Thick soft-baked vegan chocolate cookie bars studded with roasted hazelnuts, chocolate chunks and a ooey gooey center.
I came to Hawaii with a bucketlist of things I wanted to do, places I wanted to see, and foods I wanted to eat. But sometimes life throws you a curve ball and you cross off items you didn’t know existed, and more than one in a day. This past sunny Saturday will forever be remembered as the day I had the most crazy, extreme adventure I have been on to date. To give you an overview, the day included swimming downstream, cliff jumping, rappelling down more than one waterfall, almost having a friend die, climbing out of a valley, jumping barbed wire and electric fences, and trespassing through farms and pastures.
Being a person that is usually plays it safe, I rely on other people to pull me out of my comfort zone. My internship is located in the middle of a tropical rainforest, far far away from the city or any sort of touristy area. Thus, my goal for the weekends is to simply get out. Doesn’t matter if it is just to grab groceries or if it entails a trip to the beach, I don’t want to waste my time in Hawaii by sitting on the couch surfing the internet (and not the Pacific Ocean). My roommate for the month is the spontaneous, up-to-try-everything kind of gal, and she invited me to go waterfall rappelling. I wasn’t really sure what that meant but in my head, it sounded scary; do I jump off the top of a waterfall? Since it was an opportunity to go on an excursion and my last one with the Thai intern I’ve gotten close with, I agreed and packed my bag for the day. I was told to bring basic items like water, snacks, extra clothes, and hiking shoes, so it didn’t sound too intense. Unbeknownst to us all, the day ahead of us would be one that will pump adrenaline through our blood for six hours straight.
The first hour of the trip wasn’t too intense. We cut through some tall grass to get to the river and began to rock hop. Soon enough the dry rocks were too sparse to jump so we had to submerge our entire shoes in the water and walk through the stream. So much for wearing socks.
The first drop was short enough to cliff dive off but I felt more comfortable climbing down. The second drop went straight down; time to pull out the rope. My fearless friend volunteered to go first Once she lost footing she took both hands off the rope and went freefalling down to the bottom. Letting go of the rope is the most dangerous thing to do when rappelling because it could be fatal. Praise the Lord because the guy spotting for us at the bottom caught her inches before she would’ve hit her head or back on the giant boulder below. This incident shocked everyone, including my very experienced supervisor. Due to this scare, the rest of us took extra precaution (i.e. extra time) going down the wall. Besides banging my knee in an indent near the base of the fall, I got down safely. The third waterfall was probably 2 to 2.5 stories high. As a person who naturally gets jelly legs near heights, I had to gulp my fears down before getting hooked up and taking the initial step off the top of the cliff. The powerful water sprayed me in the face as I looked for my footing. At one point my right foot slipped and the rope swung my body like a pendulum until I slammed the left side of my body into the rock wall. I earned myself another bruise.
We, as in the girls, continued trekking down the river slowly to avoid spilling, falling, and any other unnecessary injury and accidents. Due our hesitation, it took us at least half an hour to rappel down each waterfall and I could see my supervisor’s look of concern intensifying as time progressed faster than we could. “You know there are like 12 of these waterfalls before we reach the end right?” I don’t know if it occurred to him that a route with 12 waterfalls would be appropriate for 4 newbie girls. After 3 hours, we had only trekked through 1/10th of the distance. It looked like the only way out was to continue downstream, but it would be dark before we could even get there.
I started to think that my joke about climbing back up the first waterfall and backtracking to the truck would’ve actually been a good idea. A supposedly 6-hour trip was looking more like mission impossible; I just wanted to get out of this dang river. To try and speed things along, I swam downstream rather than walking on the rocks and jumped of a cliff into the pond below without hesitation (usually I would’ve had to gather myself before taking the leap). Shortly after that cliff dive I heard someone yell from behind me. I couldn’t see my Thai friend anywhere and began to worry something happened to her. Did she hit her head? Trip and break a limb? I perched myself on rock as I waited for someone to update me with what had happened. When the rest of the group reached me, I found out she had lost her glasses after jumping off the cliff. This was, in a way, an answer to my prayer because she could obviously not proceed on the original route without sharp vision.
