By any conventional definition, I didn’t “train” for this trail race we did in Vail County this past weekend. It’s not that I forgot that preparing well is an important part of performing well, it’s just that – somehow – structured preparation for this particular event just didn’t….fit.
When I returned home from that last trip with Skratch in early June I had every intention of hitting the trails as hard as possible so I could feed that need to be “dialed” and well trained which admittedly, I’ve missed. But, when it came right down to it, having a set schedule, subscribing to every-day early morning wake ups to hit the trails before work, and squeezing in diligent resistance training sessions, yoga classes, and recovery swims – just didn’t happen. Probably because the theme of late around here has been “the best with what we have.” And that goes for time and energy as well.
So instead of being a training fiend (as I have been known to be,) planning out months of training in advance, I looked at each day – each week – and thought about how I could fit in what I needed, and what I wanted out of the race, around all the other things in our lives. When I felt like riding or running hard, I did. When I needed days to recover, I took them. And I capitalized on every single opportunity to trot, play, spin, hike, and frolic outside and when that opportunity didn’t appear, I tried not to sweat it. As it turns out, this was a great way to conquer a race where the goal was just to fall in love with running again.
This whole “doing the best with what you have” concept is a little harder to grasp than it seems, by the way. I’m the type of person that enjoys reaching for things I can’t presently touch. I like building projects from scratch, and creating something from nothing. What I’ve just recently thought of, though, is that the things that don’t seem to be anything, might actually become that something you previously thought was nothing, just by looking at them a little differently. That trail race, and these Date Bars are similar in that way; their success didn’t require me to structure something out, but just to take a look at what I had on hand and put those resources to good use.
If you’ve been reading for a bit now, you know that when we take road trips (or just quick trips into the mountains) I always bring a little something special to snack on along. Before we left for Beaver Creek on Saturday morning, I opened up our pantry and took a peek; I was inspired by nothing much and realized we were out of even more. No butter, no eggs, and barely any sugar. But, we did have a lemon on it’s last leg, a slew of bags filled with alternative flours I’ve been playing with lately, a mostly empty jar of almond butter, and smidgen of almond milk in the refrigerator. In the pantry, we had a box of dates (a souvenir from our last trip to California) and a contraband bottle of honey I received as a birthday gift from my sweet friend Lara, both of which were being saved for a special occasion. Like this one, apparently.
I’ve been playing with recipe ratios lately along with all those alternative flours, (especially after reading the highly recommended book by Michael Ruhlman: Ratio.) The book was an excellent reminder – in layman terms- that everything you want to make in a kitchen is subject to a ratio. When it comes to batters and doughs, so long as you respect the liquid, fat, and flour contents needed to set a specific something (be it a cake, a muffin, a cookie) up, you have enough to make what you’re craving. Basically, so long as you have the right amount of liquid (not necessarily milk,) fat (not necessarily butter,) and flour (not necessarily the most familiar type,) you can create magic in your kitchen. These little date bars, at the risk of tooting my horn, felt like that kind of magic.
The recipe here is simple, and so is the technique; you need only a bowl and an immersion blender or a food processor to pull it all together. You might need to buy some alternative flours here, but they’re all worth it and useful in other recipes you’ll find on this site. When it comes to shopping for dates, buy the plumpest ones you can find. If you don’t have dates, or don’t like them, I’m sure you could try any other dried fruit you like. The same goes for almond milk; anything you like would likely work beautifully here. When it comes to honey, don’t worry about having something contraband – just a good honey! Once these bars are baked, you’ll want to let them cool completely before cutting into them. I set mine up in the refrigerator for several hours and have been storing them in there in an airtight container as well.
These little date bars served to be a great breakfast before that “something out of nothing” trail race where we – strangely both managed to finish on our respective podiums. And, since we’ve been back at home, I’ve been snacking on them before bike rides, we had them with ice cream for dessert and with yogurt for breakfast. I’ll be trying to keep them around on the repertoire for a while here, I suspect. Along with that “something out of nothing,” you-have-more-than-you-think-you-do attitude.
I can’t wait to hear what you think of these little snack bars, and where you take them! Enjoy! – xo L
- 1 1/2 cups medjool dates
- 2 cups hot water (for soaking the dates)
- 1/4 cup honey
- Juice and zest of one lemon, divided in half
- 1 1/2 cups oat flour
- 1 cup almond flour
- 1/2 cup brown rice flour
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 1/2 tsp baking soda
- 1/4 tsp sea salt
- 1/2 cup unsweetened almond milk (or the milk of your choice)
- 1/3 cup creamy almond butter
- 1/2 cup rolled oats, divided in half
- 4 Tbsp raw cane sugar, plus more for sprinkling
- 1 Tbsp almond extract (or vanilla)
- Drain the figs, reserving the soaking liquid on the side. In a food processor, blend the soaked and drained figs with the honey and half the lemon juice. If your paste needs more liquid, add the soaking liquid 1 Tbsp. at a time. You want it thick, like jam, so use the liquid sparingly. You can make the fig puree up to three days in advance.
- Preheat the oven to 400'. In a mixing bowl, combine the oat, brown rice and almond flours along with the baking powder, baking soda and salt. Mix to combine. Add the remaining lemon juice and zest, almond milk, almond butter, half the oats, coconut sugar and vanilla and stir everything together to combine well.
- Line an 9x9 baking pan with parchment paper extending up the sides. Crumble half the dough into the bottom of the pan and press it down with clean fingers. Spread the date puree on top in an even, thick layer. Crumble and scatter the remaining dough on top of the date puree and press it down gently with a spatula so it sticks together, being careful not to disrupt the date layer. Sprinkle the remaining oats on top and sprinkle with desired amount of raw cane sugar to finish.
- Bake on the middle rack for 25 minutes, then remove from the oven and allow to cool completely. Using the parchment paper as a sling, remove the bars and gently cut into bars with a sharp knife (I found mine to be quite soft when they were just cool, so I allowed them to set up in the fridge for an hour or so before cutting. The freezer would work as well!)
- Cover and keep stored in an airtight container in the fridge for up to a week.