No Oven Required: Wholesome Grandma Cereal Bars

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[Flickr: mary thompson]

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I suppose bran cereal is considered "grandma food" by many small children. As a little girl, I was convinced that my grandmother was the ONLY person in the world who ate fibrous, flaky bran cereal and prune juice. She also loved pistachio and peach ice cream, Filet-O-Fish sandwiches, and Entenmanns's raspberry swirl Danish.

Some people think: "when I am an old woman, I shall wear purple," but I always thought that "when I became old I will mysteriously begin to love the Fillet-O-Fish." No one else seemed to like these foods.

Growing up, I spent a fair amount of time with my grandmother: she lived only several streets away. I grew familiar with all of her habits. When eating a tiny slice of Danish, she'd sometimes stop halfway through to smoke a cigarette. She'd cover the uneaten half with aluminum foil to make sure that no "germs" contaminated the pastry until she finished.

My grandmother was also not keen about her granddaughter playing outside, particularly with other children. She was convinced I'd get hit by a car, get abducted, or die in a monkey bar incident, despite the fact I lived on a quiet suburban New Jersey street. This meant I spent quite a bit of time engaged in such healthy indoor pursuits as watching old movies on TV in her air-conditioned house.

As we stared at the screen, she'd often pull out her pack of cigarettes (which was in a little case in her purse with her inhaler) wheeze and suck in her asthma medication, and light another Parliament. Her purse always had something inside it for me—a new yo-yo, a pack of Chuckles, a gigantic Tootsie roll, or some M&Ms. I think the reason that some candies don't taste the same to me today is the fact they aren't permeated by nicotine.

Sometimes Grandma and I would go out to eat with my Great Aunt Elise to Richard's Deli in West End, which served "sandwiches" made of two enormous potato pancakes stuffed with glistening, fatty brisket. My grandmother drove about 15 miles an hour, tops, in a huge boat of a Chevy with seat belts buried deep in the crevices of the slippery vinyl.

Needless to say, I learned to ride a bike very late as a child and screamed for help when someone lobbed a ball at my nearsighted pudgy face, but by the time I entered kindergarten I could compare the dancing styles of Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly.

My grandma did have some strange ideas about what was healthy. However, although she didn't cook, she threw wonderful parties and always served an impressive spread of smoked cheeses, meats, nuts, and dried fruits. She took up painting late in life and her works are still hung on my walls—strangers have asked me "who painted THAT" and don't believe me when I tell them my grandmother had no training at all.

So, in honor of my grandmother's creative interpretation of healthy eating and living, I've made some cereal and nut bars called Swag Bars. The original from Cooking Light uses peanut butter and Total. However, any wheat, bran, or whole grain cereal that you can pulverize would work nicely, as would any nut butter. I guess you could say these bars merge the healthy and the unhealthy; the whole grain and the peanut butter and chocolate. But now that we know better, we can tell ourselves that nuts aren't so bad, and chocolate is good for the heart. SWACK to you, grandma.