Saturday, May 7, 2011

It's Complicated With PB & J

I really don’t like you when you are on white bread- unless you are toasted to a golden brown. Definitely not burnt. I prefer when you are on whole wheat or Arnold’s sandwich thins. But no matter what, I am not eating the crust. I like you with crunchy peanut butter, except I bought smooth. I was too nervous the first time at Cole’s, the grocery store to try their brand of crunchy. Usually, I peanut butter both sides, unless I am running low on PB. Jelly on one side. Strawberry. Or jam as it is called in Australia. I like the jelly thin and smooth, with no gloppy bits that leak out of the sides. If the jelly bleeds through the bread, then it’s definitely over. I’ll gag and I won’t be able to get you down. I envision myself as a first grader when all I ate for lunch was peanut butter and jelly until that one day when I had to run out of the lunchroom to throw up my peanut butter and jelly sandwich. I guess you can say, our relationship has improved since then. You have become my staple in Australia. I have you for lunch every Thursday between my lecture and tutorial. I pack the two triangle halves in aluminum foil and stick you in the front of my backpack. I hope my notebooks and laptop won’t smoosh you until my one o’clock break.

Peanut butter and jelly sometimes feels like my only meal. I eat it for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. When I run out of bread, or more likely when the bread gets moldy, it’s breadless peanut butter and jellies. A scoop of PB with a touch of jelly. While I feel as if I have perfected the art of making peanut butter and jelly- Australians don’t eat peanut butter and jelly. They have an idea of what it is but do not really eat them. It seems to me they prefer vegemite on toast with a light spread of butter or a bean “toasty,” beans in a toasted sandwich.

Even when traveling in Australia, peanut butter and jelly comes with me. A day at the beach involves packing a peanut butter and jelly sandwich in my beach bag. Often eaten within the first hour of arriving at the beach because the commute from campus involves a bus, train, and sometimes a tram that can take over an hour. All the transport works up an appetite. However, there is a small stand at the South Yarra train station that sells apples, muffins, assorted sandwiches, and an Australian version of a milkshake- creamy milk whipped until frothy with a type of chocolate syrup mixed in for flavor. Every so often I spring for a blueberry muffin and red apple to satisfy my hunger pains. But I feel guilty knowing that my peanut butter and jelly will be roasting wrapped in tin foil in my beach tote while I munch away on a crispy apple. Close to leaving the beach I’ll unwrap the packaging, pull hunks of peanut butter and jelly from the crust, and quickly shove them into my mouth. I don’t want the birds to realize I have food on the beach. The seagulls seem much tamer than those at the beach at home, but birds make me nervous. It’s something to do about the way their wings contract before they fly and their lack of personal space when close to my towel at the beach. Even though my sandwich is not very appetizing, I would not want a bird to take my meal hostage in its claws and devour it through its beak in rapid bites.

On a bus ride to Sydney, peanut butter and jelly was packed as a provision. My friend and I worked as team, one peanut buttering and the other jellying, to assemble a few sandwiches for a group of us. Each one of us enjoyed our sandwiches a different way- peanut butter both sides, lots of jelly, white bread toasted; peanut butter one side jelly on the other, white bread uncut; peanut butter both sides, minimal jelly, whole wheat toasted, triangle cut. Each sandwich got wrapped in a paper towel and placed into a giant Ziploc bag and tossed into a backpack. They were to be pulled out at a strategic time, not too soon after getting on the bus but not too late because we were stopping at a rest stop for food. My order is the most complicated- I am not a fan of white bread and I enjoy my sandwiches cut in half, preferably in triangles. The girls ate their sandwiches at the perfect time, an hour and a half into the bus ride and two hours before we stopped. I did not eat mine then and grabbed fast food at the rest stop. I fell asleep and still did not eat my sandwich. Thirteen hours after leaving campus and finally arriving in Sydney, my peanut butter and jelly was not in good shape. Flattened with jelly oozing from all sides and through the bread, it had to be sacrificed and thrown into the garbage. I couldn’t eat it and there were definitely no takers. My poor sandwich and I did not get my peanut butter and jelly fix for the day. But not to worry, breakfast consisted of toast and peanut butter and jelly sandwich supplies. Even in Sydney, peanut butter and jelly remained to be at least one of my meals each day.

Halfway around the world, where peanut putter and jelly is not an elementary school lunch favorite, it stands as a reminder of American life. A simple sandwich that can be made in numerous ways due to the variations within the few ingredients allows for the ability to please many.

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