No-Bake Peanut Butter Honey Crisp Bars

Fall is a time of transitions, the natural process of decay before regrowth, the preparatory time before a slumber. Leaves clatter among balding branches and drift to the ground, a reminder of the unrelenting ticking of time. Our neighborhood was still cowering from the long summer when winds brought Fall in a rush of cold mornings and crispy leaves. I awoke at 4am one of the first Fall nights as Phoebe hollered from the other room, and with half-asleep ears listened to the sweet patter of the first rain as it hit grateful soil.

We brought Phoebe out trick-or-treating with Riley (well, Riley did the trick-or-treating while Phoebe watched from our arms). I took on the task of making her costume, which turned into me making costumes for all three of us. Since I’d only purchased one pattern, Jonji and I ended up wearing big toddler costumes, which somehow made them even better. I sat bent over my failing sewing machine for hours, stitching bright orange felt into a cohesive shape. We ended up looking quite fantastic, three puffy pumpkins strolling through the neighborhood. Phoebe was the cutest little orange puffball and when she walked, holding tight to Jonji’s fingers, the costume rotated around her, emphasizing her adorable waddle.

This year, for the first time, Jonji and I put together an ofrenda (altar) for Dia de los Muertos. We bought two ceramic skulls from the little Mexican-owned shop around the corner, each painted with swooping lines and brightly blooming flowers, along with a few more alebrijes to join the three that Jonji brought home from Oaxaca ten years ago. I printed photos on our home printer, rendering all of our loved ones in black and white (I didn’t get organized early enough to get them officially printed), and cut each out with careful precision. Finally, we scattered a few morsels, shots of whiskey and gin, and a ready cribbage game among the skulls and colorful animals. In the middle of the altar sat a bouquet of cheerful marigolds. That night we lit the candles, and from amidst the soft glow, those we love and miss smiled back at us: Daddad, Granny, Johnny John, Grandma Barber, Grandpa Barber, one of Jonji’s beloved patients, Leetle and Tito (a couple of our deceased family cats) and, our most recent loss, Uncle Don. Smiling, we recalled memories for each.

Daddad used to pretend the birds were talking to us as kids, speaking for them in a high-pitched voice (the birds always supported him over us) no matter how many times we told him we knew it was him talking—he thought it was hilarious every time; Granny was always ready for our company with scones, ice cream, or Irish stew, and we’d eat around their little round table that overlooked the Surfer statue on Westcliff; Johnny John always called me “Hana Bana” and had the most gentle demeanor, a man generous with his easy smile and infectious laugh; Grandma Barber had a wry and honest sense of humor, and was always cooking up giant meals for the whole family; Grandpa Barber, a sneaky smile at the ready for any joke; Uncle Don, gone way before his time just this September, the most positive person I’ve ever met, always thinking up his next friendly prank and whose smile and booming laugh never failed to raise the spirits of anyone within range. As Dumbledore said, “Do you think those we loved ever truly leave us?” These wonderful people, who helped to shape who were are and who live on in memory, felt so close to us in those moments of recollection.

We experienced loss this Fall, but we also experienced the joy of new life. Bailey gave birth to Rory early on October 7th, a whopping 10 lbs 7 oz baby and an appetite to match. I brought her a couple meals to support her recovery, and I made these bars as a dessert. They’re quite healthy as far as desserts go, but I would choose them over cookies at least half the time. They’re salty, sweet, a little crunchy, and absolutely addicting. I ate a ton of them when I was recovering from Phoebe’s birth. Make some for someone in need of nourishment or a little extra love, or make them just to bring a little extra joy to your life.

No-Bake Peanut Butter Honey Crisp Bars
makes one 8×8 inch pan | recipe from The First Forty Days by Heng Ou

1 cup peanut butter
1 stick (115g) salted butter
1/2 cup honey
2 cups organic puffed rice (I’ve used the brand One Degree to great success)
pinch of salt
1/2 cup shredded coconut (optional)

Grease and line an 8×8 inch square baking tin with parchment paper. Set aside.

Heat the peanut butter, butter, and honey together in a large pot over medium heat. Once the butter has melted, stir until everything’s mixed together, and then add in the puffed rice, a pinch of salt, and shredded coconut (if using). Stir until it’s all thoroughly mixed, then scrape into your 8×8 inch tin and pat down until you have an even surface (this is easiest with a small offset spatula).

Refrigerate for at least four hours, or overnight (if you cut them sooner you’ll get some rough shapes rather than neat lines). When they’re sufficiently chilled, pull the bars out of the tin using the parchment paper, then cut them into rectangles or squares of whatever size you desire. Store in the refrigerator. The bars last for about a week (probably longer, but I’ve never tested it!).

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