Monday, May 21, 2012


My children and I were just discussing the idea of borders.  How there are some, geographically speaking, that you cross with a big process and plenty of hoopla (lines, guards, documents, stamps) and some you pass without a notion that you’ve done so, like the two town lines we cross between home and their school.  There are gradual transitions that are noted and celebrated as if they happened all at once, like the milestone birthdays which punctuate the long process of growing (one nephew turned 18 last week, and another 21), and others that we forget to realize have happened until they have.  On which day did the landscape around here go from “greening” to Green?

I could not pinpoint the day, myself.  But I know it has happened, and here is how: The food is back.

Last week the farmers’ market opened for the season, and I was skipping merrily across the parking lot—okay, maybe not merrily, since the re-opening of the market means the reconvening of lots of people in cars jockeying for not much space and asserting ownership of the road and perhaps not practicing the Attitude of Gratitude in a way that is palpable to others, but I was dashing, anyway—and I paused, for a moment, just to savor the notion.  The food is back!  The food is back! Ahhh, the food is back.  I stood on the threshold and breathed. 

It is so good to be able to eat food from the dirt around me, and so good to hand my food dollar to the person who planted the seeds and pulled the weeds and gussied the lettuce up to bring it to my attention.  We have been eating a lot of greens, very happily.

The specific food I am going to rattle on about today doesn't have much to do with the market.  Nothing, in fact.  It's here because I have been trying to recreate a Lemon Zest Luna Bar for my daughters, who are both fond of those little two-dollar-and-a-plastic-wrapper-that-will-live-forever snacks, and right before the hiatus of last week I managed something that they both pronounced to be "wrong, or still not exactly right, but really good."

So I have that for you.  It may not be a market food, but it's a border food for sure.  The border between "save yourself a step and just buy it" and "look!  I can do it myself!" is one I dance across frequently, generally with a grateful leap to one side or the other.

There are some things I've gone to the trouble of making myself that I would never willingly bother with again.  I'll just be grateful someone else is taking the time and giving me access to the results.  But an energy bar definitely falls into the category of Worth The Minimal Bother.  I can pick and choose what I want to include and avoid ingredients with really long names.  Does this lemon one below not appeal to you?  A chocolate version is in the pipeline here, and my dear Alana has a set of car snack recipes you may want to try out (that's a link to her version one, and I think she's up to CarSnack 4.0 now).

A note on the frosting: this is definitely the beta version.  It's just a little too soft.  After a day, it was lightly set but not exactly firm, and consequently made wrapping and toting more of a challenge.  But it was darn tasty, so I am including it anyway.  (Version II, in which a tablespoon of melted coconut oil, which is hard at room temperature, was added, led out of softness to frank runniness.  Go figure.)

Another ingredient note: rice syrup, which would be my preferred sticky sweet ingredient here, has been at the center of an arsenic controversy recently (as has rice itself, as if we all need another thing to worry about in our food).  Though I lament and resist the cookie-fication of the granola bar (a phenom that followed on the heels of the cupcake-ization of the muffin) and hence would prefer to avoid cane sugar in my energy bars (reserving it for dessert), Lyle's Golden Syrup makes a good substitute for rice syrup here.  You could also use honey, or if gluten is not an issue, barley malt, which so far seems to be free of Agatha Christie-style danger warnings and some even assert is far enough from its grain source to be safe for the gluten-intolerant.

wrong but good lemon energy bars

1 stick (8T) unsalted butter
3/4 c thick, sticky, sweet something (barley malt, rice syrup, honey or Lyle's)
3/4 c oat bran
3/4 c almond meal
½ c golden flax meal
½ teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
fat pinch of sea salt
3 c crisp rice cereal

Preheat the oven to 325.  Tear a piece of parchment long enough to line a 10 x 13" baking dish.

In a large pot, melt the butter with the sweetener and stir until they are well mixed.   Add everything but the rice crisps and stir well, then stir in the rice.  When the mixture is well-combined, glop it onto the parchment:

and then, using your hands or the butter wrapper, ploink it out nice and flat and even.  This will seem hopeless at first, as the lump and the sliding parchment appear doomed to move perpetually in concert, but shortly you will see that it works out just fine:

Bake for about 25 minutes, until dryish and set in the center and the edges are lightly golden.  Cool in the pan.

wrong but good frosting

3T vegetable shortening
1T nonfat dry milk powder
2t honey
3t lemon juice
½ t finely grated lemon zest

Mix well in the order given and try not to eat it all before the bars are cool.

Use the parchment to slide the bars out of the pan onto a cutting surface and cut them as you please.

Spread (see above) or pipe (see below) whatever frosting you have left on the bars, and let me know how they rate in your house.


  1. Hooray for green! Would agave nectar work as the sweetener, do you think?

    1. I think it would not be thickandsticky enough. I made a batch with maple syrup recently, which is about the same consistency as agave, and it did not bind things in a satisfactory way.

  2. Isn't it nice when the vegetables come back? I spy my favorite tiny springtime turnips in your photo. Here in Seattle they're still creeping into the farmers markets and just gaining a tentative foothold in the garden--my CSA doesn't start until July! I am also enjoying the first hopeful signs, though.

    And isn't it amazing how individually wrapped snacks enchant children? My three are young enough that I don't get a lot of grief for skipping them yet ("oh, we don't buy those!"), but I imagine that I'll be needing your recipe soon enough.

    1. It's SO nice. My favorite spring migration!

      Thanks for writing!

  3. I stopped by from "Eating From The Ground Up" after reading your tapioca recipe there. I'm excited about your recipe here as well but mostly about your explanation of "border" foods - I find so many thing in our lives like that as well and am excited to be reading blogs that talk about finding a way to do many of these things on our own. Sometimes, like you said, I'm just thankful someone else does it because I tried it and am not doing it again...but actually most often I find it simple and doable and delightful. Bars are something we've fought against in my house since the dawn of time (well, maybe not that long but it seems like it) and I'm happy to note that I have all of these ingredients except the puffed rice. Always a good sign that a recipe is likely to work for my when pantry staples of mine are included.

    1. There is definitely delight to be found in doing things ALL BY SELF, as my children discovered around age 2, especially when you can do it in the company of others who are trying to crack the same nut. Alana's car snacks were the doorway to resolution of the Bar Wars in our house--bars are quick to make and you can put in just exactly what you like. Store bars are cute, in their shiny wrappers, but not very customizable!


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