What I’m about to say is going to be a divisive sentiment, but I can’t help it: I like cats. They are a far superior housepet to that other creature to which they are often compared. It’s not that I don’t like that other animal, the one that starts with a d. It’s just that I get cats. I understand them because we have a similar temperament, a synchronization of worldviews.
Take, for instance, the phenomenon known as napping. Cats are very serious about their napping. They don’t mess around. They can do it any time, anywhere. They take great pleasure in making the most unlikely of places—the windowsill, a porch step, the top of a refrigerator—look like the most luxurious sleeping spots. Doesn’t it make you want to climb on top of your refrigerator to try it yourself? Virtually nothing gets in the way of a cat and her sleep. If only I could say the same for myself! One has to admire an animal that has its priorities so clearly organized! I wish a kind-hearted cat would take it upon herself to teach me how to sleep so soundly and so comfortably on a moment’s notice. I’m sure it takes lots of practice, but I’m willing to do what it takes.
Another important point: cats like solitude. It probably makes for better naps, but even when other creatures are around, a cat will hang out by himself. He’ll perch on top of a couch, staring out the window into the yard, keeping watch over his territory. Or he’ll find a toy—a bit of string, a bug, maybe even a mouse if he is lucky!—and bat it around the house for hours, chasing and catching and chasing again. When he tires of his toy, he will find a soft spot on a chair or the floor, curl himself into an U, and resume napping. Cats are the ultimate hermits. If they weren’t dependent on their owners for opening those stubborn food packages that absolutely require opposable thumbs, cats could do without humans altogether. They are wonderfully self-sufficient housepets.
But cats do like humans. Sure, they are more reserved than dogs, but cats have their own special way of showing affection. For years, my family and I shared our home with a lovely cat named Dusty. Even by cat standards, she was a very reserved animal, generally more interested in napping than anything else. But she had a remarkable knack for knowing when she was needed. Almost without fail, if the day’s events had gone horribly wrong, if I was reduced to tears and incoherent sobbing, Dusty would find me and soothe me with her gentle presence. With her silent warmth and softness, she found a way of saying, “I am here, child. You are not alone. I will stay until you are well again.”
Rest in peace, Miss Dusty Babe.
Finally: grooming. Despite her name, Dusty was an impeccably groomed feline. Sporting a grey coat on her backside and a white coat over her belly, Dusty was fanatic about her baths. After every meal, before and after most naps, she would lick every nook and cranny of her furry body, keeping her whites white and her coat shining. Dusty hated having dirty paws and took great effort to avoid such discomfort.
But me? I kinda like being dirty on occasion. There’s something very relaxing and natural—in a word, freeing—about being dirty. I don’t mean the type of dirty where your co-workers wonder why the water company keeps shutting off your water. I mean the dirty that happens while running on muddy paths, or the kind that happens because you’re too busy making pancakes on Sunday morning to bother showering until 2 PM, or even the kind that happens because you’re too, um, busy in bed to think about bathing. Indeed, it’s very good to be dirty sometimes!
There are scales of dirtiness to consider as well. One need not skip a morning shower to experience the dirty pleasure of eating with one’s hands. Why is it that when we taste the food with our fingers first, it tastes infinitely better in our mouths? Aptly-named “finger foods” appear on tables around the world, from spongy injera bread pinched around vegetables in Ethiopian cuisine to Thai lettuce cups, holding all sorts of delectably savory goodies inside. Do our American ice cream cones count as finger food? I think they do, for I find them ridiculously fun to eat—the perfect way to celebrate life on a gorgeous summer evening.
There’s a reason why finger foods show up so often at parties: finger foods practically declare that A GET-TOGETHER IS A PARTY. And it turns out that at a party, guests like messy finger foods. I once fretted over a batch of unbaked peanut butter bars that I took to a party. I thought, “These treats are too messy. They’re going to start melting as soon as I pack them up, party-bound, and hop on the train. God, I wish I’d made something else!” Perhaps time was short that day, or maybe I was out of flour, but whatever the reason, I was stuck with offering delicious, messy, unsophisticated peanut butter bars. I was already pouting before the party even started.
