butter comma peanut

Who decided peanut butter should come first?
What reasoning led to this order?
It is not alphabetical
Unless it was decided by a librarian, butter comma peanut ampersand jelly
Librarians, beautiful minds all, are not the natural arbiters of sandwich naming conventions

It is not historical, the origins of both lost in the mists of time
Though let us explore that concept
Once upon a time, neither existed, no butter comma peanut, no jelly
I would pause for a moment of silence here, sad as the thought of a pre-PBJ world is, but you might think I was finished and applaud so let us press on

At some point in antiquity someone dug up, roasted, salted, and crushed the cotyledons of Arachis hypogaea
And it was good
Someone, was it someone else or the same someone, mashed berries containing a sufficient quantity of pectin and, perhaps they forgot them on the counter, and it jelled into, well, you know
And it was good, too

But which happened first?

Fine, I said origins, mists of time, et cetera
But fruit is easy to find
Peanuts, not so much
Fruit is obvious, over time becoming sweeter, and mushier, with no help from Homo Sapiens
Peanuts, not so much
What with the digging (why?) and the roasting (why?) and salting, which I get, but crushing, again why?
Jelly is obvious, likely, spontaneous, inevitable
Peanut butter, not so much

And yet
If someone were to offer you a jelly and peanut butter sandwich
Or, in fact, a jelly and butter comma peanut sandwich
Or even a sandwich comma jelly ampersand butter comma peanut
Would you trust them?
Would your taste buds tingle?
Or would that be the hairs at the back of your neck?
Because whatever the origins
Fair
Or not so much
Even a child knows
Peanut butter comes first
(except, dear librarians, in the dictionary)


Genuine Moroccan Cheesecake

Transcript (but it’s better if you listen)

We know a teacher in Denver who likes to take us out for exotic food every time we’re in the area.

The first restaurant she shared with us was a Moroccan place. As we walked through the front door and we saw people sitting on the floor on cushions I wish now that we’ve done that, uncomfortable as it might have been at my age. We sat in a regular booth.

Our daughter Fiona, who at the time was the pickiest eater in the world, was determined to try everything. We call her ‘travel Fiona’ when we’re traveling because she is always a little bit more adventurous.

Our friend warned us to try everything no matter how strange it looked . For instance, grilled chicken between 2 tortillas covered with powdered sugar. It’s delicious.

The restaurant seemed to be family run; it looked like a father and mother and 3 sons. When one of the sons noticed that Fiona was trying things but not eating very much he said “I’ll bring something you’ll like.” He came back with a dish, I don’t remember what, and she took a taste and he looked expectantly and she said “I don’t like it.”

His brother laughed and ran off to the kitchen saying “I’ll bring something you’ll like” and he came back and they took turns through the whole evening bringing us plates of food, for which we never got charged, to try to tempt Fiona into liking some kind of Moroccan food. She’d always taste it very politely and think about it and say no, I don’t really like it. And then whoever had brought it got laughed at.

At the end of the evening the father came. He’d been watching this the whole time and he said that he was going to bring something that he knew Fiona would like. He came back with a plate of what he called ‘genuine Moroccan cheesecake.’ Now, it looked and tasted to me like regular old cheese cake. But the 3 sons stood back and their father won.


Anniversary Flavors

For our 14th anniversary on December 26th Best Beloved bought me The Flavor Bible. Pick a food, any food, and find suggestions from obvious through interesting to bizarre (but still right) for flavor combinations.

Not a cookbook. Dishes are mentioned by name only. The suggestions are classed by the number of world class chefs recommending them.

This book is the epitome of principles rather than rules, my favorite way of gaining expertise. I want to be, not just a good cook (already there in spades) but an excellent cook, an interesting cook. Knowing how to follow a recipe is important, but on its own does not lead to creativity.

Long before I discovered it is an unusual ability, I used to taste combinations in my mind. I’ve long chosen spices based on what works in my head, and I’ve rarely been wrong about a combination. This requires great familiarity, though. Spices or foods I’ve never or rarely eaten don’t work this way.

Seeing what brilliant chefs find interesting but tasty allows me to think about new ways to combine flavors while still keeping it delicious.


Coffee, 2 Weathers, Please

People make funny assumptions.

Because I (usually) drink decaf, apparently people think I like weak coffee. One place I worked, my morning ritual was to dump out the watery half-strength muck someone had just made and make a pot of strong-and-a-half decaf. At home, my coffee is the strongest you’ll ever taste. Not kidding. It will punch you in the tongue. I love the taste of coffee. What I don’t like is the caffeinated shakes.

When we were traveling, everyone we stayed with or even drove with assumed that because we were from California, our preferred temperature was somewhere around 80ºF. It’s closer to 65º, thank you very much. We’d sweltered our way through two experiences as guests when we realized what was going on.

Having moved from far northern Wisconsin to southern Arizona, it is only natural that every single person we meet comments on how nice it must be to finally see some decent weather. I’ve learned to respond that it sure is sunny here, oh ho oh ho.

We hate the heat. We love the snow. Since we work from home and don’t have to go out if we don’t want, two feet of snow overnight is fun for us. We all prefer sweaters to short sleeves, and a roaring blaze in the fireplace to living cooped up with a/c for six months.

