It wasn't easy to find Southern staples in Kansas and Okinawa, but they managed. I remember upside down pineapple cake, fried chicken livers, big pots of black-eyed peas flavored with bacon drippings, potato salad, homemade ice cream - food was comfort in strange places.
Then we finally landed back in North Carolina and my own Southern experience began. In rural Goldsboro, North Carolina, right outside Seymour-Johnson Air Force Base, I discovered the amazing flavors of school cafeteria food. This wasn't the Sysco-delivered frozen fare my kids endure. It was fresh, from the farm, made from scratch by cafeteria ladies who'd been cooking for years and years.
I cleaned my tray every day.
I know the vegetables were amazing, and the fruit was never something in a syrup. I've never been able to recreate the homemade pizza and yeast rolls. What I really savor in my memory are the desserts.
- Frothy marshmallowy white frosting on sheets of moist, dark chocolate cake.
- Dense peanut butter bars covered with a thin super-sweet icing.
- "Boiled cookies" mixing chocolate, oatmeal, and peanut butter for a no-cook dessert that was never plentiful enough.
- Snickerdoodles as big as the palm of your hand.
I can't do a thing about the stock market, our investments, or the rising cost of everything we need. But I can bake.
Comfort food. Whether you're traveling far from home or the world around you is changing way too fast, comfort food can be a welcome respite.
Peanut Butter Bars
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups rolled oats
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup butter
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup firmly packed brown sugar
2/3 cup peanut butter
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
Icing: combine 2 cups confectioners' sugar, 1/2 cup peanut butter and up to 1/2 cup evaporated milk to make a thin icing. Spread on bars right after baking.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease an 11x17 jelly roll pan. In a bowl, combine flour, oats, soda and salt. Set aside. With mixer, beat butter and both sugars until fluffy. Add eggs and mix well. Add peanut butter. Gradually mix dry ingredients. Scrape down sides often. Mix in vanilla. Spread in pan. Bake 18-22 minutes or until edges just begin to turn golden. Do not overbake. Cut into squares while still warm, then let cool completely.