So, father's day came and went, and this post (in honor of father's day), well, has been detained. Detained by Miff and Moe, on summer vacay...seems I am working less (or much more) depending on how you look at it! Anyway, better late than never...Unless you know me well, you may not know that I am the daughter of an almond farmer. Yep, a legit California almond grower. Although not my dad's primary profession, he has had almond orchards since I was a kid and sells them to the well known co-op, Blue Diamond Growers. So in honor of my dad (a few weeks late), who always does things his own way, here's to amazing almonds!
A few weeks ago, I was back at my parents' almond farm for the first time in many years. It is kind of out in the middle of nowhere, so hard to get to when you live 3,000 miles away plus several hours from their primary residence. Talk about farm to table, in this part of California, so much of our food is grown, and it is a magical foodie adventure to drive around and take it all in. The trees, the dairies, the free range chickens, fruit stands, and my mother's garden. There really is something so inspiring about being down home on the farm.
And so began my quest to make almond granola bars. We are a big bar family, and liking almonds is a prerequisite to being part of my family. The marriage of the two is natural. Bars are a great snack after school, before sports, etc. But the bars you can buy might as well be renamed candy bars because there is oh so much sugar. And you remember how I feel about that! Five batches later, (yes you read that correctly) nobody in my family ever wants to see another granola bar! We literally had granola bars by the pile while I was developing this recipe. My challenge was to make them stick together without all the sugar. Friends in California that came over for wine might have thought it strange to be served crumbly granola bar attempts on the side, with a baggie of to-go granola (failed granola bars)! But the recipe (below) was well worth the trial and error, and uses three kinds of almonds!
Fun Facts About Almonds:
- 80% of the world's almond production is in California (1).
- Almonds are grown on trees. Almond trees are unable to self-pollinate between male and female trees. They are completely reliant on honeybees.
- In February almond trees bloom (below) and must be pollinated in twenty-two days.
- Almost 40 million bees are transported to California to pollinate the 800,000 acres of almonds grown in California (1).
- The honeybee population is decreasing, which is concerning given how many crops rely on them.
- Almonds have more protein per ounce than other nuts - 6g per ounce (same as one egg). (2)
- Almonds are high in monounsaturated fat, which is associated with decreased risk of heart disease.
- Almonds have 12 vitamins and minerals and are an excellent source of vitamin E (an important antioxidant that prevents free radical damage and protects cell walls), as well as magnesium, manganese, fiber, copper, phosphorous, and riboflavin.
- When comparing nuts by ounce, almonds are the tree nut with the highest of 6 essential nutrients including protein, fiber, calcium, vitamin E, riboflavin and niacin (2).
- Almonds are the highest nut in Calcium per ounce, with 75mg ( a cup of milk has 300mg for comparison) (2).
Sources: (1) Bryant, Barbara and Fentress, Betsey, Almonds: Recipes, History, Culture. Watermark Publishing, 2014.
(2) Almond Board of California, www.almonds.com
Annie's Almond Granola Bars
2 cups old fashioned oats
1 cup sliced almonds
1 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
1/4 cup toasted wheat germ
1/4 cup ground almond meal
1/4 cup chia seeds
1/3 cup honey
1/3 cup apricot puree (from 2oz dried unsulphured apricots, soaked overnight in water)
1/2c almond butter
2 tsp vanilla extract
3/4 cup chopped dates
3/4 cup semisweet chocolate chips (optional)
The night before, soak dried unsulphured apricots in bowl of water, cover and refrigerate overnight.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Toss the first three ingredients on a parchment paper- lined baking sheet. Cook for 10-12 minutes, tossing occasionally, until toasted (lightly browned). Remove from oven and turn down the oven to 300 degrees. Put the oats, almonds and coconut in large mixing bowl. Add the wheat germ, almond meal and chia seeds and combine. In Cuisinart or Blender, puree 2oz of drained soaked apricots until smooth. Set aside. In saucepan, on medium heat, add honey, apricot puree (1/3 cup), almond butter and vanilla just until it boils. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients. Add chopped dates and mix everything thoroughly. You may need to knead with your hands to get all ingredients completely mixed together. Once well combined, scoop the mixture onto the parchment paper covered baking sheet. Wet your hands and press the mixture into a rectangle shape, approximately about 1 inch thick. Sprinkle chocolate chips (if using) over the bars and press them into bars gently. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes until bars are firm and slightly golden. Remove from oven, and let cool completely, for approximately 2 hours before cutting in rectangles.