Also, apparently from the way I talk, everyone assumes I love bacon.

Got that right.


Too Much Salt

If I’m going to make a cooking mistake, it’ll be the seriously rookie mistake of adding too much salt.

We use kosher or sea salt for everything. I don’t like the taste of table salt; it’s too sharp. We have a shaker by the stove, and bamboo salt boxes on the counter and table.

Here’s what I do, time after time: pick up the salt box, swivel the magnetic lid, and shake right from the box into the dish. (This morning it was some tea biscuits, which you might call graham crackers or some such.) Here’s what happens: our brains see a lot of something, and misjudge portions accordingly. This is why using smaller plates is a very effective dieting tool. Honest.

So instead of a few shakes of salt, just to kill the raw taste of the flour when it bakes, I got salty cardamom crackers. If it was green cardamom they could be chai crackers if I’d used pepper.

But not. Cardamom and honey and too much salt.

Maybe I’ll use that empty cardamom shaker for salt.


Inviting Critics to the Arena

I may not refer directly to information presented in Brené Brown’s 99U presentation but you may find it interesting anyway.

Not pizza
A food analogy. Always a good place to start:

Join Me for Pizza

Imagine I invited you over for my amazing homemade pizza. Everything from scratch. You are, of course, delighted.

You’ve mentioned my pizza to a couple friends and wonder if they might come along. I’m feeling expansive, so why not?

By 4:30 Saturday, it’s a disaster. The sauce isn’t thick enough. The toppings aren’t grilled properly. The crust doesn’t rise enough.

Which of these options makes the most sense to you?

Continue reading “Inviting Critics to the Arena”


Crummy Cake Communication

Country folk have odd recipes, but we always eat good.

My mom had two cakes she introduced us to when I was a kid. She called them Mayonnaise Cake and Tomato Soup Cake.

Yeah, that’s how we reacted, too. Allow me to expand: the mayonnaise is used as a substitute for eggs and oil in a chocolate cake with coffee in the batter. A thick, dense, moist explosion of coffee-chocolate flavor. Frosting would be pointless. Vanilla ice cream works. We’d stir them together, unknowingly creating a cookies and cream experience 30 years before anyone was selling it.

My father was most precise in his speech. It was from him that I learned to look for the right word, the difference, for instance, between “loping” and “trotting” or “thinking” and “pondering” and such shades of meaning which give depth and clarity to our communication.

(That’s called “setup” so you’ll wonder, as I relate this, where it comes into play.)

Continue reading “Crummy Cake Communication”


2-for-1: Food, Family, Fear, and Whiskey Waffles

Hurry up, get in, let’s go. Two stops to make today.

Ladies first: Elizabeth Kaiser joins me in the post Food, Family, Fear. They’re connected, oh yes indeedy.

Then, my friend and editor and occasional drinking buddy Tom ‘BentGuy’ Bentley interviews me about my books, process, and tastes. And we talk waffles. And whiskey.


Thanks for the fish, Mr. American Tourist

I had the urge to leave. So far Siobhan had done nothing but avoid my questions, drag me cross country, and rebuff my advances. What kind of relationship was that?

guinness-is-good-for-youI stood up. Checked my pockets. Yup, still had 45 Euro. Thanks for the fish, Mr. American Tourist, but I’m moving on. Time to be proactive.

I was so close. So close to finally being smart. Or, close to smart finally doing me some good.

I hadn’t even seen them come in; I was getting comfortable in my environs and not paying attention, or maybe I was so focused on deciding whether Siobhan was dangerous or not that I didn’t have the mental energy to watch for other enemies, if they were enemies.

“Dr. Martin, please, don’t go yet. We should talk.”

The speaker couldn’t have kept me there if he’d wanted to; he was the second smallest man I’d met in Ireland, after the ex-Mr. O’Quinn. His compatriot was another matter. A giant, in acres of Armani, he had me sitting back down and slid against the far edge of the booth as if I hadn’t existed.

The big hard lump in his pocket had smacked my elbow hard enough to hurt. A big metal lump, not even in a holster. Sloppy, but probably effective.

I decided not to go yet. I didn’t decide whether we should talk.

This is an excerpt from Through the Fog. To read the whole story, get your copy at Amazon or just sign up for my newsletter and get it free.

Coffee is a wonderfully emotional smell

That She is Made of TruthCoffee is a wonderfully emotional smell. It’s no wonder so many people won’t go a day without it. I love it, but I keep it in its place. A cup when I want the taste, not because I need the caffeine. An espresso when I’m doing something creative. Not that can’t-get-out-of-bed-without-it relationship most people have. Watching everyone I know acting like addicts hunting a fix in the morning concerned me. Maybe I like to be different.

Maybe I used to drink a pot a day and I’m trying not to go back there.

Spending time in coffee shops was my version of an alcoholic in a bar. Usually I met in a real restaurant or even the park. I’d been known to bring a spare sandwich in order to have a quiet conversation away from flapping ears in the next booth.

This is an excerpt from That She is Made of Truth. To read the whole story, get your copy here: That She is Made of Truth.