Follies of a Frazzled Chef: Peanut Butter Crusades – Part 2

I spent some time preparing for my Peanut Butter Crusade. I mean, you don’t just pick up and go to war on a country’s culinary ideals overnight. Eating a peanut butter and Nutella sandwich for inspiration, I came up with as many “pro” peanut butter arguments as I could think of. Then I set off to make my cookies.

My solemn giuramento (oath) proved just a little harder to keep than I had initially thought – just like everything to do with my life in Italy. Why? Well, remember how I mentioned that there was just one lonely jar of Skippy on the shelf at the Conad supermercato? It seems like that one jar was their stock for the entire year.

Mi scusi, do you have any more burro d’arachidi? In the back, maybe?” I politely inquired. The little shelf where I had originally found my Skippy just had empty space between the jars of jam and the oversized jars of Nutella.

Burro d’arachidi? That schifezza (junk)? We only stock that for the tourists, signorina… We won’t be getting any more in now that the season is almost over.” How ridiculous! On one hand, however, I was happy he probably didn’t consider me a tourist. On the other hand, I immediately started to dread what would probably turn out to be a very involved quest to find the peanut butter I needed. Willing myself to be optimistic, I thanked him and trotted off to the smaller Conad store across town.

Burro d’arachidi? I don’t think we even carry that here. What do you want that schifezza for, anyways?” The clerk grimaced, showing his displeasure at the mere thought of peanut butter. Peanut butter is not schifezza, I wanted to scream. It’s no worse for you than Nutella, an Italian breakfast spread made of chocolate and hazlenuts which has long been coupled with peanut butter on my morning sandwiches. It’s no worse for you than that! I mumbled a grazie and exited the store.

After extending my search to include the even smaller, mom-and-pop supermarkets in Siena, I finally found two jars of no-name peanut butter in the neighbouring town of Colle Val d’Elsa. Yes, I travelled to another town to get this stuff.

So back into the kitchen I went, being extremely careful this time not to have the washing machine on while I was cooking. I even made sure my housemates weren’t planning on using the shower during my cooking time. I wanted to avoid all possible kitchen catastrophes. There was no time for fooling around during my Peanut Butter Crusades!

As I usually do when attempting my culinary creations, I consulted my grandparents for their recipe. Gramps sent the recipe to me in an email and told me to Skype him if I had any questions. Smiling at my high-tech nearly 80-year-old Grandpa, I pulled up the recipe, placed my laptop in the centre of the kitchen table and logged into Skype, just in case disaster struck mid-mix and I needed some help from the other side of the world…

I rolled up my sleeves and got down to work. Again, eggs, sugar and flour flew from the cupboard and into the mixing bowl, making a brief stop on the handy-dandy kitchen scale that was still my substitute for a measuring cup. I jammed the spatula into the first jar of peanut butter and effectively cleaned it out with one flick of the wrist, and one 300 gram plop into the bowl. As usual, my housemate sauntered in to make some tea just as I was getting to the mixing part.

I was enjoying myself talking to Alex while mashing, mixing and stirring the thick batter in my fluorescent green mixing bowl. It was even beginning to look like it should. I was relaxed and happy with my project’s progress. I swiped a finger into the batter and tasted. I figured it needed something, so I plopped in little more peanut butter and added a splash of latte for good measure. Nowhere at all did my recipe call for milk, but by know you all know I can’t resist adding a little bit of a personal touch to recipes, even if I have no idea what I’m doing. And by now you know that’s usually the case.

“You know Sarah, it really looks like you’re getting the hang of this cooking thing,” said my housemate peering over my shoulder into the bowl.

I was pleased with the compliment and promised to set some cookies aside for him. I then went to the oven and gave the knob a good twist to turn on the broiler. Yep, the oven still wasn’t fixed, but I forged ahead with my cookies anyway. By this point, I was a pro at cooking with the broiler and nothing but. Really. It just took three times as long to bake anything. No problem. If my experience in Italy had taught me anything, it was to be patient and persevere. If you don’t believe me, check out my post on Italian Bureaucracy.  

Satisfied that the broiler was on and slowly heating the oven, back to the batter I went. Mix, mix, mix. Stir, stir, stir. Taste. Repeat. My housemate, who was still observing, continued to chatter away.

“I mean, I remember the first time you tried to make carbonara here. What a disaster. Before that I didn’t know burnt pasta smelled so bad!” Ok, so he had just negated his first compliment a bit, but I’d let it slide. Stir, stir, stir. Mix, mix, mix. “But this time, you haven’t burned anything, you haven’t made the electricity cut out, and you’ve still got all your fingers!” Such accomplishments.

“I know, I’m really starting to feel at home in the—” SNAP! Oh jeez.

I was left holding the handle of the wooden spoon in one had while the spoon part stayed stuck in the batter. My housemate opened his mouth to surely make some smart comment, but I shot him the death stare and he thought better of it. He exited the kitchen pretty quickly after that. I grumbled to myself and decided I’d better search the batter for splinters.

Somehow, I formed the cookies and shoved them in the oven without incident, convinced I had picked out any harmful bits of wood that may or may not have come from the broken spoon. I positioned a chair right in front of the little window on the front of the oven and settled in to make sure my cookies didn’t burn. I had too much riding on these cookies to carelessly let them burn.

A couple of hours later, my peanut butter beauties still warm from the broiler, I trotted off to my friend’s restaurant to start the Crusade.

Buonasera tutti!” Good evening, everybody! I shouted above the music. Hey, no one said I couldn’t be a friendly crusader. Seeing that I was carrying a plastic container of goodies, the staff and regulars started to crowd around, curious.

“Oh Sarah, please tell us you’ve made some more cookies. Those last ones were great!”

“You guessed it! Cookies for all.” I placed the container on the counter, removed the lid and stood back as five or six guys rushed to grab a cookie or two.

“Hey!” One of them started accusingly, “These are different from last time! What’s in them? I need to know what I’m eating before I eat it…” He regarded the cookie suspiciously, as if it contained arsenic or something. It was just a cookie! Sheesh! Be adventurous people!

Mangia, zitta e basta!”  I commanded.  Eat, be quiet and knock it off! A few of them raised their eyebrows in amusement but complied for the most part. I surveyed each of their faces as they started to taste the cookies. Surprise, confusion, wonder, enjoyment, and finally… appreciation.

“You, ragazzi miei, are eating cookies made almost entirely of burro d’arachidi!” I announced smugly as I picked up a cookie and brought it to my lips. I raised my signature “don’t question me” eyebrow and looked around. Disbelief coloured their faces.

“What? Veramente?! I’ve never had it before! It’s not so bad, Sarah.”

“Told you so!” I exclaimed through a mouth full of cookie.

“These cookies are deliziosi! Che sapore! Che gusto!  They’re so different!”

“And different didn’t kill you, did it?” I asked before helping myself to the last cookie.

“Yeah, kind of exotic tasting!’ I laughed out loud at that one and nearly choked to death on a lingering cookie crumb, my poise and smugness disappearing.

Peanut butter? Exotic? I guess to an Italian it would be…

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