Monday, October 15, 2012

Misery Bars

What is wrong with me? After all these years, do I really need to struggle against patience and fill with regret like I’m a bucket under a leaky ceiling and it’s a flash flood? It’s so much better these days, it is. Capable, older children; more and deeper rest; easier daily rhythms. But, oh, a day that starts with a flash of unkindness—like lightning that illuminates the gentle face of misplaced trust—that is not a good day.

If you are on your way out the door, on a Monday school morning, and someone asks you to hold up a granola bar so that she can photograph it, and this is a favor to that person, that person who made the granola bar and is therefore responsible for its crumbling, and that granola bar breaks in half and falls to the floor, should sharp words be flung at you like knives outlining your sleepy baffledness? I said two hands. Also, should there be a sharp addendum about your boots, and why you aren’t wearing them, even though the granola-bar photographer has reminded you at least a dozen times to wear your boots today? Your bright face will fall. And when, ultimately, you end up in her lap, in tears, do you feel like the lamb lying down with the lion, only not in a good way? I don’t know.  

I am quick to apologize, and that’s about all I can say for myself today. But I would like to find those hidden pockets of meanness and dynamite them.

Does it make you feel weird about the granola bars? Does it make you wonder, a) Will they cause misery in your own family? and, b) will they fall apart? I don’t believe they’ll make you unhappy, but you should cut the bars in half again, because they’re more stable as squares than oblongs. That’s what I do—and, in fact, if I had shown you the actual bars as I make them, instead of trying to get all Nature’s Valley on you, the whole scene could have been avoided.


These are the granola bars I’m making these days. They’re chewy and sweet and absolutely delicious—but they’ve got enough salt and tartness and crisped-rice to keep them from being ooey-gooey cloying. I’m making them instead of the Raw Energy Bars that I’ve been making for years because this is what Ben is grabbing as he heads out the door, and these just have a little more going on as a daily breakfast. Still, they’ve got a million ingredients, and if that’s annoying to you, you can either skip some of them (the rice cereal, seeds, almond extract, chocolate chips, and citric acid are easy omissions) or make the energy bars instead. Why, of all the moments, did I pick now to buy rice cereal and rice syrup? I really couldn’t say. If I wanted to poison everyone with arsenic, surely there are easier methods.


Chewy Cherry Granola Bars
Makes lots

I am using the good bones of this recipe, but then I am adding dates, crisped-rice cereal, and chia seeds instead of sesame (mostly because I like the way they get stuck in my teeth and then swell up into slippery pearls). Also, I upped the extracts and nixed the cinnamon, because that’s how I roll. And I added chocolate chips, because ditto. Citric acid is something I find handy to keep around because it adds tartness without adding any other flavor or any more liquid; obviously, you could leave it out. I also want to mention that I realize that these are expensive to make. But, they pack a serious nutritional punch--all those whole foods and energy-filled nuts and seeds--and so, to me, they feel like a justifiable expense. Plus, they're still much cheaper than buying the equivalent bars in the store.

1 cup whole almonds
1 cup pecan halves or pieces
1 cup old-fashioned oats
1 cup (+) crisped-brown-rice cereal (I use the Whole Foods brand)
2 tablespoons chia, flax, or sesame seeds
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt (or half as much table salt)
1/8 teaspoon citric acid (optional)
3/4 cup dried cherries (ideally tart ones)
½ cup pitted dates
½ cup chocolate chips
1/3 cup brown rice syrup or honey (spray your measuring cup with oil before measuring anything sticky—that’s a real Heloise’s hint!)
¼ cup coconut oil
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon almond extract

Line a 9- by 12-inch baking pan (or a smaller one, for thicker bars) with parchment paper, with enough hanging over the side to cover the bars when they’re in the pan.

Put 1/2 cup each of almonds, pecans, and oats in a food processor (I bet a blender would work fine for this). Process until finely ground, then pour it into a large bowl. Roughly chop the remaining pecans and almonds (I do this in the food processor too), then add them to the bowl. Add the remaining oats along with the crisped-rice cereal, seeds, salt, and citric acid, then mix well.

Put the cherries and dates in the food processor with two tablespoons of the dry mixture, and pulse until they are coarsely chopped (the dry mixture keeps them from clumping together). Add the chocolate chips, pulse a couple more times (this will just barely break up the chips) and dump this mixture into the bowl. Stir very well.

Combine rice syrup or honey with the coconut oil in a small saucepan over medium heat. Stir until the mixture melts and then foams, then cook it for 15 seconds longer. Stir in the extracts, then pour it over the oat mixture and mix thoroughly.

