Thursday, June 24, 2010

Peanut Butter Crisis

Early last week I opened the last jar of peanut butter. Not such a big event, truly. At least not normally. This jar only mattered because although my husband loves me dearly and will do nearly anything for me, asking him to go buy more peanut butter this week was out of the question. See, my husband does our Trader Joe runs. Just the day before he had called cautiously to see what we needed and patiently listened and copied down my long list. He wasn’t thrilled to be sent to the store to buy eight pounds of butter, 2 bags of flax meal, four bottles of kefir, and as many boxes of shredded wheat as his cart could handle, not to mention nitrate free bacon, several cheeses, tortilla chips, rice vinegar, black olives, bourbon vanilla extract, and if you can find it – one of those tiny cans of fire-roasted chilis? He called because he was out of coffee and needed to stop in and grab some. I turned his quick errand in to a search and recover mission (where do you find flax seed meal?).

I’m not passing judgment on your peanut butter selection (really!), but I hope you choose a natural peanut butter. I know they can be a hassle and finding one that suits your taste can take awhile and be expensive. But traditional peanut butters are crammed full of nasty things like hydrogenated oils, corn syrup, salt, and MSG. Because it’s a staple of most kids’ diets, it’s important to find the healthiest kind you can. Back when we made the switch from regular peanut butter to natural peanut butter is didn’t go so smoothly. We tried lots of brands and nothing cut the mustard (or the peanut butter) until we discovered the Trader Joe Organic Valencia peanut butter. It’s relatively cheap, as far as natural peanut butters go, and I’ve gotten used to the fact that when you buy natural peanut butter you get some serious arm exercise the first time you open it and have to stir and stir (and stir and stir) so that it doesn’t freak out the children when they see all that oil pooled on the top. Plus you have to keep it in the fridge which feels odd after centuries of peanut butter in the cupboard.

We are serious peanut butter addicts. We go through at least one jar a week. With it being summer, that number can move up to two or even three. The kids eat peanut butter and jelly, peanut butter and crackers, peanut butter on bagels, dip apples and grapes in peanut butter, smear it on bananas, and love it in a chocolate-peanut butter smoothie (and when the kids aren’t watching, I love it on ice cream!). So while this may not seem like a real crisis to you, to me – CRISIS. What will they eat? For at least one child eggs and peanut butter are the primary source of protein.

So I did what I always do when faced with a situation like this. I decided to make it myself. I checked out the ingredient list on our last jar – “peanuts, oil, salt.” Simple enough. I used to make my own soy-peanut butter back when I was training for a marathon and needed to pack in some protein and fat before a run. The kids refused to eat it, but they were younger and fussier then and I wasn’t making it with them in mind.

I decided I needed some critical buy-in for this project, so I enlisted my daughter. I told her I wanted to try making peanut butter and needed her help. The winds were blowing my direction that day and she liked the idea. I raced off to buy peanuts in bulk from our natural food store. I bought lightly salted roasted peanuts and also some honey roasted peanuts. I decided to skip the oil and see what happens since peanuts have a natural oil in them. I skipped the salt too since both kinds of peanuts had salt in them.

My daughter got excited when I pulled out the food processor. Normally my youngest gets to push the button on this noisy gadget. She’s getting too old to complain that she wants a turn, so she was happy to have the pulse button to herself. We poured in 1 ½ cups regular peanuts and 1 ½ cups honey roasted, then let it rip. It only took quite a few minutes to produce a silky smooth texture. I put some on a cracker and ceremoniously handed it to her. Then waited anxiously while she chewed and chewed for what seemed like a very long time with various expressions crossing her face that alternately lifted and dashed my hopes. I think she was trying to torture me. Finally she pronounced it, “pretty good”. Coming from her that is high praise. Plus she got the bragging rights of telling the boys that she figured out how to make peanut butter. We filled a clean empty peanut butter jar and placed it in the fridge. Problem solved.

And not only is the problem solved, it’s going to save us serious money. Here we go again with - we can make it better, cheaper, and healthier ourselves! Try it!

Homemade Organic Peanut Butter

3 cups organic peanuts (any combination – salted, unsalted, honey-roasted, whatever you like)
Salt optional

Place ingredients in food processor and process until smooth. Add more peanuts or oil according to your taste/texture preference.
Store in clean air-tight container. Keep refrigerated.

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