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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oui, chutzpah! (israeli couscous and french lentil salad)

It’s hard to top summer’s abundance of leafy greens piled high with fresh-picked vegetables from the garden. The Queen of Summer cuisine is back, in shades of fern and chartreuse. The Salad has arrived, piled high on our plates like hibiscus blossoms offered to a Hindu god, to cleanse us of any vegetable estrangement that might still linger from winter.

Yet there’s another kind of salad that’s captured my coeur. A salad with chew and bulk and just the right amount of cheekiness. A salad merging the semolina pearls of Israeli couscous with the freckled indigo lentilles du Puy. A salad with chutzpah.

Like other pasta- or grain-based salads like tabbouleh, this salad will do double-duty as a side or the main show. Cool enough for company and easy enough for Monday, it shines alongside burgers or lugged along to potluck. Or how about stashed away in the fridge for a lunch-hour crisis that might otherwise send you to the snack cupboard? Sharing is so overrated.

When I first made this salad, it was the not-so-obvious combination of textures and tastes that really struck the “make again” sensors. As I get more comfortable making “ethnic” food, I have learned that mint and cinnamon, dates and pine nuts are perfectly happy co-habiting. These surprise minglings are one of the most basic pleasures of eating — something that too often gets lost to convenience and habit.

Let this salad break you out of a romaine n’ ranch rut. I promise it will make your taste buds bellow a different kind of Tradition! from the rooftop.

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grandpa’s googly buns

We have this iconic cookie in our family called the Googly Bun. My late Grandpa Ward coined them so, many years before I begun to appreciate their sweet burst of dates. I know there’s a story behind their name that now eludes me. (Ward family members feel free to comment.)

I grew up with those old-school cookie tins mysteriously appearing on the counter at the Ward family cottage. You know the ones . . . round, with pictures of butter cookies of the decidedly NOT homemade sort clustered on the front. Every time I lifted the lid of one of those tins I feared those hideous cookies staring back at me. But ohhhh I was a lucky child. I’d inevitably find instead any number of home-cooked things. If I was especially lucky, they would be of the Googliest sort.

I confess that I didn’t actually like the date-filled cookies Ahem Googly Buns until around the age of sixteen, when my tastebuds started to pine for things more nuanced than nachos and alphagetti (not that there’s anything wrong with that). Up until that point they were somewhat grown-up cookies. They were oatmeal, after all. Good grief. For any self-respecting kid it was chocolate chip or peanut-butter, thank you very much.

My first attempt at replicating these was my first big move away from home, to Vancouver. I was gathering with new friends one night for a potluck. But this particular potluck had a theme — intentional consumption. We were instructed to bring something special, something with a story. After I had listened to a woman reminisce about the soup she ate every day in Thailand, and after we had passed around a gourd of Argentinian Yerba Mate, I pulled out the Googlies. They were hard little pucks then, for I was a fledgling baker. But those people I barely knew indulged me, and convinced me that they liked my cookies. I’m sure my Grandpa enjoyed every minute of it.

Because even the best things can always be made better, I set out on a search for a slightly softer, lighter cookie than the one I’d grown up on. Over at Elise’s blog I found what looked like a reasonable candidate. I did a test run of a few plain ones, and I was an immediate convert. If you don’t have the time or energy for the date filling, just make these. (And that’s coming from someone who, in the great arena of cookie options, still leans heavily towards those of the chocolate chip variety.) These cookies, straight from the oven with the perfect hint of whole grain sweetness, might just be good enough to change your mind.

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