In Mexico they call me “guerita” but I’m really a gringa at heart. Sure I am a sucker for mole, (especially the dark black Oaxaqueño type with its 72 mysterious ingredients) and I can never turn down a street quesadilla (how does that fresh white cheese ooze and ooze so much?) but there’s something about being out of the United States that makes me yearn for certain American foods a little bit more.
Take peanut butter, for example.
Now, peanuts are big in the culinary world of Mexico. They call them cacahuates here, and they are everywhere. First and foremost, there’s plain cacahuates as a botana, or snack. Go to the markets or cheese trucks and you’ll find huge sacks of them for sale: plain, the Mexican favorite, sal con limon, (salt with lime) or the uber Mexican favorite: chile, sal y limon (lime, salt and chile).
This is a serious Mexican snack. I keep a stash of the stuff in my desk drawer and my hand grabs regularly as my creative process unfolds. Poe had opium, I have this. There’s something about that tangy, salty crunch with a spicy aftertaste that feeds on the addictive tendency of a writer.
Cacahuates make their appearance in Mexican main courses as well. Soups are a popular starter in Mexico and there is no forgetting the tantalizingly smooth and rich, Crema de Cacahuate (Peanut Cream soup). Pollo en Salsa de Cacahuate competes with the equally delicious Lomo en Salsa de Cacahuate for a combo of crunchy, tangy, and salty- it just depends if you are in the mood for chicken or meat. And of course, I cannot ignore the world of moles again- this time the Mole Poblano, hailing from the colonial town of Puebla, whose rich accent is on nuts in general, including cacahuates.
So peanuts dance in my Mexican palate frequently. Still, sometimes something missing. Even on days bursting with market-going, friendly, beautiful scenery Mexico I may return to my apartment with a longing, a want, a vacuum for the United States that even wonderful Mexico cannot appease: perhaps I miss the quiet of my hometown suburban street, a hassle-free visit to the bank, or simply a run to Target for a much-needed something or other. It is funny how much you miss Target when it is not around the corner, or around the country for that matter.
These are my American nostalgia moments. They seem to be rhythmical pinnings that affect my kids and I at the same time. Placating the kids may prove to be trickier. Their nostalgia is so linked with their entire world: the home they grew up with, their best buddies from forever, and especially visits to movie theaters that play movies ONLY in English. But food, as always, has a way of creeping into our soft spots and tender moments and when they start craving a taste of the United States, I know exactly where to go: down deep into the secret depths of my pantry where I pull out my coveted jar of Skippy’s peanut butter and plan for an all out attack against The Gringo Blues.
My son’s eyes light up when he sees me with the jar. He knows happiness is 12.5 minutes away. I will mix this simple batter in minutes and the whole house will lighten up with its creamy, sweet flavor, instantly bringing moments of sunshine, friendship and good ole’ fashion love. The jar is a prized collection kept in an undisclosed location of my pantry- purchased here in Mexico but imported from the U.S. Only to be used in emergencies, I warn family members. Craving Target slushies warrants an emergency, by the way.
So in my beautiful Mexican kitchen I mix and sugar and flatten the dough, dreaming of dreamy moments I left behind in the peace and quiet of South Florida. Things are always remembered fondly under the aroma of baking cookies- no matter what the recollection is. Today’s memory consists of my son climbing his fortress, his favorite tree out front in our yard back home and my daughter giggling endlessly with her BFF whom she’s been BFFs with since age three. They are American memories mingling lazily with the baking of these cookies.
Life isn’t bad in Mexico. The food here is exquisite. The country beautiful. The people friendly. But nostalgia has a way of wrapping its heartstring around you and not letting go. And when that happens, best bypass the cacahuate drawer and take a bite of a peanut butter cookie.
Peanut Butter Cookies
8 tablespoons (1 stick) butter, room temperature
¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
1 large egg, at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup peanut butter, preferably chunky-style
1 ¼ cup all-purpose flour
¼ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
½ cup granulated sugar
Preheat oven to 350F.
In an electric mixer, beat butter with both sugars until fluffy. Add egg, vanilla and peanut butter and mix until blended.
In a separate bowl sift together flour, baking soda and salt. Add into peanut butter batter and combine.
Place topping sugar in a small bowl. To make each cookie, scoop batter using a teaspoon and place on a cookie sheet with parchment paper, spacing batter 1” apart. Take a glass, dip the bottom of it in sugar and flatten cookie with sugared glass. Using a table fork, press a crosshatch pattern into top of each sugared dough ball, flattening the cookies to about ¼ inch.
Bake for 12.5 minutes and transfer the cookies to a rack to cool completely.
Makes 30 cookies