During the winter as kids my brother and I would make little pine cone feeders so the birds would have some fat to tide them over until spring. We’d have already collected and dried the cones. Mom would give us a jar of peanut butter and a bunch of bird seed. We’d rub peanut butter in the little crevices of the cones. Smelling of roasted nuts and dripping all over the place, I’d want to lick them. Then we’d sprinkle them all over with sunflowers seeds and maybe some cracked corn, tie them with little ribbons and hang the cones around in the yard. The chickadees would invariably come. With their melodic chicka-dee-dee-dee singsong, little black heads and puffed out bellies, the chickadees were a family favorite. While everyone else was blanketed in a snowstorm, the chickadees would happily hop around, foraging and taking advantage of the quiet. They’d hop right along on those ice-coated tree branches to visit our cone feeders.
Seeds remind me of winter, of stocking up for the long haul when there’s not much else to go by. Little powerhouses of energy, seeds also remind me of hiking and camping and anything related to surviving without ready access to a market, garden, or grocery store.
But it wasn’t until college that I thought much of eating seeds myself. Sadly, this happened in the “health” aisle in a local food store, where I stood there gawking at the ridiculous number of bars stuffed with a variety of seeds, nuts, fruits and other “foods.” It felt like the end of the world, but I was in a rush and hungry. I gingerly selected a “Chocolate Chip” one, ripped open the colored wrapping, and bit into the lump that looked like a forlorn dried turd. It felt like hard chalk against my teeth and tasted of something bittersweet and 50 other things that I couldn’t decipher. Lunch! [I think I followed it up with a liter of water.] Somehow, while I didn’t enjoy them, I partook in eating energy bars. There seemed to be ample reasons to have them stuffed in a purse or on a plane or in a remote country where I may not be able to find food (gasp!). When I thought about them, though, energy bars seemed like something you’d take to the end of the earth, where there are no known comforts and you have no choice.
The idea behind these glommed together packages of energy is old. Little chickadees and even our ancestors have been partaking in a natural process of eating and distributing seeds and nuts for centuries. And while seeds are perfect sources of energy, we humans still wanted to intervene, and make a product as unnatural as we could.
I will be journeying to the end of comfort soon. Our trip to the woods is in just a few weeks! We’ll be living off the land somewhere in Oregon or California with only jars of peanut butter, jelly, grains, lentils, some kelp and lots of ghee. And suddenly seed bars sounded like something I needed to tackle. Not a dehydrated mess of 50 ingredients, but nougats that could pack well and taste amazing. A few months back we had spied these. And they were amazing, I tell ya. I had to try them myself.
So I toasted some delicate sesame seeds (black and white because that’s what I had), and those bacon-y sunflower kernels, added some raw flax seeds (so as not to destroy their delicate balance), and mixed in a good seaweed. Then I melted some maple syrup and a bit of golden syrup, and dried the resulting sheet in the oven. Out out came a wonderful single-handed snack to be had on the trails: salty, sweet and savory.
In addition to the basic carb, protein, and fat requirements, this mix of a few seeds and seaweed also replenishes the electrolytes lost through sweating (it’s high in calcium, copper, magnesium, phosphorus, selenium, zinc, and B-6), the nori gives a boost of vitamin C, and the flax seeds are filled with antioxidants, omega-3 fatty acids, and fiber. Of course this blend is not the only way to go – you can experiment with pumpkin seeds, chia, toasted grains, etc.
So while you could walk around with some seeds stuffed in your cheeks, saving them for later, I think these nougats are perfectly fit for humans. So go on, do it. Leave those stale nuts, gummy raisins and fake M&M’s for someone else. And don’t even think about Clif bars. When you pack in, make yourself a little homemade boost, one that’s fit for you and me and the chicka-dee-dee-dees.
Seed and kelp bars
1/2 cup black sesame seeds
1 cup white sesame seeds
1 cup sunflower seeds
1/2 cup flax seeds
2 sheets nori, folded and rolled and cut into 1/2″ x 1/4″ slivers
4 tablespoons maple syrup
4 tablespoon golden syrup
Note: Golden syrup is an English product made with cane sugar. It’s an incredible orange gold and forms wonderful caramel ribbons when you pour it. You could substitute for light corn syrup, but I will never go near the stuff. It’s toxic. Brown rice syrup can also probably be used and it is better it takes longer for your body to metabolize. Generally though with this kind of snack making, I find it makes for a more funny-colored and tackier bar that falls apart. Also in my case, I really wanted these bars to harden so they’d keep longer. So it depends on your purposes. Maple syrup alone has too much water content and when it hardens forms large crystals (think maple candy), so you’re not going to want to use it alone.
Turn the oven on to 100F. Grease the back of a cookie sheet or line with parchment paper.
Note: I was using an electric oven at the top whose lowest setting was 170F. So I propped the door open, and it worked fine, although I had some remorse over the wasted energy.
Toast the black sesame, white sesame, and sunflower, one at a time, in a skillet on medium heat. Remove from heat and let cool.
Tip: Each seed will have a distinct toasted aroma once done. The white sesame and sunflower turn a more golden color, and the sunflower starts to smell almost like bacon.
Heat the syrup and maple sugar in a pan on medium. Once warm and blended together, stir in the kelp and the seeds until completely coated. If you’re noticing some of the seeds are still dry, add a bit more sugar to the mixture and heat until melted.
Spoonful by spoonful, lay out the mixture on your cookie sheet as evenly as you can. Then, using the back of a greased spatula, tamp down the seeds lightly (tapping) until there are no holes. Turn the spatula 90 degrees (or use your finger) and press it lightly into the sides to form a rectangle.
Dry in the oven for 1 hour. Turn off the oven and allow to sit until the oven cools, another 45 mins. Once it’s good and hard you know it’s done. Remove and place on a wire rack to aerate and dry completely. Cut with a bench knife into whatever shape you fancy. Store, separated by parchment, in an airtight container. I’m hoping these will be good for a month!