peanut butter cookies, loneliness, and lady afternoons.

“…when you’re really lonely, the peanut butter sticks to the roof of your mouth.” – Charlie Brown.

In grade 6, our class put on – or, more accurately, was told – to put on a production of, You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown. I think I was a made-up character named “Adam” and had maybe one 10-word line in the entire play. If I had really committed to my character and channelled being lonely (if I communicated so little, I probably was) then peanut butter would have definitely stuck to the roof of my mouth, via my method acting techniques.

In real life though, I haven’t paid too much attention to whether peanut butter sticks to the roof of my mouth – I don’t think it ever has, but honestly, I’d rather not dwell on it.

Fast forward some years after my short-lived acting career, and peanut butter sandwiches had indeed become a mainstay in my life. For a solid two years, I had peanut butter and banana sandwiches everyday for breakfast. Looking back on it now it makes me gag a little, not because the type of sandwich is disgusting to me, but because I can’t help but feel that relationship between art and life, and that indeed, I was deeply lonely.

Before this becomes a typical confessional blog post-turned-first draft for a Ted talk-turned-phoenix rising out of the ashes-scenario, I have to emphasize that even in periods of life when I’ve been deeply lonely, I have had beautiful, kind, and giving souls around me, whom I was grateful to call friends. For instance, during the PB-banana sandwich era, I had a wonderful housemate whose capability at doing life was astounding. She had an incredible talent for living fully which I deeply admired, and with a seemingly endless supply of energy, most of the words that came out of her were zesty proclamations that stirred me out of my sleepy fog. One of my strongest memories of our conversations together is how she once stated, and to which I fervently agreed, that if we ever dated people who were allergic to peanut butter, it would be a “deal breaker.” (For better or worse, my short lived dating life resembled that of my Adam character, and I never got to have that “So because you’re allergic…” conversation.)

During that same period of life, I met Mary. She was an eighty-something lady that lived in our neighbourhood. To make extra cash, my housemate and I had posted flyers around saying we were available to clean houses, help with yard work, and give flute (her) and piano (me) lessons (we were really laying it all out). Mary called us. Living alone in a large house (her husband had passed away years ago, and it didn’t seem like she had any children to call upon), she wanted help raking leaves and washing her walls with a vinegar-water concoction. Sometimes both my housemate and I would go help Mary, or sometimes we would go alone. This happened regularly for about two years, and even when I moved back to my hometown about an hour away, whenever I happened to be in the neighbourhood I would stop by for a visit.

Helping Mary with housework usually consisted of 1-2 hours of actual work, and then 1-2 hours of sitting with her and having tea and cookies. We would drink Red Rose out of her delicate bone china tea cups, and talk about the neighbours, her friends (who were up to no good, spending all their time at Tim Hortons), the status of the garden, how she used to save money from every pay cheque to buy another piece of crystalware from the set she had chosen (a goblet used to cost ten cents). How some lady stranger walking by had stopped to chat with her about how beautiful her white bell flowers were in the front yard, and the next day they were stolen right out of the soil, and that it must have been that woman. How last week when there was a thunderstorm she got so scared that she went into the basement and cried and desperately missed her husband.

I always think about Mary when I see white bell flowers, and when I make peanut butter cookies.

Most days, she had peanut butter cookies in the freezer. When we would sit down for tea, she would bring them out and even if they weren’t completely thawed, we would eat them anyway because they were so delicious, so delightful, so generous. They were always made with the classic fork tine imprint, and in a delicate lady-appropriate size, which also meant that you could have two, or maybe three, if you were discreet.

I haven’t seen Mary in ages, and we never had a proper good bye, and thus I haven’t really had the will to make peanut butter cookies, until recently, mostly due to stumbling upon a wonderful recipe. While these cookies aren’t quite like hers, they are delectable in their own right. I’ve opted for a double fork tine imprint to make a criss-cross pattern, and the cookies are a bit larger to serve this younger generation that doesn’t seem overly concerned with being dainty. I’ve added a hint of ginger, since my digestive system isn’t as efficient as it used to be. Hopefully Mary would approve.

Peanut butter cookies, with a hint of ginger
(adapted from a recipe in Tara O’Brady’s cookbook, Seven Spoons)

3/4 cup (200 g) smooth natural peanut butter
1/2 cup (115 g) butter, room temperature
2/3 cup (140 g) brown sugar
1/3 cup (70 g) white sugar
2 tbsp (44 g) molasses
1 egg
1 cup plus 2 tbsp (140 g) bread flour
1/2 tsp dried ginger powder
3/4 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt

Beat the peanut butter, butter, sugars, and molasses together until smooth and fluffy. Stir in the egg, and then sprinkle over all the dried ingredients. Beat until homogenous.

Roll into 2 tbsp balls, or alternatively, use an ice cream scooper to make perfectly consistent portions. Place on a lined baking sheet and freeze for 10-15 minutes, spaced 2″ apart. Use fork tines to make a criss cross pattern and to press the dough balls down. Dipping the fork into warm water occasionally can help it from getting too sticky. Bake in a preheated 350 degree F oven, for about 15 minutes. Let the cookies cool on the sheet before removing.

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