I wake up at 3am that night: The panic finally kicks in and I can’t sleep. The Red Dog is thrilled, happy-dancing in the dark and following me downstairs, where I lie on the sofa and read before drifting back to sleep, soothed by the sound of his snoring.
When I wake up again, it’s morning, and the snow outside sparkles with cold, while the house is full of quiet and warm.
I’m not going anywhere. I decide the next time I leave my house will be to retrieve my car. It’s official: I’m suburban.
I don’t really need to go anywhere, because I’ve been good lately about keeping my pantry full of staple foods, and the freezer is fairly full, too. I can spend my day in the kitchen, where it’s warm, and if I get an urge to experience the cold, the Olympics are on TV. I start looking at recipes for home made pizza, specifically the sauce, and notice that all of them seem to involve oregano, one of the very few things I don’t have on hand.
The Child wants to go out. She needs things from the mall, she says.
No, I tell her. No car, remember?
I’m bored. We should take the Red Dog to the dog park.
No, I reply. No car, remember?
Finally, her friend up the street calls. Can I go to her house?
I’m not thrilled about The Child having to walk along the same road that gave me so much difficulty just a few hours earlier – there’s no sidewalk – but there’s also not much traffic, and the mom of The Child’s friend is happy to send her back home with a teaspoon of dried oregano. Permission is granted, The Child heads out, and I start baking.
I start with Rice Krispie Treats, just the regular recipe off the back of the box, with a teaspoon of pumpkin pie spice added to make it more wintery. They’re delicious, and I cut them into pieces and leave them on a plate for The Child, when she returns, just like the cup of tea she set out for me.
I have the idea that I’ll make a batch of chili to eat during the week, and some cornbread to go along with it. I recently checked The French Market Cookbook out of the library, and there’s a recipe in it for Savory Pumpkin and Cornmeal Quickbread, which sounds delicious, if unusual, and claims that I can use other types of winter squash such as butternut, which I have, already cooked, left over from another recipe. I run it through a ricer, and complete the rest of the recipe, and am rewarded with a loaf of a vibrant, somewhat disturbing shade of orange, reminiscent of my least favorite aspect of babies, and that’s all I have to say about that.
I taste it, and though I truly want to like it, the texture and mix of flavors is just off, so I set it aside to try again later, and photograph for you, dear reader. It didn’t taste better when it cooled, and try as I might, I could not find a way to make it photogenic.
The Child returns, and tucks into the plate of Krispie Treats, and hands over a bag of oregano. I start making sauce with lots of garlic and onion and oregano, which smells delightfully appetizing in a way that the Savory Loaf should but just doesn’t. It sits resentfully on the cooling rack while I set about making pizza dough. I could swear it’s glaring at me, but I ignore it. The sauce smells too good.
The dough, however, will not rise. I followed the instructions, but the ball just sits there, not doubling. I do a bit of research and learn how and why to proof yeast (to prove it’s still good); and upon discovering that mine isn’t foaming the way it should in a cup of water, do a quick calculation: Purchased two years ago + not stored in freezer = it’s expired.
I swear I can hear the Savory Loaf laughing, but when I catch a glimpse out of the corner of my eye, it’s still just sitting there, aglow with orange.
I make the pizza in spite of the dough, and The Child and I agree, it’s almost good – nothing that can’t be solved with some fresh yeast and a food mill (the sauce is a bit too chunky).
A few days later, I’m still making things out of the pantry – practicing for the next snow day. One of the recipes I found was for “Back To School Raspberry Granola Bars,” from Food & Wine, and it doesn’t sound like much, but the recipe promises that it can be made from pantry staples, and sure enough, it can. Although it calls for raspberry jam in the original, I only had strawberry jam, and it worked fabulously – any jam will. Everything else is stuff I usually have on hand, and it mixes up in a few short minutes.
The bars themselves are a satisfying combination of salty and sweet – there’s just enough salt in the crunchy, sweet bar, and a bit of chewiness at the edges from the jam and sugar caramelizing against the pan. The bars are solid enough to withstand travel, but not hard at all. Perfect for school lunches and snow days.
After I make the bars, I revisit the Savory Loaf, angry and orange on the counter. I still can’t decide if I like it, which I’m pretty sure means I don’t, and can’t think of a good reason to make it again when there are granola bars like these, ingredients just sitting in the pantry, waiting to be made special.
- 1 cup pecans, coarsely chopped
- 1½ cups all-purpose flour
- 1¼ cups old-fashioned rolled oats
- ⅓ cup granulated sugar
- ⅓ cup packed dark brown sugar
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- ½ teaspoon baking soda
- 1½ sticks unsalted butter, melted, plus more for greasing the pan
- 1 cup strawberry jam
- Preheat the oven to 350°. Butter an 8-inch square baking pan and line the bottom and sides with parchment paper. Spread the chopped pecans in a pie plate and toast for about 5 minutes, until lightly browned and fragrant. Let cool.
- In a large bowl, whisk the flour with the rolled oats, granulated sugar, brown sugar, salt, baking soda and pecans. Using a wooden spoon, stir in the melted butter until the oat mixture is thoroughly combined.
- Press two-thirds of the oat mixture in an even layer on the bottom of the prepared baking pan and top with the raspberry preserves. Sprinkle the preserves with the remaining oat mixture.
- Bake the bars for about 45 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through baking, until the top is golden brown. Transfer the pan to a wire rack and let the granola bars cool completely, about 3 hours. Cut into squares and serve.