This feels like the wrong recipe with which to honor the memory of Anthony Bourdain. He was — is — one of my idols, an inspiration at a time when I’d thought the well of inspiration had run dry. His work urged me to break free from my tiny, fenced-in life and go explore. Go learn something. Go experience things instead of reading about them. Just do stuff.
As a writer, he inspired me to be honest, authentic, and fearless with my words. As a chef, he inspired me to learn something new every day, and to test my own boundaries in the kitchen. Perhaps most importantly, though, as a person, he inspired me to be an avid listener above everything else. He taught me to appreciate how wildly, infinitesimally small I am in this enormous, beautiful, ever-evolving world. He taught me he to be unapologetically and unabashedly myself. He taught me how to be brave in the face of any and all of life’s challenges.
So you could say I owe a lot of who I am and what I’ve done so far in this life to Anthony Bourdain. That would be putting it lightly.
But the guy didn’t even care that much about dessert. In his last cookbook, Appetites (which I highly recommend to any human with a kitchen and a brain), there’s one page for dessert. And it starts out with the words “Fuck dessert.” He goes on to explain that dessert is fine and all, but he’d much rather have a cheese course and a good glass of port. Stilton, if you’re asking what kind of cheese. I guess we’re kind of kindred spirits, in that way. I don’t really care about dessert either.
It’s a strange catch-22, my relationship with dessert. I’m pretty sure I was born without a sweet tooth, because I rarely need anything more than a single square of dark chocolate after dinner. Usually, dessert just makes me feel kinda bloated, and I don’t get the enjoyment out of it that most people seem to get. Kyle is the same way, too — we almost never have sweets lying around the house, because neither of us thinks about keeping them around.
But I love baking. I love baking so much that I feel inclined to do it at least once a week. I’ve tried to pin down why, and I think it boils down to two things:
- Baking is zen.
- Even though I don’t love dessert, other people really, really do.
So the act of baking is for me, and the product of baking is for everyone else. Everyone wins.
I guess that’s why baking was my knee-jerk reaction when I heard about Anthony’s passing. Because, to me, it’s a complete embodiment of what he stood for. Compassion. Connection. Charity.
I’d like to think that if I’d ever had the opportunity to feed these crumble bars to him, he’d at least have taken a single bite and told me they were good. But this recipe isn’t necessarily for him. It is him, the way that I saw him. It’s comfort, compassion, and kindness. It’s a recipe to be shared with friends, family, and perfect strangers. I hope you make them to share with people you love or people you’ve only just met. I’m sure that, when you offer them one, it will make their day. I’m sure that they’ll have stories to tell you. I know I do.
Strawberry Rhubarb Crumble Bars
Recipe adapted from smitten kitchen
- 1 cup rolled oats
- 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
- 1/2 cup light brown sugar
- 1/4 tsp kosher salt
- 6 Tbsp unsalted butter, melted
- 1 cup diced rhubarb
- 1 cup diced strawberries
- 2 Tbsp granulated sugar
- 1 Tbsp lemon juice
- 1 tsp cornstarch
- 1/4 tsp cinnamon
Preheat oven to 375° F. Line an 8×8 inch baking dish with parchment paper and set aside.
In a medium bowl, whisk together oats, flour, brown sugar, and salt. Pour in the melted butter and mix with your hands (or a spoon if you must) until clumps form and no dry flour remains. Press most of the mixture evenly into the bottom of the baking dish, reserving about 1/2 cup for topping.
In another medium bowl, mix together rhubarb, strawberries, granulated sugar, lemon juice, cornstarch, and cinnamon. Spread evenly over the crust. Sprinkle remaining crumb topping over the rhubarb-strawberry mixture.
Bake in preheated oven for 35-45 minutes, or until the fruit is bubbling and the crumb topping is golden-brown and delicious. Let cool completely in fridge (or freezer if you’re impatient like me), then slice into 9 bars and enjoy!