Submitted by Debbie Carpenter From her grandmother Vina Marie Post's recipe, Madison, Wisconsin Grandma and Grandpa Post traveled in their trailer each winter in search of warm weather and a golf course. During the summer, they settled the RV in a park near Lake Mendota. When the grandkids came to visit Madison in the 1960s, Grandma Post let Debbie and her sisters sleep in the motor home. Nothing could be neater to a kid! In his spare time, Grandpa Post built bicycles, and the kids were always riding around the trailer park on funky-looking bikes he'd pieced together. Debbie's favorite was the tandem bike he made with her older sister Kathy. Nothing quite matched the freedom the freckle-faced girls enjoyed while cruising around on bikes in the summer months without a care in the world. In between adventures, Grandma Post and the girls would stroll over to the Piggly Wiggly to buy the ingredients necessary to make Oatmeal Carmelitas. Oozing caramel, chocolate, and pecans between layers of crunchy oatmeal, they instantly became Debbie's favorite, and Grandma Post always had the cookie jar filled with them for the girls to enjoy. Grandma Post was also skilled at knitting and crocheting. When Debbie was a teenager, she found a picture in a magazine of a knit halter top with a watermelon on the front. Grandma Post knitted the top and surprised Debbie on her next summer visit. Debbie wore that shirt to shreds. We can easily imagine Debbie riding a handcrafted bike in the spiffy yellow halter with a big watermelon on the front eating Oatmeal Carmelitas. Grandma Post lived to be 99 years old. She passed away one month before her 100th birthday. Her Carmelitas are so good, we expect the recipe to survive well beyond another 100 years.
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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.
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