I’m in Chicago for the weekend. It’s cold here, but not too cold, grey and foggy instead of sunny, and I’m here because my friend Katie texted me a few months ago and said “bitch, when are you coming to visit me?” Yes, I believe those were her exact words.
Katie and I first met as high schoolers at a school program called Close Up in Washington, D.C. She was there from Michigan, me from Tennessee. We started talking the first night in the lobby of the hotel where our groups were staying, and she wound up loaning me her giant CD collection and trying to explain that strange Yankee card game, Euchre. The next day, we sat next to each other on the bus, and by the end of the five-day trip, she handed me a postcard with the Jefferson Memorial (her favorite) on the front and a note that included “I love you” on the back.
We are really such unlikely friends; I was the geekiest sixteen-year-old known to man, she was loud, sarcastic, a partier, the center of social attention. For the longest time I was convinced that she was actually too cool to be friends with me and eventually she would figure that out and ditch our long-distance correspondence. But the thing about Katie is that there are so many layers to her brash persona: fierce loyalty to family and friends, voracious reading habits, impatience for all things superficial, and her boundless generosity.
I like to think that I was able to see those things back then, when others couldn’t, or didn’t, and that she saw me—the, as it turns out, a little brash and mouthy and daring myself—underneath the suiting of a hopelessly self-conscious and sheltered sophomore. Katie wasted no time drawing me out of my shell. She’s my delightfully corrupting influence. When Katie’s mom heard that I was coming to visit this weekend, she told her daughter, “Could you please not dye or tattoo or pierce anything this time around?”
This week marks our eleven-year friend-versary—in that time, we’ve probably spent less than two months in the other’s actual physical company. But space and time don’t seem to matter for us; no matter how long it’s been, we always just pick right up where we left off.
HOMEMADE GRANOLA BARS
If historical trends are any indication, I’ll need to compensate for questionably healthy eating choices after spending a weekend with Katie. Oh, yep, in fact, she’s banging around the kitchen right now, making pancakes. Granola bars + serious gym time are going to be in order.
The folks at Superior Nuts were kind enough to send me some of their beautifully packaged sliced almonds and jumbo apricots, so I used them, but you could substitute any kind of nut or dried fruit. I’m convinced that adding flavorings like cinnamon and nutmeg go a long way to putting these granola bars in a different stratosphere than the cardboard-replica-versions you so often find.
2 cups old-fashioned oats
1 cup sliced almonds
1 cup shredded, unsweetened coconut*
¼ cup golden flax meal
¼ cup wheat germ
*If you use sweetened, omit the brown sugar below.
Stir all ingredients together in a large bowl. Spread out on two foil-lined baking sheets. Toast for 10-15 minutes, stirring at least once, until the mixture has been lightly browned.
Return to the bowl and stir in:
1 cup dried fruit, chopped
½ tsp. cinnamon
½ tsp. nutmeg
pinch of salt
For the wet ingredients, whisk the following together in a small saucepan over low heat:
½ cup honey
3 T butter
3 T brown sugar (optional)
1 tsp. vanilla
Pour the mixture into the bowl and stir to combine. Be sure that all of the dry ingredients are well coated. For thicker granola bars, use a square pan. Thinner, a rectangle. Line your pan of choice with parchment paper.
Drop the oven temperature down to 325˚.
Press the granola mixture into the pan, using your fingers to get an even layer and pressing down hard. Use the back of a metal bowl or small water glass to smooth out the top.
Bake the bars for 10 minutes, just to help them harden. Cool thoroughly (at least two hours) before lifting the parchment-lined bars out of the pan. Cut into desired size using a sawing motion with a sharp serrated knife. Store in an airtight container for up to a week.