I find Labor Day to be a bittersweet holiday. Sweet because of the three day break from work. Bitter because it seems to mark the point when people begin referring to summer in the past tense. I find it to be particularly tragic this year, since temperatures have been lower than normal so it doesn't feel like we've had much of a summer. But the weather gods decided to play nice for our long weekend, the fog that covered the area this morning quickly burning off and turning to sunshine by midmorning. Perfect weather for a hike.
Our stop at the market on our way out of town reminded me of a lesson that I know, but every once in a while am sadly reminded of in an unexpected way: sugar is in everything. I recall the initial time this struck me was in the bread aisle shortly after reading Michael Pollan's In Defense of Food, when I started becoming more conscious of the prevalence of high fructose corn syrup in the American diet. I was amazed how difficult it was to find a loaf of bread that did not contain it.
Today's culprit? Granola bars.
I stood in front of the granola bar display this morning reading labels, experiencing a bread-aisle-deja-vu. Apparently, this is the first time I've taken the time to read the label on what I thought would be a healthy bar: Nature's Valley Oats 'N Honey. I had assumed the main ingredients would be oats and honey. Wrong. Ingredient #2 on the list was sugar. This was true of all of the Nature's Valley bars. As well as pretty much every other package I looked at, including the fancy, health promoting individually sold bars on the display at the end of the aisle. Some packages advertised their lack of high fructose corn syrup, and while I will agree that real sugar is an improvement over this corn derivative, refined white sugar is not something I would categorize as healthy.
I finally settled on a box of Kashi Honey Almond Flax bars. They are sweetened with "evaporated cane juice crystals" - still sugar, but in a raw form, which means there is at least a chance some trace minerals and nutrients made their way in. Less refined sugar also tends to be sweeter, which means it's used in lower quantities (evidenced by the fact that it was near the bottom of the ingredient list, so relatively less of it than I was finding of sugar in the other bars).
As I was eating one of the bars mid-hike, I decided that I could make a healthier, tastier version. When we returned home from our hike, I did just that.
A couple pics from our hike on Russian Ridge in the Mid-Peninsula Open Reserve.
My granola bars are sweetened with maple syrup and honey. Yes, these are sugars as well. But they are in their natural state - unrefined - which means that in addition to the inclusion of trace minerals, our bodies react to them differently, absorbing the sugars more slowly and not creating as drastic an insulin spike in response to their consumption.
There is one thing my bars lack that the store bought varieties have: indefinite shelf-life. I'd guess these will last about a week in the fridge in an airtight container (they shouldn't actually go bad, but will probably dry out). I'm going to try wrapping and freezing a few. Then when we find ourselves in need of granola bars for a hike or bike ride, we can grab them from the freezer and should have some thawed out, healthy bars by the time we're ready for them. It definitely beats taking our chances at the grocery store.
Peanut Butter Granola Bars
1 1/4 c. rolled oats
1 1/4 c. unsweetened crisp brown rice cereal
3/4 c. walnuts, chopped
3/4 c. almonds
3/4 c. natural peanut butter
1/2 c. pure maple syrup
1/4 c. honey
1 tsp. vanilla
1/2 tsp. sea salt
Line an 8x8 baking pan with wax paper. Set aside.
Toast walnuts and almonds in a 350 degree oven for 5-7 minutes, until the walnuts begin to golden in color.
In a medium bowl, mix oats, cereal, and nuts. Set aside.
In a large pot, combine peanut butter, maple syrup, honey, vanilla, and salt. Heat over medium-low heat until smooth and bubbly, about 4 minutes. Add oat mixture and stir well to incorporate. Spread into prepared pan. Refrigerate until cool. Cut into bars.
One year ago: fried green tomatoes