After a bit of hesitation, my supervisor made the executive decision that we would have to bail (thank the Lord) and his friend raced up the side of the valley to see if it was possible to get out that way. The girls sat on large and warm rocks chowing down on some snacks, while waiting for some signal to follow suit or find a plan B (or C at this point). He hollered something inaudible, then quickly came back down to show us the way up and out. Since it wasn’t a real trail we had to grip on mud, the occasional guava tree branch, or flimsy ginger plant to assist us up the steep hill. Even though the ‘escape route’ was a tough climb, it wasn’t very long and I felt it was so much easier than going down a river.
Ten or fifteen minutes later we arrived at a wire fence, hopped over it, and landed in someone’s lychee farm. We were told to stay hushed as people in the area aren’t so friendly about trespassers. I would’ve just ran through the farm as fast as I could to get to the road but instead we had to find a section of fencing that had no electrical wiring, climb over that, and walk through an open pasture before being met with a barbed wire fence. Once we got over that our soaked hiking shoes hit pavement. PRAISE! I joked that at least we ‘finished’ on time.
Soon after we all got over the final fence, my supervisor managed to hitchhike a ride to retrieve his truck. We rode in the tailgate to grab Mexican food for lunch. As the wind naturally dried our hair and clothes, my intern friends and I joked about how roughed up our legs were. One was stripy from all the scrapes and cuts she got from falling, another one was ‘Picasso’ status from her blotchy sunburns, and my legs were polka dotted from mosquito bites. I was just thankful we concluded the adventure with nothing more than a few minor cuts and bruises.
I had never gone cliff jumping, waterfall rappelling, or jumped fences before, but I managed to tick all those off in one day. Can’t say I have the desire to go rappelling again, but it’s a once in a life time kind of thing.
When we got back ‘home’ I scrubbed the dirt and grime off every inch of my body, changed into clean clothing, then raided my fridge box for some dinner. Biting into my slice of lilikoi chocolate cheesecake I thought to myself, “I certainly deserve this today.”
Whether you are rewarding yourself for going beyond your comfort zone physically, mentally, or both, these chocolatey hazelnut cookie bars celebrate all types of accomplishments. Sink your teeth into layers of soft cookie and then a ooey gooey layer of cocoa date filling. Cookie monsters, rejoice!
- COOKIE DOUGH
- 1 tbsp ground chia seeds + 3 tbsp water
- ⅔ cup vegan margarine
- ⅓ cup granulated sugar
- ⅓ cup brown sugar
- 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
- ¼ tsp sea salt
- 2¼ cups oat flour
- 1 tsp baking soda
- ¾ cup roasted hazelnuts, chopped
- ¾ cup chopped vegan chocolate or chocolate chips
- Maldon salt, optional
- 6 pitted Medjool dates
- ⅓ cup hot water
- 1 tbsp cocoa powder
- ¼ tsp sea salt
- Preheat oven to 350°F and line an 8" square pan with parchment paper.
- In a small bowl, mix the ground chia seeds and 3 tbsp water until it becomes a gel. Set aside.
- In a large mixing bowl, cream the margarine and sugars together until light and fluffy. Add the chia seed gel and mix until smooth. Mix in the vanilla extract and sea salt.
- Add the oat flour and baking soda to the margarine mixture and mix until incorporated. Fold in the hazelnuts and chocolate until evenly combined. Set aside the cookie dough while you make the filling.
- In a small blender (i.e. Magic Bullet) or a small food processor, blend all the filling ingredients together until a smooth paste is achieved.
- Press half of the cookie dough into the bottom of the prepared pan. Spread the date filling evenly on top. Put dollops of the remaining cookie dough over the top of the filling and use a spatula or your hands to smooth it out into a flat even layer. Sprinkle the top with some Maldon salt if desired.
- Bake in the preheated oven for 35 to 40 minutes or until the top is golden brown. Cool on a cooling rack for at least 15 minutes before cutting and enjoying.