Autumn Reflections + Granola Bar Recipe

At my core, I am a summer person.  I love the long warm days and the (slightly) laid-back lifestyle.  Nevertheless there are a few things about the fall season that just can’t be beat.  Autumn for me is all about getting back in the kitchen.  While summer menus center on grilling and salads, autumn is about turning the oven back on.  Baked goods and sheet pan dinners are on my mind, as well as preserving the harvest of the garden bounty for the winter.  The house smells good and looks festive.

Strands of drying Aleppo peppers, Thai chili peppers, ghost peppers and habaneros hang from every surface interspersed with bunches of herbs drying in the kitchen.  The pantry is full of little mismatched jars of homemade habanero apricot pepper jelly, just waiting to glaze the holiday ham and garnish the New Year’s cheese platter.  I love to use these peppers and herbs to brighten up dishes in the dead of winter.  This is what keeps my gardening urge going strong when the weather turns chilly.  My husband is the true gardener — I just reap the benefits of his hard work!

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During this time of year — when the store gets so busy and my family doesn’t have time to sit down properly for each meal — I like to start baking again.  One of my favorite breakfasts is homemade granola bars.  Toasted oats mixed with nuts and fruit, with some nut butter for extra protein, sweetened with natural grape or date syrup or molasses, and enriched with extra virgin coconut oil and chia seeds, all combine to make a delicious breakfast bar.  Just be sure to choose your fruit and nut to complement whatever nut butter you use.  Toss together and bake and eat within a few days or freeze for on-the-go snacks.  I love the versatility of this recipe.  Cashews, almonds, hazelnuts or pistachios can be used with the corresponding nut butter.  Apricots, cranberries, raisins, blueberries or your favorite fruit can be customized to your preference.  Of course, everyone in my family wants a different combo.  But since these are so easy to make, it's OK with me.  This week’s favorite was cashew and apricot.

                                                         

Do you ever look at the weather before deciding what to make for dinner?  I always do.  One of my go-to dishes when the temperatures drop is roasted winter squash.  In the beginning of the season, they are so beautiful and decorate my table until I have time to roast them.  I love delicata, kombacha, kuri and buttercup.  The skin on all of these is tender enough to eat, so you can skip peeling.  I make a huge sheet pan and serve them next to a simple roast chicken.  This is one of my husband’s favorite meals.  Simply seed and slice the squash and arrange on a large baking sheet covered with parchment.  Drizzle generously with extra virgin olive oil or good European style butter, whichever you prefer.  Sprinkle generously with Ras El Hanout (Moroccan Spices) and top with good-quality sea salt flakes.  Then, just roast (without flipping!) in a 400 degree oven until tender, at least 30-40 minutes.  The tops will brown and the bottoms will caramelize, and your house will smell amazing — all sweet and spicy and exotic.  Let cool and enjoy.

                                  

I love to make a double batch and then puree the remaining roasted squash with a can of light coconut milk and a little vegetable stock for an amazing soup later in the week.  See how I made two homemade dinners from one easy recipe!

I may not love the cooler weather, but I love all that comes with it and it gets my creativity going in the kitchen.  I hope you enjoy these granola bars as much as we do!

All Natural Granola Bars

2 c. old fashioned rolled oats

2 tbsp. Extra virgin coconut oil

½ c your choice natural nut butter

¼ c grape molasses or syrup

2 tb extra virgin olive oil

2 ts vanilla

½ ts kosher sea salt if available

1 tb chia seeds steeped in 3 tb water for 10 minute

½ c chopped roasted unsalted nuts, your choice

1/3 c diced dried fruit to complement the nuts

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Toast oats 10-12 minutes or until browned.  Let cool.  Combine nut butter, coconut oil and grape syrup in a small saucepan over low heat for 1-4 minutes.  It should be melted and thoroughly blended.  Remove from heat.  Add vanilla, salt and chia mixture.  Mix in nuts and fruits until thoroughly blended.  Press mixture firmly into a parchment lined 8” pan.  Bake in the preheated oven 20 minutes or until browned.  Cut when cool into 12 bars.

Note: These are very festive snacks when made with pistachios and cranberries for that busy holiday time!