Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Parable of the Peanut Butter

Consider for a moment that you are a big fan of peanut butter. You are more than a fan, you are a connoisseur of peanut butter who can explain the merits of both crunchy and creamy varieties without bias, and you know the answer to the age-old spreading question: spoon or knife (but you're not telling).

You've tried peanut butters far and wide, and you know quality. For some foods, the generic store brand might taste just as well as their name-brand counterparts, but not peanut butter. With peanut butter, you have to suck it up and go with the good stuff.

You're perusing the grocery store shelves one day to find that last jar of honey-roasted Peter Pan amongst all the Jiffs and Skippys (Skippies?), when your eye falls on one jar in back. It is glass, not plastic, and you know that label. This is not your regular store-brand peanut butter. This is imported, superbly creamy, impossibly delicious, and--whoa. Expensive. Very.

You can't pass it up. You are a peanut butter connoisseur, remember? This is the kind of peanut butter you've been looking for. You're buying it, even if it means you have to put back your copies of Writer's Digest and the National Enquirer. There's only this one jar, and you're not likely to find this stuff again. You tuck the jar in safe next to your bananas and eggs and head for the register. You cock a disdainful eyebrow toward the jelly as you pass. No way, jelly. Not this time. This peanut butter doesn't need your help. It is special. 

You get home and pull out a slice of Wonderbread for your ultimate sandwich. You look at it on the plate, so plain, so white, so boring. This peanut butter can do better than this. It doesn't need any plastic-bag loaf training-wheels bread. You pull out a giant baguette and slice it open. You've broken out the good bread and that means you're putting a lot of pressure on this peanut butter to be able to turn your expensive baguette into the biggest, best peanut butter sandwich you've ever seen, that anyone has ever seen.  You open the jar of peanut butter and take a whiff. Your mouth waters. In goes a spoon and you taste it.


You weren't wrong.  This peanut butter is the real deal. This peanut butter actually wants to make you happy; you can feel it in all your taste buds.

You set to work spreading the peanut butter on the baguette. At first, you put down thick creamy blobs. It spreads so well, so smoothly. It is certainly well-behaved; it would spread just as well with a spoon or a knife. The bread is coarse and bigger than it looked at first, and now that you're noticing it, there isn't as much peanut butter in the jar as you thought. As you push the peanut butter over the surface, you realize you have to rethink your peanut butter sandwich making strategy. This is no chintzy white-bread peanut butter sandwich, this is an epic mega-sandwich! You are determined you will succeed, so you push and push the peanut butter, spread, spread, spread until you have a thin layer over the entire baguette. Very thin. You scrape the bottom of the little glass jar one last time for good measure and then...it is time. You take a bite.



It's...bread. Mostly.

Where's the taste? You think back to the way the peanut butter first hit your tongue straight out of the jar: strong, fresh, smooth, plentiful. Where has that magic gone? Where has the freakin' peanut butter gone?

You open the sandwich and have a look at the pitiful smearings of your expensive PB-no-J hanging on to the surface of the bread. It's there. It's all there, but it's not enough. The bread is too big, the jar too small. There is more to a dish than the presence of right ingredients, and there just isn't enough peanut butter to turn this bread into a sandwich no matter how far you've spread it, because there's not enough of it to be what it is supposed to be.

You scrape your knife over the bread, trying to reclaim some so you can have half an epic sandwich at least, but it's no use. You really smeared that peanut butter in there. It's smashed down into the bread, an irretrievable done deal. You go back to the jar, but there it sits: empty, only a few sad daubs clinging to the glass. There is no more. There will be no more.

You have your sandwich all right, but your ingredients are wasted just the same.

So, tell me. Where are you wasting your peanut butter?