On top of a sheet of felt-and-glitter tabletop snow, wooden blades were spinning, propelled by steam from tiny candles. Below the windmill but carved from the same light wood, tiny German townspeople busied themselves preparing for a wooden winter. I stood there for a few minutes, watching the delicate dance of the Christmas Pyramid: wood and fire, fuel and hunger.

It was my first visit to Mike’s great-aunts’ house, and thankfully, I was just in time to see their earnest and intricate Christmas display. Rose and Martha had been adding to their holiday collection over the course of many years and many travels, and their home now good-naturedly bore its heavy load of cheer.

Along with the Christmas Pyramid, a yuletide scene adorned every available surface in the house. The sturdy 1950s countertop in the kitchen boasted a full Christmas village. Warm orange lights glowed from miniature, snowy-silled windows. Plastic children, round with winter wool and red-nosed beneath fur caps, constructed snowmen in the yard. Figurines of all shapes and sizes skated on a mirrored glass pond thanks to tiny unseen magnets. And, in my favorite tableau, kids posed with St. Nick before a toy camera that gave a CLICK-FLASH! every few seconds as if snapping their photo.

The entire house was busy with whirring, chirruping, chiming, ringing. Understated carols rung out at regular intervals from mysterious origins. I would turn my head to find the source only to see a Christmas train, a Christmas snowman, a Christmas door hanging, a pudgy Christmas Santa statue, lights, bells, snow — Christmas chaos!

Imagine yourself as a child. Imagine that one day you really did get to step through your mirror, like you’d always dreamed might be possible. All it took was a little shimmy, a heel click or two, maybe a wink, and you were finally allowed to flow right through the glass. Imagine that when you stepped in, you stepped straight into a world of candy and jolly Santas and benevolent holiday rabbits and secret gardens and fairies and talking animals.

The joy of this house was that same joy. Walking into the door of this house was like walking into a fantastic place you knew existed somewhere, but could never seem to find as a child.

If the house was a Christmas fairyland, Rose and Martha were the magnificent queens of the domain. Martha was lovely, humble, and meticulous, welcoming and distributing presents. And Rose was mischievous, adventurous, and excited, whispering sly comments and shaking gifts. Together, what a pair.

They weren’t just wonderful on Christmas, either, and not just the first time I met them. We would celebrate their birthdays together at a boisterous gathering at Trio, one of their favorite restaurants. Folks from far and wide would turn up and share stories of the things they’d accomplished.

Both were teachers that poured out their time and energy for their students. Rose spent 11 years in night school to earn her degree in History. She then spent several more years learning about computers as she taught, creating a computer lab for her elementary school students. Rose and Martha traveled around the world together, sometimes preferring a foreign country, and sometimes heading to Chetola, a beloved spot in the North Carolina mountains, instead.

It was hard to believe things could ever be difficult for Rose. It seemed impossible that her pure fire-engine gumption couldn’t propel her through just about anything, including health problems and age and, good grief, probably a wall of fire and a mountain of steel at that.

She did slow down, though. At one point she broke a bone and had to recover in a nursing home, and I remember going to see her and realizing her gumption was willing, but her body demanded rest. When you see a pillar of strength and realize it’s fragile, it shakes you. Your whole frame of reference starts to bend just a bit.

Rose’s bone slowly healed. She went home and continue living her beautiful life. We went to dinner and a basketball game with her and Martha months later — her beloved UNCC 49ers — and though she had grown more frail, we could still see the spark of her heart.

This past Saturday, though, just hours before Mike was planning on visiting her, Rose passed away. The book of Greek myths he planned to take and read to her still sits where I tucked it quietly away once I heard. There’s nothing I can say to fully eulogize this sort of burning life. I wish, instead, you could’ve heard Martha’s strong voice at Rose’s funeral singing Amazing Grace with unexpected verve.

And I hope that Rose feels just now as if she’s stepped, finally, through a looking glass. I hope the real presence of Christ is stronger even than the joy of a billion Christmas wonderlands on a billion countertops. I hope she feels like, finally, she’s home.

Gooey Cookies & Cream Bars

Recipe by: Willow Bird Baking, inspired by S’mores Bars
Yield: About 12 bars

I made these Gooey Cookies & Cream Bars as a treat for Mike, ditching a previous plan involving pumpkin (which he’s not fond of). I’m so glad I did. They’re rich and heavenly, crunchy and gooey, and altogether full of warm niceness for a cool autumn day. Apart from tasting amazing, they’re super quick and simple — something I value more and more lately. Heat up one or two of these and enjoy them with some cold milk.

1/2 cup butter, room temperature
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup chocolate sandwich cookie crumbs (i.e. crumbs of about 10 Oreos)
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 king-sized Cookies ‘n Cream candy bars (e.g. Hershey’s)*
1 1/2 cups marshmallow creme
*can substitute a regular white chocolate bar if these are unavailable where you live!

