Tart Cherry + Fig Granola

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A few weeks ago, I volunteered at a fun run organized by a student association on campus. It was the lowest-key race I’ve helped or taken part in and there were only a handful of runners participating. On the course, I stood amidst a bunch of trees in the park, pointing the way for runners and offering my cheers.

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I am the lamest of cheerleaders. I feel inadequate at motivating and lifting up. The words that come easily in print are the hardest to voice.

The course was three laps so I watched the runners progress through each mile. Because there were so few participants I got to know each of their fun-running styles, and consequently felt the need to up my cheering game each time they came around, from the first confident runner to the last couple walk/jogging together.

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At the end of the evening, one of the runners thanked me for being encouraging. You were really helpful; you motivated me to keep going, she said.

I swiveled around dramatically, making sure there was no one else she could be talking to before answering, Really!?!?

I was astonished.

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I spent the better part of winter reading Matthew Kelly’s book. In it he shares about figuring out how best to reach people. At the end of the day, it really is quite simple:  People need to be encouraged, he says.

I had underlined, ear-marked, and post-it noted that section, thinking how I wanted to practice encouragement in the ensuing months.

The funny thing about that runner thanking me for my invisible pompoms is that her words were equally encouraging.

Lifting each other up is a little gift that simply keeps on giving.

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Tart Cherry + Fig Granola

This granola is a little gift too. I don’t make granola often because I find the sweet flavors and crunchy textures mildly addicting and if I don’t practice some restraint, the whole batch will be eaten in one go. Numerous studies have shown that tart cherries are good for runners because they aid in reducing inflammation and increasing muscle recovery. While the amount of tart cherries in this granola are no where near the amount necessary to show real results, I am firm believer in the “every bit helps” philosophy, plus they taste good. We have a local business just up the road, Oregon Cherry Country, that grows and processes their own cherries and I usually purchase from them. Realistically, all the nuts, seeds, fruit, and even spices can be interchanged here. I really like the balance of the puffed cereal (like arrowhead mills or nature’s path brands, not rice krispies) with the oats, and the seeds, nuts, and fruits showcased here are among my favorites–change them up based on what you like or have! 

2 cups thick-rolled oats, gluten-free if necessary

2 cups puffed rice cereal

1/2 cup toasted hazelnuts, chopped

1/2 cup raw almonds, chopped

1/4 cup raw sunflower seeds

1/4 cup raw pumpkin seeds

3/4 tsp. salt

1/2 tsp. cinnamon

1/4 tsp. ground ginger

1/16 tsp. (a large pinch) cardamom

1/16 tsp. (a large pinch) cloves

1/16 tsp. (a large pinch) nutmeg

1/3 cup dried tart cherries

1/3 cup dried figs, chopped

1/4 cup coconut oil, melted

1/4 cup maple syrup

  • Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
  • Combine the dry ingredients, save the fruit, in a large bowl. Pour the liquids over the dry and use your hands to coat them all evenly. Spread the granola mixture on the baking sheet, press down gently, and roast in the oven for 25-30 minutes, rotating pan halfway through.
  • Remove from the oven and leave to cool before adding the dried fruit.

Turmeric Ginger Seed + Nut Bars

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Oats are one of my favorite foods of all time, and over the years they are probably the most common ingredient in many of my recipes. Aside from porridge, I really love to try out new variations of homemade granola bars. Recently, I’ve been using bars as a quick form of recovery after hard runs or races. With races especially, I often find it difficult to eat anything offered at the post-race party that might help me start the recovery process in a timely manner. Common post race offerings include bagels, bananas, pancakes, and sometimes pizza, which are all great carbohydrate-rich foods that I cannot eat. Making these bars and stowing them in my bag are the new way to go!

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The Sports Nutrition literature recommends eating a post-workout recovery meal or snack with a ratio of carbohydrate to protein of 3 – 4:1. Eating a food or meal in this range helps with muscle glycogen re-synthesis. That’s science speak for sugars in the muscle. Adding amino acids (the building blocks of protein) to the carbohydrate mix also help with muscle protein synthesis. If the muscles begin getting re-fueled and rebuilt quickly, they will recover and be ready to get back out there sooner!

In addition to fitting within the recommended carb to protein ratio range, these bars also contain turmeric, ginger, and cinnamon. Turmeric has been used for centuries in India. It contains a compound called Curcumin which has often been lauded with potent anti-inflammatory actions. Ginger also has been known to reduce inflammation and it helps settle the stomach. I’ve been struggling with a minor injury all summer and my stomach often begins to feel like I just stepped off a carnival ride after a hard run, so the addition of turmeric and ginger help the recovery process just a little bit more. With the addition of cinnamon, the flavor combination also just plain tastes good, and for that alone, I’d mix these spices in!

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These bars are healthy, filling, easy to make, and can be eaten any time of day, even if you’re not an endurance athlete. I’ve also been throwing them in my lunch box all summer to eat between meals when I need a snack.

If you’re really interested in the bars’ nutrient break-down, I’ve included it at the end of the post. For more on healthy inflammation-fighting foods, check out this article from Runner’s World.

 
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Turmeric Ginger Seed + Nut Bars
These can be adapted in infinite ways by changing up the types of dried fruits, seeds, and nuts. I also enjoy subbing out half of the oats for puffed rice or millet. The dash of black pepper will help the turmeric absorb and become more bioavailable, so don’t leave it out. 
  • 3/4-1 cup unsweetened applesauce
  • 1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
  • 2 cups rolled oats (use certified gluten-free if necessary)
  • 2/3 cup raisins
  • 1/2 cup toasted hazelnuts, chopped
  • 1/2 cup pumpkin seeds
  • 1/4 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp. ginger
  • 1/2 tsp. turmeric
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • dash of black pepper
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly oil a square baking dish (approx. 8″ x 8″) or line with a piece of parchment paper so the bars are easier to lift out.
  2. In a large bowl, stir together the vanilla, 3/4 cup applesauce, and spices.
  3. Place the oats into a food processor and pulse until they are coarsely chopped, but still have a fair bit of texture. Then stir them into the applesauce mixture.
  4. Add the nuts, seeds, and raisins to the applesauce-oat mixture until thoroughly combined, and add a little more applesauce if needed.
  5. Spoon the mixture into the prepared pan and press down with the back of a spatula or spoon until it is compacted and even.
  6. Bake for about 15-20 minutes until the bars are firm and lightly golden along the edge. Wait until the bars are cool and then slice into squares or rectangles. This makes 16 small bars (~100 calories each) or 8 larger bars.
Nutrition Information, (for a larger bar or two small ones)
208 calories
10 grams fat – 13% Daily Value
1 gram saturated fat – 5%
0 grams trans fat
0 mg cholesterol
32 mg sodium – 1%
27 grams carbohydrate – 8%
9 grams sugar
4 grams fiber – 12%
6 grams protein – 14%
 
Vitamin A – 0 %
Vitamin C – 2%
Calcium – 2%
Iron – 13%
63 mg magnesium – 20%
217mg potassium – 5%