Something Completely Different
I'm not surprised. Tastes vary, and individual requirements do, too. Many folks love peanuts and peanut butter, for instance, while others break out in a rash at the mere mention of the p‑word. (Make no mistake, peanut allergy isn't a laughing matter for a few unfortunate folks, in whom a single mouthful of peanut butter may provoke a life‑threatening allergic reaction.) The upshot? However long the list of energy bars and other active snacks grows, it's never long enough to meet everyone's needs. Recipes can be made simpler. The balance of protein, carbs, and fats can be tweaked. And there's no end to the demand for new flavors.
This was brought home to me only recently, while chatting with my sister. She's a busy woman — full‑time job, growing family, a husband whose work keeps him on the road for days at a time — and she seized on my Hundred‑Mile Plus Bars as a quick eat‑on‑the‑go breakfast. But that wasn't the subject of our conversation. We were talking about our grandfather, whose active life continued well into his tenth decade, despite debilitating arthritis. His recipe for a vigorous and healthy old age included something he called the "Brown Bomber," a tonic he concocted from equal parts prune juice and straight bourbon whiskey. It was … shall we say … an acquired taste, but Gramps swore by it, and it didn't seem to do him any harm.
At some point during this remembrance of things past I got an idea for a new snack bar. Call it the Brown Bomber Bar. While bourbon is best reserved for a nightcap round the fire, prune juice (or just plain prunes) can have a welcome place in the paddler's everyday meal plan. After all, the altered routines of the traveling life often play hob with the inner man (or inner woman), leading to problems of a sort that presumably never afflict bears, whose ability to do what they do in the woods is proverbial. Roughage is one answer to this little difficulty, of course, and it never hurts to keep a water bottle near to hand, but something more is often needed to prime the dump.
And make no mistake: Prunes will do the job. So this one's for you, Gramps. It's not quite on a par with an eternal flame, but it's a memorial I'm sure you'd appreciate…
Brown Bomber Bars
Yield: 16 Bars
- 1 cup unsalted almonds
- 1 pound whole pitted prunes (now usually labeled "dried plums")
- ½ cup dark chocolate chips
- ½ cup flax or sesame seeds (or a combination of the two)
- ½ cup cocoa powder
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract (or bourbon, if that's more to your liking)
- 3 tablespoons maple syrup or honey
- 2 tablespoons Nutella (substitute peanut butter if you wish)
- ¼ cup water (optional)
Line an 8‑ or 9‑inch square baking pan with waxed paper, allowing the paper to extend above the sides. Drizzle a little cooking oil on the waxed paper and spread it around with the back of a spoon. Now set the pan aside.
Place the almonds in a food processor and pulse till they take on the appearance of coarse bread crumbs. Pour them into a large mixing bowl. Next, pulse the prunes till they're reduced to a paste. (If the prunes clump or ball up, break apart the clumps and distribute them more evenly. Then add a little water before switching on the processor again.) Now combine the prune paste with the nut crumbs in the mixing bowl, add the other ingredients, and blend with a sturdy spoon or baking spatula. If the result is too dry to work easily, add a little water — but don't be overgenerous. The final mixture should have the consistency of a stiff paste.
Ladle this paste into the waxed‑paper‑lined baking dish and tamp down with a spoon. Now cover with another square of waxed paper and press down with your palms or the bottom of a measuring cup until the paste has been transformed into a firm slab. Leave the paper on top and refrigerate the dish for at least two hours.
After the contents are cold and unyielding to the touch, remove the baking dish from the fridge. Peel off the top sheet of waxed paper and use the protruding margins of the liner to lift out the chilled mixture. Place the slab on a cutting board and divide into bars with a heavy knife. Three cuts in each direction will yield 16 squares, though the number and size of the bars are up to you. Wrap each bar separately in waxed paper, then refrigerate or freeze until you're ready to head for the put‑in. If stored somewhere reasonably cool while under way — not in a closed compartment in a black kayak in high summer! — the bars should keep for at least a week. Be sure to bring plenty of bumwad. The bears will be getting some real competition.
The bottom line? Brown Bomber Bars keep things moving where it counts. And they're easy to make. But how do they taste? Just fine, I'm happy to say. They're pleasantly sweet, with very little "prune flavor." The chocolate and honey don't cloy, while the seeds give your teeth something to work on. The bars are very soft and sticky, however. So keep the individual wrappings and carry your arsenal of Brown Bombers in a rigid container.