Recently, I had the pleasure of visiting the Art Institute of Chicago once more. It’s a favorite spot, and a couple weeks ago, two of my favorite people and I road tripped to that wonderful, little city and that wonderful, art-filled museum in honor of a certain somebody’s 27th birthday (hint: ME! MEMEMEMEME!).
There were the familiar pieces I love there, alongside some delicious new exhibits, like-notably-a series of photographs inspired by Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man and a study on performance and fatigue, in which The National were recorded playing Sorrow for nearly 6 hours straight. And then, there was this one particular room I almost bypassed entirely.
By chance, my friends and I looked to our left to see all these miniature versions of myself (we’re talking sundresses, cameras, and lollipops) bolting from installation to installation. On a plaque outside of the exhibit was an interview with Wes Anderson, whose creative brilliance is glaringly apparent in all of his films (what are your favorites, friends? I teeter between The Royal Tannenbaums, The Darjeeling Limited, and Fantastic Mr. Fox).
In the interview, Anderson raves about the room I was about to enter, which, itself, is full of rooms. Little ones, each intricately decorated in various historical styles and mounted for the Kelseys of the world to admire. I felt like a giant peering into other, three-dimensional worlds, where teeny, tiny beings lead lives I never would have otherwise known about. Little worlds, where individuals have places that require their attendance, where dinners are served, where time is shared. In particular, there was a shadow box of a dining room with a vase of flowers and a small china cabinet filled with even smaller china, and you could feel the warmth of the sunshine peering through the entryway on your skin. It reminded me of a house I once lived in as a young girl.
Maybe I got nostalgic or something, but the next thing I knew, I was spending my first free moment in my own kitchen at home wearing my Little Mermaid Apron and listening to this new band I was recently introduced to and reinventing an old childhood favorite. From there, I bring to you: the familiar chocolate-marshmallow-graham combination, in bar form. Sometimes, you have to take the things you admire and make them your own.
We start with a dense cookie base made from brown sugar, graham cracker crumbs, and all-purpose flour. We decorate that with semisweet chocolate. We top that with jumbo marshmallows that toast and brown in the oven, forming a heavenly cloud of sweet, sticky goo atop each nostalgic square.
Sometimes, we sit by the campfire at night and we tell stories. Of ghosts, both real and imagined. Of pasts, separate and still present. Of all the things that brought us here. Sometimes, we recreate that from the comfort of our air conditioned homes, in broad daylight, squeezed into the teensiest bit of free time before fleeing to another new thing, S’mores Squares in hand. I suppose the important thing is the sharing, and not the form it arrives in.
Friends, I bring you nostalgia in the way of square-shaped S’mores. You’re welcome.
One Year: Mango, Black Bean, and Avocado Salsa
Two Years: Peach Strawberry Lassi
Three Years: Jalapeño and Cilantro Cold Rice Noodle Salad with Gingery Peanut Sauce
Makes 9-16 squares
8 tbsp (1 stick) unsalted butter
2/3 cup brown sugar
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups (roughly 9 sheets, if using whole) graham cracker crumbs
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp sea salt
6 oz semisweet chocolate chips or chunks
10 oz large marshmallows
Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Grease an 8×8 square baking pan and line with parchment paper. In a medium saucepan set to medium heat, begin to brown the butter. Allow the butter to melt, then foam and pop until golden brown and fragrant, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and allow to cool slightly. In a large bowl, beat together brown butter and brown sugar, about 2 minutes. Beat in eggs one at a time, beating for one minute after each addition. Beat in vanilla extract. In a medium bowl, whisk together graham cracker crumbs, flour, and sea salt. Beat dry ingredients into wet ingredients in halves until combined. Pour graham cracker mixture into prepared baking dish. Sprinkle evenly with chocolate chunks, followed by marshmallows. Bake until marshmallows are golden brown and slightly puffed, about 20-25 minutes. Let cool completely before slicing into bars.