Other than cooking/baking/eating, another one of my new passions is cycling. A year ago I was using my 19-year old mountain bike (it looks like this one on Craigslist) for commuting to work. A year later, after saving my money from a lack of bus passes, I purchased a snazzy road/hybrid and I have been flying ever since. A nice, light bike makes a complete difference and I went from enduring cycling to really enjoying it.
My newest cycling goal is a double imperial century ride between Ottawa and Cornwall in September with my family. I have been slowly working my way towards the grueling 100 mile (162km) bike ride for each day. This weekend, I cycled between Burlington and Niagara Falls with a group of friends through the Toronto Bicycle Network. Our my first day, I cycled 128km and almost cried when I arrived at the falls, glorious in all its splendour, complete with a rainbow, but mostly proud of my achievement.
One of the snacks I munched on through the day were homemade almond chocolate Lärabars. The ingredient list for Lärabars are surprisingly sparse (eg., dates, almonds and bananas) and quite a few recipes are online for many of the different Lärabars flavours (and here, too). In the end, I decided to go all out with Chocolate & Zucchini‘s gourmet chocolate Lärabars with almonds, date paste, cardamom, cinnamon, cocoa, and cacao nibs. They were delicious but a bit crumbly, especially once on the road all day. I think I needed to soften my date paste, which I will do next time. For a while I was confused with the flavours in the bar. It tasted kind of minty but I know I didn’t put any mint in it. I think it was the magic of cardamom. I approve, and will definitely try out other combinations of nuts, fried fruits and spices throughout my summer rides.
Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to bike back from Niagara falls to Burlington, after I fell off my bike the subsequent morning. Thankfully I am doing well, took the train back to Toronto, bought a new helmet and will be riding off to work in a few minutes. :)
Homemade Almond Chocolate Lärabars
50 grams (1 3/4 ounces) date paste, diced (see note)
100 grams (3 1/2 ounces) almonds (any nut mix will do)
the seeds from 2 green cardamom pods
100 grams (3 1/2 ounces) Medjool dates (about 4), pitted (if these are unavailable, substitute regular dried dates, or use all date paste)
3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
a good pinch salt
1 rounded tablespoon cacao nibs (not chocolate covered)
1. In the bowl of a sturdy blender or food processor, combine the diced date paste, nuts, and cardamom, and process in short pulses until the nuts are chopped to small bits (but not powdered) and blended with the paste. Add the rest of the ingredients and process in short pulses until the mixture comes together.
2. Grease the bottom and sides of a small rectangular container (I use this small, 18 x 12.5 cm / 7-by-5-inch baking dish, but you could also use a recycled takeout container of these approximate dimensions) with vegetable oil. Turn the date mixture out into the container, cover with a piece of parchment paper or recycled food wrapper (this is to prevent the mixture from sticking to your hand and spoon) and pack the mixture down using your hand and then the back of the spoon, in order to fill the container in a smooth, even layer.
3. Transfer to the fridge to set for a few hours or preferably overnight, then slice into five or six bars, or the number of servings you prefer. They will keep in the refrigerator, covered, for about a week. Use the same piece of parchment paper to wrap the bar you want to take with you, then save and reuse it to wrap the other bars on subsequent days.
Note: Date paste can be found at natural foods stores, or in North African or Middle Eastern shops. If the paste seems dry and hard, cut it into slices and soak for an hour in a little cold water to soften, turning every now and then. Drain well before using (save the date water to use in smoothies, breads, or sorbets). **My bars were a bit crumbly, especially once out of the refrigerator all day, so I will do this next time!
Makes 5 or 6 bars.