Pour the granola mixture into the prepared pan, and press it very, very firmly with your own oiled hands or with an oiled square of parchment paper. something with a flat bottom (may need to spray it with non-stick spray.) Wrap the overhanging parchment paper up over the bars and refrigerate until firm, about 4 hours.

Pull the entire block of chilled granola mixture out of the pan, then cut them into bars (and, since they can be a little crumbly, you might want to cut the bars in half again into squares). Either wrap them individually in parchment or plastic wrap, or else store all the bars in a large airtight container. Either way, keep them in the fridge.
Wake me when you're done assembling the ingredients.
But then there's no actual cooking involved, which is kind of nice.
Just be sure to press them down hard. Or else the bars will be crumbly. And you'll speak sharply into the pink and open face of your dear person.


  1. Jane Plane11:08 AM

    I keep striving to be human instead of perfect. I still disappoint myself when it turns out I *am* human and not perfect, but I hope that by focusing on humanity, empathy, forgiveness, I can offer those to myself some day.

    In the meantime, it's comforting to read here that I am not on this journey alone. Plus those bars look terrific.

    Thanks for your writing.

    1. This is lazy of me, but...

      Ditto everything Jane said so well.

      CatherIne, I was in your shoes this very morning and so wish I could communicate a belated apology to mine, who is already at school.

  2. This is so funny and sad and perfect. Siiiigh.

  3. Anonymous11:55 AM

    Yes, I know. I struggle against my own pockets of meanness far too often. I know that mine stem often from fear, worry, and exhaustion. Forgive yourself as you would forgive a friend. I will try to use your misery bar story the next time the morning rush has me getting snappish.

  4. alison12:32 PM

    i was mean to mine this monday morning too. But in defense he was mean first :-( i know, i know... he's 8 i'm 36. I sould probably act like it. Take the advice of forgive yourself like a friend would forgive you. I called my best friend when i got to work and told her my problem. She'll always stick up for me (even though i didn't want her too)and said, every mom gets mad, he souldn't have been lippy. Anyway i'm dying to get home too see him.

  5. I am a bucket full of regret all.the.time. I am constantly surprised by my own impatience, meanness, insensitivity, selfishness. I am also quick to apologize, and my children are SO quick to forgive. Frankly, I'm not sure I deserve it, crankypants that I am, but I am grateful.

    1. Robin1:17 PM

      What Shannon with the Chickens said. I'm full of all those same mean things, quick to apologize to my forgiving kids, and then quick to continue to beat myself up over it forever after. I got a head start on all you Monday morning grumps by being mean at bedtime last night and am still feeling bad about it at lunch time today.

  6. I have been to Whole Foods three times this week (what else is there to do at 39+ weeks pregnant?!) and on one of those trips I inexplicably bought rice syrup and rice cereal. Now I know why!

    My own pockets of meanness are not so hidden these days…last night after my almost-three year old (who's been potty-trained for almost a year) squatted NEXT to the potty to pee instead of ON it, I shouted "are you f*cking kidding me?!". Trying to be gentle with myself in these moments is even harder than being gentler with the kids, but is, I think, the crux of it.

  7. Anonymous12:57 PM

    Kids learn early on that sometimes when they spill the milk Mom gets really mad, and sometimes when they spill the milk Mom doesn't care at all. Your kids know you love them desperately -- and that you were just having a difficult morning. Hugs to you!!!

  8. Anonymous1:03 PM

    Boy, do I get this one. I am the most mercurial person lately, rude, quick to anger, name it. If I was my own child I would send me to my room. And yes, it is being taken out on the only people in the world that continue to trust me, even after the tears have been shed. I cannot fathom why I feel so sharp and shallow right now, but I feel a small amount of redemption that someone like you, who is kind hearted and strives to be gentle is also facing down the mean-ness. Thank you for sharing this recipe, it will be something I make with my little one, and give to my big one.....hoping that these actions help make up for the others.


  9. Dear Catherine - thank you for all your lovely recipes and lovelier commentary. Could you suggest nut-free substitutions for the granola bars so I can send them to school with my kids? 2 extra cups of chocolate chips seems not quite right, although I'm sure they'd be eaten... many thanks!

