Friday, May 11, 2007

Peanut Butter and Baloney

Zachary actually tried one of my favorite foods as a child today.

My own invention. Boloney with peanut butter spread on it and rolled up like a cannoli. No bread. Just peanut butter and boloney.

Okay, I have to be honest, it was tofu baloney. He doesn’t know it is tofu baloney. I take it out of the packaging and stuff it in a plain plastic bag.

Do you know what’s in real baloney? Ew.

It was one of those moments of sheer joy for me. When my kids eat a new food I’ve introduced them to, and like it? It makes my heart full.

One of the things I loved to do with my mother as a child was cook. She taught me how to scramble eggs when I was old enough to reach the counter. There was a cast iron fry pan that was a must use for scrambled eggs. It gave the eggs a better flavor, she said. A liberal pat of butter, swirled until bubbling and the whole pan was coated.

She showed me how to be firm but not wild while cracking eggs. It’s too hard to fish out the pieces, she advised. But if you tap without certainty on the counters edge, you’ll end up with more small pieces floating than if you gave it one, fast hit. Always go for the middle of the egg and pull the sides away.

She wrapped her hand around my smaller one holding the fork and taught me the difference between whisking and stirring. Slowly at first, she helped me make the small circles using my wrist.

Eggs cook quickly, she explained. Once the butter is foaming, you must put the eggs in and be ready to stir. Keep them in motion the whole time so no one part gets brown, and again, she held my hand, steering it with the spatula through the eggs.

My mother was a southerner. And no self-respecting southerner would ever serve dry eggs. Soft and barely cooked, they tasted like runny, warm yolks. The toast was made, with a careful eye on the melting butter, so it was hot the same minute the eggs came off.

We had to make due- there were never any grits available in Upstate New York in those days.

The eggs continue to cook a little, so take them off early, she explained and before you do anything else, run cold water over the pan. The heat in the iron pan continues to cook the eggs making an impossible mess to clean.

Today, Zachary wanted a snack but it was close to dinnertime. He opened the refridgerator and stared at it, looking for inspiration. When he pulled out the baloney, I remembered one of my first original recipes.

I showed him the roll technique- don’t try to fold like a burrito- it’s too small and will never work. Go for cannoli style.

I remembered putting a slice of baloney on the butcher-block wood while my mother watched. Her raised eyebrow as I pulled out the peanut butter.

You have to eat it, she said to me.

I know, I said as I spread the peanut butter evenly across the slice.

Just like I watched Zachary do. I didn’t tell him he’d have to eat it. Different time, different rules. Starving people in the world are important but American obesity is important, too.

Do you need bread? My mother asked.


No bread? Zachary asked.


I remember taking the roll outside and running to my favorite tree to climb- a silver maple in the neighbors yard. It was a warm summer day, the kind I spent entirely outdoors unless I was made to do otherwise. I scaled the tree and high off the floor, I took my first bite. I remember the peanut butter’s creamy texture and the rubbery baloney, the flavor overpowered by the sweet peanut butter. It was a little disgusting but I was proud of my invention. My mother learned to make the cannoli style creation and pack it in my lunch box, always shaking her head.

But then, she loved pimento cheese sandwiches, something I tried but never understood either.

Zachary nodded his head with the first bite. It’s good, Mom. Thanks.

He smiled and roll up in hand, ran outside.

He didn’t climb a tree- we lack a good climbing tree in our tight, suburban yard. But it was warm and the sun was shining, just like so many years before when I tried my first bite.

I love sharing food with my kids. It brings me full circle, back to a place in my childhood full of light, not pain. I can’t share so many of my memories but food, making food, teaching how to whisk an egg, how their grandmother held my hand- I can tell those stories.

My mother is standing behind me, her hand on mine, around the fork.

My son is smiling with a dab of peanut butter on his cheek.

My heart is full.


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