Carrot Cake Oat Bars

Carrot Cake Oat Bars

I like to cook (a lot), but I love to bake. It’s true that I have an affinity for carbs in all forms, being able to whip up breads, cookies, and such is not the only reason I prefer baking. My perfectionist leanings thrive within the confines of a recipe. Where cooking is Picasso, baking is paint-by-numbers.

I like paint-by-numbers. Which is why I rarely deviate from a recipe. But some recipes just cry out to be adapted and made multiple different ways. I felt that way with homemade Clif Bars. Even though I only posted the Cinnamon Golden Raisin variety, I never made them the same way twice. There was a Chocolate Chip Coconut and a Trail Mix version, too.

These Oat Bars are the same way. I found the recipe on Pinterest, made it as per the recipe once, and then kept thinking of different flavor ideas.

The bones of these oat bars are a nutrient rich combination of rolled oats, whole wheat flour, and milk (of any sort). The need for butter in the original is eliminated by using unsweetened applesauce. They are sweetened with honey, making them perfect for No Sugar September and why I even found the recipe in the first place.

Carrot Cake Oat BarsSo, the Carrot Cake version? I had a ton of leftover carrot puree from stockpiling James’ baby food and wondered if it would be an acceptable substitute for the unsweetened applesauce in the oat bars. The idea snowballed from there…

Carrot PureeSidenote: Carrot puree is super easy to make (peel, chop, and boil two large carrots and then blend in a food processor), but I’d imagine canned pumpkin would be a great substitute in this recipe.

My mind immediately went to carrot cake (because I’ve been sugar deprived, perhaps?) and I played off the flavors and mix-ins that are traditionally found in carrot cake – cinnamon, nuts, and raisins. Now that I think of it, crushed pineapple would be a tasty addition, too, but that’s getting into Hummingbird territory and we can’t mix cakes now can we.

Walnut Grinder

Oat Mixture

Carrot Mixture

The end result of all this carrot oatiness is a dense, filling bar that is perfect to pack in a lunch, tuck in a carry on, or nibble on throughout the day. I’ve enjoyed mine with a slice of cheese or scoop of apple butter and a glass of milk. Tim takes them to work for an afternoon snack. They’d be amazing for a newly nursing mom who is in that eat everything, always hungry stage.

Carrot Cake Oat Bars

If you were wanting to make these a little desserty and still keep them refined sugar free, blend cream cheese and maple syrup together to spread on top and cut into squares.

And because I kept thinking of ways to adapt the original, I’ve got a Chocolate Peanut Butter version coming atcha soon. In the meantime, enjoy some Carrot Cake!

Carrot Cake Oat Bars

Carrot Cake Oat Bars
Author: Emily C. Gardner
Cook time: 35 mins
Total time: 35 mins
Serves: 8 bars
A nutrient rich, filling snack bar with no refined sugar. Enjoy them plain, with apple butter, cheese, or a little cream cheese/maple syrup frosting.
Ingredients
  • 2 cups old fashioned rolled oats
  • 1 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon allspice
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup chopped walnuts
  • 1/2 cup raisins
  • 1 1/2 cups milk (any variety)
  • 1/2 cup carrot puree
  • 3 tablespoons honey
  • 1 large egg, beaten
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
  2. Lightly coat an 8 x 8 inch baking pan with cooking spray and set aside.
  3. In a large bowl, stir together oats, WW flour, cinnamon, ginger, allspice, baking powder, salt, walnuts, and raisins. (Be sure to separate the raisins to avoid gross raisin clumps in your bars.)
  4. In a saucepan over medium heat, whisk milk, carrot puree, honey, egg, and vanilla until the honey is melted and all the ingredients are combined. It will be a lovely shade of peach!
  5. Pour the liquid ingredients into the dry ingredients and stir until combined.
  6. Put batter in prepared pan. Bake for 35 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean.
  7. Cool and cut into bars.
Notes
Any variety of milk or milk substitute will work. [br]I use an old fashioned nut grinder to get an even fine chop on my walnuts. [br]Pecans or almonds would be nice, too. [br]If you don’t have allspice, use 1/2 teaspoon of nutmeg.[br]You could totally use currants or golden raisins instead of raisins.

