Yummy Bars


Sunday May 25, 1975  10 p.m.

“Jill…”  I heard Dad as I walked past my parent’s open bedroom door. My heart pounded.

“Help me God!”  I prayed silently.  “What are they thinking?”

Dad was sitting in his pajamas on the bed, the quilt folded back.  Mother’s dresser lamps glowed, filling the room with light.   At the center of the dresser, on a carefully ironed linen scarf, stood Mother’s small glass jewelry box, trimmed with gilded edges; pretty as a mini Ark of the Covenant.  Beside the bed, curtains fluttered in the night air, drifting in the open window.  I felt the Minnesota coolness of it on my arms.

Dad motioned to me with his head, “Come in here.”

“Honey, what are you doing?” he called to Mother, in the bathroom.  Mother appeared in the doorway, toothbrush in hand.  Like incense in the Holy Place, Estee Lauder’s Youth Dew dusting powder scented the air.

Their bedroom was as unique and special as any sanctuary.  This was the place Mother and Dad discussed life.  Many times I’d heard their voices, back and forth,  in musical rhythm, as I lay in my bed down the hall.

“What are they talking about?”  I wondered.  I was curious.

Because their analysis was gold.  They were always right.

Which is why I had brought Duane home with me that Memorial Day weekend.  We had been friends over dinners in the dining hall at Wheaton that winter.  We had our first date in April.   On May 7, while sitting on my red gingham blanket on the front lawn of Blanchard, I had said to Duane, “I love you.”

He had said the same words to me on May 6.

I needed to know what Mother and Dad thought about Duane.

Just a few years before, in high school, I found it mildly annoying, but could not deny, my parents’ superb judgment.

“Will I ever be able to make choices on my own?!” I fumed to myself one Sunday morning.  Mother had gently suggested that an outfit I wore into the kitchen was not suitable for church.  The skirt was on the short side and the top was a bit tight.

“Okay, she’s right…” I stomped back to my room and changed.

Mother and Dad made excellent choices.  They had chosen a smaller house, but in a great school district.  They chose interesting friends.  They chose a great church for our family.  Even their vacation (Florida and England) and leisure  choices like books and movies were intelligent, fun, and worthwhile.

I was pretty sure about what a great guy Duane was, but was looking for final confirmation before giving my heart away.  My Wheaton girlfriends approved, and they could be picky.  But the ultimate answer would come from Mother and Dad.

Duane and I drove from Wheaton on Friday to Edina.  We had to drive back on Monday, so Mother planned our Memorial Day picnic for Sunday after church.  Often in Minnesota, a Memorial Day picnic is celebrated in the dining room with a fire in the fireplace because it’s still cold.  We never picnicked in the back yard, but Mother wanted to do something special for my little sister Pam’s birthday.  A few of her friends would be there, along with two family missionary friends in town, and Duane.  And it was a gorgeous spring day, with the lilacs blooming along the back fence.

For more ‘minor’ holidays like Memorial Day, July Fourth or Labor Day, Mother always made Yummy Bars.  Mother found this phenomenal recipe in the Star Tribune.  It was the ultimate dessert flavors: chocolate and caramel.  It was super simple to make, with five ingredients easy to keep on hand.  Everyone who bit into the gooey goodness asked for the recipe.

The yummy bars were a hit at the backyard party, as expected.  With additional guests for the picnic, Duane didn’t have to worry about too much scrutiny that afternoon.

That night, standing in my parent’s bedroom, I waited to hear their verdict about Duane.  We were heading back to school in the morning.

“Is this serious?”  Dad asked me, with Mother standing there in her sleeveless cotton nightgown.

“I wanted you to meet Duane and see what you thought… if I was missing anything,”  I answered.

“He’s quiet,”  Mother said.  They knew Duane was a straight A student, but besides that, they liked the relaxed confidence he showed in how he treated me, them, and my sisters.  Mother’s words, decoded: a high compliment.

Dad nodded, “He spoke very well, when he could get a word in.”

They both smiled.

That simple.  I knew I had my parent’s approval!  I could give my heart away!  I did!

I stood there, relieved and happy.  With one more thought.

In two weeks, on June 8,  I was taking the trip of a lifetime: I was going on the Wheaton in England literature program.  I would be away from Duane until August 23.  Eleven weeks.  He would be working at Montgomery Wards in Chicago, assembling bikes.

“I’m a little worried about being away from Duane for eleven weeks,” I confided.  I could always talk freely with my parents.

“Oh, eleven weeks isn’t that long!”  Mother insisted.

That’s the one small thing Mother got wrong.  The framed  phrase, “Nobody’s purfect,” hung in the hall outside their bedroom.

Here’s another wrong that needs to be put right: the Yummy Bar recipe:

Yummy Bars

1 package of German chocolate cake mix

50 Kraft vanilla caramels, unwrapped (hardest part of recipe)

3/4 cup melted butter

2/3 cup evaporated (not condensed!) milk, divided

6 – 11 ounce package milk chocolate chips

Can you spot the problem?  In the last years, instead of changing the price for a box of cake mix, the manufacturers have changed the size/amount in the package.  What used to be an 18 ounce box of cake mix is now 15 ounces.  This throws the recipe off, which is why they haven’t  turned out as yummy as they used to be.

I tried a few changes to make the bars right again:

What I added to the 15 ounce cake mix:

6 tablespoons of flour

scant 1/8 teaspoon baking soda

scant 1/8 teaspoon baking powder

1/8 teaspoon of salt

2 tablespoons granulated sugar

Second, when I melted the butter in the microwave, I added to that 4 tablespoons of semi sweet chocolate chips, stirring the butter and the chips together as they melted.

It worked!

Yummy Bars 

Mix cake mix (with the additional flour mixture), 1/3 cup of evaporated milk and the melted butter/chocolate mixture.  Pat half of that batter in a 9 x 13 pan (you really don’t need to butter/grease it there’s already so much fat.  Just trying to break through baking myths/old habits with the facts. And you don’t need to line the pan with aluminum foil, either!)

Bake for 7 minutes at 350 degrees.

Melt the 50 caramels in the microwave with the other 1/3 cup evaporated milk til smooth.

Sprinkle half of however many Nestle milk chocolate chips you decide to use over the baked layer when it comes out of the oven.  Some people may want to sprinkle on chopped nuts at this point; we never have.  Then drizzle the melted caramel over the baked layer and sprinkle the rest of your chips.  Drop globs of the rest of the dough over this as evenly as you can.  There will be some ‘bare’ areas, the dough pieces do not cover everything completely, but it  spreads as it bakes.

Bake for 28 more minutes in the 350 degree oven.  In 28 minutes, if the pan of bars seems kind of jiggly in the middle when you take it out of the oven, bake for 3 more minutes.  It’s already gooey enough with all the caramel in it.  You don’t want to underbake it.  But don’t overbake it either!

I’m thankful for my Mother and Dad being right about Duane, and my Mother’s Yummy Bar recipe.  And the memories of our family holidays.  On even regular days, I hear their thoughts and wisdom in my head, still.

“The godly people in the land are my true heroes!  I take pleasure in them!”  Psalm 16:3


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