Thursday, August 4, 2011

Homemade Lärabars

I've had my winter break, and now I'm back. I feel I should be reporting on some great food revelation, but it's just been a month of simple food eaten with very little fuss. I polished off the last of the persimmons from a friend's tree, and have come to love them. I left them to blet, that is, go extremely soft; and when they felt like nothing more than a fragile bag of heaviness – sadly, the only descriptive word that comes to mind is 'testicular' – I ate them with a spoon; they were deliciously jammy and fragrant. We've also demolished mountains of apples, potatoes, celeriac, lentils, walnuts and kale. I was delighted to find Victorian hazelnuts at CERES, and we've thrown them into the mix of nuts eaten at our house.

It's been a good break. Over the holidays, my schoolgirls got back into the habit of making their own lunches; and when they went back to school, decided that it was a habit they wanted to keep. When they announced this, I thought carefully for about three milliseconds – then I frowned deeply, sighed heavily, and said 'I suppose so. Yes.'

Internally, I flipped cartwheels and held a parade; to them I said sternly, 'Now this will take some planning. I'll plan on the weekend. You can start Monday.'

I thought it would be good to start on a high note, so over the weekend I found all the school food odds and ends and grouped them in the pantry at kid height: dried fruit and nuts; small cans of tuna; their favourite crackers; corn cakes; and some fancy healthy treats. I bought squishy white bread, their preferred sandwich option, alas; punnets of cherry tomatoes even though it's July; sliced ham; and anything else that might tickle their fancy. And I made a version of Lärabars.

Lärabars are, I gather, a high energy and reasonably healthy bar available in the States. I make no claim for originality here; I only know about them since a fabulous French food blogger provided a recipe and, once I tweaked the method so that the nuts were chunkier and the spices more evenly distributed, my girls thought the results were really something special. Fundamentally, they are nothing more than date paste combined with cocoa, raw cacoa nibs, and a heap of nuts and/or dried fruit. This month, the Victorian hazelnuts combined nicely with the almonds from our tree; and the local combination outweighed any air mile guilt I felt about buying date paste from Syria.

We cut them not into bars, but into chunks: thick inch-wide squares chock full of dried fruit and nuts, enough to keep a young girl going at playtime. And so the school lunch experiment began.

It's been fascinating. I've quietly lurked beside the refrigerator and watched my five-year-old, who 'hates' any sort of fruit, cheerfully choose a kiwifruit and pack it into a box with a fancy spoon; and bring home the skin scraped clean. This is the same child who has wailed whenever I have suggested such a thing; who has, in fact, rejected any fruit except organic raspberries when they are $14 a punnet, which naturally I refuse to buy.

She also 'hates' tuna, but has happily packed and devoured several cans now she thinks I'm not looking. My seven-year-old can't stand it when I use salted butter, but in her own lunch it appears to be a necessity, along with a small tub of olives and tomatoes, and perhaps some gooseberries from our shrub. I've decided that I will turn a blind eye to whatever they pack, although I may choose not to replenish certain supplies for a while; and I noticed one girl pack four dill pickles for her lunch one day. None came home. Perhaps they are currency in the schoolyard, just as, a couple of months ago, I discovered my seven-year-old was swapping tamarillos from our tree for untold junk food.

Who can fathom the ways of children? Not I. All I can do is provide a few recipes that might make them happy; and in this spirit, here's my interpretation of Chocolate & Zucchini's interpretation of Lärabars.

Homemade Lärabars

- 150g date paste
- 100g hazelnuts and/or almonds and/or other dried fruit or nuts
- 3 tbs unsweetened cocoa powder
- ½ tsp cardamom
- ¼ tsp cinnamon
- pinch salt
- 1 tbs cacao nibs

Lightly oil a dish about 11cm x 18cm (4½" x 7") with unflavoured vegetable oil (not olive oil).

Whizz the date paste with the cocoa, cardamom, cinnamon and salt in a food processor until it resembles tiny moist pebbles. Throw in the cacao nibs and nuts, and pulse chop until all is roughly combined.

Scrape the mixture into the oiled dish, then cover with grease proof paper. Using the back of a metal spoon and a rocking motion, compress the mixture through the paper until it has compacted nicely.

Seal the container, and place in the fridge overnight to firm up. The next day, slice it into chunks or bars or whatever shape makes you happy.

Note: First I tried using a takeaway container, but the pressure needed to compress the bar split the plastic. So I sought and found a suitably sized dish in the op shop; I am sure you will too!

(Victorian: almonds, hazelnuts, salt. Not local but fair trade: cocoa, cacao nibs. From many, many miles away: date paste, cardamom, cinnamon.)

1 comment:

  1. Ohh these sound so yum, give me chocolate fruit and nuts and I would be happy happy. Your food picture books are great, our favourite is In the night kitchen and Strega Nonna reminds me of Primary school.