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almond date granola bars

almond date granola bars
For as long as I can remember, as in like my whole life, granola bars have been a go-to snack. They were a mainstay in my lunchbox when I was a kid. There was always a box in my bottom drawer when I got my first job. Granola bars were a weekly staple when I got my first apartment and started doing my own grocery shopping. When Jeff and I moved in together we’d each get to select a box of our own granola bars for the week.

Granola bars are a perfect snack… In theory. Fibre, good fats, protein — but in reality most of today’s packaged granola bars are glorified candy loaded with sugar, artificial flavours, preservatives and other junk, all wrapped up in a “chocoately coating.” What is this “chocolately” that is coating these granola bars anyway?

Needless to say conventional grocery store granola bars are no longer a pantry staple in the house. Full disclosure, we do keep a box of Uberbars and Larabars in our pantry. With minimal ingredients and without most of the yuck that a Quaker bar might have, I feel okay keeping them around for emergencies. They come in handy when I need a boost before an early morning workout or after a client meeting that ran late and left me without lunch. But even still they are not the best snack and we certainly try not to indulge too often.

almond date granola bars

I had always wanted to try baking my own bars at home but the recipes I’d come across in the past often called for ridiculous amounts of honey, maple syrup or nut butter — sometimes as much as a cup each! — making them cost prohibitive. A cup of good quality honey could cost upwards of $10, making those grocery store bars look ever more attractive. So when I spotted a recipe for breakfast bars in the Smitten Kitchen Cookbook that called for a mere quarter cup of olive oil, honey and almond butter, respectively, I knew my time had come!

I had everything in my cupboard to whip these bars up on a Friday night and they took barely any time at all. Key learnings for next time: no really, wait until the bars are completely cool, if not cold, to try and cut them. Even at warmish they were crumbly and difficult to slice. And I’m definitely going to try throwing in a handful of cacao nibs.

Jeff and I both enjoyed these bars to fuel our workouts or simply for breakfast. One more I crumbled a bar over a bowl of fresh local peach slices, blackberries and a sheep’s yogurt — a winning combination and a power breakfast to boot. Needless to say with a batch of these in the freezer we haven’t been reaching for those Larabars, and I’m more than happy with that.

Almond Date Granola Bars
Adapted from the Smitten Kitchen Cookbook
Makes 8 large or 16 small bars

Ingredients
1 cup medjool dates, pitted and roughly chopped
1 1/4 rolled oats
3 Tbsps whole spelt flour
1/3 cup ground flax
1/2 cup raw almonds, roughly chopped
1/2 tsp sea salt
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 cup almond butter
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup raw honey
1/4 tsp vanilla extra

Method
Preheat your oven to 350. Line an 8×8 pan with parchment paper, allowing the paper to go up the sides. Drape a second piece in the opposite direction so you can easily life the bars once they are cool.

In a large bowl, stir together dates, oats, spelt flour, flax, almonds, salt and cinnamon. In a separate bowl, whisk almond butter, oil, honey and vanilla until smooth. Add wet ingredients to dry and stir until everything is coated well and evenly. Spread the mixture in to the pan and press firmly into the edges.

Bake the bars for 20 to 25 minutes, until they are brown around the edges. Remove and let them cool completely. No seriously, let them cool! Maybe even put them in the fridge. Once cool, use a serrated knife to cut into squares.

Enjoy!

dispatches from the 30 day green smoothie challenge

free radical fighting green smoothie
Four years ago this summer I looked at a photograph of myself and didn’t know who the person pictured was. It was taken just as Jeff and I were going out the door to a friend’s a wedding. I was wearing this beautiful orange dress that I had loved but looking at it — at myself — in the photograph, it didn’t match up to the picture I had in my head. That day I was at my highest weight ever and that was the day I vowed to change my relationship with food.

