The other day a story on the front page of the Times caught my attention. No, it wasn’t about BP’s history of being horribly irresponsible or Spain’s World Cup triumph or the spread of the Shabab; it was about the release of Grease: Sing-A-Long, a karaoke version of the 1978 smash film. “That sounds like so much fun!” I thought.
I was surprised by my reaction because historically I hate audience participation, probably a result of having suffered through it too many times. Once at a lame a capella concert in college some creepy little boy/man from the visiting school sat on my lap and serenaded me with a coy, warble-y rendition of “I Only Have Eyes for You” as his fellow choristers stifled their own laughter behind their harmonic “oohs” and “aahs.” I wanted to crawl under my chair. But that was nothing compared to last year’s experience at the recent Broadway production of Hair in which the performers spent way too much time off the stage and in the audience. I knew I was in trouble when I noticed an “X” of masking tape on the carpet next to my aisle seat (bad seating choice when participation is a threat) and generously offered to trade places with my sister so she could have a better view. “Nice try,” she said looking down at the “X.” I guess it wasn’t enough that one of the “hippie” girls embraced me when she danced through the theater (as anyone who knows me knows, I rarely hug my friends, much less patchouli scented strangers) but then during the big “Hair” number a truly hairy, raggedy guy stopped at my seat, planted one foot on each armrest, squatted in front of me, and began to give me a head massage. Clearly he didn’t know my (and Tony Manero’s) rule # 1: Don’t Touch the Hair.
But who doesn’t like to belt out a tune when no one is looking and everyone else is doing it? I took a pass on The Sound of Music Sing-Along (the idea of an audience made up of grown men in nuns’ habits was too campy even for me) but I may have to give in and break into a group duet of “Summer Lovin’.” For anyone of a certain age Grease was huge. I saw it at Loew’s Orpheum on 86th and 3rd on a hot June afternoon. My mother, who was fed-up with her three kids complaining of boredom during those two weeks between the end of school and the beginning of camp, left me $10 with orders to take my younger siblings to the movies and leave her alone at the office. I will never forget the sight of my six year-old brother standing up in the middle of the theater and combing his non-existent ducktail, a la Danny Zuko, (with the comb he'd tucked into his jeans after seeing a commercial for the film) while the other kids in the audience screamed at him to sit down.
The music became the soundtrack to that entire summer at camp and Olivia Newton-John’s transformation into a spandex-clad, Candies-shod bad girl was endlessly fascinating to those of us forced to wear white tennis shirts, blue gym shorts with white trim and Topsiders every day. I had a friend who joined me for my first camp summer and to this day compares it to being at a Siberian labor camp. According to her we were forced to swim in a mucky lake when it was pouring and freezing, only allowed to shower once a week, and starved—slightly hyperbolic with the exception of the starvation. Unlike all of my other friends spending their summers at more humane camps, we were not allowed to receive care packages containing food. We were however allowed to chew gum. I don’t know what’s worse, a few mice skittering around a bunk at night in search of a stray Dorito or the sound of 250 girls chomping on wads of Grape Bubble Yum. Needless to say, I lost weight every summer, something I really didn’t need at the time, and in fact looked a bit like I had indeed spent the summer breaking rocks with a pick-axe in the Gulag.
Apparently today, according to my completely unscientific survey of five female friends whose daughters are all away at camp, by and large camps strictly prohibit care packages of food and gum is always forbidden. The kids get into big trouble if they’re found hoarding a smuggled stash of Hershey’s miniatures under their pillows or even a stray Tic-Tac mixed in with the lint in their shorts’ pocket. “What about visiting day?” I asked. Back in 1978 parents really weren’t supposed to bring food but most of them broke that rule and arrived in Sweden, Maine bearing shopping bags of their daughter’s favorite something from the neighborhood bakery or the candy aisle at the market. There was one legendary family who had four girls at our camp and whose arrival was like a scene out of Fiddler on the Roof, only they were coming not fleeing. You have never seen so much food in your life; whole salamis poked out of paper bags, loaves of bread, boxes of cookies, bags of candy. It was insane. Then you had my rule-following parents who brought me nothing my first summer because that’s what the guide book instructed. After seeing how scrawny I’d become they broke the rule the next summer but oops, left what they bought at their hotel. The third they came with a dozen cider donuts for my sister and me to share. I suppose I should be grateful for my six donuts because I have one friend whose parents brought her fruit. That is just cruel.
This weekend marks the beginning of the parents’ visiting weekend portion of the summer season and so I have camp treats on my mind. The legend of cooking s’mores over the campfire has remained just that for me; we didn’t roast marshmallows once and I’m still resentful. I’ve made them as an adult and in their authentic state they are shockingly sweet. They must be if I can barely make it through one in its entirety. So I’ve been investigating other forms of chocolate, graham and toasty marshmallows and have settled on this bar cookie interpretation. I’m not going to lie, even with the dark chocolate and the salty-ish crumbs they are still sweet and gooey but not nearly as tooth-rotting. The good news is that they are packable so if you want to do any smuggling to your rapidly shrinking child, you can. Yes, they are sticky and a little messy but a lot yummy. I may sneak one into the movie theater; the sing-a-long starts at 7pm.
Summer Lovin' S'mores Bars
adapted from Gourmet Magazine, July 1990
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15 graham cracker sheets
1/3 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
10 Tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
16 ounces dark chocolate chips (like Ghiradelli 60% Cacao)
4 cups mini-marshmallows
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Place graham crackers in food processor and process until crackers become small, uniform crumbs. OR place the crackers in a Ziploc plastic bag, seal and roll over with rolling pin until the crackers become small, uniform crumbs. You should have 2 cups of crumbs.
In a bowl large bowl combine crumbs, sugar, salt, and butter making sure until crumbs are completely moistened.
Scoop out 1 cup of mixture and set aside.
Press remaining graham cracker mixture into the bottom of a 13 x 2 inch baking dish.
Bake crust for 12 minutes, or until it is golden. Remove from oven and set on rack to cool.Place chocolate in microwave proof bowl and nuke on medium for 30 seconds, stir and continue nuking for 30 second intervals and stirring until chocolate is melted and liquid.
Pour chocolate over crust and smooth with and a spatula (offset works well).Sprinkle marshmallows over chocolate, pressing gently to adhere.Sprinkle reserved crumb mixture over marshmallows.Preheat broiler and place pan 2 inches under heat for 30 seconds or until marshmallows are golden.
PAY CLOSE ATTENTION TO MAKE SURE MARSHMALLOWS DO NOT BURN.
Cool pan on rack and then refrigerate for 30 minutes before cutting into 1 1/2"- 2" squares.
Yield: 2-3 dozen squares
NOTE: For travel, pack in an air-tight container layered between wax paper. Keep refrigerated until ready to go.