Remember when people got fancy for travel? Not early-1900’s-voyages-on-grand-ocean-liners fancy. I'm thinking early-80's fancy. When we were kids, my family would get plenty gussied for a plane ride. I can remember pretty new dresses, shiny patent leather Mary Janes, and nicely brushed hair. Traveling was a pleasure and a privilege and my family dressed the part. Let me tell you, wearing tights on the 14-hour flight (plus layovers!) to Sri Lanka was a serious endeavor. They don't call them tights for nothing. My adult self can recognize the lunacy in the act, but the desire to dress nicely took over any consideration for comfort. I’m surprised that I could actually eat while flying (all that constriction!) but you know that I never missed a meal.
Oh airplane meals. I know it isn’t so cool to admit this, especially as a culinary professional, but I get really excited about eating on airplanes. It's not so much the food itself but the fun of the event. If I close my eyes, I can easily conjure up the happy noises and aromas that indicate a meal on the horizon. The opening and closing of hatches. Flurries of whispering stewardesses. (Wait, what’s the plural of stewardess? Stewardi?) Carts moving about the cabin. The strange but intoxicating aroma of hot, unidentifiable meats, soft pastas, and warm rolls. When my brother and I were small, trying to keep ourselves occupied on those everlasting flights to Asia, the signs of our airplane meal being readied made us squeal with joy. Oh the anticipation! The choices. The fun peeling back the foil on all those little compartments. The trading and bartering. The condiment packets. The wet wipes. Joy upon joy upon joy. That was enough to keep us happy for 90 minutes or more. The furious mad libbing and travel batteshipping could be put on hold while we devoured the contents of our trays and then begged our parents for their blancmanges and butter pats. Ahh. Mary Janes and warm bread. What more could a girl want? Those were the good old days of travel.
Air travel used to be so dignified. So full of promise. Practically a jacket-required dining experience. But those joys seem to be a thing of the past. Nowadays, airplane meals are few and far between. You have to be flying a serious distance to earn the privilege. In times of need I've been known to subsist on little packets of instant oatmeal but lately my sweet tooth has been winning the battle. These days I take my oats in a slightly different direction.
Homemade granola bars. Simple, satisfying, wonderfully adaptable, and fantastically portable. I start with the usual suspects. Oats? Check. Honey? Coconut oil? Of course. And then feel free to let the contents of my pantry and freezer guide me. This time I went with shredded coconut, dark chocolate, dried apricots and almonds. Oh, and millet!
I have a new love. Millet is a wonderful grain that can be used in anything from porridge to pancakes. My friend Amy turns it into stews and muffins. I can't wait to make it into a whole lot of scrumptious snacks. It's vaguely sweet and nutty and adds a lovely popping crunch to granola bars. Not to mention, it's nutritious, gluten-free, and makes these bars sort of polka dot pretty, wouldn’t you say? In the United States, millet is mostly used as birdseed but I implore you to empty out that feeder and get cooking. Millet is not (just) for the birds.
Gus flies regularly for work. I had planned to make this batch, wrap them up individually, and pack a few up for his next journey. Faced with another soulless bag of peanuts, I wanted him to know that he was loved. Who's the best wife ever?
Just kidding. It was a lovely idea until we ate them all at home. That's right. The two of us polished off a whole pan over the course of a few days. Whoops. Gus enjoyed them during the day. (I came home from work every day to find little clusters of oats by the computer and trails of millet on the floor.) And I ate them for dessert after dinner. They were gone before a suitcase was even packed. Ah well. Cozy at home, full of granola bars feels pretty good right now. I guess it's not always about the journey.
Fruit and Nut Granola Bars
Makes about 12
These guys have a lovely texture - somewhere between chewy and crunchy thanks to those peppy millet grains, oats, and heavenly dried fruit. I find them to be sturdy enough for my needs but they are not indestructible. If you'd like a slightly sturdier bar, add an egg white to the oat mixture before pressing into the pan.
2 cups old-fashioned oats
3/4 cup roasted chopped almonds
1/2 cup millet
1/2 cup dried apricots, chopped
1/2 cup shredded unsweetened coconut
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
1/4 cup honey or Lyle's Golden Syrup
1/4 cup dark brown sugar
1/4 cup coconut oil
3/4 cup chopped bittersweet chocolate
1. Preheat oven to 350°. Line a 9x9 inch square baking pan with parchment with a 2-inch overhang on each side. I like to clip the sides with metal binder clips.
2. In a large bowl, combine oats, almonds, millet, apricots, coconut, and salt. In a small saucepan heat honey (or syrup), brown sugar, and 2 tablespoons water over medium high until a candy thermometer reads 248°, about 8 minutes. Whisk in coconut oil and add to oat mixture. Stir to combine.
3. Transfer to prepared baking pan and flatten mixture to an even thickness. Use a spatula to really push and compact the mixture. Sprinkle chocolate evenly over the top and press it to adhere.
4. Bake until the mixture is set and golden brown, 30 to 40 minutes. Let cool completely in pan on a wire rack. Cut into bars.