January is a blank canvas in more ways than one. The glitz and glare of festivity has been packed away and fresh notebooks and outlooks brought to the fore. Even the skies are a pristine white, the landscape allowing itself a moment of peace before it begins its behind-the-scenes preparations. The stresses of the previous year tend to accumulate in the overspending and excess of December and we stumble into January bleary-eyed, over-fed and in need of direction. Even if you don’t fancy running with the crowd and seeking redemption through a spin class, it’s hard to ignore the symbolism of starting a new calendar year.
I, personally, believe it a cliché to buy a few bags of salad and a short-lived fitness routine, so instead I opt for gentler rejuvenation. I get an uncontrollable urge to tidy, to organise and to make ambitious lists. I realise that, to survive the remaining winter, I must eat more vegetables and make an effort take in a few lungful’s of fresh air every day, whatever the weather. I like to make January my own time, my time to pause, plan and prepare for the months ahead. Comfort food is, most definitely, still on the table and I relish blowing on hot spoonful’s of porridge long before the sun comes up. I daydream about bread; dense rye loaves, toasted wholemeal with honey and cinnamon swirled knots of monkey bread. Carbs are sustenance against the cold, now is just not the time to chew celery.
However, as much as I love baking, particularly of the festive variety, even I can tire of the heat of the kitchen, and of the sugar-high that accompanies it. For these occasions I have a little repertoire of reliable ‘no-bake’ recipes, full of nutrients but high-calorie and comforting all the same. These Cashew-Honey Bars are pleasure and nourishment combined; their sweet, ‘white-chocolate’ chew soothes me over a cup of tea whilst the oats, nuts and seeds give me much needed energy. I like to cut the mixture into bars and eat it like a flapjack but it would work just as well rolled into balls and coated with a little desiccated coconut. I find these treats to be effective fuel for making ambitious lists; the perfect accompaniment to a cosy spot, a cup of chamomile tea and a blank notebook.
Honey-Cashew Chew Mix
(Makes 12 bars or 24 ‘energy balls’)
80g honey (rice syrup if vegan)
80g cashew nut butter (peanut or almond also works well)
60g roasted almonds*
60g roasted cashew nuts*
100g rolled oats
60g mixed seeds (sunflower, pumpkin, linseed)
pinch sea salt
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp ground cinnamon
20g white chocolate for bars
20g desiccated coconut
- If you need to toast the cashews and almonds add them to a dry baking sheet and place in a preheated oven at 180°C/ 160°C Fan/ Gas Mark 4 for around 5 minutes, checking regularly to prevent burning.
- Add the oats, seeds, cinnamon and salt to a blender or food processor and pulse once or twice to a slightly finer rubble. Set aside in a separate bowl.
- Finely chop the dates and add to a pan along with the honey, vanilla, cashew nut butter and a tablespoon of water. Gently heat until it can be stirred together.
- Pour the slightly cooled mixture into a blender or food processor and blitz to a fine, sticky puree (you could also use a stick blender)
- Combine the puree with the oat mixture and the toasted nuts. Stir until completely combined. You should have a dense, sticky sort of dough.
- If making bars press the mixture into a cling film lined 30cm long loaf tin or brownie tin depending on how thick you want them. Wet your hands slightly to even the mixture out. Cover with remaining cling film and place in the freezer for a couple of hours.
- Once set drizzle the top with a little melted white chocolate and allow to set before cutting.
- If making balls scoop heaped teaspoons of the mixture into your hands and roll into balls before rolling them in a flat dish of desiccated coconut. Place into a plastic container and freeze for a couple of hours.
- Once the bars/balls have set keep them in a plastic container in the fridge until needed. They should keep for up to a week in the fridge or a month or so in the freezer.