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease an 8-inch square baking pan and create a foil sling: tear off 4, 16-inch long pieces of aluminum foil and fold them in half. Situate two side-by-side in the pan, covering the bottom of the pan to the edge (they will overlap). Situate the other two strips in the same manner, but perpendicular to the first. The overhanging foil of the sling will make it easy to remove the bars from the pan after baking and cooling. Grease the foil as well.

Cream the butter and sugar together in a large bowl until fluffy and pale yellow (2-3 minutes). Beat in the egg and vanilla. In a small, separate bowl, whisk together the flour, cookie crumbs, baking powder and salt. Add the dry ingredients to the butter mixture and mix until just combined. Divide the dough roughly in half, placing half the dough in your prepared pan and the other half in the fridge to chill until you’re ready for it.

Use the back of a spoon sprayed with cooking spray and to press and spread the dough in the pan until it covers the bottom of the pan in an even layer. Place the Cookies ‘n Cream bars side by side over the dough (if they fit; if not, break them and arrange) such that you have a full single layer of chocolate (about 1/4 inch thick). Glop on marshmallow creme and use a greased offset spatula to spread it evenly across the candy bars. Take the remaining dough out of the fridge and place it on top of the marshmallow layer (to do so, take a small handful at a time and flatten it into a “shingle” in greased fingertips. Lay these side by side over the top. They’re a little sticky so it takes some fiddling, but just clean your fingers off if the dough starts sticking to them too much and continue).

Bake for 25 to 30 minutes or until lightly browned. Let cool completely in pan before gently using the overhang of the foil sling to lift the bars out of the pan and place them on a cutting board to slice. When ready to serve, heat each bar in the microwave for about 25-30 seconds. Store extras in an airtight container. Enjoy!

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62 Comments on Gooey Cookies & Cream Bars

  1. Kaitlin
    September 12, 2011 at 9:37 pm (13 years ago)

    This is such a sweet and beautifully-written post, Julie. I’m so sorry to hear that someone so special has passed away. She sounds like she was truly amazing.

  2. Kathryn
    September 12, 2011 at 10:30 pm (13 years ago)

    What a truly beautiful tribute to your loved one! Just found your blog and like it so much… It’s nice to see someone’s faith so real! Thank you!

    • Julie @ Willow Bird Baking
      September 12, 2011 at 10:34 pm (13 years ago)

      Aw, thanks so much, Kathryn! That’s such a sweet thing to say! So glad you happened by.

  3. Colleen
    September 13, 2011 at 1:27 am (13 years ago)

    You created a beautiful tribute to a beautiful woman. What a blessing to have known such a woman who could weave pure magic into your life.

    • Julie @ Willow Bird Baking
      September 13, 2011 at 5:51 am (13 years ago)

      Thank you, Colleen! I do feel so blessed to have known her. I remember thinking at her funeral on Saturday, “What a huge loss for the world.”

  4. Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella
    September 13, 2011 at 4:05 am (13 years ago)

    What a lovely post Julie. I have the feeling she would have loved being remembered that way. Rest in Peace Rose 🙂

  5. Tracy Butler
    September 13, 2011 at 5:09 am (13 years ago)

    This recipe sounds amazing, but we don’t have Cookies ‘n Cream candy bars here in Scotland. I tried looking on line for an alternative but got nowhere. Could you tell me what weight a King Size bar is and if you have any alternative suggestions? I would love to make this for my son as he hasn’t been able to go out and play for a week or two because the weather here has been so dreadful. Many thanks – your posts are wonderful.

  6. Jules
    September 13, 2011 at 6:13 am (13 years ago)

    What a wonderful tribute to an amazing person! You write about her so beautifully, I can’t help but think she would have been proud to know you.

    And those bars look delicious.

  7. Sasha @ The Procrastobaker
    September 13, 2011 at 6:22 am (13 years ago)

    The look absolutely divine, what gorgeously unique bars indeed 🙂 you have a beautiful writing style also, lovely post!

  8. Connie
    September 13, 2011 at 10:08 am (13 years ago)

    What a sweet and touching post. I’m sure those who knew Rose will miss her immensely! Along another line, did I miss something about you and Mike getting back together? The last I knew, you had broken up and I’ve been so sad for you all this time. So glad to read that you’re dating again, or are you just friends now? Just being nosey, but I’m happy for you now.

    • Julie @ Willow Bird Baking
      September 13, 2011 at 10:21 am (13 years ago)

      Ooh, Connie, you’re not nosy — just paying attention! It’s still kind of in its very beginning stages, so I haven’t said much about it yet, but we’re trying to work things out. I’ve been sad for us, too! Thanks for caring 🙂

      • francineclee@hotmail.com
        September 13, 2011 at 9:00 pm (13 years ago)

        I was thinking the same thing!

