I have a confession. It’s awfully silly. For the past couple of years, I’ve been scared – nay petrified - of peanut butter.
I’ll forgive you if you stop reading this moment, aghast at my admission. (But maybe I can lure you back with a recipe for peanut butter fudge popcorn?)
Here’s the scoop. Peanut butter has held the most horrible reputation among health-bloggers for some time, and I read lots of these blogs which adds up to regular exposure. Peanuts – we write and read – are the bottom feeders of the plant world, poised to absorb every horrible soil impurity and pesticide in their path. Allergenic! Dirty! Those smiling little Kraft bears with their red and green bows? Guised killers, placed to lure us into peanut butter’s sticky trap.
Examining the research, I eventually converted to almond butter – which is delicious in its own way, but definitely not peanut butter. And I began to throw dirty glances at the Kraft bears – those murderers! – whenever I found myself anywhere close to breakfast spreads. Joking aside, I knew deep-down that a good-quality peanut butter eaten now and again was not going to kill me.
A couple weeks back, a friend mentioned the delicious PB&J he was having for lunch. Gosh that sounds good, I thought… if only I ate peanut butter… it’s been so long. I daydreamed of raspberry preserves and crunchy peanut spread with a cup of tea. Finally, on Sunday while grocery shopping, I bought some. Stealthily into the cart (lest anyone see my transgression!) I placed a small jar of MaraNatha Organic Salted Crunchy Peanut Butter. Baby steps. PB&J would soon be mine.
And it’s been a delicious tryst, between me and peanut butter. Into my smoothies and spread on bananas and straight from the spoon – the stuff’s delicious. Its ability to make things tasty knows no bounds!
Then, the other night popping popcorn in my housemate’s mom’s 1970s air popper, I had an idea. Popcorn and peanuts – a natural fit. Into a pan went some brown sugar, cinnamon, salt and peanut butter, stirred to a soft caramel. I shook it with the freshly popped kernels and placed them on trays in a low oven to crisp.
Oh my. Sweet, salty, crunchy peanut butter popcorn. It was popcorn crack. What had I started?
Since then, I’ve been perfecting the recipe nightly. Adding nuts here, and a sugar-coating there, a pinch more salt in some batches – and it just keeps improving. It took all my willpower to save a paltry tumbler (the photo at top) for my housemate to try. Even then, I had to portion it out, sit it on his desk, close the door, and run to make a tea so I would forget it. Popcorn that good.
I’m hopeful that by the time I deplete this jar, I’ll be so sick of peanut butter I avoid it for another couple of years. But I’m not holding my breath. And I still need to make that sandwich.
Peanut butter fudge popcorn
(serves two – well, one, unless you have incredible restraint)
10 cups air-popped popcorn
2Tbsp dark brown sugar
1/4tsp fine sea salt
tiniest shake of cinnamon (just a pinch!)
2Tbsp crunchy natural peanut butter
2 tsp brown sugar, reserved for shaking
Preheat oven to 200 degrees F.
Pop popcorn using your usual method into a large container that has a lid. You’ll need room to shake the corn, so sometimes two batches works best.
In a small pan over medium-high heat, combine brown sugar, salt and cinnamon with a scant tablespoon of water. When it starts to bubble rapidly, remove from heat and stir in peanut butter. The mixture will look like a thick caramel sauce. Pour over popcorn, pop lid on, and shake vigorously until all the kernels are coated. Open the container and add the 2tsp reserved brown sugar, tossing again to coat.
Spread evenly on two parchment-lined cookie trays and place in the oven to harden, about 8-10 minutes. Remove and let cool and store covered at room temperature.
[bear photo via]
When I was a little girl, nothing made me happier than a heaping plate of horta – a Greek peasant dish of boiled dandelion greens dressed with lemon and olive oil and salt. A funny sight, I’m sure, a six-year-old reverently diving into a plate of weeds, but I can’t help it. I love green vegetables.
(I suppose people have worse affections.)
My fridge keeps the usual suspects: a head of kale, containers of spinach and baby greens, and bunches of mustard greens and butter lettuce.
