Sep 05 2009

Beating the Bonk With Hundred-Mile Bars

 
Cyclists dread the bonk, which saps all of your energy and turns your muscles into jelly. The only way to avoid the total run-down of your reserves is to keep the tank topped up all the time, and that means taking in calories while working hard. This is especially important on long or arduous rides. Most cyclists can manage to ride for an hour or so without trouble, but trouble is what you’ll have if you don’t eat and drink regularly.

What to eat? That depends on the cyclist. Some prefer to add calories in the form of gels and liquids. Others nibble high-energy solid foods. Most use a mix. And one of the best sources of energy I’ve found is homemade oatmeal bars. I call ‘em Hundred Mile Bars, because Farwell energized himself on a century a couple years back with nothing more than water and these chewy goodies. They pack a lot of umph into a compact package, are easy to eat on the bike, are a cinch to make, and hold up well to being crammed into a jersey pocket or snack pack. Better still, they can be made in advance, frozen, and pulled out of the freezer just before your ride. They’ll thaw in a hurry, and you can pinch off pieces to snack on as you ride. Tempted? Here’s the recipe:

 
Hundred Mile Oatmeal Bars
(makes approximately 24 bars)

 
•1 cup (2 sticks) butter or margarine, room temperature
•1 cup firmly packed brown sugar (either light or dark brown)
•1/2 cup granulated sugar
•2 eggs
•1 teaspoon vanilla extract
•1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
•1 teaspoon baking soda (NOT baking powder)
•1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
•1/2 teaspoon salt
•3 cups uncooked old-fashioned OR quick-cooking oatmeal (NOT instant oatmeal)
•1 cup chopped mixed dried fruits (see Note below)
•1/2 cup chopped walnut meats

 
NB You’ll also need two large mixing bowls and a 9″ x 13″ baking pan that’s at least 2″ deep. Alternatively, use two 8″- or 9″-square baking pans.

 
An hour or more before you plan to start baking, place the butter or margarine in a large bowl and leave it on the kitchen counter to come to room temperature. While you’re waiting, assemble the other ingredients.

When all is in readiness, move one rack to the center of your oven, and pre-heat to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. As the oven warms, use a big wooden spoon to combine (“beat”) the softened margarine, brown sugar, and granulated sugar in one of the two bowls. After this mixture has been beaten to the consistency of a sandy paste, beat in the eggs and vanilla extract and blend thoroughly. Then set the first bowl aside.

Now place the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt in the second bowl, and stir with a clean fork. Once the contents are well mixed, pour them into the first bowl, and beat thoroughly. Next, stir in the oatmeal, dried fruit, and walnut pieces. Again, beat well. Soon you’ll have a very thick batter. Spoon this out into your baking pan—there’s no need to grease the pan—and spread it as evenly as you can, being sure that there are no gaps between the batter and the walls of the pan. Use the back of a wetted soup spoon to shove the batter around.

Finally, place the pan(s) in the oven and bake for 30 to 35 minutes. Check after 15 minutes. If the batter’s not browning evenly, rotate the pan(s) 180 degrees. Then check again at 30 minutes, and every five minutes thereafter. As soon as the top is a uniform golden brown, you’re done. Turn off the oven and remove the pan, setting it on top of the stove to cool.

After the pan has cooled for a few minutes, cut your dessert into bars with a sharp knife. Run the blade of the knife around the perimeter, too. Now let your newly-baked oatmeal bars cool completely.

Once the bars have cooled down to room temperature, remove them from the pan with a spatula, and stack them on a cookie rack (if you have one) or on paper-towel-covered plates. Separate the individual bars and allow them to cool some more. If you pack oatmeal bars when they’re even a little bit warm, they’ll soon become soggy. When you’re certain that they’re as cool as they’re going to get, store the bars in sturdy plastic bags, being sure to expel all the air before closing up. The bars freeze well if stored in a freezer bag. Just remove the number of bars you want from the freezer, put them in a plastic bag or jersey pocket, and they’ll thaw before you’re ready to eat.

 
Note  You can use whatever dried fruit you like, provided that it’s not too large (a quarter of an inch is about right). I sometimes use raisins or chopped dried apricots, and sometimes mix different dried fruits together. If you’re feeling adventurous, use chocolate chips instead of—or in addition to—fruit. This is too much of a good thing for my taste, but if you have a sweet tooth, give it a try.

 
You can go far on a hundred mile bar. And the rewards? After the thousand feet of climbing and 15-percent grades, you might see something like this:

 

Climber's Reward

 
What you hear is… your own breathing, the thud of your heartbeat, chickadees chattering, and the occasional plop of a frog diving for cover in the water. It’s hard to leave, and not because you don’t have the energy, but because it’s so darned peaceful. Now, though, it’s time for another bar!

 
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