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Peanut Butter Bars To Soothe The Soul

Mary Louise Kelly's mother's peanut butter bars.
Sarah Oliver
Mary Louise Kelly's mother's peanut butter bars.

We live in unsettling times. Whatever your politics, we can agree the news cycle of late has been relentless. A juggernaut of breaking news. It's enough some days to make you want to retreat. In my case — to the kitchen.

There is such comfort in cooking, in producing something tangible. Something you can see and smell and taste. The day President Trump tweeted that President Obama had wiretapped Trump Tower, I worked my sources on the story — and then I went home and cooked Swedish meatballs in brandy sauce.

The day the U.S. rained cruise missiles down on Syria, I filed for our Newscast unit and then made a pot of pumpkin soup, laced with cumin and parsley.

The other night, after long hours trying to persuade CIA officials to talk on the record about Russia, it occurred to me that my greater contribution to humanity that evening might have been the crust on a glorious chicken pot pie.

Lately it's the recipes of my childhood I've been craving; my mom's cooking. I grew up in Georgia, in the '70s and '80s, and her repertoire ran the whole range from green bean casserole to tuna casserole to sweet potato casserole. Pretty much all the recipes begin with, "Melt two sticks of butter." Then Crisco shortening usually makes an appearance.

In her kitchen in Atlanta, I recently found a recipe handwritten in her looping cursive. The first ingredient: "Cool Whip, one large tub."

Mom's best recipe, though — the one she is justifiably famous for at school bake sales — is peanut butter bars. Carol Kelly's peanut butter bars call for enough sugar to sink a ship, but they turn out like heaven, every single time.

Now, I mention all this because my parents are in town to visit this week. So Mom and I donned aprons. Got out the self-rising flour and the sugar and the Jif — did I mention you cannot use organic peanut butter? It turns out gummy. You gotta go old school Jif or Skippy — and Mom and I baked two big batches.

I brought one of them into the newsroom, to feed the Weekend Edition team.
I could say it was like watching vultures descend, but that doesn't quite do justice. Vultures don't return with spoons to scoop up the crumbs. So chalk one up for peanut butter bars, as respite from the demands of this current deluge of breaking news.

On the other hand, all this cooking has created a new demand on my time: I need to hit the gym.

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Mary Louise Kelly is a co-host of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine.