I spent two months at a treatment center for anorexia nervosa. A huge part of my treatment was exposure therapy, meaning meal upon meal upon meal. The daily routine was breakfast-snack-lunch-snack-dinner-snack. At the height of it, my snacks were all averaging 500 calories, and the meals were even larger. Of course, I needed it. I was dangerously underweight and completely unwilling to feed myself.
In treatment, I had two choices: eat my meal plan, or drink Ensure Pluses. While many of my peers chose the caloric supplement drinks, the foodie in me balked at the idea of skipping actual food to slurp down some grainy, protein-heavy mystery concoction. If I was gonna gain weight, I was gonna gain weight on something that tasted good. After all, having subsisted off of sweet potatoes and mustard for so long, I did miss real food. A lot.
The cook would try to bake a treat every day so that those who were feeling extra daring could have something fresh and homemade to eat at snack time. There was no nutritional information for them, no calorie counts to guide us. We simply had to eat what the staff deemed was an appropriate amount. It was terrifying. I was nearly done with the program before I had built up the courage to eat one of her special-made snacks.
I had picked her caramel oat bars. They were gooey, salty, crunchy, and chewy, all in one. Even though they are simple, they pack a lot of punch. All that sweetness, topped off with a hearty dash of sea salt, makes them all too easy to devour. When it was time for me to advance out of the intensive level of treatment, I asked the cook for the recipe.
And in case it isn’t obvious, I’ll spell it out: it says a lot when an anorexic loves eating something.
Caramel Oats Bar
Yields 33 small bars
2 cups oats, quick-cooking or regular
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 butter or margarine, melted
1/4 cup dark corn syrup
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
6 ounces semisweet chocolate chips
1. Heat oven to 400 degrees.
2. Mix together all the ingredients except the chocolate chips. Spread in greased square pan, 9 x 9 x 2 inches.
3. Bake until bubbly, about 8 minutes. Immediately sprinkle with chocolate chips. Let stand until soft, then spread chocolate evenly. Sprinkle with chopped nuts or more sea salt, if desired. Refrigerate at least 1 hour. Cut into bars, 2 x 1 inches.