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a life in peanut butter

April 13th, 2011 | 11 Comments »

What goes best with peanut butter? Or maybe the question should be rephrased…..

What doesn’t go with peanut butter? And please, include your combinations.

Because this is all about the most ubiquitous spread available, the one that gleans passionate outbursts from even the most stoic souls, a food that fuels both bodies and debates -chunky or creamy, and which brand?- and even scorn, although I’ve only met a few people who turn up their noses at smoothly ground peanuts.

I love smooth and creamy peanut butter, always have. I won’t pass by a jar of good chunky PB, and if it’s all that’s available then I’ll take one for the team. I’m not picky about texture too much. But I’ve found that I can’t go more than a day and a half without consuming peanut butter. At all. I panic when the jar runs low in our house, or if we don’t have the right brand at our lake home in the summer. And I’m specifically loyal about my PB to a toddler tantrum, foot stamping fault; it’s got to be natural peanut butter. Hands down. All that ‘Take one for the team’ talk about eating chunky if I have to? It doesn’t apply to commercial peanut butter that tastes like thick brown paste. I grew up eating natural peanut butter and mourn the loss of Real brand PB from the stores. Thank goodness Parker Farms is a perfectly good option because the more well-known varieties (and I won’t name names; y’all know what types I’m talking about) will never grace my kitchen nor pass my lips.

Over the course of my lifetime, I’ve paired a lot of other foods with peanut butter. Out of curiosity, for the most part, and sometimes out of boredom and even necessity. Peanut butter is perfect poor-man’s food, like only a college kid can be. And when perusing your empty fridge late at night, your body in need of something substantial to carry you to morning, peanut butter becomes your go-to food, and in order to make that snack stick, sometimes you end up getting a little creative. And over the years, I’ve dabbled with a lot of interesting and varied combinations.

~~PB and a fried egg. On toast. It’s not bad. And for many years in college it was a staple for breakfast. These days, however, not so much.

~~PB and bacon. Oh yes. Crisp crackling pork, creamy PB that melts on your warm toasted bread. This is killer good, and even my Teen fell hard for it. However, due to it’s not so stellar nutritional outcome, it’s a rare treat these days.

~~PB and tuna. Ugh. Skip it. Trust me.

~~ PB and grated apple. Perfect, as we all know that dunking a thick slice of crunchy apple into peanut butter is almost a religious experience. Grate that apple, squeeze out the liquid and spread it on your toast. Add a shake of cinnamon if you dare. Divine. You might hear angels singing.

~~PB and crushed potato chips, or a Chip Butty, according to Susan’s Encyclopedia of Sandwiches. If you didn’t do this as a kid, raise your hand. I’d like to know you, and then maybe convince you of what you’re missing. Better yet, crush Doritos on your PB. Eeeek. Did I just say that?

~~PB and bananas. Oh Elvis, you really were on to something, weren’t you? I love PB toast, topped with sliced bananas and a shake of cinnamon sugar.

~~PB and Nutella. Although I can easily see that this would be swoon worthy, not being on the Nutella bandwagon leaves me in the dark. I’m sure it’s amazing though. Anyone can attest to this?

~~PB and jelly. What’s your pleasure? Grape jelly? Strawberry? I kind of like both, but lately, it’s got to be blueberry preserves in my PB&J.

~~PB and honey. Even better…. this combination is far and away my absolute favorite. Especially when the honey soaks into the bread and the edges get a little crunchy. Oh my, there go the singing angels again.

~~PB and green olives. I have my Mom to thank for this one. Ever since I was a kid, and she handed me a PB sandwich stuffed with split green olives (sans the pimento) I have been hooked on this oddity. Nowadays, I scoop up a container of Sicilian olives from the gourmet olive bar at the grocers, speckled with mustard seeds and mouth puckering with a tangy vinaigrette. These massive meaty green olives snap against the salty smooth taste of the peanut butter, creating an odd flavor combination that is wildly addicting. If you’ve got an adventurous palate, try it out. But I warned you.

