I’m still reeling from all the lovely little details of our ladies weekend in Rocky Mountain National Park. By night, we were eating, drinking and enjoying the “too much wine” approach that applies to most gatherings of good friends, but during the day, we filled our ears with the sounds of crunching snow and echoes of our own voices among the trees, our lungs with deep breaths of fresh, cold mountain air, and our bodies with all the good vibes that come from stepping just a little ways away from what you’re used to, into a place where all of your day-to-day expectations/requirements/worries are just out of reach and you’re surrounded by scenes that inspire and humble you. We walked for hours, until we were tired and had to stop for a snack. And, you know, after walking for hours everything tastes even better than you imagined it would; a true sign of balance in the world. In order to know comfort we have to know suffering, to understand power we have to understand weakness. In order to know how to be satisfied, we have to know hunger. And we really worked up an appetite out there.
The most fabulous part about the weekend for us was that getting to that place that shocked, awed, worked and renewed us was incredibly easy. Rocky Mountain National Park is just an hour or so drive from Boulder, all one needs to walk in the woods in the winter is some cold weather attire, a good dose of gusto, a trail map, and a backpack full of treats. (This is where I come in, of course.)
I recently picked up a new little backpack from this local company which I’m absolutely adoring; it had all the space I needed to carry extra layers, trail spikes for walking, a big thermos full of hot cider and a batch of these honey-caramel granola bars that I whipped up to make sure that our snack stops among the pines would be delicious AND serene.
This is not the first granola bar recipe on this site, but granola bars are one of those treats that is of the moment for me — I like updating and changing the way I make them, what I toss in, and the flavors of them all as life rolls on. Sometimes in the summer berries wiggle their way in, in the winter, more spices. Eating the same granola bar every day, every year, on every adventure would be like consuming the same flavor of a prepackaged energy bar on all of those occasions. (You all know how I feel about that!)
This new recipe was adapted from one in Kim Boyce’s Good to the Grain Cookbook, filled with all sorts of delicious ideas for working whole grains into your repertoire (which I highly recommend because its delicious and good for you,) and I anticipate that I’ll keep tweaking as I go along, getting to know the recipe. There are so many ways to change and adapt it: not a big fan of raisins? Me neither. I’ve added figs, dates, dried strawberries… The distinction here is that you actually make a nice little honey-caramel to bind the bars, and you toast the oats in butter to make the flavors more nutty and complex. You could make a maple-caramel instead, but I of course recommend the honey. Don’t forget that whatever honey you use will impart its own flavor; I used some macadamia blossom honey I brought back from Hawaii last year and mixed it up with dried papaya + shredded coconut. Divine!
Give these a shot as you adventure out into the New Year, and enjoy it all! – xo L
- 2 ounces (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, plus extra to butter the pan
- 2 cups rolled oats
- 1/2 cup plus 1 Tablespoon flaxseed meal
- 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon
- 1/2 cup dried fruits or raisins (I really like figs, dates, apricots...)
- 1/2 cup honey
- 1/4 cup dark brown sugar
- 1 Tablespoon unsulphured molasses
- 1 teaspoon fine grain sea salt
- Preheat your oven to 325°F and generously butter a 9x9 inch glass or metal baking pan. (The buttering of the pan is really important here if you want to be able to remove your crispy, chewy granola bars!)
- Melt the butter in a heavy-bottomed saucepan that will hold up to 2 cups of oats with plenty of room to stir. Turn the heat up to medium and toast the oats for roughly 6 minutes, stirring every minute or so. The oats will be a little bit darker and fragrant when they're done.
- Pour the toasted oats into a large bowl, wipe out the pot, and set it aside to make your honey-caramel. Add the flaxseed and cinnamon to the oat mixture.
- Next, make the honey-caramel. Measure the honey, sugar, molasses, and salt into the pot and turn the heat up to medium. You want to cook the caramel until it's just boiling, about 6 minutes. Resist the temptation to pull the caramel early; boiling the caramel gives it the texture to make these granola bars nice and chewy!
- Next, pour the syrup over the oat mixture and use a spatula to scrape all of the contents of the pot. Then, use the spatula to scrape and press the caramel into the oats, covered all of them evenly without any clumps of oats or caramel. Once this is achieved, scrape the contents into your prepared pan, pressing them evenly into the pan with the spatula or buttered hands. Time to bake!
- Bake until fragrant and golden brown, about 25-30 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through. The outer edge of the bars will be a little bit darker than the rest, and the bars will have a lovely sheen.
- Remove the pan from the oven and let them cool for 10 minutes, then cut the contents into bars, remove the bars from the pan and let continue to cool.
- Pack the bars up for an adventure, eat them immediately or store them in an airtight container for up to three days.