School is back in session, so the lunch-packing factory is once again open for business. Given the amount of food my growing-by-leaps-and-bounds son Christian is consuming these days, the thought has occurred to me that he just might have a hollow leg. 😉 Realistically, copious amounts of food were needed to fuel his recent five-inch growth spurt. (Yes, he did go through quite a few pairs of pants in the past year!)
Along with his sizable lunch, I pack a morning snack and something light for him to eat after school so he can make it through sports practice. So when my friends at Barlean’s partnered with LunchBots, a family-owned business that makes high-quality stainless steel lunch boxes, I had the perfect consultant for the project.
The project involved how to healthfully and deliciously pack one of these light-weight lunch boxes using one of Barlean’s signature products. When I asked Christian what healthy foods he would like to see in this cool, colorful box, he had an immediate answer. (I must pause here to say that my 15-year-old son deems the below-pictured quantity of food a snack; my young nieces think it’s a full-blown meal, and I consider it a light meal. But remember, you can pack your box any way you choose!)
Christian choose yogurt, which has always been one of his favorite snacks, an apple, clementine and/or grapes, and either this chunky homemade granola or a granola bar. I decided to split the difference on that last request and tuck some crunchy granola bark into the box.
Think of granola bark as a cross between a crunchy oats & honey granola bar and the big chunks that everyone loves in loose granola. It stands alone as a snack (and that’s how I usually eat it–lately as an afternoon snack with a Honeycrisp apple) but can be dipped in yogurt or crumbled over oatmeal, salads (think of a good fall salad with apples, cranberries, and cheese), or anything else that could use an element of lightly sweet crunch.
My recipe is adapted from a customer-favorite menu item at Tartine Bakery & Cafe, the famed bakery in San Francisco. Pastry chef Elisabeth Prueitt shared how to make this popular treat in her cookbook, Tartine All Day. I’ve made a few minor adjustments, added some helpful details in the instructions, and offered a few extra substitutions that have worked for me and should ensure success when preparing in a home kitchen instead of a commercial bakery.
On a separate note, after posting my Dilly Bean recipe just before taking my older son John (who inspired the recipe) to college for the first time, I meant to follow up with more photos and a recap of how the drop-off went. Computer woes came into play and said computer needed to be sent away for repair. Turns out the repair center was in Houston, and this all happened just before Hurricane Harvey hammered the city. Suffice it to say that my extended computer problems were insignificant compared to the losses of thousands of people in Texas…and now all of the areas affected by Irma.
Though I hated to say goodbye, I was truly thrilled for John to be starting on his big new adventure and to see him so genuinely excited for whatever awaits him in a new town with so many new people. He left later that day for a five day orientation hiking trip. When he returned, he reported that the group of seven freshman and two leaders came from all parts of the country and were completely awesome. He officially has new friends! Classes started Monday, so now the fun really begins! (Scroll to the end for the extra pics.😊)
Yield: approximately 16 servings (a half sheet pan’s worth)
- 1/2 cup (120ml) maple syrup (may use honey or 1/4 cup of each)
- 1/2 cup (75g) coconut sugar (may use brown sugar)
- 1/4 cup (60ml) water
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher or sea salt
- 3 cups (300g) rolled oats (not quick-cooking)
- 1 1/4 cups (175g) raw almonds, chopped
- 3/4 cup (60g) unsweetened shredded coconut
- 1/2 cup (60g) almond flour (may substitute whole wheat or all-purpose flour, but won’t be GF)
- 1/2 cup (80g) flax meal (may substitute Barlean’s digestive or energy blend; see links below)
- 1/4 cup (35g) sesame seeds (may substitute roughly chopped sunflower seeds)
- 1 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1/3 cup (80ml) olive oil, coconut oil, or vegetable oil of choice
- 1 large egg white, whisked until frothy (see notes)
- Combine the maple syrup, sugar, water, vanilla, and salt in a small saucepan and bring just to the boiling point, stirring to dissolve the sugar and salt. Remove from heat and let cool to lukewarm.
- Preheat the oven to 325°F. Line a 13x18 inch rimmed baking sheet (a half sheet pan) with parchment paper or a silicone mat.
- In a large bowl, combine the oats, almonds, coconut, almond flour, flax meal, sesame seeds, and cinnamon.
- When the maple syrup mixture has cooled, add the oil and egg white and whisk to incorporate. Pour the wet mixture over the oats mixture and mix well. All of the oats should be moistened.
- Spread the mixture evenly across the prepared baking sheet. Using another same-size baking sheet or the bottom of a pot, press the mixture down firmly to compact it before baking. (This is key.) Bake for approximately 40 minutes or until golden brown, rotating the sheet every 10-15 minutes to promote even browning. While the granola bakes, open the oven door several times to release steam. (When I bake this, I remove the baking sheet from the oven as soon as the outside edges of the bark begin to darken. At this point, the center won’t feel crisp, but it will continue to crisp at it cools. If you let the bark bake longer at this point, those outside edges will become too dark and taste burned.)
- Set the baking sheet on a cooling rack until the surface of the granola is crisp. Leave the oven on. If the surface is still tacky to the touch once it has cooled, simply return the pan to the oven and continue baking for another 10 to 15 minutes, checking every 5 minutes. Again, don’t let the bark get too dark, or it’ll taste bitter.
- Once cool, break the bark into pieces and store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 2 weeks, or in the refrigerator for up to 1 month.
- The recipe works without the egg white, but the bark is slightly crisper with it.
Instead of the usual flax meal (which can absolutely be used), I used Barlean’s Energy Blend in this batch. It’s a mix of ground flaxseed, unsweetened shredded coconut, chia seeds, and panax ginseng. The last item is a root traditionally used in eastern medicine to support physical endurance and mental acuity.
I have long used their Digestive Blend (which is a mix of ground flaxseed, chia seed, quinoa, and a pumpkin spice blend) interchangeably with regular flax meal in this Honey Flax Mug Muffin recipe. It’s a super healthy swap for all-purpose flour that produces a surprisingly tender muffin.
The muffin in the photo is a new blender recipe that relies heavily on flax meal and is sweetened entirely by dates. (Christian made quick work of my recent batch of 12!) The inspiration came from an entry in a recipe booklet that Barlean’s included in a recent order. 😀
So this is John’s dorm room. The blanket folded at the foot of the bed is a t-shirt quilt I had made for his graduation gift using a colorful assortment of t-shirts representing all the sports teams he played on and the special places he visited over the years. I literally saved t-shirts since he was in pre-school, and the quilt came out fabulously. I highly recommend!
In the photo above, we’re about to say goodbye to John as he heads off on his five day orientation hiking trip. Floodgates were under control for the moment.
Christian was in his first week of school when we took John to college, so sadly he couldn’t come. But to illustrate how tall this guy has become, I’m including a photo of him with his grandparents. For perspective, my mom is rather tall herself at 5’8″. (She claims my dad is on his tip toes!) Another cool thing is that Christian made the wooden kayak on my car with his own hands this summer…and it floats!