In western New York, where I grew up, it wasn’t easy to get out of bed in the wintertime. To keep our heating bills down, my dad all but turned off the heat in the house overnight. And no matter how full we stuffed the wood stove before bed, it wouldn’t last until morning.
When my brother Mike and I crawled out from under our electric blankets, we were not met by an aproned Mrs. Cleaver in the kitchen, a pitcher of fresh-squeezed orange juice in one hand and a spatula in the other, sing-songing “Would you prefer maple-fennel sausage or applewood smoked bacon with your pancakes?” My parents both worked, and the bus came very early, so we got ready each morning on our own.
We always ate the same breakfast before school. Peanut butter toast and chocolate milk. My parents resorted to buying enormous 5-pound plastic tubs of cut-rate peanut butter decorated with galumphing circus elephants all along the base.
Breakfast became something of a ritual. I would pour myself a cup of milk in a purple plastic cup and sprinkle it with chocolate Quik. Meanwhile, I would toast the bread, spread peanut butter on top, then let the toast rest on top of the still-warm toaster until the peanut butter became shiny and slightly melted. My brother and I timed it just right to prevent a traffic jam either in or on the toaster. It was early, so we didn’t speak much — just the occasional “ten minutes until the bus” or “here’s your lunch money” — but we had this little peanut butter toast dance every morning. When Mike went off to college, the ritual lost its charm and I slowly gravitated toward instant oatmeal and, finally, cold cereal.
In the past year, I’ve begun eating peanut butter toast and chocolate milk again. I blame Sage, the nutrition and fitness guru in my running group. She pointed me to an article that showed chocolate milk is good for recovery after a long run. Apparently the combination of carbohydrate and protein facilitates muscle glycogen resynthesis. Hey, we take very long runs. We gotta fill the time somehow.
In any event, I bought some chocolate milk and it just didn’t seem right to drink it without the peanut butter toast. And the tradition was reborn, twenty years later. I’ve switched from Nestle’s Quik to Ovaltine, and I prefer my peanut butter on Anadama bread instead of Sunbeam white, but these are trifling details. It’s still peanut butter toast with chocolate milk. And I eat it almost every day.
If you glanced at the photo of my brownie buttons, you see where this is going. I first made these for a bake sale last fall. The brownies turned out fine, but the white chocolate topping wouldn’t reach the right consistency. It was a thin, filmy glaze that called to mind not so much crisp linen as dishwater. I needed a new frosting.
Needless to say, I have plenty of peanut butter on hand. So I whipped up a small batch of my favorite peanut butter frosting to top each little button. Not bad, not bad at all.
These buttons are dainty little treats, but when it comes to brownies, I’m just not the dainty type. I missed the full-sized pan of still-warm-from-the-oven brownies that evoke my inner wolverine. I like my desserts warm, a little sloppy, halfway falling apart because they haven’t yet cooled and firmed up.
I tend to seek order in my life: like my dad, I keep the bills in my wallet organized, twenties in the back, ones in the front; like my mom, I never recycle a magazine, no matter how old, until I’ve read it cover to cover. But in cooking, I mostly seek warmth. Maybe it’s the memory of those chilly pre-dawn breakfasts with my brother, silently noshing on warm peanut butter toast in the blue-black cold. Old habits die hard.
Thanks to Jayma of Two Scientists Experimenting in the Kitchen for selecting these brownie buttons. You can find the recipe on her site or on pp. 106-7 of Dorie Greenspan’s Baking: From My Home to Yours.