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Try trail mix bar, Hawaiian screwdriver for 'Wild' discussion

Thick, Chewy Granola Bars are a good anck to accompany your reading of Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail.

KAREN PRYSLOPSKI | Times

Thick, Chewy Granola Bars are a good anck to accompany your reading of Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail.

BOOK: Your mother is recently dead, from cancer. So is your marriage, from your own infidelity. You've done heroin and gone a little nuts. What else is there to do but hike the Pacific Crest Trail from the Mojave Desert to the Canadian border — all 1,100 miles of it — with a backpack that includes 25 pounds of water, cooking pots, a camp chair, several books and other unnecessary equipment guaranteed to make the three-month trek an ordeal. Cheryl Strayed, author of Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail (Knopf, 2012, 336 pages), even threw in a new last name before she set out, adopting a word that seemed to suit her perfectly since she felt she had wandered from a sensible path, diverged, digressed. "I saw … that I had strayed and that I was a stray and that from the wild places my straying had brought me, I knew things I couldn't have known before."

Why read? Redemption stories tend to pile banal insights into a self-righteous monument to the author, but Strayed seems less focused on triumph than on mortification of the flesh inflicted by a purifying ritual that leaves her with bruised feet, blackened toenails, bruises, scabs and the same hole in her heart, caused by her mother's death, that launched her on this ill-conceived journey. She doesn't dwell on her misery. On the contrary, she seems fixated on the absurdity of her plight, which begins with her removing her boots to ease her aching feet and dropping one over the edge of the overlook into the canopy of trees below. "I was alone," she says. "I was barefoot. I was 26 years old and an orphan, too. An actual stray, a stranger had observed a couple of weeks before, when I'd told him my name and explained how very loose I was in the world." Instead of setting herself above her readers, Strayed takes them along, carrying them in her bulging backpack as she trudges like a pilgrim toward a new life.

Make it: Strayed becomes desperately hungry on her trip, so snacking on a gourmet trail treat while discussing her book seems appropriate. The Smitten Kitchen provides a start with chewy granola bars that lend themselves to "wild" improvisation.

Drink it: While on the trail, Strayed is offered a cocktail, which she names a Hawaiian screwdriver. "It had ice cubes. It had vodka. It had pineapple juice. When I sipped it, I thought I would faint. Not from the alcohol hitting me, but from the sheer fabulousness of the combination of liquid sugar and booze." Since it was served to her in a plastic cup by some campers, she didn't get the recipe, so you're on your own. Ice, vodka, pineapple juice in whatever proportions seem inviting to you. Again, feel free to improvise.

Tom Valeo, special to the Times

Read & Feed is a monthly column in Taste that matches popular book club selections with food to serve at meetings. If you have suggestions or would like to share what your book club is cooking up, send an email to features@tampabay.com. Put BOOK FOOD in the subject line.

>>MODERATE

Thick, Chewy Granola Bars

1 cups quick rolled oats

½ to ¾ cup granulated sugar

cup oat flour (or cup oats, processed till finely ground in a food processor or blender)

½ teaspoon salt

¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon

2 to 3 cups dried fruits and nuts (of your choosing)

cup peanut butter, almond butter or another nut butter

1 teaspoon vanilla extract (optional)

6 tablespoons melted butter

cup honey, maple syrup or corn syrup

1 tablespoon water

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line an 8- by 8- by 2-inch pan in one direction with parchment paper, allowing it to go up the opposing sides. Lightly grease the parchment paper and the exposed pan, or coat with a nonstick spray.

Stir together all the dry ingredients, including the fruit and nuts. In a separate bowl, whisk together the vanilla, melted butter, liquid sweeteners and water. Toss the wet ingredients with the dry (and peanut butter, if you're using it) until the mixture is evenly crumbly. Spread into the prepared pan, pressing firmly to ensure it is molded to the shape of the pan. (A piece of plastic wrap can help with this, as you press down on the back of it.)

Bake the bars for 30 to 40 minutes, until they're brown around the edges (don't be afraid to get a little color on the tops, too). It may seem underbaked when you press into the center of the pan but it will set up as it cools.

Cool the bars on a cooling rack in the pan or, to speed the process, after about 20 minutes, use the parchment as a sling to lift and remove the bars and allow them cool on the paper.

Once cool, use a serrated knife to cut the bars into squares. If bars seem crumbly, chill the pan for another 30 minutes in the refrigerator and cut them cold. To store, wrap the bars individually in plastic or stack them in an airtight container. In humid weather, it's best to store bars in the refrigerator. They also freeze well.

Tips: What you're looking for is a basic proportion of chunky (nuts, dried fruit) to sticky (syrups, sugar, butter or oils). From there, you can really go to town. You can use cinnamon and vanilla if you want; no dried fruit or all dried fruit; you can toss in things like puffed rice cereal or flaxseeds.

You can use dried cranberries, apricots, pecans, sunflower seeds, coconut, walnuts, sesame seeds, pepitas, dried apples or even chocolate chips.

One variation: ½ cup wheat germ, 1 cup dried cherries, 1 cup walnuts, ½ cup pecans and ½ cup dried unsweetened coconut flakes. You can pulse them in the food processor if you want them less chunky.

Source: Adapted from smittenkitchen.com

Try trail mix bar, Hawaiian screwdriver for 'Wild' discussion 02/26/13 [Last modified: Monday, February 25, 2013 5:42pm]

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