Of Love, Grief, And Nanaimo Bars

Kevin Allen in his natural habitat.
Kevin Allen in his natural habitat.

I am familiar with loss.

Loss is wordless and powerful, difficult to describe, hard to imagine until it happens to you, and even then each loss is different.

Today, three years ago, my friend Kerry lost her older brother, Kevin. It was an accident, like these things usually are when someone dies young, and the shock of it is still often very present. Kevin was full of life, kind, loved his dog and his friends. He and Kerry were friends, maybe not always on the same plane at times, but their bond was deep.

The entire Allen family – Kerry, Kevin, and their parents, Jim and Nancy – were close. They were my second family, even if they didn’t really know it. I have known them for my entire life, practically, 35+ years, across the continent, through the birth of babies, marriages, and now, through loss.

It seems fitting today to post an offering, a tiny little absurd remembrance to Kevin that doesn’t encompass at all the love that the Allens have for each other and the hole of grief that they are still knitting together. Other than Jim smoking cigars in the garage, banished by Nancy, and Kevin’s somewhat mysterious older brother mystique (to me, anyway, who was pretty hapless around the opposite gender anyway), one of the things I remember most is Nancy’s Nanaimo (nahnny moe) bars.

Nanaimo bars are a wonderful combination of chocolate and nuts and coconut and cream cheese that melts in the mouth. I have thought about them often across the years but have never had them anywhere but in Nancy Allen’s kitchen. I am privileged to have received the recipe from her in April (via Kerry) for inclusion in the cookbook.

With loving remembrance of Kevin and forever gratitude for the shelter (mental, physical, emotional, and otherwise) that the Allens offered me over the years, I have made these today. Kerry gets a bunch on her counter, and the rest I will spread around like love.

Nancy Allen’s Nanaimo Bars

Note: You may be tempted to change some of these amounts. Resist the urge. Yes, two tablespoons of pudding mix is inconvenient, but so what? It’s worth it.


Crumb crust

¼ cup sugar

¼ cup unsweetened cocoa

1 tsp vanilla extract

1 egg

1 ½ cups (6 oz) graham cracker cookie crumbs (I use Schar gluten free graham crackers to make crumbs, the best I have ever had, among their other products)

¾ cups (2 oz) flaked coconut

½ cup chopped pecans

Cream filling

½ cup butter, softened

3 oz. cream cheese, softened

2 T instant vanilla pudding

1 cup confectioner’s sugar

2 T milk

Chocolate glaze

4 squares (1 ounce each) semisweet chocolate

1 T butter


Grease 9” square pan and set aside.

In a saucepan, combine the first four ingredients for the crumb crust and cook over low heat, stirring constantly until mixture coats the spoon. Stir in graham cracker crumbs, coconut, and pecans. Spoon into prepared pan and press into an even layer.

For the filling, beat together butter, cream cheese, and pudding mix. Beat in confectioner’s sugar and milk. Spread over graham cracker crust. Refrigerate 30 minutes or until firm.

For the glaze, melt chocolate and butter together. Spread over pudding layer. Refrigerate again until chocolate is firm.

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