San Francisco, April 1999. I was standing in the galley kitchen of my apartment in Japantown, unscrewing the lid on a jar of all natural crunchy peanut butter. Instructions on the edge of the lid read: “Turn lid to open.” Amused at the obvious, I had an “Aha moment” and in a flash, saw those instructions and peanuts as a metaphor for life.
I got it that life is supposed to be as simple as “Turn Lid to Open.” We complicate it unnecessarily. And what’s important in life all boils down to simple pleasures: peanuts. I knew that, no matter how rich or poor I’d ever be, I’d always love and eat them.
Growing up in the 60’s, carrying peanut butter and grape jelly sandwiches or “Fluffernutters” (creamy peanut butter with marshmallow cream) on soft, white Wonderbread to grammar school in my Batman lunchbox, gave me comfort. I noticed that PB&J sandwiches tasted especially good with Lays potato chips. You get the salty and the sweet; the crunchy and the soft.
In the 70’s, Planters cocktail peanuts were a big hit when my parents threw parties. Salty, oily and crunchy in the blue can, they sure satisfied with an ice cold Coke. For my uncle, with a dry gin martini. My cousin Tom used to harass me by chewing a handful of peanuts, then breathing on me. Ugh, peanut breath! Then there were the salted Spanish peanuts with the little red skins my granduncle and I would eat together while he watched the Red Sox, Pabst Blue Ribbon in hand.
Thinking back to college evenings of drinking pitchers of light beer with friends at “The Ground Round” while eating shelled peanuts still makes me feel cozy. While in grad school, a classmate made us a homemade dish from Togo, Africa, where she had lived in the Peace Corps. It was chicken with a delicious peanut sauce. I thought “I could like the Peace Corps…” Later I got into making Peanut satay sauces and adding crushed peanuts to Asian dishes as well as ice cream. My two favorite candy bars to this day are Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups and Snickers. Nutter Butter cookies are also delish. Today you can even get a Peanut Butter Cup martini.
Thank you, Mr. Peanut. Through you I’ve realized that the more I can enjoy and appreciate even the simplest pleasures, the more I love life in general.
After we published this article, Barbara sent us a recipe for the chicken dish:
800g chicken (preferably thighs), cut into strips
4 tbsp smooth peanut butter
1 onion, grated
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 onion, halved
2 carrots, halved lengthways and each half cut into three pieces
1 green bell pepper, coarsely chopped
1/4 cabbage, coarsely chopped
1 fresh tomato, chopped and crushed
1 small tin of tomato purée
500ml groundnut oil
1 vegetable bouillon cube
1 hot chill
salt and freshly-ground black pepper, to taste
In a bowl, combine the grated onion and garlic. Season liberally with salt and black pepper then mix in the chicken, cover and set aside to marinate for 20 minutes.
Add 60ml of the oil to a large saucepan and use to fry the chicken until nicely browned all over. Remove the meat with a slotted spoon and set aside.
Add 2 tbsp more oil to the pan then stir in the tomato purée and fry for about 5 minutes, or until dark red in colour. Add the crushed fresh tomato and stir in the peanut butter and the carrots.
Cook, stirring constantly, for 5 minutes more then add the reserve meat broth along with 500ml water and the bouillon cube. Stir until smooth, bring to a simmer, cover and cook for 15 minutes.
At this point add the fried chicken, onion, cabbage and hot chilli. Return to a simmer, cover and cook for 15 minutes more.
Serve hot, accompanied by boiled white rice or gari.