Cocoa Curry Coconut Granola Bars

Every woman needs a few close friends to stand in her corner. A sisterhood, a tribe – a handful of confidants that will always have your back, ask tough questions, and tell you when you’re full of it.

I found groups of girls difficult to navigate in my younger years…the rules were complex and politics were always changing. But in college, a fact as simple as a random room assignment in South Case Hall at Michigan State gave me the first sense that I had found a smart, fierce group of women to call sisters. Most of them are still close friends, though the miles and time between visits stretch farther as the years go by. But husbands, children and careers have made them no less dear to my heart.

At the end of my college years, I found a new tribe…a small feminist discussion forum on the web. We shared intimate details of our lives, joys and the frustrations that come with defining yourself as an adult, a woman, feminist, friend and lover. Behind screen names, we shared our innermost thoughts and struggles with honesty in a way that we rarely do in real life. The women (and some men) residing in these threads of conversation online burrowed deep into my heart and life, as real as the friends I hung out with on weekends. When I moved to Chicago in 2000, I learned that several of them lived in my new hometown. We met for brunch one summer morning – shy, and barely in our 20s…and our sisterhood evolved, transferring to the “real world.”

My beautiful feminist sisterhood. Chicago, October 2011. 

Thirteen years after meeting these women online, members of the forum flew in from all over the country to rent a house in Chicago for the weekend, to just hang out. The weekend started with a party on Friday night, and knowing that we all love to cook and eat good food, we made it a potluck affair. These dear women gave me the kick in the behind to start this blog in the first place – we had long rambling conversations online about food, and I always shared what was simmering on my stove. Bringing something to this potluck required some thought…I had a reputation to maintain, after all.

Needing something I could prep ahead, I settled on my signature granola bars as the symbol of my first gluten free experiments. These women witnessed my health transformation, and my frustration in learning to cook in a completely new way. When I first figured out how to make safe, delicious granola bars, it was a eureka moment I shared online first. But I wanted to dress things up a bit – try out a new savory, spicy combo, and so I dreamed up these coconut cocoa curry bars, inspired by Jeni’s Ice Creams recipe using the same flavors. These bars are a winner. Tweak the spices to your tastes – you might like more or less curry and heat than I do, but do try them. You won’t be sorry.

Then, share these bars with the women in your life who make your heart sing.

Granola bars
Makes about 30-35 bars (approx 3×3″)

5 cups gluten-free old-fashioned rolled oats
1 1/2 cup chopped raw nuts
 (I used a mixture of chopped pecans, cashews and pepita seeds – use whatever nuts you like best)
1/2 cup unsweetened coconut (shredded)
2/3 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup unsweetened peanut butter or almond butter
1/3 c honey
1/3 c brown rice syrup (available at Whole Foods or use all honey)
4 Tbsp butter
2.5 tsp madras (sweet) curry powder
1/4 tsp cayenne (optional)
1/3 cup good quality unsweetened cocoa powder
1 T vanilla extract
1 tsp Kosher salt
1/3 c finely chopped crystallized ginger, optional
Parchment paper

