Kansas Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - April 15, 2022


In the last couple of years, it feels as if husband Art and I have spent more time in the kitchen than we did the previous 30-plus years of our marriage. It's been fun to experiment with different dishes and ingredients. Daughter Katie and hubby Matt have gone much further than we have, trying all sorts of recipes, some of which require special kitchen tools I've never owned and never will. Daughter Mariya’s wife Miriam is also an impressive cook, whipping up tasty meals with seemingly little effort.

But every now and then, what really hits the spot is something basic ... something very basic.

Peanut-butter toast is a good example. Just a slice of bread, toasted to a light brown and slathered with peanut butter. Art prefers extra crunchy, while I opt for the creamy version. He tends to have his plain while I like mine paired with whatever jelly or jam we might have available.

An alternate for me is the PB&J - peanut butter and grape jelly - sandwich - a staple of my childhood. I enjoyed dipping them into a nice cold glass of milk. Mom, sister Gaila and I made them for lunch during the summers and often delivered them to Dad and brother Dave when they were plowing the field.

Friend Bryce, who also grew up on a farm, said when his brother or baby sister rode horses with him to the pasture for a picnic, they always had peanut butter and jelly sandwiches wrapped in waxed paper. "... we carried glass quart jars of chocolate milk with a screw top and a waxed paper seal. This was always on horses. Glass jars carried in paper bags on horses. What could go wrong?"

Gaila, who now lives in La Paz, Bolivia, said she still eats PB&Js, although the bread she gets there isn't the soft, stick-to-the roof-of-your mouth variety of our youth.

College roommate Deb said her mom fixed PB&J sandwiches for her school lunches because it was easy to transport them in her pink lunch pail.

The National Peanut Board says that the average American kid eats 1,500 peanut butter and jelly sandwiches before high school graduation.

But these aren't the only real simple meals that can be disproportionately satisfying and require little culinary skills to create. Art said for many years a favorite of his dad's was a bowl of tomato soup. It always struck his mom a bit funny that she'd ask what he might like for supper and he'd reply that a bowl of tomato soup sounded really good.

Art must take after his father, but his go-to item is a potato. He'll get on a jag where all he wants is a potato - baked or boiled. Add a little butter and a sprinkle of salt and, to use his expression, he's in "hog heaven!"

For many years, Mariya was big into a meal of just buttered noodles. This might have to do with the fact she has never developed much of a cooking flair, but by watching her, you could tell she was "into" them.

During her year with us in 2005-2006, German "daughter" Nadja would often pull a hot dog straight from the package and devour it, no heating involved. Somehow that made me cringe slightly, which she found amusing.

A week ago, we met Bryce for lunch at a local coffee house. While we were swapping stories about this and that, catching up on our lives, two young teenage boys sat down at a nearby table with a single baguette and pats of butter. Each would tear off a small chunk, spread the butter over the end and then enjoy. It's hard to imagine a simpler lunch and their body language clearly showed they were enjoying themselves. After all, who has not passed a bakery making bread or come into a home with bread in the oven and not immediately succumbed to a desire for a buttered slice. Dad would sometimes add a light sprinkling of sugar. When I mentioned it to Art, he related his grandfather would often make a meal of a plain piece of bread smeared with solidified bacon drippings.

I find it interesting that so many of these favorites, like peanut butter toast, are so widely appreciated, while others are somewhat unusual, such as Art's radish sandwich - two slices of buttered bread with thinly-sliced and salted radish pieces between them. Another example is his ex and her love for artichokes. He said on many occasions they would go to a favorite restaurant where he would dig into a steak, baked potato and salad while she would peel the artichoke, petal by petal, making it last the entire meal.

On rare occasions, I do something similar with an avocado - cut it in half, remove the seed, sprinkle salt, pepper and lemon juice on each half, and then dig in with a spoon.

Tonight was one of these real simple nights. Supper was a lightly toasted thick slice of fine grain rye bread liberally buttered. Nirvana! In contrast, Art had the full course ... he had a slice of cheese with his.

Sometimes simple is the best!

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