nut butter rhapsody
on food, memory, and ghost stories (kind of)
i’ve been feeling quite fond of my cache of nut butters lately, both pantry-placed and memory-moored.
i’m not usually one to remember dreams, but a few weeks ago i woke up with a simple fall breakfast at the forefront of my mind. my boyfriend and i were about to embark on an early morning bike ride — one of many we’ve taken around the city — and hadn’t yet fallen into our breakfast speed-run of stove-simmered oats when we just needed to get out the door.
we ambled over to a shabby café not because it was Yelp-starred, but because it was close to both a bike-share station and a grassy parkway that could serve as the site of a quick nosh. my morning appetite is best sated by something light, often vegan, so i ordered a sesame bagel, sliced, toasted (lol sorry new yorkers!), and slathered with peanut butter. the peanut butter was probably store-bought skippy (no shade, but nothing special), but where melty-sheeny nut butter met crisp-warm bagel met foggy-chilly day i experienced the utter joy of finding quintessence in the quotidian.
i’ve also been reminiscing about another nut butter memory, this one from my moving day. i had diligently cleared out my old place’s freezer and fridge — stocked by three roommates pre-pandemic but only consumed by the two who stayed in town — and was left with a pittance of unpacked ingredients including frozen paratha, salted almond butter, and dukkah. i pan-fried the paratha, spooned on some almond butter, dusted it with dukkah, and rolled it all up. i bagged it for the next day’s mid-move lunch, expecting to find it much worse than the trademarked fruits-by-the-foot of my childhood.
i was proven wrong when i sat down on the bay-window bench of my barren new apartment and pulled out my sack lunch. what a double-buttered delight! dukkah’s crunch wasn’t as noticeable as its slight bitterness, which cut the rich one-notedness of the animal and plant fats with its alimentary vibrato (i’ll see myself out). relishing in that false fruit roll-up as i awaited a truck full of my worldly possessions helped me take the time to savor the momentousness of my first solo move.
what i like most about these memories lies in their surprise transcendence. nut butter is something i consume almost every day, so i feel taken aback when the mundane morphs into the marvelous. my brain seems programmed to notice when food (or anything else in my life) is amiss: i’ve let meals grow cold while ferrying various condiments, pepper grinders, and lemon halves to the table to tweak them to perfection. i appreciate even the most ephemeral reprieve from this forever-moving-goalposts mentality.
the other fun(ny) thing about food memory is how it shapes my cravings and, thus, my cooking. the more sentimental i grow about certain ingredients, the more i want to make meals and meaning out of them in the present. food begets memory which, in turn, begets more food.
“There is so much more to eating than just eating. Eating is picking blackberries, or deciding to pick blackberries next week, or remembering blackberries you picked fifteen years ago.”
the ghosts of foods past, present, and future haunt me in an experience that we collectively call “eating.” sometimes they overwhelm me and i plan a daunting amount of future meals, most of which i’ll never make; sink hours into needless culinary complexity; and spend too much money at my local grocery stores. i struggle to draw the line between inspiration and impulse, which can unmoor me from my current needs. while i’m grateful to have these ghosts bouncing around my brain, wrangling them into enjoyable cooking in the here and now can be a challenge!
i’ll close out this post by spotlighting a few front-of-mind nut butter ghosts:
- a slice of crusty bread dolloped with plenty of salted almond butter and a little leftover sambal oelek, rice vinegar, and honey “jam”
- bok choy dressed in the ~triple-sesame threat~ of tahini, toasted sesame oil, and black sesame seeds
- a fork-whisked, small-batch spread of sunflower butter, dijon mustard, lemon juice, and parsley inspired by a recipe in food blogger michał korkosz’s fresh from poland: new vegetarian cooking from the old country
- peanut-butter rice krispies drenched in melted chocolate, faithful in concept to the snack-dessert of my midwestern childhood but with a darker chocolate that better (and bitterly) delights an older me
- dropping a spoonful of nut butter into a pot of nearly-cooked oats only to have it separate and (sp)oil my breakfast
- a misguided college-dorm concoction of noodles in peanut sauce that presumed noodles and peanut butter to be the only necessary ingredients
- taking middle-school french because the teacher regularly brought in fresh baguettes and jars of nutella, the gateway drugs to my eventual vantage-level fluency and general linguistic nerdiness
- might one of my nut butters suit a breakfast congee?
- should i try out a tahini-based vegan chocolate chip cookie recipe that i saw on instagram?
- where might i buy chestnut butter? should i make it instead?