Super powers.

My in-laws are in California for an extended vacation, and last weekend we followed them to Lake Tahoe for the weekend. They, of course, have the luxury of being on permanent vacation, so they’re there for the rest of the week, at which point they’ll make their way back to San Francisco for their final weekend with us.

That said, Tahoe was pretty awesome. Despite living 4-5 hours away from the area, we hadn’t been out that way yet, so we were looking forward to our trip not only for spending time with the family, but also to check out a new area that we are sure to revisit.

We did a couple of hikes while we were there (one through Big Meadow and another along Echo Lake, which is part of the Pacific Crest Trail), and these bars would have been perfect to have with us, but sadly I didn’t make them until this week. I’m sure they’ll be put to good use this weekend when we’re out wandering around the city, so we’ll see how filling they are.

Regardless, I like the name of them, “super-power bars”, aptly named because of all the super-nutritous ingredients. Speaking of which, I should warn you that they are loaded with all sorts of weird stuff that you likely don’t have on hand (at least I didn’t). Quinoa flakes, Incan berries, wheat germ, and chia seeds are all a little hard to find depending on where you live, but I was able to locate them all in one place (for the SF-ers, that was Rainbow). I’d suggest buying enough of the ingredients for multiple batches, so these ingredients don’t go to waste.

Incan Super-Power Bars
adapted from Food & Wine, September 2011; makes 2 dozen bars

time commitment: ~1 hour, 15 minutes (including lots of down time)

printable version

ingredients
2 c quinoa flakes (7 ounces)
1 c sliced almonds (3 1/2 ounces)
1/2 c raw roasted sunflower seeds (2 1/2 ounces)
1/2 c toasted wheat germ (2 ounces)
2 T chia seeds
3/4 c golden berries, also known as Incan berries and dried cape gooseberries (4 ounces), coarsely chopped
3/4 c raisins
4 T unsalted butter
1/2 c plus 2 T light brown sugar
1/2 c plus 2 T agave syrup
1 1/2 t pure vanilla extract
1/2 t sea salt

instructions
Preheat the oven to 350 F. On a sturdy rimmed baking sheet, toss the quinoa with the almonds and toast for 15 minutes, until golden and fragrant. Transfer to a large bowl and stir in the sunflower seeds, wheat germ, chia seeds, golden berries and raisins.
In a medium saucepan, combine the 4 tablespoons of butter with the brown sugar and agave syrup and bring to a boil. Cook over moderate heat, stirring, until the sugar is just dissolved, about 2 minutes. Stir in the vanilla and salt. Pour the mixture into the large bowl and stir until the dry ingredients are evenly coated.
Line the baking sheet with parchment paper and lightly spray with cooking spray (or butter). Scrape the mixture onto the baking sheet and form into a 7-by-12-inch rectangle, pressing lightly to compact it; use a straight edge to evenly press the sides. Bake the bar for 10 minutes, until very lightly browned. Let cool slightly, then refrigerate until firm, 20 minutes.
Invert the bar onto a work surface and peel off the paper. Cut the bar into twelve 1-inch-wide strips, then cut each strip in half to form twenty-four 1-by-3 1/2-inch bars.

Redemption Song

{If you’re hoping for a recipe for the 4th, this probably isn’t it. But check here for a bunch of past summer recipe suggestions – there are plenty of things to be grilled, especially my favorite burgers!}

I’m not about to delve into my years as a young, semi-hell-raising teenager; on occasion, my mom reads this blog. But I’ll share a few tidbits.

In my family, I was the smart, oddly-dressed, middle child who, according to my sister, was never grounded and always got her way. Rightfully so, my senoir superlatives were as contrasting as apples and oranges: “most likely to be a millionaire” and “most retro”. Clearly, I failed to live up to the former, and in terms of the latter, I only occasionally wear polyester pants & platform shoes; in fact, the most retro I get these days is wearing a sleepytime t-shirt from the 90’s. And truthfully, I wasn’t grounded often. The key to avoiding such punishment is simple – don’t get your ass caught, sista.

I went through what you might call a hippie phase, and then a grunge phase, and then I couldn’t decide so I just went with both. Amidst the Grateful Dead and Janis Joplin there was Pearl Jam and Nirvana. I rocked the “60’s retro-wear” on some days and my dad’s flannels and corduroy pants for the days I jammed to Jeremy and Porch. For a few months I shaved the back of my head and I still can’t figure out the point in that. Somewhere, Bob Marley fit into these crazy years too, but fortunately for me (and others) I never had the desire to abandon hygiene and “grow” dreadlocks. There’s still time for that…

I like to think that my musical choices haven’t changed, but have instead broadened. I still break out the grunge rock somewhat regularly, but less often do I find myself singing Sugar Magnolia or breezing through Songs of Freedom. I’m not sure I’d use the term evolve here, in fact I know I wouldn’t, because that implies a sense of improvement and lemme tell ya, you can’t improve upon that stuff. In fact right now I just changed my Pandora station to reggae. What the hell.

Now for the transition you’ve all been waiting for: in contrast to music, food choices do evolve, or mature. Remember the tomato story? Exactly. And sometimes you really get smacked in the face, front-on, by something you thought you hated, despised even, but then months later you realize how nutty you were, how naive, or maybe quite simply how horribly this certain ingredient was prepared.

This dish here is a perfect represention of food evolution, or redemption. The first time I made quinoa, I almost spit it out because it “felt weird”. Then I learned how to cook it. And remember my diatribe about escarole? Well, ignore it. When I pulled it out of the CSA box last week, I stared at it, wondering how many sleepless hours I’d endure if I just casually tossed it in the garbage. The answer? too many, because food costs good money and wasting it is lame. So I sucked it up and found a good hot preparation for some of it that was reasonably yummy (and not overly bitter), and then used the rest of it in the recipe below instead of the suggested spinach. Maybe I got a bad batch before, or maybe this batch from a local, organic farm was just better. Either way, both quinoa and escarole have redeemed themselves.

So now, if you’ll excuse me, I have leftovers to eat and jammin’ to do.

Quinoa, Bean, & Escarole Salad w/ Smoked Paprika Dressing
Loosely adapted from Bon Appetit, July 2010; serves 6-8

ingredients
1 1/2 c red quinoa (regular works too), rinsed & drained
4 c chopped escarole or other bitter green
1 can garbanzo beans, drained & rinsed (or dried, cooked beans)
1 can white beans, drained & rinsed (or dried, cooked beans)
1/2 unpeeled English cucumber, halved and sliced
1 pint grape or cherry tomatoes, halved
3 T fresh oregano, chopped
3 T fresh basil, chopped
1 c crumbled feta cheese (~5 oz)
1/4 c Sherry wine vinegar
1 T sweet smoked paprika
1/2 c olive oil
2 T lemon juice
salt and pepper

instructions
place quinoa in large saucepan and add water until quinoa is covered by 1 inch. bring to boil and reduce heat; simmer on med-low for 15 minutes. drain, if needed and let cool completely (toss out on sheetpan and refrigerate if needed).

combine lettuce, beans, cucumber, tomatoes, oregano, basil, and feta in an extra-large bowl. add cooled quinoa and toss gently.

in a small bowl, whisk vinegar and paprika together. slowly add olive oil, whisking constantly until incorporated. season with salt and pepper. pour over salad and mix. add lemon juice, and season with salt and pepper.