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Moved by my reading How Not to Die, a lengthy plea for those in the Western world to improve their lives through healthier eating, I wish to share a recipe I call the greenut-butter sandwich. While I can’t recall a precise inception date, I likely “invented” this sandwich sometime during the current decade. Prior to that, I did not regularly have easy access to its defining ingredient, mainly because I would never have bought such stuff while living alone.
I eat several of these every week, and have every reason to believe myself a better person for doing so: healthier, less impoverished, and proud of treating myself just a little bit better than I used to. And now I shall share with you what you need to make them yourself, because nobody ever shared this with me.
Bread. I feel least picky about this ingredient, really; any reasonably high-quality bread will do. Whole-grain bread is best for you, I guess, but I let myself have fancy-bakery sliced sourdough if that’s how my mood bends. You can toast it if you want. I often feel too impatient for that, but let your own taste drive you.
Natural peanut butter. With this, you’ll find me getting stricter about definitions. By “natural”, I mean one of two sub-types. Here in the northeastern US, I favor Teddie peanut butter to the exclusion of all other brands. I understand it as a regional delicacy, but I know there exist equivalents elsewhere. In all cases, you can recognize it in part by its ingredient label: the product contains only peanuts, perhaps salt, and maybe another prominently labeled additional ingredient (such as flaxseed).
As a defining feature, the oil from all those crushed-up peanuts will rise and settle as a separate layer while the jar sits on the market shelf, and you get to stir it back into the particulated goobers as a first order of business. If you open a jar and you find yourself facing that glistening layer of peanut oil, then you hold some of my very favorite food in the whole world.
The other major phenotype of natural peanut butter, in my experience, involves little, hand-labeled plastic tubs of locally pasted peanuts as found in “health food” stores, or in supermarkets with whole-food-wonderland aisles (often marked with flowing script and iconography of wheat stalks and what have you). My aunt would get this for me sometimes, but that was a long time ago, so I can’t really speak for it, though I’ve no doubt we can treat it as functionally equivalent for these purposes.
Really, I think of “natural” peanut butter at least as much about what it isn’t as what it is, and what it isn’t is the horrible, plasticky stuff that typifies the American pantry under brand names like Jif and Skippy. It has the disturbingly smooth consistency of a thick whipped cream, and I imagine it to confer equivalent health benefits — at least compared to the good, lumpy, oily peanut butter I insist upon.
If your only exposure to peanut butter has included the latter variety, I urge you to find a local source for the former. Natural peanut butter, consumed in moderation, is very good for you — even if not quite as healthy, gram for gram, as this sandwich’s signature ingredient.
A dark green leafy vegetable. If you’re a lazy hacker like me, perhaps this brings to mind images of whole vegetables purchased with good intention but doomed to melt into goo in the darkness of your fridge’s lower drawers. This certainly described my relationship with leafy veggies for my entire bachelorhood. If it sounds familiar to you too, then I beg you to try doing what I do today: buy your green leafies all pre-cut, sorted, and washed for you in plastic bags or bins.
The small supermarket near my house stacks these up in a section of their own among the fresh, whole produce, and I feel no shame at all in paying a couple of extra dollars picking up a bin of baby arugula or kale-and-spinach mix, since I feel entirely certain here exists the sole path leading to my actually eating the vegetables. (Indeed, this fact serves as the frame story for my 2015 YAPC talk about not letting idealistic notions stand in the way of getting things done.)
I feel I needn’t tell you about the health benefits of this stuff. I fully believe one of How Not to Die’s core takeaways that one simply cannot “overhype” the heath benefits of eating more fruits and vegetables (with the thumb-rule that the richer in color, the better). Filling your belly with these foods presents zero negative side effects, and even in the (rather likely) case that ninety percent of the latest breathless headlines about this leaf or that berry’s miraculous healing powers stems from ill-informed third-hand skim-reads of medical journals, they are still very, very good for you.
And there’s your sandwich. If your in-mouth sense receptors work like mine, then you’ll get the flavor of a lovely, oily peanut-butter sandwich with the cold crunch of fresh(-ish) vegetables, whose own flavor I find present but pleasantly muted. Perhaps this seems like a strange combination. The culture I live in seems to think so, since to the best of my knowledge nobody taught me about this possibility. I had to independently invent it myself, well into adulthood, and I have never heard about anyone else trying this, much less making it a daily habit.
Prior to my writing this, the only person to know about my greenut-butter sandwiches is my partner — who recoils from them, as is her right. A true gourmand, she puts far more value into both variety and careful flavor-pairings than I! I hope, however, that my describing this concoction here will reach more food-eaters of my own terribly lazy and impatient stripe. With its stealth payload of leafy greens, every part of the greenut-butter sandwich is good for you (especially if you do go for a whole-wheat bread), and both healthier and less expensive than any of the shrink-wrapped grab-and-go coffee-shop lunches that might tempt my fellow time-pinched engineers.
Once you feel practiced at this, I encourage you to explore variations, modifying other lazy-hacker food you might already enjoy by dumping greens all over it. Just today, for lunch and for a change, I picked up two slices of Greek-style cheese pizza from my corner shop, and I took them home and I dumped greens all over them and ate them. I harbor no illusions that the addition somehow nullified the small hit to my health I absorbed by taking in the extra-oily slices, but I knew that destiny called me to eat pizza that day, and I still came out of it a lot better than I would have without the self-applied kale layer.
Narrascope! and other stuff I’m doing this yearI'll be reading my work in Providence, then ushering in a new game conference in Boston, then who knows what.
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