        • Julie @ Willow Bird Baking
          September 13, 2011 at 9:02 pm (13 years ago)

          You guys are sweet! Thanks for caring! I hope I’ll be talking more about it in the days to come . . . eep!

      • Connie
        September 19, 2011 at 12:54 pm (13 years ago)

        Julie, when I posted my comment (above), I clicked on the box to receive an email with each new post on your site. I had already done that in the past and now I’m getting TWO emails with each new post. Any way you can stop the duplicate? Sorry for the trouble caused by my mistake. 🙁

        • Julie @ Willow Bird Baking
          September 19, 2011 at 12:58 pm (13 years ago)

          Oh no! Let me see if I can fix it. I think I can . . . Let me know if you still receive 2 emails the next time I post. Thanks for letting me know — no trouble!

        • Julie @ Willow Bird Baking
          September 19, 2011 at 1:02 pm (13 years ago)

          Okay, I think I did it! Check in next time I post and make sure you’re still receiving at least one email (if not, you may need to resubscribe). Hope that worked!

  9. erinsgobragh
    September 13, 2011 at 5:01 pm (13 years ago)

    Beautiful post girl! Plus those bars look so awesome! YUM! I remember my Mom and Grammy with food memories too!

  10. Sandra
    September 13, 2011 at 6:42 pm (13 years ago)

    It sounds like she was a beautiful soul and this is an amazing recipe.

  11. kat
    September 13, 2011 at 7:33 pm (13 years ago)

    So amazing!! Can’t wait to try this 🙂

  12. T.F.Walsh
    September 13, 2011 at 9:23 pm (13 years ago)

    Now these look good, and you can’t go wrong with oreo cookies..

  13. Lori
    September 14, 2011 at 8:25 pm (13 years ago)

    What a lovely and loving tribute.

  14. Aarthi
    September 15, 2011 at 12:39 am (13 years ago)

    WOW…First time here…Reached here form my friends blog…I am going through your blog for a while and found that you have quite a few recipe…I really liked it…Following your blog striaght away..This recipe is mouth watering..I love oreo in anything…Specially i love to munch down a whole packet of oreo with some milk…Check out my blog too..


  15. erin
    September 16, 2011 at 2:39 pm (13 years ago)

    Beautiful post!
    And delicious looking food!

  16. duhlicious
    September 16, 2011 at 8:20 pm (13 years ago)

    your pictures are incredible!! hope things are going well. can you believe its almost been a year since foodbuzz??


  17. Dmarie
    September 18, 2011 at 4:36 pm (13 years ago)

    such fabulousness!!

  18. Tay
    September 20, 2011 at 8:25 pm (13 years ago)

    Thank you for writing such a sweet post about my Great Aunt Rose. You perfectly described her house around the holidays. I love the way you talked about her – mischievous, adventurous, excited, making sly comments – that’s Rosie!
    We have so many great memories of her but we will miss her always.

    • Julie @ Willow Bird Baking
      September 20, 2011 at 11:52 pm (13 years ago)

      Thank you, Tay — I feel like the world lost someone truly special when it lost Rose. <3

  19. Marie
    October 29, 2011 at 10:25 pm (13 years ago)

    Should one remove the cream filling centers from the Oreos before crushing into crumbs?

  20. Erin
    August 24, 2012 at 5:27 am (12 years ago)

    I just found your blog and absolutely love it. I’m a food blogger as well (aubongouter.com) and I totally appreciate that you make everything from scratch. These are a fabulous spin on s’more bars! I will definitely be trying them!

  21. Bethany
    October 29, 2012 at 1:29 am (12 years ago)

    From the moment I laid eyes on this recipe, I knew I had to make it. You see, my hubby loves all things cookies & cream, and this had his name written all over it. When we took our first bites, the only sounds that could be heard were the groans coming out of our mouths (or was it our noses? Our mouths were full of food, so the sound couldn’t have been coming from there. Is that even possible? Groaning from your nose? I don’t know. Anywaaaay…). We were in awe. I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve made this recipe since, but it is a LOT! Love, love, love it!!!

    • Julie @ Willow Bird Baking
      October 29, 2012 at 1:46 am (12 years ago)

      Thank you, Bethany!! This is one of my favorites, so I’m so glad you guys enjoyed it!!

    • Julie Ruble
      November 26, 2013 at 5:34 pm (11 years ago)

      So glad you enjoyed them, Liz! Yours look fantastic!

  22. Lola
    March 8, 2014 at 9:57 pm (10 years ago)

    These look lusciously divine….can’t wait to make them 🙂 Does the butter used in this recipe calls for salted, or unsalted, butter..?

    • Julie Ruble
      March 8, 2014 at 10:43 pm (10 years ago)

      Thanks, Lola! It’s unsalted butter.


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