~~PB and mayo. Tried it once and it made the hair on my neck stand up. I tossed the remaining sandwich in the trash and promptly brushed my teeth. Some things just aren’t meant to marry. But PB and cream cheese? Oh my……

But then there’s those items that have been smeared with peanut butter as just a random means to enjoy my favorite spread; banana bread and tea breads of every style and flavor, pancakes, celery sticks (without the raisins- blergh) pretzels, marshmallows, coffee cakes, muffins of all kinds, scones, my most favorite butternut squash biscuits, grapes, strawberries, melon…. and likely more than I can remember. There really isn’t much that I won’t pair with PB, even if just to try out something new.

So tell me…. what’s your favorite way to enjoy peanut butter? Do you like creamy? Crunchy? Which brand do you buy? Are you loyal to that brand? And why do you like it?



moving on, with baking

November 1st, 2010 | 7 Comments »

“October gave a party, the leaves by hundreds came.
The Chestnuts, Oaks and Maples, and leaves of every name.
The sunshine spread a carpet, and everything was grand.
Miss Weather led the dancing, Professor Wind, the band.”

Goerge Cooper, ‘October’s Party’

That sums up our October, doesn’t it? A more glorious month has yet to be seen, if you ask me. This year has shown us some amazing weather, and I know that many, many people thought summer was too hot, too muggy, too much ‘Summer’, I guess, but to me, it was just what Summer should be. And then for our reward, the heat index fell, the nights became more comfortable and we got October. Blessed, glorious, magnificent October.

“Bittersweet October.  The mellow, messy, leaf-kicking, perfect pause
between the opposing miseries of summer and winter“
~Carol Bishop Hipps

For what it’s worth, Summer wasn’t miserable. Just normal. And Winter is only miserable if you choose to look at it that way. Several years ago, I took up Cross Country skiing again, having not touched the skinny skis since I was a young girl. I forgot how magical it is to slide over the snow, in a quiet wood or on the trails and I’ve loved the benefits it gives me from the exercise. So I tend not to dread Winter like I’ve done in the past. And of course that means I really pray for a good snow cover. My apologies to those who hate everything that happens between now and Springtime.

But here we are in November, and it’s often a fairly gloomy month. That’s just not my cup of tea. There’s no eye-popping color, no crunching through ankle deep leaves, or mind-boggling glimpses of cobalt blue sky. It’s just November, the countdown to holidays and crazy chaos and the beginning of the dark season.

So I do what any other sane and hardened Northern dweller will do to combat these coming days. I turn on the oven, fling items like flour, baking powder, cinnamon, milk and eggs all over the kitchen and come up with something comforting and slightly sweet, something to draw me back. To rein me in, so to  speak. Last year I made a big effort to try and embrace Winter and all it’s darkness, with it’s amethyst sunsets and opalescent snowfalls. It made a huge difference so I am hoping it works again this year.

Along with a heightened attempt to change my attitude about Winter, so my baking has taken on a new aspect, and changed so dramatically from when I was little. I balk at making baked goods laden with shortening, oil and tons of refined sugar. Delicious, yes. Healthy- not at all. So I’m always on the lookout for recipes that support that, yet offer abundant flavor and comfort.

Like Peanut Butter Banana Bread.

These are two of my favorite tastes, together in a moist, tender load studded with chopped peanuts. While it’s not health food at all, it’s created with a lean towards the ‘Better for You’ angle, using very little fat and only a small amount of sugar.

I’ve been experimenting with sugar content in a lot of my baking recently. Instead of using white sugar, I’ve subbed in maple syrup, or honey or brown sugar for my recipes, often reducing the amount drastically. The results have been wonderful- good flavor and texture without the item being so sweet as to cross your eyes. Now I am not ignoring the fact that subbing one sugar for another is actually better, but instead I am focusing on removing white refined sugar from my diet completely. Sugar is sugar, yes. The goal is to remove refined products, which also includes white flour. All my baked goods are also being made with whole wheat flour too, including this bread.