The party guests were too busy gobbling down peanut butter bars to notice.
These peanut butter bars are shockingly popular. I hadn’t really thought of them as party food or celebratory in any way; they were just tasty and messy, a convenient treat that can be whipped up in about ten minutes without even preheating the oven. They can be a sweet, energy-dense snack or a dessert. And while I love my buttery things and my eggy things, these bars require neither, which can be a relief if you’ve been indulging a bit lately. Plus high-quality, organic dairy and eggs are expensive, so your wallet will be happier with a diverse diet, a diet that makes good use of less expensive pantry items like peanut butter and raisins.
Most importantly, though, these peanut butter bars will make your belly happy. Lick your fingers and enjoy every last smudge of chocolate and peanut butter.
Classic Hippie No-Bake Peanut Butter Bars
Adapted from “Peanut Butter Bars” in The New Laurel’s Kitchen by Laurel Robertson, Carol Flinders, and Brian Ruppenthal
Makes 8 large bars
I’ve seen variations of this type of peanut butter treat in lots of places, but my first introductions to it were recipes in Passionate Vegetarian and The New Laurel’s Kitchen. Both of these cookbooks have a strong hippie vibe to them, so I can’t help but think of these peanut butter bars as classic hippie cuisine. I speculate that these recipes used natural peanut butter back when natural peanut butter was always an oily, gunky mess that had to be stirred like crazy to get an appetizing consistency, a time when natural peanut butter was only eaten by serious health-food nuts
Lucky for us, lots of stores now carry natural peanut butters that don’t separate and are minimally processed. My current favorite is the Whole Foods store brand, 365. I almost always have a container of 365 Organic Crunchy Peanut Butter in the fridge, which contains just four ingredients: peanuts, palm oil, cane sugar, and sea salt. And THANK GOODNESS it’s trans-fat free—no hydrogenated anythings in this peanut butter—so I feel better about eating it. I’m trying to wean myself off of my usual peanut butter which is made with hydrogenated oils. I am skeptical that hydrogenated oils are actually better for us than their partially hydrogenated counterparts…
In honor of the steamy hot month of August, The Peanut Butter Boy and Foodaphilia are hosting a No-Bake Peanut Butter Exhibition. I think these raisin-studded, chocolate-topped peanut butter bars will make for a very competitive entry.
2 tbsp. oat bran
1/4 cup dry milk powder
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 cup raisins
3 tbsp. honey
1 cup natural peanut butter, crunchy or smooth as you like (I like crunchy here)
1/4 cup chopped bittersweet chocolate (4 squares of chocolate from Trader Joe’s Bittersweet Pound Plus bar is perfect here)
1) In a medium mixing bowl, mix together the oat bran, dry milk powder. and salt. Stir in the raisins.
2) Add the honey and peanut butter and mix vigorously to make a smooth “batter” chunked with raisins and peanuts, if you used crunchy peanut butter. The batter will be very thick and should hold its form well—more solid than liquid.
3) Spray an 8.5x4.5-inch glass pan (or a pan with similar dimensions) lightly with cooking spray. Using a mixing spoon, scrape the batter into the pan. Smooth the top so that you have an even layer. Place the chocolate in a liquid measuring cup and using the cup, pour or shake the chocolate evenly over the surface of the bars. Use your fingers to lightly push the chocolate into the batter, which will help it stay on top of the bars when they are cut.
4) Cover the pan with plastic wrap and refrigerate until you are ready to eat them. They can, of course, be eaten immediately, but I like them cold and rich, straight out of the fridge. To get 8 bars out of the pan, you’ll want to cut them into roughly 2x2-inch bars. Store the bars in the fridge.