Since that day I have released more than 50 pounds (I don’t like to say “lost” because that implies I will find it again) and completely overhauled the way that I eat. I had great success with Weight Watchers when I needed some structure to my eating but now I simply focus on eating real food that’s wholesome and nutritious. That’s not to say I’m not still without my challenges but I know when I choose nutritious, real food over anything else I feel better, I look better, I sleep better, I workout better… I could go on forever with my betters.

Smoothies are an integral part of my healthstyle, more than just an easy way to pack a lot of nutrients in to one glass. A smoothie is a great start to the day, with the best of intentions, setting the tone for how I want to nourish my body. They are the touch stone that I come back to after I’ve indulged in a few too many indulgences. They are my saving grace when I’m traveling and need a little nourishment, and a little comfort from home. Enjoying a smoothie is no longer a habit I have to work it, it’s just part of my diet now.

Even so, when I saw Simple Green Smoothies post their 30 Day Green Smoothie Challenge I jumped on board. I have a couple of mainstay smoothie recipes that I rotate (like this one, this one and all of these) and if all else fails I just throw whatever we’ve got in the fridge into the Vitamix and voila, nutrition nirvana. On an average week I have about five smoothies, usually for breakfast. About half of them include something green.

a purple green smoothie

My objectives for the challenge were simple: learn a few new recipes, eat more greens and start building a weekend habit. Monday to Friday when I have the structure of office hours to keep me on track I find it dead easy to eat well. But on weekends when I’m a free agent I often find myself indulging more then I care to admit, sabotaging the week’s hard work.

Now that the challenge has come to a close, I sipped my official “last” smoothie yesterday, how do I feel? Pretty great! To be honest, even though smoothies were a regular habit of mine this was still definitely a challenge. There were days when I didn’t want to get up and blend a smoothie for breakfast, I wanted pancakes. With bacon. And an almond milk latte. With salted caramel brownie chaser. But I powered through and in the end I never regretted sipping a smoothie. Making sure we had enough of the various fruits and greens in the house each week was also challenging, but a few extra minutes of planning and prepping on Sunday afternoon made sure we were always locked and loaded.

Full disclosure: I did miss one smoothie day thanks to an upset stomach. So instead I sipped a green juice!

citrus breeze green smoothie

The best part of the challenge was definitely discovering new recipes, fruits and combinations that I never would have thought to put in to my blender before. Like melons! I never would have put melon in to my smoothies, but not only did it work it was delicious. Coconut milk was another winner that will certainly become a mainstay in my smoothies going forward. Tropical fruits like guava or citrus fruits like navel oranges were also new to me. They were exciting at the first half of the challenge but I found them a little too sweet for my taste. Overall I felt that there was generally too much fruit in the smoothie recipes, lots of high-glycemic fruits and too many at one time, but as I got more familiar with the recipes and how my body was reacting to them I learned to tweak them here and there so they were less sugary.

I am so proud of myself (and Jeff!) for completing the challenge. It was also a great way to bond with my mum, sister and aunt who also participated in the challenge, cheering each other on throughout the 30 days. I’ve definitely fine-tuned my smoothie habit and learned a few new tricks and recipes to put in to our regular rotation, and I think I might just have succeeded in breaking Jeff’s milkshake smoothie habit!

So with that, I declare the 30 Day Green Smoothie Challenge a success!

Free Radical Fighting Super Smoothie
From Simple Green Smoothies
Makes 2 generous smoothies

Free Radical Fighting Super Smoothie

Of all the new smoothie recipes we tried out during the challenge this one was my absolute favourite. The melon and the coconut water made it so refreshing; it was great for after a hard workout or on a hot day.

Ingredients

2 cups of your favourite greens (kale, spinach and chard all work well!)
1 fresh mint leaf
1 cup coconut water
2 cups ripe cantaloupe, rind removed
1/2 cup blueberries (fresh or frozen, up to you)
1 green apple
Juice of 1/2 lime, fresh squeezed

Method

Throw it in your blender and whiz away! Enjoy!