Fresh air, gorgeous views and mile after mile of rugged, eminently walkable wilderness -- there are few forms of exercise more enticing than a hike along one of Florida's many beautiful trails. It's good for the body, mind and spirit.
Or it would be, if you weren't nibbling a high-sugar, additive-laden, uber-expensive, storebought energy bar -- or what Camilla V. Saulsbury calls "a peanut butter sponge with a chocolate Ex-lax-like coating." You can do better than that, says the author of "Power Hungry: The Ultimate Energy Bar Cookbook" (Lake Isle Press, $16.95, 150 pages). It takes less than half an hour to make several dozen bars. You can store them in the freezer, fridge or backpack. And the difference in taste, texture and cost is pretty shocking.
Saulsbury spent her childhood hiking the trails and backwoods of Northern California, and her grad school years holed up in a library with a stash of processed power bars for sustenance. They tasted terrible.
"I was living out of my backpack. The taste factor started to get to me real soon -- and they weren't providing energy," Saulsbury says. "I thought, I can make something like this. So we made granola bars -- oats and some glue to hold it together. It cost so much less and was so much better tasting."
Soon, Saulsbury was making all sorts of riffs on the energy bar theme: Clif Bar taste-alikes without the soy protein isolates, a byproduct of the tofu industry; Kind Bar look-alikes that have all your favorite dried fruits and nuts; crisp, puck-shaped discs of nutty-seedy splendor and energy bars filled with banana chips, citrus zest, quinoa flakes and even kale.
So what does Saulsbury tote when she hits the trails? "I would definitely opt for a bar with a grain base. You need those hearty carbohydrates for those long hikes," she says. "When it gets hot, it needs to hold together. And seeds and nuts have that portable protein."
We whipped out a batch each of her Nick Bars -- those are the better-than-a-Clif bars -- and Friend Bars, which emulate the Kind variety. When you make your own, you control the ingredients, of course. So our "Friend Bars" were full of dried apricots, pecans and pepitas, but yours might be made with dried apples, pecans and cinnamon. Or shredded coconut and almonds. Or ground ginger, almonds, sesame seeds and dates.
"Sometimes, simple is best," she says. "Growing up, we had a VW camper with a pop-up top for the five of us. We'd go to Samuel P. Taylor Park or all the way up to Canada. We'd take a big container of almonds and raisins, pro
tein from the nuts and then simple carbohydrates from the dried fruit."
But if you want to get a little fancy with minimal effort, she suggests mixing up a batch of her Paleo Pucks, nuts and dried fruit held together with egg white and a tablespoon of honey or maple syrup. "You bake them in a muffin tin," she says. "Super simple. Nice to grab."
Highly addictive. And good for you, too.
1 cup packed pitted, soft dates
1 cup warm water
1-1/4 cups crisp brown rice cereal
1 cup quick-cooking rolled oats
1/4 cup coarsely chopped roasted or toasted nuts or seeds, such as peanuts, almonds, sunflower seeds
2 tablespoons flaxseed meal
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 cup natural, unsweetened nut or seed butter, such as peanut, cashew or sunflower
1/3 cup honey, agave nectar or pure maple syrup
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon fine sea salt
1/4 cup miniature semisweet chocolate chips
1. Line a 9-inch square baking pan with foil or parchment paper, letting the ends protrude from the pan by a couple of inches; spray with nonstick cooking spray.
2. Combine the dates and warm water in a small bowl. Let stand 5 to 10 minutes, until the dates are soft (time will vary according to the dryness of the dates). Drain and pat dry with paper towels.
3. In a large bowl, stir together the cereal, oats, nuts or seeds, flaxseed meal and cinnamon.
4. Place the dates in a food processor. Using on/off pulses, process until finely chopped. Add to the bowl with the cereal.
5. In a small saucepan, combine the nut or seed butter and honey. Heat over medium-low, stirring, for 2 to 4 minutes, until the mixture is melted and bubbly. Remove from heat. Stir in vanilla and salt.
6. Immediately pour the honey mixture over the cereal mixture, mixing with a spatula until coated. Gently stir in the chocolate chips.
7. Transfer the mixture to the prepared pan. Place a large piece of parchment paper or plastic wrap (coated with nonstick cooking spray) atop the bar mixture and use it to spread, flatten and very firmly compact the mixture evenly in the pan. Cool at least 1 hour until firmly set.