 

A No Sugar September Update

It’s fitting that I’m writing this with a bowl of Blueberry Crisp and Vanilla Cream by my side. That image is pretty indicative of how the first two weeks of No Sugar September has gone – good with, ironically enough, lots of sweets.

Tim and I have now had no refined sugar, no fake sugars, and no white flour for 16 days. I’d like to offer some suggestions and reflections for anyone interested in going sugar free (and for those who are just curious about how we’re doing at the half-way point).

I’d like to kick this off with Tim’s reflections on No Sugar September thus far, since he wasn’t the one who was originally inspired to go sugar free.

We’re two weeks in, and other than realizing that we’ve been cheating the whole time with Costco’s “pure” vanilla extract, it’s going great! It’s encouraging for me to know that, while I’m not counting calories like I have done in the past, what I’m eating is healthy. Emily is doing a fantastic job cooking, baking, and thinking creatively about how to utilize natural food products. And I’m impressed with how I feel. I don’t have a big of crash at the end of the day, and I’m regular for the first time in a while!

Two things: 1. Leave it to the hubs to mention poop in his reflection. But, bowel health was going to be on my benefits list, so there ya have it. 2. I did discover that vanilla extract has sugar in it. I’m trying not to let it bother my perfectionist spirit. I would like to try making it myself next time around. (Vodka + Vanilla Bean = Vanilla Extract)

This is what I would say if we were chatting at a coffee shop over honey sweetened lattes…

Grocery Cart

Some Benefits of No Sugar September:

  • Simplified pantry. I’m sure there’s financial merit to stockpiling food when it’s on sale, but having too much food around stresses me out. I feel like I’m going to waste it and the “what to eat” options are overwhelming. I don’t have random prepackaged food cluttering my shelves when I’ve limited my diet and make most things by hand.
  • Intensity and nuance of flavors: The natural sweetness of food, like vegetables, is enhanced when it isn’t competing with refined sugar.
  • Less guilt: I feel GOOD about everything that goes into my mouth.
  • Cooking creativity: I love to cook and bake and I worried that No Sugar September would stifle my ability to experiment in the kitchen. It’s done the exact opposite. I’ve loved the challenge of finding new recipes and adapting our favorites to fit NSS.
  • Stable energy levels: Tim and I both drink half-caf coffee every morning, but we don’t crash mid afternoon.
  • Less cravings: I’m still kind of an emotional eater, but I haven’t experienced the intense must-have-junk-food-now type cravings this month.
  • Grocery shopping with purpose: Grocery shopping is more intentional. I’m not tempted to make impulse buys because I have a meal plan and my shopping cart always looks healthy and colorful.

Menu

Other things of note about No Sugar September:

  • I lost almost three pounds during the first week and then gained a bit back during the second (probably the mass amounts of Peanut Butter Coconut Fudge, Pumpkin Cookies, and Blueberry Crisp I consumed). Tim is down a pound and a half. We were locked out of our garage so I couldn’t get waist measurements before we started. I feel less bloaty, if that counts for anything.
  • I thought we would spend less on food. We haven’t. Partially because we traveled at the beginning of the month and partially because I haven’t mastered the art of shopping grocery store sales.
  • A crockpot is indispensable. Between batches of apple butter, yogurt (I’ll be writing a post about the method that has worked best for me), black bean soup, pumpkin spice lattes, and balsamic chicken, I feel like I’ve used my crockpot every day. In fact, my six year old Target cheapy started leaking last week in the middle of a batch of apple butter and I almost had a panic attack. I replaced it the next day with another Target cheapy.
  • Menu planning is a must. The no sugar life is becoming more intuitive, but at first it makes you feel clumsy and awkward around food. I scoured Pinterest and cookbooks to find dinner ideas and then wrote them on index cards with ingredients listed on the back. To create my month of meals, I just laid out all my cards and arranged them with variety in mind (a lot of sweet potatoes and quinoa). I use the cards to make my grocery shopping list, to get a preview of what’s coming up next, and to give Tim a heads up about what’s for dinner. The meal plan has been flexible (like when we really just want pancakes or waffles for dinner) and I doubt we will get through all the cards this month, but I felt more confident knowing what we could eat.
  • Staples are an important first step. Before I tackled menu planning, I tackled the foods we ate everyday: bread, granola, yogurt, peanut butter, jam. I pulled out the bread machine and have been making Honey Whole Wheat. We seem to eat less bread now that there are always delicious dinner leftovers for lunch. I tried a couple granola recipes, one better than the other, and then created my own version that I love. I’ve been making my own peanut butter (peanuts + coconut oil + honey) and am using a Honey Plum jam I made that I’m not wild about.

