Sunday, January 22, 2006


Every now and again, I play cards with three former colleagues with whom I used to play cards at lunch every single workday. We would gather at the kitchen table with our sack lunches at precisely 12:30 and play for an hour. Known for too much table talk and stretching the rules wildly, we paired off and bid our tricks, screeching with glee as we trumped our competitors or caught them short a trick. One coworker, who never joined in the game , routinely complained to our supervising editor about the noise we made. Periodically, email reprimands would come our way, and we would play cards in whispers for the next few days. But invariably, the sheer fun of the game caught up with us, and we were back to our noisy antics.

This weekend, the four of us gathered for cards for the first time in about a year. We all have demanding jobs and live far from each other in the farflung corners of the metropolitan area. One of the group, who has two young children, drives in for cards from a neighboring state, where she and her husband are refurbishing an old farmhouse. She's the most serious card player among us, and loves to win. I'm always nervous when she's my partner at cards. I'm a somewhat sloppy player, no good at counting cards and prone to erring on the side of risk. She, on the other hand, knows where every card is and wins by careful calculation and cautious but accurate bidding.

The friend who hosts our card parties is very generous. She always serves lunch and rarely asks us to contribute to the feast. This time, though, we volunteered, and she suggested I bring the dessert. At first, I thought about bringing the chocolate-apple tarte I'd learned to make in Paris this fall. But SJG tells me it's on the unusual side, and these friends have conservative palates. So I decided to bring my favorite American dessert--oatmeal caramel bars. It's a recipe I begged one of my neighbors to give me. She's always reading church cookbooks and the glossy recipe booklettes at the grocery store check-out counter. A steady flow of marshmallow bars, bakeless pies, and cookies with every chip imaginable come our way from her, and the oatmeal caramel bars are my favorites.

Over lunch, as we talk about my culinary trip to Paris, my card-playing friends compliment my blog but agree that all the recipes were way too fancy for them. "I didn't even know what half the words meant!" says the serious card player. We laugh, and I think of my paternal Aunt Lina, who said the same thing. I'm glad I brought the bars. They're a hit, and this time, I'm on the winning team at cards.

3/4 cup butter, melted
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 cup flour
1 cup finely cut oatmeal
32 caramels
5 tablespoons cream or millk
1 cup chocolate chips
1/2 chopped nuts (I like pecans)

1) In a mixing bowl, combine the butter, brown sugar, salt, baking soda, flour and oatmeal. Stir until butter is absorbed.

2) Pat about 3/4 of the mixture in the bottom of a 9 x 13 baking dish and bake for 10 minutes at 350 degrees.

3) Meanwhile, melt the caramels and the cream.

4) Sprinkle the chocolate chips and the nuts on top of the oatmeal base. Cover with the melted caramels and then the rest of the oatmeal mixture. Bake 20 minutes more.


Felicity said...

You should have your own magazine or newspaper column. I love these stories that don't really appear to be about food, and then somehow meander around and end with the perfect recipe accompaniment.

I for one think the Apple tart sounds WAAAAY better than the caramel oatmeal bars

PaulD said...

Though she hasn't played for several years, my wife is a very serious card player -of the sort that can count and track the cards. In another time and place of our life we used to have all too frequent games with neighbors across the ally; sometimes at their home, sometimes at our. Like Anna, the husband there also was a very serious card player, and he and Ann relished the competition. His wife put her heart into it. I was included to hold the fourth hand; I just never could get into it. But I did like the evening for the occasion to have some scotch.

The last time we played with that couple was the last invitation we had. For on that occasion it became clear that my pleasure was not condusive to the focus and concentration necessary for the game. As I said, that was the last time we played as a group. Still, I appreciate how others like that challenge.

And you know that I echo Felicity's sentiment about your writing. Write on.