Radio Silence

Hello, my name is Maddie, and I haven’t been on a vacation in two. years.

It all started so innocently, with the wrapping-up of two delicious weeks in Hawaii in 2008, where I devoured tuna steaks and soaked in the ocean air like it was my job. But the next May brought with it a supposedly wonderful thing called “college graduation,” in which you leave the all-expenses-deferred student lifestyle only to stumble upon a rude awakening called “student loan payments.” Hello, full-time job. Hello, entire post-graduate summer spent running through the D.C. humidity in a pantsuit trying to secure said full-time job.

And now we are here, two years later. Recession be damned, I secured that full-time job, and the ten precious, precious vacation days it offered. I also secured a rather alarming amount of real life-induced, vacation-starved burnout along the way. So starting tomorrow, I’ll be using half of my vacation days (and my entire tax refund) to fly to Croatia, sun myself on its beaches, and gorge myself on its seafood risotto. I will stay in a cozy little apartment, and take day trips to Bosnia, offshore islands, and national parks. The whole time, I will also be cursing myself for not living in Europe, where giving someone only ten vacation days would probably be considered a criminal offense.

Thus the impending radio silence, my friends. But as a going-away present, I offer you the best granola bars I’ve ever had. Seriously, they’ve ruined the entire line of Kashi products for me. These are soft but toothsome, and stuffed to the brim with ingredients you can pronounce and crave: cranberries, coconut, peanut butter, maple syrup. When my little brother and I were kids, my parents would stuff our backpacks with distractions before a long trip, hoping that Invisible Ink books and granola bars, magazines and surprises would keep us from bickering and squirming. That’s what I plan to do for myself before this plane ride, in order to keep me from hyperventilating as I scan my Lonely Planet guidebook for the umpteenth time. And you’d better believe that these granola bars will be along for the ride: supremely packable one-handed meals, they’ll rock the socks off airplane peanuts.

Until next time! Have a safe and happy week, wherever you may be.

THICK AND CHEWY GRANOLA BARS
Makes 16 bars
From King Arthur Flour with adaptations by Smitten Kitchen

Ingredients
– 1 2/3 cups quick rolled oats
– 1/2 cup granulated sugar
– 1/3 cup oat flour (Note: You can simply blend regular oats in a food processor or coffee grinder until powdery.)
– 1/2 tsp. salt
– 1/4 tsp. cinnamon
– 2-3 cups mix-ins*
– 1/3 cup peanut or almond butter
– 1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
– 6 Tbsp. melted butter or canola oil
– 1/4 cup maple syrup, honey, or corn syrup
– 2 Tbsp. light corn syrup
– 1 Tbsp. water

* Here’s the creative part: throw in all the dried fruit, nuts, and other delicious bits you desire. I use about 3 cups of mix-ins, which includes a bit of flaxseed meal, and a significant amount of coconut flakes, dried cranberries, and whatever mix of chopped, toasted almonds, walnuts and cashews I currently have in my cupboard. I bet chocolate chips would be amazing, too. Go crazy!

Preparation
1) Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Line an 8x8x2″ square pan with parchment paper and grease lightly.
2) Combine first six ingredients, from the rolled oats through the mix-ins, in a large bowl. (If your chosen mix-ins are relatively large—whole nuts, for example—consider pulsing them briefly in a food processor before adding to dry ingredients. This will help “glue” your granola bars together.)
3) In a small bowl, mix all wet ingredients—the nut butter, vanilla, butter or oil, liquid sweeteners, and water—until evenly distributed.
4) Pour wet ingredients into dry, stirring until entire mixture is moistened and crumbly. Transfer into prepared pan. Dampen your hands slightly with water, and press granola firmly into bottom and corners of pan. This step ensures that your granola bars will hold together rather than crumble. A wide spatula works very well for this purpose, too.
5) Bake for 30-40 minutes; edges will be brown, and the top will start to brown as well.
6) Remove pan to a cooling rack and cool completely in pan. Refrigerate for 30 minutes before cutting with a serrated knife to ward off crumbling.
7) Snack away to your heart’s content! These are best enjoyed at room temperature, but will keep longest in an airtight container in the fridge or freezer.