Final thoughts on No Sugar September:

  • Food is a major part of community. The hardest thing about No Sugar September is navigating social situations while adhering to NSS food boundaries. There have been events like our church picnic where it wasn’t a big deal to eat a burger with no bun and some fruit, but I will always choose community over a no sugar diet. I can bring something NSS approved or invite people over instead of going out, however, I don’t want to make people feel obligated to provide a certain type of food or miss out on connecting with someone over FroYo.
  • No Sugar September was a lot of work in the beginning. It does get easier as you get into a rhythm and find NSS approved staples that you like. For us, it’s worth it and we plan to heed No Sugar September guidelines for the majority of our food decisions in the future without being restrictive if we want to enjoy a meal out or just need a good old fashioned chocolate chip cookie in all it’s white flour, brown sugar, chocolatey glory.

I love talking about this, so if you have any questions, please jump in to the comments or email me (emgardner8@gmail.com). I keep updating the No Sugar September Resources and will be sharing all the nitty gritties about our menu/food at the end of the month! 

Simple Blonde Granola

Blonde Granola

But if you call me Anne, please call me Anne spelled with an E. “What difference does it make how it’s spelled?” asked Marilla with another rusty smile as she picked up the teapot. Oh it makes such a difference. It looks so much nicer. When you hear a name pronounced, can’t you always see it in your mind, just as if it was printed out? I can; and A-n-n looks dreadful, but A-n-n-e looks so much more distinguished. (Anne of Green Gables)

I feel the same way about my hair color. B-l-o-n-d looks dreadful and brusque, but b-l-o-n-d-e looks so much more distinguished and elegant. Either way you spell it, blonde carries a heavy weight around on its pretty shoulders. Blonde has a reputation for being light, airy, and shallow. But we all know plenty exceptions to the blonde stereotype, right?

For example, this granola. It’s light. It’s easy. But this Blonde also has substance and flavor that goes beyond its small ingredient list and fair exterior.

Blonde Granola

Blonde Granola

Now, I’m a huge granola fan, and in no way against the CrunchyPecanPumpkinFlaxWhiteChocolatePeanutButterRaisin type of granola. However, for my daily granola habit, I needed to exercise some restraint. And when we went sugar-free, I made a handful of not-so-delicious granolas that prompted me to create an everyday granola of my own with no refined sugar and a whole lot of flavor. I stripped down my Gingerbread Granola to make this simple blonde version.

Blonde Granola

You won’t find spices or brown sugar vying for your taste bud’s attention (or making your granola the more traditional brunette). It’s just old-fashioned rolled oats and sliced almonds getting a simple wash of maple syrup, coconut oil, and salt before spending some time under the dryer (um, in the oven).

The result is a pure granola goodness.

Blonde Granola

Don’t skip out on the salt. It lends a kettle corn, sweet caramely quality to the granola that is positively addictive. I’ve been enjoying mine on homemade pumpkin yogurt.

Blonde Granola

Simple Blonde Granola
Author: Emily C. Gardner
Prep time: 10 mins
Cook time: 1 hour 15 mins
Total time: 1 hour 25 mins
Serves: 5 cups
Ingredients
  • 4 cups old fashioned rolled oats
  • 1 cup sliced almonds
  • 1/4 cup + 2 Tablespoons maple syrup (110g)
  • 1/4 cup coconut oil (45g)
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 250 degrees F.
  2. Line a baking sheet (preferably one with sides) with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat.
  3. In a large bowl combine oats, almonds, and salt.
  4. In a saucepan over medium heat, stir together maple syrup and coconut oil. Continue stirring until coconut oil is melted and fully incorporated with syrup.
  5. Pour over oat mixture and mix until all dry ingredients are moistened.
  6. Spread moistened mixture on prepared pan.
  7. Cook for 1 hour and 15 minutes, stirring two or three times throughout the baking process.
  8. Remove from oven and let cool completely before storing in an airtight container.

