Thank goodness I don’t own a firearm. When you live in the asphalt jungle, it’s not hard to feel pushed to the edge by the crowds, the noise and the general lack of consideration on the part of your fellow inhabitants. The concept of going postal doesn’t seem so far-fetched to me. But even without a gun I find ways of expressing my hostility that won’t sentence me to a life in a bright orange jumpsuit, a color I have a very hard time pulling off.
Take last night. My friend Marsha and I went to the Moth, an evening of storytelling that is always fun and funny. The theme was “food” and the line-up included among others, Adam Gopnik and Gail Simmons. They were both fantastic and told riotous and heartfelt stories involving their spouses and their own eating obsessions. During intermission the crowds were insane in the too small refreshment/bathroom area and this aggressive little woman and her meek husband were planted near the door to the auditorium. In my attempt to get back to my seat I said, “Excuse me” three times. When she simply didn’t move I kind of checked her with my shoulder bag and barreled through. Okay, I didn’t “kind of” anything. I pushed her using my bag and didn’t look back, even though I saw that she’d whipped her head around to see who shoved her. And I didn’t care.
I also realized that I’ve been using the bag-shove move since I’ve been carrying a bag. When I was eight I started a new school, the polar opposite of the kumbaya school where we went to the movies and sang “If I Had a Hammer” instead of learning how to add or write. (See my post from two weeks ago). I traded in my fringed suede vest and bell bottoms for my new school’s uniform, a blue and white striped jumper worn with a blue blazer and either a blue or white shirt. In fully embracing this new color scheme I chose to carry a blue and white color-blocked patent leather (except it was vinyl) soft brief case with a brass (except it wasn’t real brass) latch. What? You didn’t want to look like a mod junior executive in the third grade? Really, I was just excited for everything to match and remember grabbing it off the shelf excitedly when my mom took me book-bag shopping at Kress on 39th & Fifth.
I hadn’t owned the bag for more than a week when I discovered its potential as a weapon. I was coming home with my mother from dance class on a packed cross town bus during rush hour. The bus stopped at Central Park West where about 1/3 of the passengers were trying to get off. There was a woman standing blocking the back exit door who looked like the fancy old ladies on cartoons, all puffed out chest, gray hair in a French twist and a snooty up-turned nose. She wouldn’t move out of the way and I couldn’t get to the exit. My mother had been holding the pole on the opposite side of the door from me so we got separated and she had been swept through the exit onto the street while I was still trying to make my way off. Fear of winding up alone on a bus, and anger at the lady about to cause my abandonment nightmare to come true, lit a fire in my belly and I took my mod brief case and whacked the woman on the shins while pushing my way past her, through the door and safely next to my mother on 86th Street. I must have known that what I’d done wasn’t so nice because I remember looking discreetly over my shoulder and seeing the snotty lady leaning over to rub her leg. I believe I caused her pantyhose to run with my brass-like latch and I am still not sorry.
Unfortunately my love affair with my mod color blocked bag was short lived. As with all grade-school obsessions they are fleeting and, for parents, hard to keep up with. I decided I had to have a canvas back pack, for which I was told I’d have to wait until the next school year since the bag I had was “perfectly fine.” This was not good news for me because, being the “new girl” in the class, I was under a fair amount of scrutiny and was very concerned about being labeled “prissy” (aka “nerd/geek/loser” for those of you not around in 1973). As far as I was concerned, I had already suffered enough. I was nauseated with anxiety every day for the first two weeks of school and had a cafeteria door slam on my pinky finger on day one. (Thank the good lord no one witnessed that and I held back my tears of pain.) The cafeteria had been a huge adjustment since at my old school we brought food from home. How I yearned for the tuna or peanut butter and jelly sandwiches my mom used to pack in my Partridge Family lunch box. The new school had creepy things like Chicken a la King and Salisbury steak and I was so hungry.
My niece has just started 1st grade and I have been projecting all of my school cafeteria issues onto her tiny frame and she’s not even a “new girl.” I grilled her about how the lunch room worked. Does she hold her own tray? What does she eat? Drink? Who does she sit with? She answered all my questions as only a seasoned lunch room pro can, with a sigh and a roll of the eyes. “I carry my own tray. It’s green. The sandwiches are already made but you can tell what they are because the wrapping is see-through. I have peanut butter and jelly. Then I have a piece of challah bread which I smush with butter and then I have cranberries. Sometimes I have milk, sometimes apple juice. And I sit with Rosie.” She immediately put me at ease. Although I can’t imagine what that challah bread looks like since her knife skills are pretty sad, if age appropriate.
I’ve wanted to make the Barefoot Contessa’s peanut butter and jelly bars as a nod to everyone’s memories of Back-to-School since I first saw her make them on TV. But I’ve been finding myself more into almond than peanut butter these days so I did a little tinkering with her recipe and made it a bit more appealing to grownups while still keeping the childhood feelings alive. The crust is both buttery and kind of sandy in texture. Apricot and almond is a great combo but if you prefer a different jam, go for it. Using honey roasted almonds to sprinkle on top give a great sweet and salty crunch. These bars are thick so you’ll either want to cut them really small or use an even bigger pan so they are a bit thinner. There is plenty of dough to play with. In fact, after covering the top sufficiently I had some left over. Regardless, they are delicious and with a glass of milk you will feel like someone who loves you very much packed you a special treat in your lunch box. As for my mod brief case, a simple plea to my grandmother resulted in the canvas back pack I had coveted. Did you know if you fill your knapsack with enough books a simple twist of the shoulder can inflict a fair amount of pain to anyone who is standing in your way? Just saying.
School Days Almond Butter and Apricot Jam Bars
Adapted from Barefoot Contessa at Home, Ina Garten 2006
1/2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 extra-large eggs, at room temperature
2 cups (18 ounces) creamy salted almond butter
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 1/2 cups (18 ounces) apricot jam
2/3 cups honey roasted almonds, coarsely chopped
Directions Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
Grease a 9 by 13 by 2-inch cake pan. Line it with parchment paper, then grease and flour the pan.
In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar on medium speed until light yellow, about 2 minutes. With the mixer on low speed, add the vanilla, eggs, and almond butter and mix until all ingredients are combined.
In a small bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt. With the mixer on low speed, slowly add the flour mixture to the peanut butter mixture. Mix just until combined.
Spread 2/3 of the dough into the prepared cake pan and using your hands and the aid of piece of wax or parchment paper, press and spread over the bottom evenly.
Spread the jam evenly over the dough with an offset spatula or knife.
Drop small globs of the remaining dough evenly over the jam. Don't worry if all the jam isn't covered; it will spread in the oven. Sprinkle with chopped nuts and bake for 45 minutes, until golden brown.
Cool and cut into squares.