Sunday, August 31, 2008

The hills are alive...

...with the sound of several thousand mountain bike riders and enthusiasts.

This weekend in Canberra is the Mountain Bike World Cup. It's being held on Mt Stromlo and I had the dubious pleasure of spending several hours soaking up the atmostphere (and dust) yesterday afternoon.

Actually it's all pretty impressive, if a little scary at times. It took some time to get my head around the fact that these guys choose to ride up-hill, on the side of a mountain that was severely damaged by the fires in 2003 so that there is less forest and more dirt and rocky outcrops. Perhaps that's the point? Anyway, because they ride in a loop around the mountain, they only came by my little perch once every 10 minutes or so, so a spot of people-watching was in order to alleviate the boredom.

What's really funny about checking out the specators is (1) the gear they show up in - some look as though they're about to commandeer a bike and join the race; and (2) the stuff they eat. Even though only spectating, most of the blokes pulled out the kind of hard-core stuff the riders eat - dense, high-energy power bars, trail mixes and bananas. Hysterical because their energy expenditure was limited mainly to standing around.

What does this all have to do with food and cooking? Well my boyfriend and co are enthusiasts and for years have been riding for fun and entering the occasional amateur comp. Amateur or pro, the energy loss during these rides is huge and the guys all spend a fortune on muesli bars, power bars, rice pudding and the like. Stuff they can either eat while they're riding or put down quickly during a rest stop. For ages they've asked me to come up with something new and slightly more appetising than the rubber-looking stuff they buy. Yesterday inspired me to go home and pull out all the dried fruit, seeds and berries I could find, and put them all together to come up with my own energy slice.

The ingredient list is long, but at the end of the day, this is dead easy and worthwhile. There's not much fat in it, (only 50g butter) although I'm told that cyclists actually encourage a high fat content because they lose so much energy. It's also made with spelt so that anyone with a wheat allergy can tolerate it, although you could easily substitute wheat flour. Perhaps surprisingly, despite all the fruit and golden syrup, it's not so sickly sweet as to be intolerable. Also, I'm no sadist so there's two types of chocolate in it, although you could do without if you wanted to.


Jool's energy slice


50g butter
2/3 cup golden syrup
1 cup dried dates, chopped coarsley
1/2 cup dried apricots, chopped coarsley
juice of one orange
1/2 cup sesame seeds
1/2 cup sunflower seeds
1/2 cup dark choc chips
1/2 cup craisins
2 eggs, lightly whisked
1 tbsp ground ginger
1 tbsp ground cinnamon
1 1/2 cup spelt
2 cups rice bubbles
1 tsp baking powder
50g white chocolate (optional)

Preheat oven to 180 degrees.

In a large bowl, put the apricots and orange juice. Let it sit while you everything else.

In a small pan on low heat, put the butter, golden syrup and dates. Heat until the butter has melted and then let sit on the lowest heat for 5 minutes. Turn off the heat and let it sit for another 5 or so minutes. Put the spices and baking powder in and stir gently with a wooden spoon. The mixture will bubble up and you can let it cool down a little more.

Add the eggs to the apricot and juice and fold through with the whisk. Fold in the craisins, choc chips and seeds. Fold in the sifted flour and then add the melted mixture. Finally, stir through the rice bubbles. These help give the slice a lighter texture.

Line a lamington pan with baking paper, and if you want to, you can also put down rice-paper as a base. Spoon the mixture in and flatten it out with a spatula. It will be quite sticky at this point so you may find that wetting the spatula with hot water helps.

Bake for 30-40 minutes. Do the skewer test to see if it's done. Also if you can touch it and it springs back it's done. You want it firm, but not dry.

Once cool, melt the white chocolate and drizzle on the top. Cut into chunks.