No Sugar September Resources

One of my top five strengths from Strengthsfinder (my favorite personality test) is input. I love collecting information and learning all there is to know about a topic of interest. No Sugar September has given me ample opportunity to stretch my input muscles as I searched for recipes and ideas that would help make eliminating white flour and refined sugar as enjoyable as possible.

Gearing up for No Sugar September was a lot of work. Tim and I didn’t have terrible eating habits, but we needed to rethink our meal staples and flush our cupboards to avoid temptation. Meal planning took extra effort, too. We’re 9 days in (we started a bit late), and the effort has been worth it, but I know the start-up work involved could dissuade someone from trying something like No Sugar September.

I know not everyone is an input nerd like me, so I wanted to share the resources that have been the most helpful thus far. I will be sharing some tips and my entire meal plan later this month, but here are some awesome resources to get you started and inspired!

Resources

Pinterest:

I knew we were doing No Sugar September for a month in advance, so I added an element of purpose to my Pinterest scrolling. Sometimes I searched for specific things (a whole wheat bread recipe sweetened with honey) and sometimes I just happened upon a recipe that met the NSS criteria (Healthy Strawberry Frozen Yogurt). I started a No Sugar September board to collect what I wanted to try. I also went back through my other food boards to cull recipes I was already interested in that were refined sugar and white flour free. There was a surprising abundance that were acceptable as-is or just needed a minor substitution.

Pinch of Yum:

Lindsay and Bjork are the reason Tim and I are even doing No Sugar September. Their 60 days of no sugar planted the seed and her blog has plenty of deliciousness that fits a sugar-selective diet. For example: No-Bake Mini Fruit Pizzas, Caramelized Banana Oat Muffins, and Cinnamon Whole Grain Power Pancakes.

Trina Holden:

She is both an inspiration and a recipe source. Her approach to real food is practical, encouraging, and full of grace. Reading Trina’s latest cookbook, Your Real Food Journey, made me believe that No Sugar September was actually possible. She was also the impetus for me making my own yogurt and incorporating healthy fats back into my diet.

Your Real Food Journey unravels the myth that real food is high maintenance. It’s the perfect real food primer full of useful information, tasty recipes, and genuine encouragement. Trina makes eating healthfully a fun, attainable adventure. Her approach is all about sustainable habits – really finding out how real food can work for you and your family, not the other way around. It’s a winner! Many of her recipes made their way into my meal plan and they have all been delicious. I’ve made her Peanut Butter Coconut Fudge three times already…

Maple Syrup Cookbook

Maple Syrup Cookbook: 100 Recipes for Breakfast, Lunch, & Dinner:

Maple syrup and honey are the only two sweeteners (other than fruit) we are consuming for No Sugar September. We’re fortunate enough to have friends in NY who tap the trees on their property and make pure maple syrup. Needless to say, we have a steady supply of HQ maple syrup for all our No Sugar September needs. Other than topping pancakes and the occasional carrot glazing, I hadn’t really tested maple syrup’s culinary chops. This cookbook has been a goldmine of recipes and ideas for both sweet and savory applications of maple syrup. An added bonus that a good portion of the recipes were already No Sugar September approved. (The Maple Bran Muffins are killer!)

Pictured: Maple Pumpkin Cookies that were cakey and delicious.

Moosewood Restaurant Low-Fat Favorites: Flavorful Recipes for Healthful Meals:

I have mentioned this cookbook several times here on the blog. It’s the source of the Low-fat Banana Bundt Cake and Cucumbers Vinaigrette I shared earlier this year and deserves the James Beard/Kitchen Aid Cookbook Award it won. While No Sugar September isn’t focused on being low fat, the recipes in this cookbook rely on whole foods to eliminate excess fat, which is definitely in line with NSS. It’s the kind of cookbook I’d like to work my way through one recipe at a time. You will find creative and simple ways to use beans, grains, and vegetables like the Southwestern Corn and Sweet Potato Soup and Black Bean Chilaquile. The Vanilla Cream is an amazing ice cream substitute poured over Shauna Niequist’s Blueberry Crisp.

 

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver

It’s been five years since I read this book. I had moved to the San Luis Obispo area and was just discovering a whole new Crunchy Granola way of living. I was an observer of the acai bowls and falafel and hemp heart trends, not a partaker. A modern earth mothery acquaintance helped me plant tomatillos (that were VERY productive) and cherry tomatoes (that were mealy and gross) and introduced me to CSA boxes. She recommended Animal, Vegetable, Miracle and I read it thinking, “I’m happy with my grocery store eggs, thank you very much.” Her family’s commitment to local/homegrown food was great for them, not for me. Now that I’ve embraced real food and would actually love to have a huge garden, I keep thinking back to this book. While Kingsolver and her family didn’t cut out sugar completely, their journey is endlessly inspiring.

