Relaxation looks a little different for all of us. Some of us need a yoga mat and a quiet room, others a sunny spot and an open notebook. Then there are those of us who need a kitchen, some baking ingredients, and maybe a bit of lively music.
I’m a blend of the three. I de-stress through exercise (by both moving slow and moving fast), I fuel my soul through writing and journaling, and I kick back and relax by heading into the kitchen to play with food. Because I cook and bake on a very regular basis for my job, I guess you could say that I “relax and kick back” for a living, right? Not quite. :)
Measuring and making notes and changing oven temperatures and adjusting seasonings are all part of the process. And to be honest, it usually does feel like work. I’m not ashamed to admit that I’m a perfectionist. I approach the work I do with clear focus most days. I usually finish my kitchen projects with a sense of accomplishment, but to say that I always have fun tackling them would be a lie. I love my job, but hey, it’s a job and still comes with the territory.
I have the most fun in my kitchen when I’m just grabbing this or that, dumping it all into a bowl, and letting the recipe unfold as my hands move from knife to whisk to spoon. Relaxation happens when I’m not “working.” When I leave the measuring spoons behind and set off into no-ties-to-work territory is when I usually feel the most restored.
I first made these bars earlier this winter when I felt like playing instead of working. I think we were in the middle of one of our several polar vortexes and I was trying to swallow the bitter pill of cabin fever. The treats turned out so well that I thought—even though they weren’t “supposed” to be for the blog—I’d share them with you anyways!
Who doesn’t love a good PB&J? Like most American kids, I probably ate my weight in them growing up. As my mom shifted our family to healthier eating over the years, my typical peanut butter and jelly on wheat turned into almond butter and strawberries on Ezekiel bread. Healthier, but I still loved it.
I had a full jar of naturally sweetened jam and some almond butter on hand when I stepped into the kitchen to bake, so I thought I’d go with the cliche and whip up something classic. Why mess with a good thing?
These Almond Butter & Jelly Bars—which I call AB&J Bars for short—are a total delight! They’re a little sweeter than my usual recipes, making them a great option for those new to the world of natural foods (or just for your picky 5 year old). Even adults with picky palates will love these bars. They’re moist, chewy, and richly satisfying. Add a cup of tea or almond milk and you’ve got a winner.
Make these when you can take your time and unwind. Don’t rush. Don’t try to be perfect. Imperfections are underrated. :)
- 1 cup gluten-free rolled oats
- ½ cup gluten-free oat flour (see note below)
- ¼ cup coconut flour
- ½ cup coconut sugar (use ⅓ cup for less sweet)
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- ½ teaspoon baking powder
- ½ teaspoon baking soda
- Pinch of sea salt
- ½ cup creamy roasted almond butter
- 2 tablespoons organic non-hydrogenated palm shortening, coconut oil, or butter (plus more for greasing the pan)
- 1 large egg, lightly beaten (or flax egg, see note below)
- ⅔ cup all natural jam (preferably fruit sweetened), divided use
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Grease an 8x8-inch baking dish with coconut oil or palm shortening.
- In a large bowl, mix together the oats, oat flour, coconut flour, coconut sugar, cinnamon, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Add the almond butter, palm shortening, egg, 2 tablespoons of the jam, and the vanilla. Stir thoroughly to form a thick and moist dough.
- Reserve 1 cup of loosely packed dough crumbles for the topping. Press the remaining dough evenly into the bottom of the pan. Spread the remaining jam over the crust. Crumble the reserved crust over the top of the jam layer and press gently to adhere.
- Bake for about 25 minutes until golden brown, rotating the pan once halfway through. Cool completely before cutting into bars. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator or freezer.
Flax Egg: Whisk 1 tablespoon of ground flaxseed with 3 tablespoons of warm water. Allow to sit for about 5 minutes. Use in place of the egg.
Want more healthy treat recipes? Check out my cookbook, Super Healthy Cookies, for 50 delicious and nutritious recipes that are 100% free of gluten, dairy, soy, and refined sugar.