Tonight’s Tuesday visit to Riverdale made me squeal delightfully, though – sea asparagus! A salt-loving wild green harvested seasonally along British Columbia’s coast, it’s like a tiny-fingered green bean that’s been injected with saline. Crisp and surprising and fleeting, and completely the kind of vegetable you scoop up when it makes a market appearance.
I knew its fate straight away: used in place of salt in a simple kale salad, massaged with ripe avocado and lemon juice. Kale – surprisingly enough – is delicious raw, but it benefits from a bit of coaxing with some lemon juice to soften the hardy leaves. Against the salty, crunchy sea asparagus and dressed with avocado, it was a perfect summer dinner.
(makes two servings)
Massaging kale sounds kind of silly, but it’s actually very therapeutic and makes a big difference in the salad’s texture. Get your hands right in the bowl and give it a rub – plus it makes for really soft hands, between the lemon and avocado!
1 bunch kale (curly or Tuscan or lacinato or dinosaur – whatever’s prettiest that day)
1 small very ripe avocado, roughly diced
juice of 1 lemon
sea salt to taste (or 1/2c sea asparagus, blanched lightly and chopped finely)
Tear or cut the kale into bite-size pieces, discarding the tough stems. Combine all ingredients in a bowl and give them a good smoosh with the kale until the avocado and lemon become a creamy dressing. Taste a piece of kale for texture – it should be crisp but yielding – and add salt, if needed. Plate and serve.
If you haven’t heard it in queue at your local Starbucks yet, skinny is the word. Responding to increased customer demand for nonfat, sugar-free, no-whip versions of their drinks, this new label is set to become the hippest lingo in Barista-speak.
How do I feel about the skinny move? When I first heard, I was very torn over this big change Starbucks has implemented for “our health”. I think it’s fantastic to get more folks drinking skim milk, versus whole or 2 percent. At the same time, my reservations outweigh this small benefit. First, the consumer Starbucks is targeting already believes she makes ‘health-conscious’ decisions when she orders her mouthful-of-a-drink, they’re just streamlining the process. Second, what happens when a girl like me, who would otherwise order a ‘tall nonfat 2-pump caramel latte’ for a treat succumbs to the easier-on-the-tongue ‘skinny caramel latte’ and in doing so inadverdently becomes an artificial sweetener consumer?
The press release states: “Just in time for the New Year, Starbucks helps customers keep their resolutions without sacrificing flavor with the introduction of the ‘Skinny’ platform, a nonfat Latte made with sugar-free syrup … The Skinny Latte will be featured on menu boards starting in January 2008 and available at participating Starbucks as a core beverage offering in North America, so customers can enjoy this lower calorie, sweet tasting espresso beverage all year long.” (emphasis added)
This leads to my third reservation about the Skinny platform: it perpetrates a ‘more is better’ approach to eating and drinking. I would guess that the same consumer who chooses the skinny option may also upgrade her order from a Tall to Grande, or Grande to Venti beverage. The rationale: since her beverage is lower-calorie, she can consume more for the same ‘nutritional price’. To me, the smaller size (and really, at 12oz, is a Tall really all that small?) provides plenty of hot deliciousness, healthy protein and calcium, and keeps the pocketbook from becoming too skinny.
Fourth, let’s unpack the subconscious tale behind this new Skinny moniker. Starbucks is sending a message to an already-weight-obsessed demographic – your drink is skinny, and you should be, too! You might counter that I am blowing a drink name out of proportion, but it’s not a healthy latte, or a nourishing latte, or a better choice latte. Skinny is a claim that a company doesn’t have to explain, or qualify. While healthy conjures a particular meaning in one’s mind, skinny is ambiguously appealing.
Fifth, and finally, by marketing these drinks as a food for the health-conscious, an occasional treat becomes a daily necessity. From where I stand, no one should be making a sweet, dessert-like breakfast a staple item on the walk to school or commute to the office – whether it’s made with aspartame or sugar and a mountain of whipping cream. These beverages are best enjoyed sitting in the cafe, coat off, from a real mug, conversing with friends or people-watching or reading a book. When a sweet treat is rare indulgence, I am inclined to do the anti-skinny; top off my dessert with a blob of delicious full-fat real whipping cream – and lick my spoon, to boot!