What are your favorite real food resources?

This post includes affiliate links. Thank you for supporting this blog!

The 5 W’s (and an H) behind No-Sugar September

The precision of freshly sharpened No. 2 pencils. The smell of a new box of crayons. The stack of blank spiral bound notebooks. Even though I am seven years out of a school setting (and now feel old), I get the back-to-school fever when September rolls around.

September is a time for fresh starts, and this goal-setting, Type-A girl loves a fresh start. In addition to starting fresh with my approach towards motherhood and writing, the Gardner household is making a major change come September 1st.

We’re going sugar free!

In honor of recess, lunch lines, and book reports, here’s the 5 W’s (and an H) behind our big, sugar-free fresh start.

No Sugar September

WHO:

The Gardners: Tim, my tech savvy, youth pastor stud of a husband who just revamped his own blog, and me (Emily), amateur gardening, coffee loving writer of this blog.

WHAT:

No-Sugar September. Da. Da. Duuuuuun. Normally I’m all about the alliterations, but I liked the sound of No-Sugar September better than sugarless or sugar free September. For the month of September, we will not consume any refined sugar or white flour.

WHERE:

Our house. I have a feeling not many outside dinning establishments would comply with our No Sugar September dietary restrictions.

WHEN:

When I read about Bjork and Lindsey’s 60 days of no sugar in July, my interest was piqued but doing something similar was totally out of the question in August. We were going on vacation in August and there was no way I was giving up cinnamon raisin toast grilled and frosted at The Red Door or multiple helpings of anything my mom made for the sake of a sugar selective diet.

As I went though my mental calendar, I was pleased to discover that September was vacation, holiday, and major event free and would thus be suitable for a lifestyle altering diet challenge such as giving up refined sugar and white flour.

A minor glitch occurred when we got the opportunity to take a mini Labor Day getaway this weekend. The prep for No Sugar September has been time consuming and I didn’t think I could handle a No Sugar Roadtrip, so No Sugar September will run from September 3rd – October 1st. Four straight weeks.

WHY:

Because I’m too much of a weenie to do a Whole 30 or go gluten free, BUT I was feeling in need of a system (mental and physical) refresh.

Food has always been an integral part of community and celebration for me, and I like it that way. However, at times, food has also been a substance I’ve used like a drug. Pregnancy and postpartum have been seasons of growth in developing a healthier relationship with food and I’m hoping No Sugar September will promote further growth.

Neither of us expect to stick with a strict no refined sugar, no white flour diet after September, but I’d like to integrate some of our No Sugar September food habits into our normal culinary lifestyle.

We aren’t doing this to loose weight, but we will be taking a few measurements as one way quantify the effects of No Sugar September.

HOW:

We’ve been prepping for No Sugar September for the past month. I’ll be writing a more detailed post about getting started later, but our first steps looked something like this:

  • Read about Bjork and Lindsey’s 60 days sans sugar. *light bulbs*inspiration*
  • Wonder how I could convince Tim to go sugar free. Send him the blog post via email to test the waters.
  • With a little cajoling, Tim agrees. Hip hip hooray!
  • Spend August eating all sorts of sugary, carby wonderfulness since we’re giving up refined sugar and white flour in September.
  • Don’t replace the chocolate chips when the last bag is used for gooey cookies.
  • Start trolling Pinterest for refined sugar free sweets, because sweets are a top priority when menu planning.
  • Read Trina Holden’s new book, Your Real Food Journey, and get re-inspired by the delicious recipes that totally conform to No Sugar September.
  • Get serious about making a menu. Start replacing food staples with whole wheat, sugar free versions.
  • Make disgusting muffins. Wonder how I will survive September. Make Shauna Niequist’s Blueberry Crisp. Know I will survive since I can eat that everyday during No Sugar September if I wanted.

So, wish us luck! I will be posting tips, tricks, and recipes along the way. Have you ever done anything like this? I’d love to hear about your experience in the comments. Recipes appreciated, too :)