I love the balance of peanut butter and banana in this bread. The PB is a subtle undertone to the delicious banana taste, and the addition of chopped peanuts (in this case, they were honey-roasted which I can’t recommend enough) adds a nice textural crunch to the moist bread. This recipe calls for ground flaxseed, and while I often add that to my baked goods even when it isn’t called for, in this recipe it’s a vital component and adds a nice nutty touch. Here’s the original recipe, with my substitutions in parentheses.

Peanut Butter Banana Bread
from All Recipes

  • 1 1/2  cups  mashed ripe banana (I used 3-1/2 large bananas- more than it called for but delicious nonetheless)
  • 1/3  cup  plain fat-free yogurt
  • 1/3  cup  creamy peanut butter
  • 3  tablespoons  butter, melted (I subbed canola oil)
  • 2  large eggs
  • 1/2  cup  granulated sugar (I omitted this)
  • 1/2  cup  packed brown sugar (I increased this to 3/4 c. and it was perfect)
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour  (I used all whole wheat)
  • 1/4  cup  ground flaxseed
  • 3/4  teaspoon  baking soda
  • 1/2  teaspoon  salt
  • 1/2  teaspoon  ground cinnamon
  • 1/8  teaspoon  ground allspice
  • 2 T. chopped roasted peanuts

Preheat oven to 350° and spray a standard loaf pan with cooking spray. Alternatively, you could use an 8×8 baking pan too, with adjusted baking time.

In a large bowl, combine bananas, yogurt, peanut butter, butter, eggs and sugar and stir until thoroughly combined. In another bowl, whisk together flour, flaxseed, baking soda, salt, spices and chopped nuts until uniform. Add to wet ingredients and stir just until blended. Do not over-mix. Scrape batter into prepared pan and bake for 50-60 minutes or until toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Baking time will be shorter if using the 8×8 square baking pan.

If desired, sprinkle chopped peanuts over the top of the loaf prior to baking. I loved how this added a nice crunchy touch to the finished product.

front step memories

April 16th, 2010 | 16 Comments »

I don’t know about you, but I’ve been having these ‘front step moments’ lately, where memories are popping up from all ages of my lifetime that occurred on our front staircase. For some reason, the moving picture of my life has many frames that are wrapped around concrete and steps that led to streets, friends houses and adventures. So many of them intertwined with food too.

Who didn’t take their peanut butter sandwich outside as a child to eat on the back steps? There was your Mom, inside the house just a few feet away and your backyard in front of you, while you nibbled your lunch, sipping milk to wash the peanut butter from your tongue. Maybe the neighbor girl joined you and you shared your meal. Then you always ran off to play, leaving the remains of a sandwich, maybe a carrot stick or lone potato chip as fair game for the dog to snatch up. But only if they were quicker than your Mom.

Blessed or otherwise, I saw a lot of different front steps in my young lifetime. My first memories, ever, occurred at the top of this long flight of stairs in South Minneapolis.

(that’s not trash littering the yard; it’s petals from a huge Star Magnolia behind me)

Nearly 40 years later, I’m floored to near tears by the fact that the railing pictured is the exact same one we used to slide down as children. My spot to sit and watch my young world go by was on the top step leaning against that railing. It was there, nibbling on my lunch one afternoon that I was jumped from behind by a Black Lab. I was terrified, screaming and wildly thrashing against that surprise assault when our feisty Dachshund, Schnapps came barreling out of nowhere to fling himself at the marauder, then chased that huge dog down the street, barking frantically, nipping at it’s heels. Schnapps was my protector. And he sat on those steps a lot with me.

Then we moved, briefly, to this set of front steps.

With this playground spread out before us.

This was a fantasy world at our young feet. We knew each trail, each bank of that creek as intimately as our own yard. We caught crawfish, dug worms, watched the current and climbed trees. When tired and thirsty, we’d run into the house and rummage for cookies, sipping Kool-Aid or lemonade, resting and catching our breath before heading back outside to find more beauty, gulp down the air and run until we were worn to the bone. How simple life could be if time was only defined through cold drinks, cookies and the sound of laughter and wind in the trees.

