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Freaked Out By Recipes? Get Flexible with Customizable No Bake Energy Bars

by Elise Museles

healthy-barsWhen you come across a recipe with a word or food you don’t recognize, or a list of ingredients that require another pricey trip to the grocery store, do you think:

This is too complicated?”
“I’m not a chef.”
“I don’t even like cardamom!”

Then what happens next? You probably lose all inspiration, and stick with the same old boring five dishes you’ve made every single week for far too long. Am I right?

Here’s the problem with this all-or-nothing approach: it gets in the way of your healthy intentions and interferes with your sense of play!

I hear friends and clients tell me all the time:

“I wanted to try your Lemony Quinoa with Pinenuts & Spinach but I just got freaked out when I saw cumin was listed on there.”
“Your Asian Turkey Sliders look so good! But I hate cilantro, so I ordered Chinese again instead.”
“I saw this recipe flying around Pinterest, and I’m dying to try it, but it’s just too complex for me. Ugh, I’m just not a chef.”

Well, it’s time to bring all that worry to an end. That “I’ll probably mess up” or “I’m inflexible” attitude serves no useful purpose. It just keeps you standing in the middle of your kitchen, with the nearest takeout on speed dial.

Here’s the truth:

Recipes are not set in stone. And the fun happens when you treat them like guidelines, instead of commandments. 

(Yes, baking is more precise but even then, there is always an opportunity to swap ingredients out.)

When you really think about it at the creation level, every recipe is an interpretation of a foundational idea.

It’s like a game of telephone. (Remember whispering in someone’s ear in elementary school and passing it down?)

You start with the original combination – maybe a frisee salad with avocados, walnuts, and dried cranberries. But by the time it adapts & evolves and reaches the person at the end of the line, suddenly it’s become a butter leaf lettuce salad with artichokes, pine nuts, and fried cherries (not that fried cherries are a thing, but you see where I’m going.)

Sure, it’s a little different. But is it any less delicious? Have the recipe police come out of the woodwork to smack that wooden spoon out of your hand until you make it correctly or “perfectly”?

Nope. And letting your flavor and flair shine – whether in a recipe, a room in your house, or an outfit inspired by your favorite fashionista – is one of the most nourishing things you can do for yourself. Own it and make it yours.

When you give yourself room to switch things around, it gives YOU a chance to sparkle, and provides the people around you an opportunity to relish the spin you put on life.

If you’re feeling shy about it, let me remind you: some of the world’s most famous foods were discovered by mistake.

Pretzels came about when a bread maker left the dough in the oven too long. Chocolate chip cookies? A baker was trying to make chocolate cookies, but ran out of bars. She added in chips, expecting them to melt… and the rest is history.

This is all part and parcel of learning to let go.

Give yourself more space to have fun, get a little wild, and do your own thing.

Here’s an easy-to-reinterpret recipe for energy bars that you can pack with your favorite add-ons:

Make It Your Way No Bake Bars

Makes 16 bars


1 cup fresh (soft) dates, pits removed*
⅓ cup nut or seed butter (almond, sunflower, or cashew)
½ teaspoon spice (ginger, cinnamon or cardamom)
1 ½ cups gluten free old-fashioned oats
½ cup cashews, chopped
¾ cup dried fruit, chopped (goji berries, apricots, cherries, or cranberries)
½ cup shredded coconut
¼ cup flaxseed meal

*Soak dates in warm water for 5-10 minutes if they are not soft. Then, drain and pat dry before assembling the ingredients together.


Grease an 8×8 inch pan with coconut oil and line with parchment paper. Place the dates, nut or seed butter and spice in a food processor until the mixture becomes a thick paste.  Remove and transfer to a separate bowl. Add the oats, dried fruit, cashews, coconut, and flaxseed meal to the date mixture. Stir until evenly mixed. (The mixture will be stiff.) Transfer to the parchment lined pan and use an additional piece of parchment paper to press the top of mixture firmly into pan. Cover and refrigerate at least 1 hour before serving. Store in refrigerator up to 5 days or freeze for a longer shelf life. Enjoy the flexibility!

And remember: what you love and find delicious (in the kitchen and beyond) is GOOD ENOUGH, every single day.

Question of the day: Do you have an all or nothing approach with recipes? Or are you a pro at adapting and using them as a guide?  Share your stories & insights in the comments below.

14 Responses to Freaked Out By Recipes? Get Flexible with Customizable No Bake Energy Bars

  1. Rebecca October 1, 2013 at 10:42 pm #

    These bars look delicious! I often get scared to try recipes that look too intimidating since I am not a seasoned kitchen expert. But this has inspired me to be more confident! My first step will definitely be to experiment with this recipe 🙂

    • Elise October 1, 2013 at 10:55 pm #

      Hi Rebecca,
      I am so glad that you are inspired to experiment in the kitchen. Please share with us how you customize these energy bars and put your own personal stamp on them. Remember to have fun!

  2. Lorna October 2, 2013 at 12:09 pm #

    Hey Elise. These look fantastic. I also have all the ingredients on hand. Bonus! Going to try them later today. Thanks.

    • Elise October 2, 2013 at 12:30 pm #

      That is definitely a bonus when you have everything you need already in your house. Enjoy!

  3. Terra October 2, 2013 at 1:35 pm #

    these look so yummy!
    I fancy myself a cook rather than a baker – I have such a hard time with the accuracy and precision of recipes! I like experimental wizardry in the kitchen 🙂

    • Elise October 2, 2013 at 2:21 pm #

      Terra~ I prefer cooking over baking myself. I love your description: experimental wizardry in the kitchen!

  4. Jenny October 2, 2013 at 5:35 pm #

    I have to admit I do get pretty frustrated living abroad and not having access to all of the specialized ingredients. But your message is loud and clear – tweaking and substituting is part of the fun. Here I go. Thanks for the push.

    • Elise October 3, 2013 at 11:54 pm #

      Jenny, I agree with you that tweaking & substituting is part of the fun. I am glad that you are inspired to create something with the ingredients you do have!

  5. Shana LaFore October 4, 2013 at 8:17 pm #

    Yum! These look great. Love your advice and especially how you described it as allowing yourself to sparkle. I’ll definitely be trying these bars with a twist. I’m allergic to cashews, so another delicious nutty ingredient will take their place. 🙂

    • Elise October 5, 2013 at 1:24 pm #

      Thanks, Shana. I am glad that these bars will work for you (with a twist) in spite of the cashew allergy. Please do share your sparkly creation with us!

  6. Adi Maor Siso October 5, 2013 at 6:42 am #

    I love home made Energy Bars, but never tried to make these myself.
    I’m terrible with kitchen creativity. Maybe I should look at it more lightly… I probably miss out a lot of good stuff just by not trying…

    Thanks for the recipe and the “food for thought” (:

    • Elise October 5, 2013 at 1:21 pm #

      Hopefully, this blog post gave you “permission” to look at it more lightly so that you can just explore in the kitchen. Have fun!

  7. Mandy October 5, 2013 at 8:59 am #

    Oh WOW, these look beautiful, Elise! I’m definitely trying this recipe. And I’ve got all the ingredients on hand so no need for me to turn it into a “mandy creation” that’s when I substitute to the point where it’s pretty much no longer the same recipe. 🙂 Mandy xo

    • Elise October 5, 2013 at 1:19 pm #

      This recipe definitely leaves room for interpretation, so you may want to try a “mandy creation”:). Enjoy!

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