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February 2012

Homemade Peanut Butter

For almost ten years I've been on a quest, a slow and meandering one maybe, but a quest all the same, to go from a person who heats prepackaged foods to one who actually cooks (and bakes). 

Along the way I've been surprised, embarrassingly often, at the foods that can be made at home, which I had assumed could only be made in factories. If you've never seen someone make mayonnaise for example, would you ever imagine that it's made from whisking together eggs and oil?  Some foods' creation is as mystical as alchemy, until you see behind the curtain.  

Jennifer Reese has a book out that touches on this issue of how foods are made, titled Make the Bread, Buy the Butter.  There's a copy waiting for me at the library as I write this, so I can't say too much about it, other than that she  discusses when  making food at home is (and isn't) worth the time and effort. 

I think most people would agree that food made with care in small batches at home is better than food that has undergone an automated process of washing, heating, extruding and packaging in a factory.  Except sometimes, it isn't.  Peanut butter cups come to mind.  I don't know what Reeses does to theirs, but no recipe I've tried at home has ever come close.  And so, when I saw Yvette van Boven's recipe for Homemade Peanut Butter I thought, what a great idea, but it won't taste like peanut butter.  By which I meant, it won't taste like the processed, sweetened, velvety spread that I have eaten almost every day of my life and love. 

Here's where you'd reasonably expect me to tell you how van Boven's recipe compared to my expectations, but I can't.  When I got to Trader Joe's to buy the peanuts, I was confronted by eight shelves of nuts, all begging to be made into butter.  There were pale gleaming macadamias, wrinkled, brain-like walnuts, satiny cashews, diet friendly almonds, and an array of seeds as well.  In the end I brought home bags of hazelnuts and pecans.

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Once I'd changed the nuts involved I felt free to make all sorts of adjustments, including the type of sweetener and the seasoning used.  Based on the interview with van Boven that accompanies the recipe, I think she would approve. 

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Fingers crossed. 

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At this point I was worried that my blender just didn't have what it takes to grind those nuts into creamy submission.  Maybe there's a reason why you never see hazelnut or pecan butter.  I decided to give it one more shot.  I turned the mixer on and went downstairs to flip the laundry. 

When I returned,

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I had hazelnut, pecan butter with a hint of curry - I did mention I played with the seasonings, didn't I?  I know the picture looks a little like pate, but it tastes wonderful.   It's a little grainier than peanut butter, and I don't know if that's my choice of nuts or the fact that it's homemade, but it tastes so good that I keep stealing spoonfuls each time I walk through the kitchen. 

Next time I'm thinking I'll add a little cocoa and see if I get something similar to Nutella.  I wonder what using agave or molasses would do to the results.  As you can see, it may be a while before I buy another jar of my beloved store butter. 

If you'd like to try your hand at van Boven's homemade peanut butter, or create your own signature variation, the recipe (and interview) can be found in issue five of CraftSanity magazine (along with everything from chai apple pie, gardening in the snow to instructions for Tunisian crochet). 

Normally I would just post my variant of the recipe, but I'm hoping you will buy the magazine (either in paper or  reduced price pdf form) and support Jennifer Ackerman-Haywood as she turns her love of craft and journalism into a new business venture.  For all the back story on the magazine visit where you can find a blog and the amazing CraftSanity podcast full of interviews with people making a life through craft.   In fact, you can hear Jennifer interview van Boven in episode 126.

Now I think I left something I need in the kitchen.  Yeah.  On the counter near the nut butter...











Poetry in Motion

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I woke this morning to a sky of shocking blue, with clouds so fluffy and white they looked more like the creation of children set loose with a bag of cotton balls, than anything to be found in nature.  The wind shook my window in its casement and there it was, the embodiment of a poem I memorized when I was just learning to read...



                                            White sheep, white sheep, 

                                            On a blue hill,

                                            When the wind stops

                                            You all stand still;

                                            When the wind blows

                                            You walk away slow,

                                            White sheep, white sheep,

                                            Where do you go?


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I still have a few of my most well worn and loved books from childhood.  I wanted to be sure to give "Clouds" author credit, so I went to my shelf and there between an old scratch and sniff Winnie the Pooh book and my copy of Miss Suzy, was Poems and Prayers for the Very Young.  As a kid I loved the pictures and remember wishing there were more poems and fewer prayers.  That may be part of why I read "Clouds" so much.  Book 022412

The author is Christina G. Rossetti.  I'd never heard of her, but of course Wikipedia had.  It turns out she was a famous poet in England in the 1800s, who many saw as the successor to Elizabeth Barrett Browning.  Her life reads like a novel,  not something I think I've ever said about an encyclopedia entry. 

Without realizing it, you've probably encountered her poetry before.  She's the author of the Christmas carol "In the Bleak Midwinter".   It's somehow fitting that a break in this winter's bleak weather lead me to learning about Rossetti.



A heavenly smile

If I think about it long enough, I'm sure I could reconstruct a long ago heard explanation of exactly how the earth, moon and sun must be positioned to create the various phases of the moon.  I suspect we saw it played out in the darkness of our high school's planetarium, or maybe acted it out using twirling students and a flashlight "sun" back in elementary school. 

I like that there's a why and a how and that it's all wonderfully logical, but when I looked up tonight, all I saw was a heavenly smile - a reminder that we are loved.

If you've never read Walt Whitman's poem "When I Heard the Learn'd Astronomer" I recommend it.  It is short, reader friendly and a wonderful reminder that no matter how much we study and learn about the workings of the universe, the experiencing of it is where the magic lies. 



Good People

"There just aren't nice people in the world any more.  Everyone's out for themselves [sic]."  I heard these words at a meeting I was at recently and I had to bite my lip before a quick response came out.  If everyone is so awful, I wanted to say, I must be too.  So why are you talking to me?  Of course I realize that wasn't the speaker's intention, but generalizations about "people today" just set me off.

Once that ugly moment had passed, I felt sorry for the speaker.  Not because in my mind I'd told her off with elegant harshness.  No.  I felt sorry for her because I started to wonder what sort of life was she living, and who was she encountering, that she had such a dim view of people?

Last weekend I was a stranger, taking my morning walk in Cambridge, NY a town I'd never been to before, and a farmer tipped the brim of his cap to me as his truck rumbled by.  Later I walked into a busy restaurant, and a woman who was already waiting offered to share her table with me.  I believe people are as good (and otherwise) as they've ever been; it's just harder for people to act on those positive impulses when our communities aren't as close knit as they once were. 

I get excited when people accept that lifestyles have changed and find new ways to create community and look out for one another.  USA Today recently did a story that touched on this.  The story, Beauty Businesses Give Back gave a number of examples of people and companies doing the right thing, but my favorite was the "karma credits" at The Littlest Spa in Natick, MA.  OK, I'm a bit biased since Amy Elizabeth, the owner is a friend, but that doesn't change the fact that her program gives people a chance to help their neighbors.  Rather than offering coupons, The Littlest Spa issues credit toward future services when a patron brings in supplies for a local charity.  It's so simple and wonderfully effective.  I'm sure offering coupons would be less of a logistical challenge for Amy, but she makes karma credits work because it's important to her. 

So now the next time I hear someone say that people just don't care about each other any more, I think I'll have a better response than "You can't really mean that."