Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a 9 by 13-inch baking dish (or use nonstick baking spray). Set aside.
In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, and salt. Set aside. Place the butter and brown sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and beat on medium speed until creamy. Slowly add the flour mixture and blend until incorporated. Use a wooden spoon or spatula to fold in the oats. The mixture will be crumbly. Transfer half (about 3 cups) of the mixture to the baking dish. Use your fingers to gently press and spread the mixture evenly on the bottom of the baking dish. Bake for 10 minutes to set.
While the first layer is baking, place the caramels and milk in a small saucepan (or see Carpool Crunch). Cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly, until the caramels are melted. Remove from the heat and let cool slightly.
Remove the crust from the oven. Sprinkle the chocolate chips and pecans (if desired) evenly over the top. Carefully pour the caramel mixture on top of the chocolate chips and nuts, and spread evenly. Sprinkle the remaining crumb mixture over the top. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, until lightly browned. Remove from the oven and let cool to room temperature. Then refrigerate for at least 2 hours, or until the bars are set. Cut into 2-inch squares.
If you are a true caramel lover, forego the chocolate chips and nuts to have a pure caramel encounter.
When you remove the baking dish from the oven, don't put it in the fridge. Run to the freezer, grab some vanilla ice cream, and drop chunks of the warm, gooey Carmelitas over the ice cream. Whatever you do, take a moment to enjoy the gooey phase before the (refrigerated) solid phase.
Carpool crunch: Use Kraft Premium Caramel Bits-already unwrapped for easy melting. Place the caramels and evaporated milk in a glass or other microwave-safe bowl. Heat on high power for 2 minutes. Stir and repeat in 30-second increments until the caramel is melted and has a smooth consistency.
Submitted by Debbie Carpenter from her grandmother Vina Marie Post's . Reprinted with permission from Sugar, Sugar: Every Recipe Has a Story, by Kimberly "Momma" Reiner and Jenna Sanz-Agero, copyright (c) 2011. Published by Andrews McMeel Publishing.