8. Using the pan liner, lift the mixture from the pan and transfer it to a cutting board. Cut into 12 bars. Tightly wrap bars individually in plastic wrap. Keeps at room temperature 3 days, in the refrigerator up to 2 weeks and in the freezer for 3 months in an airtight container (let thaw 1 hour before using).
Variations: For Crunchy Peanut Butter Bars, omit the chocolate chips and cinnamon; use peanut butter and chopped, roasted, lightly salted peanuts for the nut butter and nuts.
For Oatmeal Raisin Pecan Bars, replace the chocolate chips with 1/3 cup raisins, increase cinnamon to 3/4 teaspoon, and use chopped toasted pecans for the nuts.
For Blueberry, Cherry or Apricot Almond Bars, replace the chocolate chips with 1/3 cup dried blueberries, dried cherries or chopped dried apricots. Replace the vanilla with 3/4 teaspoon almond extract, and use almond butter and chopped toasted almonds.
1- 1/2 cups chopped assorted raw or toasted nuts and/or seeds, such as cashews, sunflower seeds green pumpkin seeds, peanuts, pecans
1/3 cup crisp brown rice cereal
1/2 cup chopped dried fruit, such as raisins, apricots, berries, dates
1/3 cup organic light corn syrup or brown rice syrup
1/8 teaspoon fine sea salt, optional
Makes 10 bars
Note: Do not substitute agave nectar, honey or maple syrup for the specified syrups, which are essential for binding the ingredients.
1. Line an 8-inch square baking pan with foil or parchment paper, letting the ends protrude by a couple of inches. Spray with nonstick cooking spray. Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
2. In a large bowl, stir together the nuts or seeds, cereal and dried fruit.
3. Add syrup and salt; stir until evenly coated.
4. Transfer mixture to prepared pan. Place a large piece of parchment paper or plastic wrap (coated with cooking spray) atop bar mixture; use it to spread, flatten and very firmly compact the mixture in the pan. Discard the paper.
5. Bake for 17 to 20 minutes or until slightly browned at the edges, but still somewhat soft at the center. Cool 20 minutes in pan on a rack.
6. Lift mixture from pan and transfer to a cutting board. Cut into 10 bars. Cool completely. Tightly wrap the bars individually in plastic wrap. Keeps 3 days at room temperature, up to 2 weeks refrigerated and up to 3 months in the freezer in an airtight container.
Variations: For Apple Pecan Bars, use chopped dried apples and pecans; add 3/4 teaspoon cinnamon along with the syrup.
For Seeds of Friendship Bars, omit dried fruit; use 2 cups raw or toasted seeds (pepitas, sunflower, hemp, sesame) instead of nuts.
For Ginger Sesame Bars, use 1 cup almonds or cashews and 1/3 cup sesame seeds for the nuts and seeds, and chopped dates for the fruit. Add 1 teaspoon ground ginger along with the syrup.
PALEO POWER PUCKS
1 large egg white
1 tablespoon honey, agave nectar or maple syrup
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
1 cup chopped nuts, such as walnuts, pecans, almonds
1/2 cup seeds, such as sunflower, pumpkin, hemp hearts
1/3 cup chopped dried fruit, such as dates, prunes, apricots
1. Line 10 cups of a muffin pan with paper or foil liners. Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
2. In a bowl, whisk egg white, honey, cinnamon and salt until blended. Add nuts, seeds and dried fruit, stirring until completely combined.
3. Divide mixture among the muffin cups. Bake for 16 to 20 minutes, or until golden brown. Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. Tightly wrap pucks individually in plastic wrap. Keeps 5 days at room temperature, up to 2 weeks refrigerated and up to 3 months in the freezer in an airtight container. Makes 10.
Variations: For Tropical Paleo Pucks, add 2 teaspoons grated lime zest to the egg white mixture and substitute ground ginger for the cinnamon. Replace the dried fruit with 1/2 cup unsweetened flake or shredded coconut.
For Rosemary Golden Raisin Pucks, omit the cinnamon, add 2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh rosemary leaves and 2 teaspoons finely grated lemon zest; use golden raisins for the fruit.
For Chocolate Paleo Pucks, omit the cinnamon; add 2 teaspoons natural, unsweetened cocoa powder to the egg white mixture. Replace the dried fruit with 1/4 cup finely chopped dates and 3 tablespoons cacao nibs.
-- Recipes from Camilla V. Saulsbury, "Power Hungry: The Ultimate Energy Bar Cookbook" Title (Lake Isle Press, $16.95, 152 pages)