. Delicious.

I believe there are Larabar recipes online. I didn’t look at them, though. I wanted to figure it out myself.

In the process I discovered dates and walnuts. Dates possess awesomely, amazing natural sweetness. Seriously delicious. And a great source of fiber, which has been helpful with our quest to keep digestive tracts healthy. Walnuts, which I loathed 4 weeks ago, are fantastic in these bars. And are the heart-healthiest nut with all sorts of other health benefits. Given the ingredients, the recipes are also easily dairy- and gluten-free.

So I came up with several different recipes. Personally, I think they’re better than the actual Larabars, but I might be biased. :-) 

Sap on tree bark
*For those of you ladies who tried my bars this past Wednesday, I must apologize (Emily and Erin). They were not very good. I have realized that substituting almonds for part of the walnuts does not work very well without modifying the recipe. For some reason, the longer they sit, the more the almonds dominate the flavor and make it taste less like cookie dough and more like a nutty health bar.

Time to Completion: 5 -10 minutes

Kitchen scale (not necessary, but REALLY helpful to get reproducible results)
Measuring cups (if you don’t have a scale)
Food processor

Ingredients: see recipes below

Cost Comparison:
Store bought 1.6 oz Larabar: $1.50/bar (or $1.09 per bar if you buy a box of 6)
Homemade 1.6 oz Larabar: $0.50 - $1.00/bar, depending on what you put in, what type of ingredients you use, and where you buy them.

General Directions:
1. Measure out nuts and throw them, along with some salt in the food processor. Process until you reach the desired consistency (I like mine very finely ground. I feel that it allows the flavors to integrate much more nicely).

2. Measure out the dates and/or other fruit and throw that in the processor, too. Pulse until it’s like a dough.

3. Dump it out and form it into a square blob to your desired thickness. Cut into squares.

4. Or you can roll the dough into little blobs. My girls like to call them “dough dough.”

5. They do not need to be refrigerated, but you can. I think the flavor is better at room temp. Store in an airtight containers.

I’ve found that the flavor tends to get better with time.

Clover flower
(you can halve these or double them)
**NOTE – if you don’t have a kitchen scale, use these approximate conversions:
¼ - 1/3 c walnuts = 1 oz
2 – 3 dates = 1 oz
scant ¼ c raisins = 1 oz

Baklava or Cookie Dough Bar 
(Nick thinks it tastes like Baklava, my mom thinks it tastes like cookie dough)
3 oz walnuts (about ¾ cup)
6 oz dates (about 13-16 dates, depending on size)
1/16 – 1/8 tsp salt (depending on what you like)

Chocolate Brownie
4.5 oz dates
Chocolate Brownie Bar
2 oz raisins (or you can use all dates, which is also great!)
3.2 oz walnuts
3 – 4 tsp unsweetened cocoa powder (to taste)
1/8 tsp salt
Chocolate chips (optional)

Trail Mix Bar
.5 oz walnuts
.5 oz almonds
.3 oz sunflower seeds (about 1/8 cup)
.25 oz ground flax seed (about 1/8 cup)
sprinkle of salt
2 oz raisins

Fig Bar
1 oz walnuts
2.25 oz dates (about 6)
2.25 oz figs (about 6)
dash of salt

Oatmeal Raisin Cookie Dough Bar
1 oz walnuts (approx 1/3 c)
2.5 oz dates (about 8)
1 oz oatmeal (1/4 c)
1/16 tsp cinnamon
pinch of salt
1.5 oz raisins (packed ¼ c)

Banana Bread Bar
1.25 oz walnuts (heaping 1/3 cup)
1.25 oz almonds (1/4 cup)
3.75 oz dates (approx 15 dates)
.5 oz dried bananas (1/4 c)
pinch of salt
(optional spices)
1/16 tsp each of nutmeg and cinnamon
pinch of cloves

Peanut Butter Cookie Dough Bar
1 oz peanuts (1/4 c)
1 oz almonds (1/4 c)
4.25 oz dates (14 – 16 dates)

Kind of flower I don't remember...
Energy Bites
As an added bonus, I found this recipe for Energy Bites (thanks, Julie, for the idea!), and everyone loves them. I modified it below. Mmmm….

1/2 c of whatever nut butter (we made our own almond-walnut blend with leftover nuts from the Larabars – just process the nuts for 5-8 minutes until you have a paste)
1/3 c of honey (or other liquidy sweetener)
1 c old fashioned rolled oats
3/4 c shredded, dried carrots (shred carrots, throw them on a cookie sheet in an oven at 190 degrees for 30 – 45 minutes)
1/4 c ground flax seed (or coarsely ground nuts, or coconut, or more carrots)
dash of salt (if using unsalted nut butter)
1/2 c add-in (we’ve used raisins and chocolate chips)

Mix the nut butter and honey together until well blended. Add in the other ingredients and mix well. We like to roll them into balls and throw them in the fridge. 

Black-eyed susan petals


  1. Hahaha....hilarious! A day in the life of a stay at home mom. Those first two paragraphs rang a little too true for me! I love that we can stay home and play with our kids. You have some great ideas on your blog that I will be trying out with my two kiddos. Thanks for the laugh this morning!

  2. We LOVE the energy balls at our house too! We skip the carrots and use coconut and flax seed both! So good! And I added up the calories for each ball and with regular peanut butter, each ball is only about 100 calories!