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Mix the nuts and oats on a full sheet pan. Toast the nuts and oats in the oven for 13 minutes, then stir, and sprinkle the 1/2 cup of coconut on top of the oats and bake for another 7 minutes. Remove from oven and pour the oat mixture into a large mixing bowl along with the chopped crystallized ginger, if you’re using it. Leave the oven on at 350 – you’ll need it later.
  3. Meanwhile, during the last 7-10 minutes of oat baking, combine the brown sugar, honey, brown rice syrup, peanut or almond butter, curry powder, cayenne, cocoa powder, butter, and salt into a small nonstick sauce pan over medium-low heat, stirring with a spatula until it all melts and is well incorporated with no lumps. Add the vanilla, stir and remove from the burner.
  4. Cut two pieces of parchment paper. The first piece of parchment should be large enough to cover the whole sheet pan, including folding up the sides of the pan. Cut a second smaller piece, just large enough for you to use to cover 1/4 of the bars to aid in pressing the bars together.
  5. When the 20 minutes of toasting the oats are complete, remove from the oven, and pour into your largest mixing bowl, along with the chopped crystallized ginger – stir it all up.
  6. Drizzle half of the hot “glue” (the sugar/butter mixture) over the oats and nuts in your mixing bowl and use a spatula to stir it all together, coating the oats evenly in the sweet goo. Pour the remaining glue over the mixture and continue to stir until everything is nicely coated.
  7. Place the large sheet of parchment paper over the sheet pan covering the entire bottom with overlap for the sides, then scoop the sticky oat mixture onto the pan. Use your spatula to smooth it out into a more-or-less even layer covering the whole pan. Next, take the second, smaller sheet of parchment and use it to cover part of the pan as you use your hands to firmly press the bars together into a tightly packed, even layer.
  8. Put the granola bars back in the oven for 4 minutes, then remove and set on a cooling rack until completely cooled before cutting.
  9. Cutting the bars: Pick up the whole pan of bars by the ends of the parchment, and turn upside down on a large cutting board. Peel the parchment away, and reserve, cutting the sheet into smaller pieces to lay between layers of bars in a large storage container or ziploc bag, to keep them from sticking.
  10. Use a large chef’s knife and firmly press down with the knife with a gentle rocking motion (do not saw at the bars), and cut your granola into whatever size bars you’d like. I usually get 5 rows of bars across the pan lengthwise, 7-8 bars per row. I also like to cut one row of the bars into two-bite super mini bars for smaller snacking size.
  11. Layer the bars in a large storage container, and slip pieces of the parchment between layers. Store in the fridge for up to 2-3 weeks, though I doubt they’ll last that long.
Girl Scouts Founder Juliette Gordon Lowe was kind enough to take a moment to snap a pic with me. 
…I have to thank the Girl Scouts of the USA for the inspiration to ponder what sisterhood has meant to me. I just returned from the 100th Anniversary Girl Scouts Convention in Houston, attended by 15,000 troop leaders, staff, and girl leaders. I was  there on behalf of a client, and totally drawn in by this huge group of women who laughed, smiled, and truly welcomed every single person as a member of their tribe. Girl Scouts definitely know the power of sisterhood, and I am grateful and humbled by the week spent with their leaders. 
What has sisterhood meant in your life? And what foods do you love to share with your closest friends?  Please share in the comments below. 

Peach Sour Cherry Popsicles

It’s SEPTEMBER. It’s also Labor Day – the unofficial end of Summer and last hurrah before the supposed serious stuff of Fall to come. I cannot get a grip on this. In my mind, summer is just starting…sadly, the dark mornings and early sunsets are telling a very different story. And then there’s the fact that it was 55 degrees at the Lakefront today. The sunny, summer months have slipped by me in the hurry and scurry of blogger conference season. BlogHer Food, evo, BlogHer and Healthy Living Summit…while only 4 weekends out of the summer season, I feel like I’ve been in the air and on the move too much, and so this three day weekend at home has been just the deep breath I needed.

The weekend tally of cooking is even larger than usual, because I had time to putter and create with little else on the agenda. Roast chicken, grilled steak, Southwestern black bean and millet salad, vegetable soup, granola bars, popsicles, and three batches of ice cream from Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams cookbook. If you love frozen confections as much as I do – you need this book. The flavors are brilliant, and get this – Jeni’s recipes do not require a custard base, making the cooking much more forgiving than traditional ice creams. So do yourself a favor – buy her book, and whip up some fancy ice cream…my favorite of the trio I’ve made so far is her basil ice cream with pine nut pralines. Yeah. You need this cookbook.

And before Summer gets too far away from us, I have to share one more summer treat with you. Local peaches are in their prime in the Midwest right now, and they are on the table and in our lunch bags every day. You can’t go wrong with grilled peaches, drizzled with balsamic and sprinkled with wisps of fresh basil or a simple peach crisp, hot and bubbling from the oven. But this year’s peach revelation is a simple popsicle.

Peaches make wonderful sorbets and popsicles – the fruit has a high amount of natural sugar, and the flesh once frozen maintains an almost creamy texture, rather than icy. I like to add a bit of a twist to popsicles, so a dribble of white peach balsamic brightens the pops with an extra bump of acidity…but add a handful of tart sour cherries, and you have a truly sophisticated pop.

Peach Sour Cherry Popsicles
Makes 6 popsicles
2 cups of peeled, chopped peaches (in season)
1 cup sour cherries (fresh or frozen)
2 T honey
1 T white peach balsamic (Old Town Oils is my favorite source)
is my favorite source)

  1. Combine all ingredients in the blender and puree until completely smooth. Pour into the popsicle molds, then insert the stick/caps and freeze for at least 5 hours for a solid freeze.
  2. To unmold the popsicles, heat a pint glass of water in the microwave for a minute, then dunk the frozen pops for a minute, remove from the water and gently unmold the popsicles. Enjoy.

What’s your favorite popsicle flavor – store-bought or homemade? Share in the comments below.