One of the hardest parts of unprocessed eating is unprocessed living—that is, eating unprocessed even when life throws you a processed curveball. Life is messy, unexpected, and complicated. When you leave the comforts of home—as most of us do all day, every day—you leave behind the processes you’ve undone in your kitchen and enter into a world that is most decidedly processed.
The food you find in life’s in-between places is often not the kind of food that make you go, “Oooo!” At gas stations or in vending machines; at work, in hotels and airports—the foods you find are not only not fresh, they’re usually packaged with enough preservatives to endure a long (or very long) wait on some shelf until you, hungry wayfarer, come to rescue them.
Lärabars were my answer to a processed world. With nothing but dates, cherries, and almonds, these sweet, compact bars were my failsafe, my proverbial umbrella-in-the-purse-in-case-it rains. Because rain it does. When you are struck by sudden hunger, sudden delays or detours, an unprocessed snack can be hard to find in the world. It’s one thing to avoid cookies in the office kitchen; it’s another to simply avoid eating when you’re, say, stuck in an airport for four hours.
In November of my year unprocessed, I flew from Tucson to Seattle on Thanksgiving morning to visit my sister and brother-in-law. And by Thanksgiving morning, I mean at 5 a.m. on Thanksgiving morning—not the time to make an unprocessed breakfast. The night before I left, I prepared a hefty serving of overnight oats in an empty yogurt container and grabbed it on my way out the door to Tucson International Airport. Bleary-eyed, I queued up in security line, hoisted my backpack on the conveyer belt—and learned that the Transportation Security Agency considers soggy oats to be liquid and that I had more than three ounces of said soggy oats. And so my presciently prepared breakfast went into the garbage and I went a-wandering around my town’s small airport looking for unprocessed morning sustenance. Sugar, sugar, everywhere and not an unprocessed label to spare. There were bagels, there were muffins, there were patty-snaped eggs; there was not a food I could confidently declare unprocessed friendly.
You might know where this is going—after an hour of wandering to no avail, I finally ordered a latte and subsisted on the Lärabar tucked away in my purse.
While I’m happy that a packaged food exists that I can purchase and eat on the go, the fact that a three-inch Lärabar costs $2.99 (and that the company is owned by General Mills) makes me less happy.
Good thing that making date bars at home is almost a mindless endeavor—easily replicable and endlessly changeable. As with many unprocessed sweets, the base of a Lärabar is the great, inimitable date—the fruit of the date palm, a prolific tree that grows in deserts across the world (including Arizona!). In addition to being delicious and creamy and complex, dates are nuggets of nutrition, packed full of fiber and potassium. (And, it is worth adding, sugar. I think of dates as a source of sweetness with a side of nutrients—not the other way around.)
My basic recipe involves equal parts of: dried date, dried cherry, and nut (almond, cashew, pecan). I’ll add coconut shavings if I’m feeling flamboyant. Try to soak all ingredients for at least an hour. You don’t have to soak them at all, but with even 15 minutes, they’ll soften in water and cohere better in the food processor.
Add the ingredients to food processor. I usually start with the hardest—the nuts, which I pulse until they resemble something like nobby powder. Add the wet ingredients. Pulse. Pause and scrape the sides down and back into path of the blade. Pulse, pause, repeat. Once the mass coheres into something of even consistency—which might take anywhere from one minute to five—scrape the paste it out of the food processor and spread it on a flat surface. (I used a ceramic plate.) If you have wax paper, use it to line the surface to prevent sticking. (I didn’t have any. It was fine.)
Freeze the plate/cutting board/baking sheet for an hour. Cut the solid into even bars, or squares. Because these tend to be stickier and less cohesive than packaged Lärabars, I stack my bars into a Tupperware and store in the freezer.
Wrap in saran wrap and take with you into the world.