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Life I dream of peanut butter

Mar. 4, 2019
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I am confident that I cannot write anything profound about peanut butter toast, but I sure cannot stop thinking about what Andy Warhol once said about bread and jam:

“Food is my great extravagance. I’ll buy a huge piece of meat, cook it up for dinner, and then right before it’s done I’ll break down and have what I wanted for dinner in the first place—bread and jam. I’m only kidding myself when I go through the motions of cooking protein: all I ever really want is sugar.”

I think about bread and butter all day. My brain frenetically plans and plots the next meal I will have before I am finished eating my current one, and every meal I suffer through is just one step closer to having toast for breakfast. I dream of grain and ground almonds.

I find that beginning every morning with two pieces of bread and multiple plastic knifefuls of nut butter puts me in the best of moods and and is the cure to curbing my pre-lunch neurosis. I can stomach savory in the mornings, but I much prefer the sweet: an all-American and Warholian diet of vanilla Icelandic yogurt, honey-flavored cereals, maple-syruped and sugar-crystalled granola, and overly ripened fruit keeps my blood sugar and sweet tooth at bay. A day spent without a spoonful of peanut butter is a day squandered.

It has taken months to develop and settle on an ideal toast-making routine, one that is just as painstaking and complex as any other familial culinary tradition. There is no room for modification. 

We begin with two pieces of Dave’s Killer 21 Whole Grains and Seeds bread. The funny arrangement of seeds—which a quick Google search determined to be flax, millet, spelt, sesame, barley, oats, pumpkin seeds, and other bulk-item specks—studs the carpet of my bedroom and pierces the bottom of my feet every morning.

One piece of soft, pillowy whole-wheat sandwich bread works just as well, but the bread sags from the weight of anything you arrange on top, which makes eating it with one hand difficult. Each slice of Dave’s is half the size of the sandwich bread and three-fourths the size of a slice of Sara Lee, which gives you a narrower canvas to work with, but doubling up gives you two separate opportunities to indulge in two different types of spreads or jams.

The toast must always be half-burnt. I’ve developed a taste for the burnt tang and crunch, and crave the brittle, grainy texture of crisped bread mashing against my teeth. Biting down on crustier bread makes for the most satisfying sound in the entire range of culinary noise, and gnawing on the toast produces the most luxurious of squishing and squelching sounds. 

The toast is always too hot to pull straight out of the toaster, but I burn my fingertips anyway.

I take to stirring my peanut butter as my bread bronzes in the machine. I twirl a plastic knife in the jar to blend the peanut oils with the paste, but this is usually an unnecessary task. I eat peanut butter twice a day at minimum, so not enough time passes in between breakfasts and post-lunch binges for the oils to separate completely from the paste. I do it anyway so I can cut two small slices of a ripened banana with a knife dripping with salted peanut butter and mash them around in my mouth until the toaster violently ejects the bread. This is the part of the routine I savor the most.

When the coils fire off and fade from red to silver, I steal the toasted bread, lunge the knife back into the peanut butter jar, and pull out a healthy glob to scrape across the first piece. It takes two-and-a-half knifefuls of peanut butter to completely cover the toast. I surgically slice the banana more precisely and arrange nine coins onto the first piece. 

I always end up getting peanut butter on my socks.

By the time I reach the second piece, the bread is cooled to the right temperature. I slap a pasty glob of vanilla almond butter onto the bread, knead it down with the knife, and scrape it on the edges. The texture is stickier and gummier than the goopy peanut butter, which is frustrating for the pickiest of reasons—it takes effort I do not have in abundance in the mornings to spread it across the bread and often cracks my plastic knife right in half. 

I perform the same surgical procedures on my second slice and indulge in a marble-sized glob straight from the jar. I smear the rest of the nut butter on the knife onto the leftover banana, plop the two pieces down on a paper towel, and eat them hungrily and eagerly in the dark as my roommate snores above me.

I eat them in the order that I’ve prepared them. Lovesick with the salt crystals aplenty, I much prefer the peanut butter slice, and I instantly gratify my sweet tooth right away by eating it first. The almond butter piece follows.  

O—there is no other feeling I crave more than stopping halfway through my first piece and realizing I am not done yet, nor am I halfway finished—that I still have more than two servings of peanut butter left to relish and another blanket of almond butter to shove into my mouth. I hope Warhol felt this way every time he swallowed a spoonful of strawberry jam.

I’m sure the constant influx of small cystic pimples appearing on my face every week has something to do with the oil and salt content in the peanut butter. All I have to show for the years I spent crippled with food anxiety is a greedy appetite for peanut butter, and if the consequences of overindulging in a food that I once was scared to eat a single teaspoon of are less detrimental than depriving myself of it in general—acne, cavities, whatever—then it does not matter. 

There is nothing immediately profound about a protein paste first made for people who cannot chew food, but it is profound to me. It is the most profound of foods that are processed and packaged into jars and sachets and squeezy tubes—in all of its variations, too; in its almond and hazelnut and cashew varieties, in its cake and ice cream and Girl Scout cookie forms. Creamy, crunchy, powdered, and everything in between. 

Yet there is no reason behind my attachment to the blandness of peanut butter. It is not profound to me because it triggers soft memories of eating lukewarm boxed lunches and Uncrustables in grimy cafeterias or sneaking spoonfuls from the Jif jar in the middle of the night. In fact, the taste of peanut butter does not evoke anything sentimental. I just enjoy it.

I’m glad Warhol knew of the necessity of only eating jams and jellies and sweet things in the morning to keep his head screwed on tight. In our ideal state of decadence, we are surrounded by butter and jam jars galore, with plastic knives waywardly sticking out and dried banana strings browning inside of them. In cavities, we unite!