Barbie Butz is an independent columnist for The Atascadero News and Paso Robles Press; you can email her at barbiewb@hotmail.com.

My good friend, Maureen Marquis, sent me an email last week with instructions for hugging after the pandemic is behind us. She knows that hugging is one of the things I really miss. If you were raised in a family of “huggers,” it is hard to greet your friends on a computer screen!

The email included adorable pictures of adults and children shown hugging animals. In some cases, it was the other way around.

The Hugging Instructions read:

Hugging is healthy.
It helps the body’s immune system.
It cures depression.
It reduces stress.
It’s rejuvenating.
It has no unpleasant side effects.
It is all-natural; it contains no chemicals, artificial ingredients, no pesticides, and no preservatives!
Hugging is practically perfect.
There are no parts to break down, no monthly payments, non-taxable, non-polluting, and of course…it is fully returnable! 

Getting through this together, Paso Robles

I do believe that, whether you are into hugging or not, human contact is vital to your health, both mental and physical. As my good friend Dyann Shepard put it, “hugging is essential to our human well-being.” So, hug on, dear friends, hug on!

I hope you were able to celebrate Valentine’s Day and Presidents’ Day in a way befitting the occasions. I spent some time baking, nothing too exciting, just simple stuff. I found an old recipe for using cake mixes to make cookies and went for it.

It was fun to be creative with something so easy to do. Here’s the recipe in case you have one of those days when you want to just create a cookie. These are cookie-bars and are, of course, cake-like and can easily crumble. But who doesn’t like to spoon-up the crumbles?

Cookie Bars with Cake Mix

Ingredients:
1 (15.25 ounce) box yellow or chocolate cake mix
2 eggs
½ cup ( 1 stick) butter, melted
2 cups M and Ms or chopped chocolate candies, or chocolate and/or white chocolate chips
Powdered sugar for sprinkling

Directions:
Heat oven to 350 degrees. Line a 9 X 13-inch pan with aluminum foil and coat with cooking spray. In a large bowl, combine cake mix, eggs, and melted butter. Stir in choice of chocolate. Bake 15-20 minutes until lightly golden at edges. Check with a toothpick if needed. Remove from oven and allow to cool completely before cutting into bars. When cool, sprinkle with powdered sugar using a fine-mesh strainer and cut into squares.

Note: Be creative by adding chopped nuts like walnuts or pecans to the batter. Serve a cookie bar topped with cherry pie filling. Make a glaze with 3 ounces of white chocolate, coarsely chopped, and 1 tablespoon shortening—mix chocolate and shortening in a small heavy saucepan. Heat on low until melted, constantly stirring—drizzle hot glaze over the cookie bars.

For a chocolate glaze, combine 1 package (12 ounces) semisweet chocolate chips with ¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons butter and heat on low until chips are melted. Stir constantly until shiny and smooth. Glaze will be thick, so immediately drizzle over bars. Sprinkle a few chopped nuts on top of the glaze. Just have fun! Let the kids in on this. Let them frost the bars with store-bought frosting and top with sprinkles according to the holiday. Remember that St. Patrick’s Day will be here in March, so get out the green sprinkles!  

Here’s another easy recipe for Buttermilk Ranch Dressing to serve with crisp Romaine and sliced celery.

Buttermilk Ranch Dressing

Ingredients:
¼ cup buttermilk
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
2 teaspoons red wine vinegar 1 small garlic clove, minced
½ teaspoon garlic powder
½ teaspoon kosher salt
A small handful of minced fresh chives 

Directions:
In a large bowl, whisk together the buttermilk, mayonnaise, vinegar, minced garlic, garlic powder, salt, and chives. Refrigerate until ready to serve. Serve over a salad made of torn leaves of Romaine and sliced celery. Sprinkle with coarsely ground black pepper.

Enjoy the weekend.

Cheers!