I stare down at my mother’s stained recipe card for Fudge Nut Bars with panic.
“2 cups light brown sugar,” I read out loud.
But are those 2 cups packed or unpacked? I wonder. And when she says to “mix in eggs and vanilla,” do I use a beater or stir by hand?
I groan in distress. I’ve never made my favorite cookie bar without my mother’s presence in the kitchen to remind me what to do when her hand-typed words on the tattered recipe card fail me. In years past, we’ve always made the bars together. She stands close by my side to tell me, “Yes, the 2 ½ cups of flour is measured after it’s been sifted, not before,” and is always the one to find and grease the right size glass pan.
Today, however, I’m on my own. My mom has errands to run, and I told her that I’d be fine to make them myself.
“I’ll take care of them – no problem!” I’d said with confidence, hindsight having dulled my memory of the effort it takes to construct the fussy Christmas cookies.
I’d forgotten I had to sift the flour. Forgotten that I needed to be simultaneously melting chocolate for the fudge layer whilst I prepared the oat-laden batter. Forgotten if we typically use all the fudge or just part of it. Usually my mom tackles that portion while I take on the cookie crust, and we work in silent tandem – me pressing 2/3rds of the oat layer into the pan while she readies the chocolate for the center.
The process is not nearly as smooth without her. I’m toasting walnuts, sifting flour – and oops, salt and baking soda too! – and making a mess of the previously pristine granite counter tops. It’s not as much fun, and not just because of my paranoia that I’m screwing everything up.
Despite my concerns, my memory doesn’t completely fail me, and I manage to get the cookie bars in and out of the oven without any notable mishap. They taste just as they should – the decadent fudge layer pairing perfectly with the tender oat crust, and I subsequently receive nods of approval from everyone in my family.
Yet, even with their praise, I can’t shake the feeling that something is missing from the bars. Not a little extra sugar or a heavier application of walnuts, but rather the memory of getting to make them with my mom. Especially since she's the one who usually does the dishes.
Fudge Nut Bars
1 cup butter
2 cups light brown sugar (packed)
2 tsp vanilla
2 ½ cups sifted flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
3 cups quick-rolled oats (I used regular oats with no problem)
Fudge Nut Filling
1 package (12 oz) chocolate chips
1 cup sweetened condensed milk
2 tablespoons butter
½ tsp salt
1 cup chopped walnuts, toasted
2 tsp vanilla
Cream together softened butter and sugar. Mix in eggs and vanilla with a beater until well-combined. Sift together flour, baking soda and salt. Add to butter/sugar/egg mixture and stir until just combined. Mix in oats. Set aside and make filling.
In double-broiler mix together chocolate chips, condensed milk butter and salt. Stir until smooth. Remove from heat and add walnuts and vanilla.
Spread 2/3rds of oatmeal mixture in greased 15 ½ by 10 ½ pan. Cover with fudge-nut mixture. Dot with remainder of oatmeal mixture.
Bake at 350 degrees for 25-30 minutes. Bars are done when golden brown on top.