Homemade Energy Bars V: Shot Blocks Redux

One of my favorite authors once wrote “how we spend our days, is of course, how we spend our lives.” It’s one of those observations so plain it pricks you. Nothing terribly complicated or profound, but as true as the sun’s heat in July.

On a bike ride the other day, I saw it printed on the Unitarian Universalists’ church lawn sign. (Am I the only one who’s noticed that the more liberal the church, the better the church sign quotes?)

This week, I got my days back. And true to Annie Dillard’s sentiment, my life. It came suddenly, with the absence of 9 am starts, ominous deadlines, and open jaws of expectation. It came, bringing hours to write and cook and clean and shop for groceries.  It came with empty hours too, heavy with shoulds and if-onlys.

And so here I find myself in that precarious place between the fullness of life and its opposite. This past year has been manic, and looking back I’m sometimes surprised I survived. But rather than rolling gently off that year, I’ve crashed abruptly into this week.

This week — with its scaled-back workout schedule, pressing humidity, and loose ends — is like an irritating old friend. You love her but sometimes you just don’t know what to do with her.

Besides being void of routine, this week has also brought the dreaded taper, that bittersweet period before a big race when triathletes attempt to do something foreign to their very existence: rest. For most, this comes about as naturally as speaking Czech.

But with the advice of my tri friends ringing loudly in my ears (“5% undertrained is better than 3% overtrained”), I’m hanging out with my food processor instead of my running shoes. I decided it was time to bring you another snack packed with energy and natural goodness. Don’t get me wrong, I’m as big a fan of Clif shot blocks and GU gel as the next endurance athlete. But I also take pride in turning the earth’s bounty into sport fuel. Minus the citric acid, “natural flavor,” sunflower oil, and carnauba wax.

So here’s a humbler kind of shot block, one that looks suspiciously like a Christmas goodie. The chocolately goodness comes from minimally processed cocoa powder, delivered a shot of not only good-for-you flavanols, but magnesium and zinc too. And we all know how great almonds are for us.

And so going back to my opening quote, I guess I spent part of my day conjuring up good and healthy things. My life, I hope, will follow suit.

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beguiled by bread

Just when I thought chocolate and I had gotten to know each other fairly well, the little devil comes and ambushes me out of nowhere. Of all the wonderfully handsome guises chocolate has taken in the time we’ve spent together– in hot steamy cups after a ski, wrapped in the papers of chi chi bars and truffles, baked into tortes and smothered in ganache — never before has chocolate disclosed itself to me in this way.

Yesterday, cloaked in the aromas of baking bread, chocolate snuck up behind me and wrapped me in its soft embrace.

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All attempts at the foodie Harlequin aside, I did make a darn good loaf of bread yesterday. My excitement mimicked the moment Mark caught me on camera, taking my first Cook’s Illustrated recipe (pumpkin quick-bread) out of the oven:

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Thus far, bread baking has provided only great expectations chased with grave disappointments. All of my loafs in the past have turned out heavy and gluey. I hate to admit it but it was probably the millet, flax, seeds, and whole wheat flour I weighed the poor things down with. And lack of practice of course. But sometimes you just don’t want to stick your hands in 40 hunks of dough before you get it right, you know?

When our local grocery store came out with chocolate bread as a February feature, I tasted some with sweetened cream cheese and one solitary goal emerged from the clamour that was my tastebuds going “bread/brownie/bread/brownie?” I set out on a mission to create my own version. And one not ridiculously overpriced, and not containing high fructose corn syrup to boot.

Turning to the trusty internet, I compiled a list of chocolate bread recipes and began studying. Deb over at Smitten Kitchen came through again, with a recipe straight from the Institute of Culinary Education in NYC. That high-falutin’ ring was enough to convince me to follow her guide to uniting chocolate and bread in holy matrimony. Ok, maybe holy is pushing it. Yummy matrimony anyway.

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Just look at the way its rising above the side of the pan? I think the whole Westcott neighbourhood must’ve heard me screech with delight. Tap tap, is that a hollow sound? Sniff sniff, is that the smell of yeast propelled grains clamouring over grains of sugar and dusted with cocoa? Yes yes yes. It is magic, and it happened in my kitchen. Shame on you, 5$ Wegman’s bread, but thanks for the inspiration.

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