While I’ve been going on and on here about the pleasures of a thoughtfully packed lunch, I have not revealed a shameful truth: at the moment the only lunch I make is my own. My husband is in the home stretch of medical school, which means that he spends long days in hospitals with little time for indulgences such as "lunch." Most days they're given some kind of greasy Chinese food or inferior pizza to wolf down during a midday meeting, and the rest of the time lunch is catch as catch can. My impression is that sitting down and unpacking tasty leftovers or even a good-looking sandwich would be suspect, food being decidedly too frivolous to concern a busy MD (or MD-to-be).
So Andrew asked me to buy him some energy bars, which I have always regarded with distaste and even suspicion. I just don’t think they count as food. I soon discovered that they are rather expensive, and what's more, many of them contain tree nuts, to which Andrew is deathly allergic. Wouldn’t it be more sensible to make something myself, and wouldn’t I feel better about it?
I started poking around. Heidi had developed an energy bar at 101 Cookbooks, but it relied heavily on tree nuts, and I did not feel confident enough to begin at the tweaking stage. My maternity cookbook offered a good candidate recipe. Like Heidi’s it contains no scary ingredients (well, soy protein powder is not something I already had in my cupboard), and I felt comfortable replacing its 1/2 cup chopped walnuts with 1/2 cup peanuts (which Andrew can eat without entering anaphylactic shock).
These bars were easy to make and earned Andrew’s approval. They smell like the peanut butter granola bars I ate as a child and taste to me like not-especially-delicious cookies. This is not to say they don’t taste just fine; they aren’t supposed to be cookies. They were a little too crumbly around the edges, but now that I’ve tried the master recipe I look forward to playing around, trying it with other dried fruits, maybe some chocolate chips on occasion, other sticky sweeteners, or with more or less of other ingredients. This weekend we discovered that they are also good crumbled into yogurt for breakfast or a snack.
The book says you should make 24 bars, but 1 1/2 by 3 inches looked absurdly small to me. I divided the pan into 18 bars and calculated that each bar has about 240 calories. (Divided into 24, the bars should have about 181 calories each.) As for cost, I spent $30 buying everything except for the whole wheat flour and cinnamon. That comes out to $1.67 per bar: more expensive than the $1.29/200 calorie Clif bars I bought as backups the same day, but of course I have enough of everything (except for maple syrup) left over to make at least 2 more batches. Although I am a trained accountant of neither dollars nor calories, by my reckoning 100 calories of homemade bar cost about 23 cents, whereas 100 calories of store-bought bar cost about 64 cents. Is it weird that that gives me a thrill?
About the author: Robin Bellinger recently escaped a career in book publishing, which was cutting into her cooking time. Now she's a freelance editor and can bake bread on Tuesday afternoon if she feels like it. She lives in Midtown Manhattan with her husband and blogs about cooking and crafting at home*economics.
- Yield:18 or 24 bars as described above
- 1 cup pure maple syrup
- 2/3 cup chunky natural peanut butter
- 2 2/3 cups rolled oats
- 1 cup whole wheat flour
- 1/4 cup soy protein powder or whey protein powder
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1/2 cup wheat germ
- 1/2 cup unsweetened dried coconut
- 1/2 cup raisins
- 1/2 cup chopped peanuts (or walnuts)
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Lightly grease a 9 x 13 inch baking pan. I used a nonstick cake pan, but I imagine you could use a Pyrex baking dish, too.
Use the back of a wooden spoon to mix the syrup and peanut butter together in a large bowl until well blended.
In a separate bowl, stir together the rest of the ingredients. Stir this mixture into the peanut butter mixture to make a uniform dough. Press it into the prepared pan. It will be slightly sticky but should still spread easily into the pan if you grease your fingers.
Bake until golden brown, about 25 minutes. Cut into bars while still warm but allow to cool completely in the pan. Wrap each bar individually and store in an airtight container for up to 1 week, or freeze for up to 1 month.