    1. Anonymous3:56 PM


      I make something similar (but cooked) without nuts. 2.5 cups rolled oats, 1 cup dried fruit, 1/2 cup coconut, 1/2 cup s/r flour, 150g melted butter/dairy free spread and 1 tbsp golden syrup, sprinkle with chocolate bits. Medium oven for 20-25mins. I make this batch after batch for my dairy/egg/nuts free child (although I can't find truly dairy free chocolate chips). Heather

  10. Thank you for saying what parents feel in a way that makes it clear that we REALLY love our kids. Thanks for making it ok to apologize too.

  11. Jamie1:26 PM

    Yes. Yes to everything. It's so hard and so heartbreaking. How many times have I looked at my daughter's huge beautiful brown eyes and wished I could rewind and say it all again without my sharp tone? Too many. And why is it that a day can be filled with hugs and story reading and crafts and outings, but the one thing that sticks in my mind at the end of it is how I snapped at her because of the (admittedly endless) dawdling over brushing teeth? Forgive yourself, even though it's hard to.

  12. Oh, it's so heartbreaking when they look up at you with those open, innocent faces as if they've done something wrong, and you know deep down that you did the something wrong. So awful, it's hard to not feel like dirt. But we all do it. And we are not dirt. And we move on. Hang in there.

  13. Anonymous3:56 PM

    oh Catherine be more easy on yourself! A few sharp words followed by an apology and a hug will scar no child at all. In fact, you're showing them that you're human and they can be too and everything won't fall apart.

  14. These days I am finding fewer pockets of meanness and more huge, gaping holes in my pants and the insides are stuffed with meanness and the meanness is slipping out of the hem and trailing behind me like toilet paper stuck to my shoe. Why is this?? As my second born refused to sleep in the middle of the night this weekend, a nice four hour stretch of wailing and restlessness, I yelled out loud at him that I had no idea why we decided to have another baby. Mean, mean. I am just glad that at 20 months he automatically forgives me when I pull him close and he nurses, soothing away the rough edges. Yes, I look forward to having those older, capable children and a full night's rest. Still, that does not squelch out the rising bile of anger that hits us unexpectedly...I always think that what matters is that we are so quick to say we were wrong, that our children will remember the "I'm sorry" rather than the sharp words spoken before it. That, and the granola bars, so lovingly made.

  15. Catherine, thank you again for your honesty and good food. Can't wait to try the bars as we all keep trying to squelch that side of us we aren't proud of.

  16. With tears in my eyes I want to thank you for reminding me that I am not the only one.....

    1. Tears for me too. And if anyone ever figures out how to dynamite the meanness, please PLEASE share. Sometimes I am shocked at how mindlessly I empty those pockets on my children. Thank you Catherine as always for describing what I cannot.

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  18. What kind of crazy person would leave out the chocolate chips?

  19. Oh, Catherine. I love all of your words and the words of these good people you gather to you with your big heart. So well I know the feeling of wanting to dynamite that meanness within. (So not Buddhist, but so true!) And then how ineffably lucky are we that our apologies end with those precious ones in our laps? I never imagined this tenderness even when Prince sang it. (Yes, I'm comparing parenting to If I Was Your Girlfriend. Would you run to me when somebody hurt you even if that somebody was me?) Keep on taking good care, and thank you for your honesty.

  20. Catherine- your writing never ceases to amaze me for the humor, humanity, and tasty bits. I am so touched by everyone here sharing their humanity and imperfections as parents. I too find it easier to forgive myself for my impatience and snappishness if I know that other caring parents have the same struggles. We all need support each other so that we in turn can support our children. I can suggest a great resource for parents that I think speaks to the theme I see here ( ) I hope you check it out and find that it is useful. It has profoundly influenced me.

  21. Your writing is so very touching, thank you. As you see by the thread of comments, it seems we have all and will all continue to be hindered by those unpredictable"pockets". The apology does matter,too. Take good care (and I'm gonna try the recipe).

  22. Catherine, if there is one thing I've always LOVED about your writing it's your willingness to capture your own frailties and failings. It makes me feel better to know that someone like you - an obviously amazing and fantastic mom - has moments like the ones I have where I feel as small as anything. Not only do you have them, you share them with a sensitive, sweet voice that makes us all realize we have within us the capacity for greatness as well as not-so-greatness. And I'm sure the granola bars are super. I wonder if my daughter would like them. She's not typically a fan, but she does like our Catherine Newman recipes!