My front steps now aren’t that wondrous, but they’re tucked back against our house and sort of hidden in their own way. I’ve always enjoyed sitting outside on them; for the most part, not many people who pass by even know I am there so I can watch and observe and speculate on the world going by without disturbance. Our current neighborhood is made for walking, so there is always a parade of people, of dogs, kids on bikes and rollerblades, young families with strollers that sift through the evening breezes, quietly chatting with each other.

I can enjoy a glass of wine on these steps, chatting with The Teen, or sitting peacefully with a cat. We’ve been known to sit on these steps while thunder groans overhead and the tree in the yard bends in the furious wind. The storm siren can be going off, barely a block away and we won’t be able to hear each other speak, but the joy of watching that storm, the shiver of experiencing nature’s blast right in front of us keeps us there until drenching rain chases us both inside. My boy and I love a good thunderstorm.

So much of my days when I was very young were a mix of fresh air, sunshine, neighborhood kids and homemade treats. There were Dreamsicles, Freeze Pops and trying to fall asleep in the summer heat. My childhood, as many others, is full of these memories, and delicious tidbits that slipped between our fingers just as fast as we could lift them to our lips.

One of my most favorite treat as a young girl, and still to this day was my Mom’s Peanut Butter Fingers.

I guess I look to glean some sense of nostalgia whenever I make a beloved childhood cookie. How simple everything was then, the time of life that didn’t include numbers in bank account, property taxes, thinking about your child’s 16th birthday, insomnia and a host of other adult trappings that leave us longing for a simpler life. I bite into peaceful kid feelings when breaking through the solid chocolate crust of these beauties, and relish the memory of my Mom’s smile. Baking was her love language, and we sopped it up daily, never realizing how good we really had it. I still recall the first time at a friends house and she asked if I wanted a cookie. Enthusiastically I said yes, thinking of homemade chocolate chip, maybe a molasses cookie or my utmost favorite sugar cookies. She gave me an Oreo. Admittedly, I did like it -what kid didn’t like Oreos?- but it was the first exposure I had to the fact that not everyone had an endless supply of homemade treats at their disposal. I asked this friend what kind of cookies her Mom liked to bake and she looked at me blankly, then back at the Oreos. Oh, now that was a lesson to learn, all right.

Yes. I was blessed. And I continue to honor that upbringing in my own home, especially when the need for comfort and inner soothing become necessary. From what I see in the food blog world, baking is an obsession of many. That’s a wondrous thing to see, and indeed, to know in one’s lifetime. Fresh scratch treats have no comparison, in taste or in the way that they soothe, calm and bring ease to a often chaotic existence. The preciseness of baking is almost exactly opposite the freewheeling, often uncontrolled way that life has of tossing us around, leaving our souls feeling shaken. Peace to all-  through flour, sugar and a hot oven. Baking brings it’s own method of calm.

Today is my Mom’s birthday. Happy birthday, Mom. I sure do miss you. It’s no surprise to me that these memories are so strong right now.

Anyone want to join me on the steps for some cookies and a good chat??

Peanut Butter Fingers
origin unknown- some lifetime ago. This recipe is the first one under the ‘Desserts’ tab  in my indexed book of favorites. That’s how beloved it is.

Spray an 8×8 pan with cooking spray. Heat your oven to 350°.

Cream together:
1/2 c. butter
1/2 c. each brown and white sugar

Blend in:
1 unbeaten egg
1/2 c. smooth peanut butter (chunky is fine too, if it’s your thing)
1/2 t. baking soda
1/2 t. sea salt

Stir in:
1 c. flour
1 c. quick cooking oats

Chocolate topping- 1 12-oz bag chocolate chips

Spread batter in prepared pan and bake for approximately 30 minutes, or until toothpick test is clean.  Remove pan from oven and sprinkle chips over the top. Allow to soften and then spread evenly to cover bars. Cool completely before cutting.