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Afternoons in an office can feel extra-long some days, especially in the winter months when the daylight is brief and sometimes nearly nonexistent. Once I start to yawn, I know I have to get up, stretch out and walk around. Maybe I’ll take a quick walk out for a coffee or make myself a cup of tea and grab a snack.

Though the wrong snack can only make things worse. A piece of fruit doesn’t keep me full for long, and it’s easy to get carried away with foods like nuts. Something too sugary and filling, like a pastry, will exacerbate the feeling of afternoon drowsiness. I need a snack that picks me up and helps me power through the last few hours of the workday.

These homemade energy bars are just the thing. I’ve made granola bars plenty of times, and the number-one issue every time is that things don’t stay together. But when I finally tried using brown rice syrup as the binder, it was a game-changer. Brown rice syrup works better than anything else I’ve tried to keep homemade snack bars intact. Another benefit is that brown rice syrup doesn’t taste overly sweet.

Brown rice syrup has some health claims, but it’s still a form of sugar and isn’t necessarily any better than any other sweetener. So, while these do have nuts, coconut, oats and dried fruit to feel good about, you still want to keep the serving size reasonable. The recipe below makes about 12. You can find brown rice syrup in stores with other sweeteners, but you could also try using three-quarters the amount of honey or maple syrup. I can’t guarantee they won’t fall apart, though. Keeping them stored in the fridge may help.

I love the flavor combo of the cocoa, espresso and cherries, and that’s what I went with this time. It’s exactly what I want by midafternoon. The chocolate and espresso offer some bitterness, while the cherries have a burst of sweetness.

But if that doesn’t sound like your thing, change the ingredients up to meet your flavor preference. Try leaving out the cocoa, using other nuts and other dried fruits. You can really make them your own. Whatever it takes to get you through those long afternoons.

CHERRY COCOA COFFEE BARS

makes: 12 bars

1/2 tablespoon coconut oil

1 cup unsweetened coconut flakes

1 cup cashews, chopped

1 cup almonds, chopped

1 1/2 cups rolled oats

1 1/2 cups crisp rice cereal (aka Rice Krispies)

2/3 cup dried cherries

3 tablespoons ground espresso

3 tablespoons cocoa powder

1 cup brown rice syrup

1/2 cup sugar

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1 teaspoon vanilla

Use the coconut oil to grease a 9x13 or similarly sized baking dish. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F and spread the coconut and nuts out on a baking sheet. Place the sheet in the oven to toast everything for about 10 minutes, or until the coconut is golden brown.

Meanwhile, heat the rice syrup, cocoa, espresso, sugar, salt and vanilla together in a small pan over low heat. Allow to come to a simmer and cook maybe 5 minutes, stirring often, until the consistency has thinned and it is easy to stir. Mix in the cherries.

In a large bowl, combine the coconut, nuts, oats and cereal. Pour over the brown rice syrup mixture and stir with a solid spoon or spatula to combine. Transfer to the prepared baking dish and press firmly into the bottom of the pan. A greased potato masher worked well for me. Allow to firm up in the fridge for a bit before slicing. Keep stored in a well-sealed container for up to a week.

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