New apartments, comfortable foods, and George Washington Carver

The apartment was not yet put together. In fact, it was very far from being put together. The couch was in three pieces and the bed had no slats. There were bikes in the corner (still are). But it is beautiful. Even the young Russian men moving us in said so. 

It is clean and cool and quiet and open. There are no nooks and crannies. Remember in The Bell Jar when Sylvia Plath sits at a bar and orders a tall glass of vodka? While the real thought of a tall glass of vodka makes my stomach churn, the apartment carries that same sense of transparent elegance imagined in that scene. Basically, if the apartment could order a drink it would order a martini (with no fancy modifications or add-ins, the apartment would go to the right bartender and the bartender would know the right way to make a martini). But at the risk of parading too many alcoholic beverages in too few posts, let's consider something to eat. 

How to say hello to a new kitchen? I was disappointed today to find a dishwasher instead of more cabinet space, but nevertheless there is a lot of cabinet space (and no need to dry dishes on the counter!). I'd appreciate any efficiency experts out there who might tell me where best to put what.

After a long week, there is not much better than something luxurious for dinner. Luxurious, quick to make, with very little clean up and no leftovers to bother putting away. If I was in France that would be duck confit, but my first dinner alone at my new apartment ended up as peanut butter and carrots. 

(not very picturesque food)

I also watched a bit of Planet Earth. The one about the Jungle. All these chimpanzees and monkeys and birds and what-have-you were all eating figs. Apparently, figs are pretty plentiful in the rainforest. It was an amusing juxtaposition with the carrots and the peanut butter and the thousands of figs on television being enjoyed in their perfect raw state. As I found out on Saturday, figs are no longer in season out here.

Luckily, while I was sitting alone at home eating carrots and peanut butter and some hot tea (because I thought I might be catching a cold), the doorbell rang. It's a very solid doorbell, clearly electronic but not too artificial sounding.  I was a bit startled because I wasn't expecting any one and the place wasn't quite in a state for guests. I should have known it wasn't just any guest. 


George Washington Carver (1860–1943) was highly accomplished in many areas, but was introduced to me as the inventor of peanut butter. As it turns out, this is false. However, recipes are a tricky thing and I still argue Carver deserves some credit in this endeavor. Look, the earliest so-called "peanut butter recipe" called for sugar and described the result as similar to lard, butter, or ointment. Sweet ointment sounds gross and I never buy peanut butter with sugar in it. When it comes to a very subtle recipe with very few ingredients  we must differentiate something that might have tasted okay from something that is mightily delicious.

Once a former roommate asked me what my comfort food was. Hers was a very sweet form of Japanese curry with soft vegetables and pure white rice. I thought about this question for a long time and eventually arrived at peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. I've already written about peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, so I needn't say more on the subject now, except to mention that it's really the first two consonants that do it for me. I'm also quite comforted by peanut butter and banana or peanut butter and honey, although I have no affinity toward peanut butter and chocolate. I know, weird.

Anyway, as the (sort of) inventor of peanut butter and also a very accomplished agriculturist who called for an end to monoculture and attention to soil health, I owe Mr. Carver a great deal of gratitude. Peanut butter helped cure the homesickness of a first year in college without any budgetary impact whatsoever. The best kind is crunchy and salted.

So how did Carver invent peanut butter? I asked him (after, of course, offering him a snack, which he politely accepted). 

In an effort to promote peanut planting and consumption, Carver included a booklet of one hundred and five peanut recipes. In fact, it's one fewer than stated as there are two nearly identical recipes for roasted salted peanuts (#58 and #105). They're just that good. There are five recipes for peanut chocolate confections, so we may also owe Carver for that somewhat too sweet combination. There are three highly recommended recipes: #12 Oatmeal Peanut Bread (delicious), #20 Peanut Tea Rolls (delicious), #91 Peanut Almond Fudge (very fine). The recipe for peanut butter is also lovely (though without any parenthetical commentary):

Shell the peanuts; roast just enough so that the hulls will slip off easily; remove all the hulls by gently rolling, fanning, and screening; grind very fine in any sort of mill, passing through several times if necessary; pack in cans, bottles, or jars, and seal if not for immediate use. Some manufacturers add a little salt and a small amount of olive oil; others do not, according to taste. For small quantities of butter a good meat grinder will answer the purpose. If the nuts are ground fine enough no additional oil will be necessary.

I note in particular the attention to roasting, the suggestion of salting, and the independence from additional oil. These are all fine qualities in a good peanut butter. There is also a recipe for peanut carrot fudge, something to consider for the future (or not). Might I suggest, to bring the number up to 105 again, some raw sliced carrots slathered with peanut butter and perhaps some sprinkled golden raisins?

If there was such a thing aspeanut butter royalties, Mr. Washington might be running for president (also would help if he was still alive). As it is he did save up $60,000, which upon his death was put toward his foundation. He also offered a few organizational tips for the kitchen and checked on the health of my patio plants (they're okay, the tomato plant was suffering from bud drop and should be kept out of direct sunlight).

So what might have begun as a somewhat sad evening turned into a true celebration of American ingenuity, new living spaces, and the simple things in life. Thank you, George Washington Carver. You really saved the day.