It’s Friday morning and I’ve been up since 6 am. I may have had one of these rice krispy bars at that time and perhaps another on my way out the door three hours later. Basically I’ve successfully convinced myself that since they’re made with brown crisped rice cereal and are sweetened with unrefined sugars that we’re basically in breakfast territory here. But in reality, these are quite decadent: as if Rice Krispy treats weren’t delightful enough on their own, this recipe takes them up a notch in all the right ways, adding bittersweet chocolate, almonds, toasted coconut, and a little sea salt. They’re just the thing to close out this busy, whirlwind late spring week.
I’ve been trying to get a new post up for the past week and a half, but we’ve been deep in the everyday upkeep that is life with a baby. My wonderful baker at Marge Granola is going on maternity leave and after an extensive search, I’ve hired someone we’re all excited about to temporarily replace her. The day to day operations of a small business are a delicate balance at best, and when everyone and everything is in place, things run smoothly and I hold my breath and look around, marveling that ingredients get ordered, shipments go out, and deliveries are made without me having to intervene too terribly much. And then when we’re faced with hiring or any internal changes, really, I hold my breath in a different way, realizing that the delicate balance is about to shift.
The day before I started interviewing for the baking position, I realized I was sorely underprepared. Oliver had started waking up twice in the middle of the night again (babies! You think you’ve got them figured out and then they change!) and I hadn’t even had a chance to look over resumes or prepare questions. The first woman showed up on time, I grabbed a clipboard to look official-ish and started asking her the questions I was always asked in interviews: what’s your greatest strength in the workplace? What’s your biggest weakness? I saw this intelligent, articulate woman pausing and stumbling and grasping for an answer and recalled being in the same position so many times before, thinking what a stupid trick question that is. Here: try to find a way, on the spot, to turn a supposed personal weakness into a strength so as to sell yourself to this person who doesn’t know you at all! I looked at her and apologized, telling her not to bother answering that question. That it was a dumb question. I asked her about what she does in her free time instead, and why she was excited about the job.
After she left, I made another cup of coffee and texted my friend Brandon to ask him some advice on hiring questions. His text back was brief: ask them about their story. Because we were hiring for a temporary position, this seemed especially appropriate: these candidates all srely had other things going on — other lives outside of Marge Granola that would make them an interesting addition to the team. So I ditched the official-ish looking clipboard, turned on a little music and started asking the trickle of people that came in that afternoon about their bigger plan, about what they were excited about. And the typical stress of hiring and interviewing melted away as we had conversations about grilled cheese sandwiches, woodworking, handcrafting gardening benches and an RV trip along the Pacific coast. At first, you may wonder what any of this has to do with kitchen experience and ability to step smoothly into the position and I did a little, too. But really, I can train almost anyone to make granola. It’s a lot harder to train personality, readiness and enthusiasm to learn, or dynamics within a team. And the woman we ended up hiring is, frankly, someone with kitchen experience but someone we’re also excited to keep chatting with for the remainder of the summer. A new addition to our growing and evolving story.
These super deluxe rice crispy bars are like a grown-up version of the beloved classic: the marshmallows are traded in for almond butter and chocolate. I made some tweaks to the original recipe, using brown rice crispies, and adding in chopped almonds and toasted coconut to the cereal mixture. The Food 52 editors mention that if you love chocolate, you could even double the ganache to make them even more decadent. If you don’t love almonds, I think chopped pistachios would be really delicious in these, or salted peanuts could be nostalgic and delightful. Cacao nibs would feel fancy. The options to customize and adapt these feel endless. Take it away.
A quick note on toasting coconut and nuts: It’s really easy to burn coconut, so keep an eye on it in the oven. I generally toast the coconut flakes at 300 F for about 5 minutes or so, or until golden brown and fragrant. Sliced almonds take about the same amount of time and the whole almonds will take longer, closer to 8-10 minutes. I chop them after toasting them. For this recipe, I toasted the coconut and sliced almonds on the same tray first, and then toasted the whole almonds separately, second.
Adapted from: Food 52 Baking
For the Bars:
For the Topping:
Line an 8-inch (20cm) square baking pan with parchment paper, allowing it to drape over the edges.
To make the bars, combine the maple syrup and rice syrups in a large pan over medium heat. Bring to a boil and cook, stirring frequently, for 1 minute. Remove from the heat, add the almond butter, chocolate, coconut oil, and salt and stir until the mixture is smooth and the chocolate is melted. Fold in the cereal, coconut and chopped almonds.
Transfer the mixture to the lined pan and pack it firmly and evenly using a spatula or your fingers (you may want to damped your fingers to prevent sticking).
To make the topping: combine the chocolate and oil in a small saucepan and cook over very low heat, stirring occasionally, just until the chocolate has melted, then cool for 5 minutes.
