By Jackie Burrell

Contra Costa (California) Times

Fresh air, gorgeous views and mile after mile of rugged, eminently walkable wilderness — there are few forms of exercise more enticing than a trail hike.

Or it would be, if you weren’t nibbling a high-sugar, additive-laden, uber-expensive, store-bought energy bar — or what Camilla Saulsbury calls “a peanut butter sponge with a chocolate Ex-lax-like coating.” You can do better than that, says the author of “Power Hungry: The Ultimate Energy Bar Cookbook.” It takes less than half an hour to make several dozen bars. You can store them in the freezer, fridge or backpack. And the difference in taste, texture and cost is pretty shocking.

Saulsbury spent her childhood hiking the trails and backwoods of Northern California and her graduate school years holed up in a library with a stash of processed power bars. They tasted terrible.

“I was living out of my backpack. The taste factor started to get to me real soon — and they weren’t providing energy,” Saulsbury says. “I thought, I can make something like this. So we made granola bars — oats and some glue to hold it together. It cost so much less and was so much better tasting.”

Soon, Saulsbury was making all sorts of riffs on the energy bar theme: Clif Bar taste-alikes without the soy protein isolates, a byproduct of the tofu industry; Kind Bar look-alikes that have all your favorite dried fruits and nuts; crisp, puck-shaped discs of nutty-seedy splendor and energy bars filled with banana chips, citrus zest, quinoa flakes and even kale.

We whipped out a batch of her Friend Bars, which emulate the Kind variety. When you make your own, you control the ingredients, of course. So our “Friend Bars” were full of dried apricots, pecans and pepitas, but yours might be made with dried apples, pecans and cinnamon. Or shredded coconut and almonds. Or ground ginger, almonds, sesame seeds and dates.

“Sometimes, simple is best,” she says. “Growing up, we had a VW camper with a pop-up top for the five of us. We’d go to Samuel P. Taylor Park or all the way up to Canada. We’d take a big container of almonds and raisins, protein from the nuts and then simple carbohydrates from the dried fruit.”

But if you want to get a little fancy with minimal effort, she suggests mixing up a batch of her Paleo Pucks, nuts and dried fruit held together with egg white and a tablespoon of honey or maple syrup. “You bake them in a muffin tin,” she says. “Super simple. Nice to grab.”

Highly addictive. And good for you, too.

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