  23. My dear and most amazing writer Catherine. I didn't even read the recipe, or the post in the detail for that matter... I'm almost crying, actually. Thank you thank you thank you for being always so honest in your writing, of sharing with your always sharp and detailed pen that you spoke sharply with your child. Thanks for being vulnerable and making ups feel all human together, united in our own faulty nature, particularly as it relates to parenting. Thank you. You inspire me -- in many many ways. I can't thank you enough for not stopping to share your life with the internets, those of us who have been reading you since your babies were babies and some of our babies hadn't even been born. Those of us like me who even lived in the same town as you and wondered if we'd ever meet and then I had to move away from there with a 2 year old and a newborn and drive to center city philadelphia with a 9 month old and a 2 year old to finally meet you at Barnes and Noble.

    I don't comment as often as I'd like, but I just love your writing and it always touches me oh, so deeply. Thank you.

    Your fellow mama that knows exactly how you feel after inadvertently speaking sharply to one's children and bringing so much misery. Sigh...

  24. Catherine, I join your readers in celebrating your openness and honesty about your struggle to balance high expectations with reality. May I just respectfully suggest that to beat ourselves up after mistakenly being short tempered and then quickly apologizing is modeling for our daughters unrealistic expectations and lack of compassion for ourselves?

  25. I try often to remember that I am only human and it's nice sometimes to read reminders that I am not the only one who struggles with meanness sometimes. We do the best we can, and some days we do better than others.

    Please take the advice that others' have had for you--treat yourself like you would a friend, with compassion and forgiveness. You are a beautiful person and we (especially your family) are blessed to have you.

  26. Whenever the meanness comes out in me, I do as you did here: Apologize. And ultimately, I think that allowing our children to see us as imperfect, humble enough to admit our mistakes, forgiving of their mistakes, and willing to accept their forgiveness of our mistakes is a MUCH bigger and more valuable gift than a parent who never lets her cracks and imperfections show, who hides her feelings (no matter how raw and unpleasant) away, and who lives in fear that her children are too fragile to stand up to life's many unfair, mean, petty moments. You did good.

  27. Anonymous9:29 AM

    Well, LOTS of good karma is coming your way: I am sure your writing this day obliterated many of the "pockets of meaness" among your parent-readers, halting us right in our tracks before going there.

  28. We are all too familiar with guilt, but not alone I suppose....thank you.

  29. Man, I'm filled with those pockets, too. And then they fill up with regret. Ugly cycle. But know that the reason your dear one is reduced to tears by your sharp words is because she hears them so infrequently that they surprise her. It's the children who don't even register meanness directed their way because they hear it so often that worry me.

  30. We made these yesterday! And by "we" I mean "my 12 year old." I love a recipe that a budding chef can manage. :)

    We didn't really have any of the same ingredients on hand, so we used 1 cup TJ's almond meal + 1/2 cup whole almonds + 1/2 cup shredded coconut for the nuts, agave for the sticky, and dried cranberries for the cherries. And we skipped the citric acid. So I guess technically we made something entirely different, but still: yum! Thanks!

  31. Oh, how I would too. Dynamite the meanness. Thanks again.

  32. My son made a rough transition from Preschool to Kindergarten. In floods of tears one day he told me, "I feel just like a spoonful of DIRT!"

    I know the feeling. And so do you.

    I've been eating a LOT of Misery Bars recently. Oh, so many.

    I struggle with my own writing because I never feel like I can get the exact nuance of what I'm feeling (good or bad) down on the page - and you come along and pull those feelings right out of me - written out so exactly - so that I can read them myself.

    I'm going to go back and read this post again - because it really will help me to be a better parent. I've really got to cut down on the misery bars, man.
    And those granola bars look mighty tasty!

  33. Anonymous3:10 PM

    I know exactly how you feel, minus the lovingly-made granola bars. The meanness just pops out of me sometimes and I can't believe what I've said. To a 4 yr-old who can't be expected to understand time the way I do (1.5 minutes until we need to walk out the door and she's singing to herself in the bathroom...). To a 1 yr-old whose job it is to smear food all over even if it makes me cranky. Sigh.

    I am vastly comforted that we are all hounded by insecurities about being parents and that we're human.

    Thank you for writing so beautifully about your family. I've been a silent fan for so long.

  34. I made these, subbing a heaping teaspoon of lemon zest for the citric acid and OH MY STARS they're heavenly. I think the lemon zest is what sends them over the top, actually (she said modestly). That little bit of citrus tang, combined with chocolate and cherry and the nuts...DIVINE.

    I know the feeling of wanting to blast inexplicable meanness and impatience away. We've all been there, and empathize.

  35. Love this post! I came here for the recipe but am leaving feeling peace from your writing like always. But... you LIKE what those creepy chia seeds do in your teeth?! They freak me out!