On the second level of the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, there are six eyes at the end of a long walkway. They surround the name, “Guillermo del Toro.” Through the entrance are pieces (big / small, spooky / scary, wonky / familiar) that encapsulate things that I have feared. Monsters, ghosts, abnormality, uncertainty. Things we do not want to sit near. Dark things.
There is an armless child suspended from the wall with wings and oversized, black eyes and a large hole for a belly button. A cuckoo clock marked with the words, Alle sind mein! A pepper’s ghost ghost from The Devil’s Backbone. Copies of The Sandman. Reinterpretations of Disney stories. Hands held. Hairy faces, hair faces.
Wide eyes. Flesh like geese. Tingling fingers. Thumping heart. Thinking: a spectacle can be more than a spectacle. A spectacle comes from a place. We forget that sometimes.
I saw a sketch of Frankenstein cowering, hugging his knees. It read, Cursed Creator! How did you form a monster so hideous that even you turned from me in disgust? I knew someone, I think, who felt that way, who did not always do the un-monstrous thing. Still lovable. Out of sight, out of mind.
Twists and turns and shadows and figurines. Dark, unlovable things. Then, warmth. For there was no pretense.
I saw all these things we are afraid to look at, and there they were. In plain sight. As they were. The choice to accept was very palpable, and I began to think of all the times that loving has felt optional. Of course, it remains that we can choose one thing and decide a minute later it doesn’t work anymore. But think of all the things we view in ourselves as small and dark and gruesome, when really, they are human.
So I made us a metaphor.
Like many monsters, these bars have gone by different names. They are mutant, a spinoff of the Hello Dolly. 700 Layers, flavored by dark things that should be trashed; marked with ingredients found in places where they aren’t supposed to be.
Burnt butter graham cracker / espresso crust with coconut flake sinews and mini chocolate chip spots like burst capillaries. Hidden beneath caramel chips and chocolate chips and broken pecans. More coconut. Espresso-flavored sweetened condensed milk goop and flakes of crackled sea salt.
That night, I walked through this strange exhibit with people who have been there for me since we met, who have made me feel accepted in full, and at times when the parts of me that felt scariest needed love. The last we were in that exact spot was just before my life shifted in what has felt an un-relatable way. But we are here, now and still. Because we said forever way back when and forever means forever.
Days after, this flavored form of alchemy cooled on my table next to a newspaper cutout saved by one of those people. I drank my favorite coffee in a mug from another of the group, picked out because it holds an emergent squid [and weird things are neat]. All of these, surrounding a mess of ingredients housed in dark and unsuspecting flavors, sarcastically sliced Square. Unlovable, lovable things, given a name that could be something other. “Hello, Dark Things.” But only because we do not understand.
One Year: Cilantro Lime Edamame Succotash
Two Years: Lemon-Ricotta Spaghetti with Smashed Peas
Three Years: Cocoa Brownies, Revisited
Four Years: The Best Marshmallow Crispy Treats You Will Ever Encounter
Makes 16 squares
6 tbsp unsalted butter
1 tbsp espresso powder
1 15-oz can sweetened condensed milk
8 graham crackers, crushed
1/4 cup almond meal
1 tsp espresso powder
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
2 1/2 cup coconut flakes, divided
1/2 cup mini semisweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup pecan halves
1/2 cup caramel chips
3/4 cup semisweet chocolate chips
sea salt, for sprinkling
In a medium saucepan on medium heat, melt the butter completely. Continue heating, stirring from time to time. The butter will foam and crackle, turning gold. Normally, we would stop here, but continue to cook the butter, stirring to redistribute the fat solids frequently, until the mixture turns darker brown. Transfer the burnt butter to a small dish, scraping down the saucepan to get every last bit of flavor. Allow to cool completely before proceeding. Meanwhile, preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Grease an 8x8x2 square baking dish and line with parchment paper. In a small bowl, stir together sweetened condensed milk with espresso powder and set aside (it may not fully incorporate, but this is okay). In a medium bowl, combine crushed graham crackers, almond meal, and espresso powder, stirring to combine. Stir in the cooled burnt butter and vanilla extract until combined. Stir in 1/2 cup coconut flakes and mini chocolate chips. Transfer the graham cracker mixture to the prepared dish, pressing the mixture tightly and spreading evenly. Evenly distribute pecans, caramel chips, and chocolate chips on top of graham cracker mixture. Evenly distribute remaining 2 cups coconut flakes. Pour espresso sweetened condensed milk over the top, ensuring every bit of the coconut mixture is covered. Sprinkle with sea salt and bake for 25-30 minutes. Allow to cool completely in the pan before removing and slicing into squares. Hello Darlings can be kept at room temperature in an airtight container for up to three days.