Friday, we put Mamo on a plane bound for Seattle, from whence she came, ten days prior. We are already feeling the absence of extra hands for holding, extra Raggedy Ann at bedtime, and the best French braids this house has ever seen. But we are also feeling extra lucky for having had her twice this year, and doing our best to drown our sorrows in Gold Bars. (That she packs her suitcase full of Fran's is hardly the sole reason we love her. But it might fall somewhere between #785 and #822).
It was a lovely visit.
Today, we had friends, and sprinklers, and grilled things, and local asparagus and strawberries, and our fourth straight day in the uppermost eighties. My head's humid. Before I let the heat get the better of me, some truths we've taken away, these past weeks:
:: I am undecided, as of yet, whether December or May is the better month to visit. After all, December has kids on break, and holiday hoopla, and possibly snow. But May most definitely has better bouquets.
:: It is possible to feel bad about slandering a flower. Apologies, dear allium, for my bedhead comment. Anyway, nigella stole your crown.
:: Botanical ignorance is no impediment to botanical admiration. Every year, I catch my breath over these ethereal white tufts, improbably perched on impossible giraffe stems. And down a bit, those tiny gold trumpets, bobbling in the wind like so many tsunami horns. And think to myself, what in the heck are those?
:: Homemade chicken soup is currently under investigation by a joint USDA/Commerce Department panel, based on concerns its curative powers are too potent for over-the-counter status, and the competitive threat it poses to major pharmaceuticals. Yeah, so I made that up. But dude, it knocked out a full-blown cold in 24.
:: Ham is, officially, an element.
:: Venus Fly Traps can legitimately operate under the following aliases: Venus Ant Traps, Venus Mosquito Traps, Venus Spider Traps and Venus Earwig Traps. Insectivore, it turns out, is as it sounds: ecumenical. They must not, however, under any circumstances be fed hamburgers. Just in case you were tempted. (Meet our new pet.)
:: This book. Silly title, meal-altering material.
:: Sure enough, homegrown anything equals extraordinary. Extraordinarily bad bad bad, in our case. Not sure what went wrong, or when, or where, only that our first beautiful strawberry was beyond awful. Way beyond.
(The subsequent five berries were, mercifully, much better. As were the ten quarts we've devoured from our favorite farm.)
(We also harvested our first two dozen radishes. They, I'm happy to report, performed uniformly well.)
:: The peonies have left us, easy come, easy go. But not before thorough, up-close inspection.
:: It is possible to burn a cake so badly that every window must be opened, every fan turned on ... and still find it stubbornly raw in the middle. (I wasn't kidding about this blog's title. Or sub-title.)
:: This, with spring asparagus, in lieu of green beans. More, please.
:: The allium are all gone. The iris, also. But they left behind green knobbly blobs, good for science and knife skills practice. (No, I don't suppose 'green knobbly blobs' is the latin term; see botanical ignorance, above. And by all means, supply more precise part names, if known.)
:: Chives. I get them. Finally. They're the only bouquet you can bring in to spiff the table, then mince the ends off of to perk up the spread.
:: Oats + butter + sugar = one bang-up bar cookie. No flour, no eggs, no leavening. True story.
These are the Oat Brittle Bars I made mention of last time, and I'm tucking them away here, for the both of us. I realize two oat cookies in a row may seem straight out of the Redundancy Redundancy Department. (They are not; night and day, these two). I also realize it's spring, by golly, and there's a rush of fresh produce, waiting to be eaten. I hope it's patient.
These hail from Elinor Klivans' 125 Cookies, filed under the innocuous "My Sister's Oatmeal Bars". I took liberties with the name because a) I don't have a sister, and b) "oatmeal bars" brought to mind a soft, stodgy non-commital brick of healthy-ish bland not-quite-cake. To my mind, anyway. My mind, for the record, has rarely been more off base.
Not that the pictures will make the case. Here's the thing: these are some seriously plain looking cookies.
And no quantity of clematis will change that (pale beige rectangular) fact. But here's the other thing: everything else. Consider, for example, the proportions, one part oats : one (generous) part butter/sugar. This is somewhat staggering, and seriously genius, and makes for one terrifically rich dough. It is a wealth very well spent. The oats—each oat—gets its own caramelized coat, salty and sweet and meltingly crisp. Each oat. Individually. It's kind of amazing. It brings to mind ancient, elegant flies trapped in amber, perfectly preserved, wings, legs, soft tissues, and all. Only with oats in place of insects. And in lieu of sap, caramelized sugar. I'm not helping myself, here. Let's ditch biology, switch to chemistry.
On the tooth, these are all snap and crunch, taking cues from the brittle playbook, more confection than cookie. Baked in a relatively low oven for a relatively long while, the butter and sugar actually come to the boil, and stay there awhile, before settling. There is no candy thermometer, no nail-biting, no cautious sputtery stovetop monitoring, but I would hazard these hit hard ball stage. They are not unlike Carol's Almond Roca Bars, in this way, a hands-off, non-chalant, oven-based toffee. Except with toasty oats at the caramelized core.
Which sounds fairly plain, which these surely are. Plain like hot toast, tender-centered, crisp-edged, damp with butter spread clear to the edge. Like still-warm strawberries, or small warm hands, or any true thing that speaks clearly of itself. This plain could be taken as a standing invitation, to add in all manner of what I imagine would be wonderful. A throw of candied ginger, all prickle and zing. Some chopped pecans, or walnuts, or macadamias, or coconut flakes. Cocoa nibs. Cocoa nibs might be grand. Grand might be grand, but so is, sometimes, plain. Particularly plain so beautifully executed. Another truth? I'm a sucker for buttered toast.
Caramelized Oat Brittle Bars
adapted from Elinor Klivans, 125 Cookies
I've added a bit of salt, through butter plus a pinch, because I think the sweet needs it. Also, I've lined the pan, as it helps with the getting out. Beyond that, this is Edna Conrad's spare, perfect original.
1/2 cup salted butter (1 cube), sliced
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 cup old-fashioned rolled oats
Line an 8x8" pan with parchment paper, both directions, leaving flaps ("ears") for easy removal. Preheat oven to 325°.
In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or with hand beaters), cream butter, salt and sugar for 1 minute. Add oats, scrape sides, and mix briefly to combine. Scrape dough into prepared pan, and distribute evenly over bottom. This is most easily done with your fingers, pressing and nudging. It will cover; the layer will be thin.
Bake 30 minutes, until edges are chestnut and tiny holes appear throughout. Let cool 10-15 minutes in the pan, then remove entire batch by the "ears" and cut into bars. (Be sure to cut while still warm, as cookies crisp up as they cool.) Try to save one bar, anyway, for breakfast.