To assemble the treats, pour the topping evenly over the rice mixture and smooth the top with a rubber spatula. Sprinkle the sliced almonds and flaky salt on top. Let set at cool room temperature for about 2 hours, or in the refrigerator for about 1 hour, until firm. Use the edges of the parchment paper to lift the bars out of the pan and cut into 16 squares. These are best the day they’re made but they’ll keep at room temperature for several days (the cereal will just soften slightly).
Healthy Comfort Food
People describe raising young kids as a particular season in life. I hadn't heard this until we had a baby, but it brought me a lot of comfort when I'd start to let my mind wander, late at night between feedings, to fears that we'd never travel internationally again or have a sit-down meal in our dining room. Would I ever eat a cardamom bun in Sweden? Soak in Iceland? I loved the heck out of our tiny Oliver, but man what had we done?! Friends would swoop in and reassure us that this was just a season, a blip in the big picture of it all. They promised we'd likely not even remember walking around the house in circles singing made-up songs while eating freezer burritos at odd hours of the day (or night). And it's true.
Oliver is turning two next month, and those all-encompassing baby days feel like a different time, a different Us. In many ways, dare I say it, Toddlerhood actually feels a bit harder. Lately Oliver has become extremely opinionated about what he will and will not wear -- and he enforces these opinions with fervor. Don't get near the kid with a button-down shirt. This week at least. He's obsessed with his rain boots and if it were up to him, he'd keep them on at all times, especially during meals. He insists on ketchup with everything (I created a damn monster), has learned the word "trash" and insists on throwing found items away on his own that really, truly are not trash. I came to pick him up from daycare the other day and he was randomly wearing a bike helmet -- his teacher mentioned he'd had it on most of the day and really, really didn't want to take it off. The kid has FEELINGS. I love that about him, and wouldn't want it any other way. But, man it's also exhausting.
I just finished washing out Oliver's lunchbox and laying it out to dry for the weekend. My favorite time of day is (finally) here: the quiet of the evening when I can actually talk to Sam about our day or sit and reflect on my own thoughts after the inevitable dance party or band practice that precedes the bedtime routine lately. Before becoming pregnant for the second time, I'd have had a glass of wine with the back door propped open right about now -- these days though, I have sparkling water or occasionally take a sip from one of Sam's hard ciders. Except now the back door's closed and we even turned on the heat for the first time yesterday. The racing to water the lawn and clean the grill have been replaced by cozier dinners at home and longer baths in the evening. You blink and it's the first day of fall.
I'd heard from many friends that buying a house wasn't for the faint of heart. But I always shrugged it off, figuring I probably kept better files or was more organized and, really, how hard could it be? Well, I've started (and stopped) writing this post a good fifteen times which may indicate something. BUT! First thing's first: we bought a house! I think! I'm pretty sure! We're still waiting for some tax transcripts to come through and barring any hiccough with that, we'll be moving out of our beloved craftsman in a few weeks and down the block to a great, brick Tudor house that we wanted the second we laid eyes on it. The only problem: it seemed everyone else in Seattle had also laid eyes on it, and wanted it equally as much. I'm not really sure why the homeowner chose us in the end. Our offer actually wasn't the highest, but apparently there were some issues with a few of them. We wrote a letter introducing ourselves and describing why we'd be the best candidates and why we were so drawn to the house; we have a really wonderful broker who pulled out all the stops, and after sifting through 10 offers and spending a number of hours deliberating, they ended up going with ours. We were at a friend's book event at the time when Sam showed me the text from our broker and I kind of just collapsed into his arms. We were both in ecstatic denial (wait, is this real?! Did we just buy a house?) and celebrated by getting chicken salad and potato salad from the neighborhood grocery store and eating it, dazed, on our living room floor. Potato salad never tasted so good.
If your house is anything like ours, last week wasn't our most inspired in terms of cooking. We're all suffering from the post-election blues -- the sole upside being Oliver's decision to sleep-in until 7 am for the first time in many, many months; I think he's trying to tell us that pulling the covers over our heads and hibernating for awhile is ok. It's half-convincing. For much of the week, instead of cooking, there'd been takeout pizza and canned soup before, at week's end, I decided it was time to pour a glass of wine and get back into the kitchen. I was craving something hearty and comforting that we could eat for a few days. Something that wouldn't remind me too much of Thanksgiving because, frankly, I can't quite gather the steam to start planning for that yet. It was time for a big bowl of chili.
Porridge is not the sexiest of breakfasts, it's true. It doesn't have a stylish name like strata or shakshuka, and it doesn't have perfectly domed tops like your favorite fruity muffin. It doesn't crumble into delightful bits like a good scone nor does it fall into buttery shards like a well-made croissant. But when you wake up and it's 17 degrees outside (as it has been, give or take a few, for the last week), there's nothing that satisfies like a bowl of porridge or oatmeal. It's warm and hearty and can be made sweet or savory with any number of toppings. The problem? Over the years, it's gotten a bad rap as gluey or gummy or just downright boring or dutiful -- and it's because not everyone knows the secrets to making a great pot of warm morning cereal. So let's talk porridge (also: my cookbook comes out this month! So let's take a peek inside, shall we?)