Not in a Box

It’s not that anyone would call it being deprived, maybe just lack of life experience? Growing up I didn’t eat Kraft Macaroni & Cheese, Chef Boyardee, Wonder Bread, or SpaghettiO’s. I don’t regret missing out on Wonder Bread. Watching kids roll slices of Wonder Bread into a dense white glutenous mass only to naw on it like it was a chunk of glue was enough to keep me far away from white bread.  But that didn’t stop the want for other forbidden foods.

None of the women in my family cooked or baked from a box or a mix, with a few exceptions. My grandma Lillian used Rice-a-Roni or at least the pasta from the Rice-a-Roni box. She added her own seasonings, broth and often toasted slivered almonds. At that time Safeway and QFC didn’t sell fancy pastas like orzo or angel hair, so Rice-a-Roni it was. My mom and both Grandmothers used a mix for angel food cake, the consensus being the conundrum of the yolks.

Every once in a great while I could talk my grandma Lillian into buying something ready-made. When I was eight or nine years old I talked her into buying SpaghettiO’s. I was certain these would be spectacular. Alllll of my friends ate them. Saturday morning TV was littered with the SpaghettiO’s commercial. They had to be good. I was sadly and tragically disappointed. They tasted nothing like any spaghetti my mom ever made. They were sweet and vaguely tomatoey. The “O” shaped pasta was slimy.

Another commercial plastered all over Saturday morning TV was an ad for a new cookie. Nutter Butters. Nutter Butter peanut butter sandwich cookie to be exact. I convinced Grandma that these weren’t like Chips Ahoy or other store-bought cookies. These were made with real peanut butter. They were all peanut butter, cookie and filling! After having convinced Grandma of the merits of Nutter Butters we went grocery shopping and returned with the Nutter Butter bounty.  Grandpa was in the kitchen when Grandma and I started putting the groceries away. Seeing the Nutter Butters on the counter he demanded, “What are these?” This was apparently a rhetorical question as answered his own question with a sharp retort, “You’re wasting money! You can make cookies, you don’t need to buy cookies!”, and with that he turned and walked out of the room. I felt like we were embarking on unchartered territory. Exhilarating! These cookies had better be good or Grandma and I would never hear the end of it.

The Nutter Butters were pretty spectacular, for store-bought cookies anyway. Definitely not the raging disappointment that the SpaghettiO’s were. Grandma even agreed they were pretty good for store-bought. Grandpa refused to eat even one—that day. He gave in the next day, utterly and quite completely as the container was empty by noon. After that Grandma would periodically buy Nutter Butters. They were good, but never as good as Grandma’s cookies.

For convenience sake my mom bought boxed cereal, always unsweetened. Cheeri-O’s, Raisin Bran, Rice Krispies. Although these three were mainstays in our cupboard I never ate or made Rice Krispie treats until college. When I was in college at the University of Washington we had permission to use the kitchen at our sorority to make cookies for a classmate’s birthday. My friends and I met in the kitchen at the agreed upon time. Entering the kitchen I saw that there was only a 6 quart sauce pan and a 9 x 13 pan on the counter along with only three ingredients.  This didn’t look like any cookie making I had ever done, so I asked, “What kind of cookies are we making?” My friends replied, “Rice Krispie treats.” I could tell by their rather impatient tone that I should have known this. “Oh,” was my reply. “Haven’t you ever made them before?”, a friend asked. “No, I haven’t ever eaten one before let alone make them.”  We greased the pan, melted the butter, added the marshmallows, stirred until they melted into the butter, added Rice Krispies, and pressed the whole sticky mess into the pan.  Quick, easy, tasted great!

That event thirty-five years ago was just the beginning with my love of no-bake cookies. They are quick and a go-to when it’s too hot to bake. Rice Krispie treats are even faster now than in college thanks to the microwave.  My repertoire of no-bake cookies has expanded over the years from Rice Krispie treats and Special K Bars to riffs on a combination of the two. These bars are great mailers as well. My son Eric and his roommates can attest to this fact as they were the recipients of these at least once a month over the four plus years he was in college and even after he graduated.

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My current favorite:

Crunchy Peanut Butter Marshmallow Bars

Mix the following in a 4-6 qt sauce pan over medium heat:

1 c sugar
1 c corn syrup
Stir until it boils. Remove from heat.
Stir in 1 1/2 c peanut butter (smooth or chunky depending on preference or what you have around); stir until thoroughly mixed.

Add:
6 c crisp rice cereal
1 c mini marshmallows
1/2 c salted peanuts

Stir, working quickly until thoroughly mixed. Spoon mixture into a 9 x 13 pan; spread and press into the pan using a spatula.

Topping—if desired, but not necessary:
Melt (in a bain-marie or in microwave on 70% power in 30 minute increments, stirring after each 30 second interval):
1/2 c peanut butter chips
1/2 c semi-sweet chips

Pour and spread over the top of the peanut butter mixture. Cool completely. Yield: 24 bars

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