The Great Granola Bar Challenge

If you have heard one thing about our Epic Sister Trip to Joshua Tree, then you have probably heard about the homemade granola bars from Natural Sisters Cafe (pictured above.)

We ate our first Natural Sister granola bars – one was Mango Peptia, the other was Chocolate Blueberry – midway through our hike along Joshua Tree’s Lost Palms Oasis Trail. The first bites were life-affirming. The thick granola bars sparkled with sweetness, and bursted with creamy almond butter.

After that, we ate the granola bars almost everyday we were in Joshua Tree. We left Joshua Tree as a changed woman:  We realized we could no longer eat ordinary, packaged energy bars.

That’s when we kicked off the granola bar challenge. We became determined to re-create the Natural Sisters granola bar.

The first granola bars I made – following this recipe from Food52 – didn’t turn out so hot. They weren’t a disaster, but they didn’t hold their shape. In the end, the bars made for great granola.

Julie followed this recipe from Smitten Kitchen, and said they turned out great. (Pictured above.)

Not to be discouraged, I next followed this Eating Well recipe for Almond Honey Protein Bars. Or, I tried to follow the recipe, but got distracted and forgot to add the cup of rice cereal. These bars turned out very dense, but I could tell I was on the right track.

I figured the third time would either be the charm, or I would strike out. I followed the Eating Well recipe again, correctly this time.

And they turned out awesome.

I’m already brainstorming my next flavor combinations.

Below is the recipe for Almond-Honey Protein Bars, directly from Eating Well:


1 cup old-fashioned rolled oats

1/4 cup slivered almonds

1/4 cup sunflower seeds

1 tablespoon flaxseeds, preferably golden

1 tablespoon sesame seeds

1 cup unsweetened whole-grain puffed cereal (see Note)

1/3 cup currants

1/3 cup chopped dried apricots

1/3 cup chopped golden raisins

1/4 cup creamy almond butter

1/4 cup turbinado sugar

1/4 cup honey

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/8 teaspoon salt


  1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Coat an 8-inch-square pan with cooking spray.
  2. Spread oats, almonds, sunflower seeds, flaxseeds and sesame seeds on a large, rimmed baking sheet. Bake until the oats are lightly toasted and the nuts are fragrant, shaking the pan halfway through. I took the mixture out after 15 minutes, to avoid burning it.
  3. Transfer to a large bowl. Add cereal, currants, apricots and raisins; toss to combine.
  4. Combine almond butter, sugar, honey, vanilla and salt in a small saucepan. Heat over medium-low, stirring frequently, until the mixture bubbles lightly, 2 to 5 minutes.
  5. Immediately pour the almond butter mixture over the dry ingredients and mix with a spoon or spatula until no dry spots remain. Transfer to the prepared pan. Lightly coat your hands with cooking spray and press the mixture down firmly to make an even layer (wait until the mixture cools slightly if necessary).
  6. Refrigerate until firm, about 30 minutes; cut into 8, according to Eating Well. Or, cut little pieces off all week, and then wonder where it all went 🙂

Do you have a go-to homemade granola bar? Or do you have a favorite energy bar that tastes almost-homemade? Tell me about it!


Sisters Make the Best Adventure Partners, and other lessons from J Tree

I was on top rope, so if I had let go of the rock, I would not have dropped an inch.

But as I held onto a slim crack in the rock with one hand, and used my other hand to frantically search among the gear hanging from my harness for the right piece of protection, I began to freak out.

“I don’t think I’m meant to do this,” I called out to Sonya, who was belaying me.

At that moment, the seriousness of what I was doing weighed down on me. It was my first (mock) trad lead, and I finally grasped the importance of placing the most bomber piece of protection in the crack in the rock: If I didn’t place a piece of gear correctly (and if I weren’t on top rope) I could crash down onto the rocks below me.

I gasped for breath. Eventually, I regained my breath and confidence, and finished the climb.

All of that may have taken just a few minutes, but it is one of the most memorable moments of our Epic Sister Adventure in Joshua Tree National Park. That moment stands out to me so strongly, I think, because it took me far beyond my comfort zone.

“Life begins when you step outside your comfort zone,” Sonya said that afternoon.

That could be the best lesson I learned during our week in Joshua Tree. Below are some other lessons I learned during our trip.

Beware the cholla! It will get you!

Natural Sisters Cafe makes the best granola bars. Ever.

Julie looks cute in photos when she climbs things. 

Vests and cacti are having a moment.

Desert weirdness is alive.

Nacho is too big to be a crag dog.

Sisters make the best adventure partners.

Next year in El Portero Chico! 


Good Reads: Or, one awesome yoga vid

This past week – between driving to Sacramento, Delano and Santa Cruz for work – I had no time to read. (The closest I came to reading was buying books at Bookshop Santa Cruz, pictured above, to take with me on the Epic Sister Adventure to Joshua Tree.)

So instead of offering you some Good Reads this weekend, I offer you one, awesome Yoga by Equinox video, featuring Briohny Smyth.

Hope you’re having a great weekend! My next post should be from Joshua Tree.

The Adventure Princess Sisters take on Joshua Tree National Park

In October, I read a ‘New Yorker’ profile about Jill Abramson, executive editor of the New York Times. It was a great article – but you know what part stuck in my mind?

This one line: Jill and her sister, Jane O’Connor… “have the same cackle of a laugh, and every year they go off alone on adventure trips – to China, Morocco, Budapest.”

“If the executive editor of the New York Times can take annual adventure trips with her sister, than so can I,” I thought to myself.

Fast forward four months, and my sister and I are preparing to set off on our adventure. On Sunday, we’re leaving for an epic, eight-day hiking and rock climbing trip in Joshua Tree!

Here are the details:

  • For the first three nights, we will be staying at places we reserved through AirBnB.

On the first night, we have reserved a “lovable, semi-rustic” home, where yoga and energy healing sessions are offered. On the second and third nights, we will be staying in a “magical homesteader cabin,” which was featured in this New York Times article.

For the rest of the week, we will be staying in friends’ guesthouse, and learning the technical aspects of rock climbing!

  • As for gear, we will be bringing the basics: hiking boots, climbing shoes, harness… Plus the Petzl helmet and Prana corduroy pants I bought today at REI’s awesome winter clearance sale.

So adventuresome friends… what else must we know about Joshua Tree? What must we not forget? I’m so excited!

Pictured: Past sister adventures to Kings Canyon National Park, Laos, and Big Sur

My desert date with dates

And sometimes, I’m paid to go on adventures.

This past week, I reported from the Eastern Coachella Valley. On my way out to the community of Mecca, I stopped at Shields Date Garden in Indio.

I mean, wouldn’t you stop, if you saw a sign like this along the highway?

Yea, so I didn’t see that video.

But I DID slurp up a date crystal milkshake for lunch. (Recipe here.) It was essentially ice cream, with bites of date mixed in. And it was the best lunch imaginable for a journalistic adventure in the desert.

The shake wasn’t just a desert indulgence, though. For a date-obsessed gal like myself, it was also a way to recognize one of the Coachella Valley’s important crops.

According to Wikipedia, the Coachella Valley produces about 95 percent of the country’s date crop. Indio is host to the National Date Festival each year. A street in Mecca is named after the delicious fruit.

Next time I buy a box of delicious date rolls at Whole Foods, to take on an outdoors adventure, I’ll be reminded of my desert date with dates.