I’ve had an intimate relationship this week with Justin and his peanut butter, and it’s not what you think.
If you’re unfamiliar with Justin, you’ve probably run into his products at Whole Foods – or these days, more appropriately – just about anywhere. He’s the creator of uniquely-flavored nut butters (honey peanut butter, vanilla almond butter, etc), the eponymous peanut butter squeeze pack, and those nightmarishly addictive dark chocolate-covered peanut butter cups.
As much as I like Justin and his products, let’s talk about why I’ve got a bone to pick with him.
For those of you who are familiar with food allergies, it’s prickly business. Label reading becomes part of the daily routine, a necessary evil that keeps food allergic kids safe and free of full-body hives. And herein lies the problem – we expect brands to keep to a certain standard and not throw us for a loop.
A few months ago we got the good news that Lauren’s skin test suggested that she may be able to tolerate almonds. Now I know this may not sound like a big deal, but when you’ve had to avoid all forms of nuts and sesame seeds for your entire life, it’s pure joy to think that you might be able to eat an almond croissant. A granola bar. A candy-colored macaron.
And, maybe a little too selfishly, I was getting tired of using pumpkin seeds. Pumpkin seed pesto…pumpkin seed dressing.…roasted pepitas…..soup garnish….brittle….Buehller….Buehller…..
We signed ourselves up for the 3-month long waiting list and got our date: March 3. Soon after, we received an email specifying that food allergy testing is BYO (who knew?) and that I needed to bring Justin’s or Barney’s brand of almond better since they don’t pose a risk for cross-contamination.
We showed up at Mount Sinai last week, almond butter and pre-approved crackers in hand, and were shown to a spacious room where we’d be spending the next 5 hours.
Things were looking good. Exceptionally good. I was excited for some well-deserved downtime and had packed my bag full of treats – a good book, music, some sketchpads and new markers for Lauren. All we had to do was sit and wait it out while Lauren would sample some delicious Justin’s almond butter every 15 minutes. We’d then stay for a few more hours to be sure that she didn’t develop any allergy symptoms.
I was unpacking my bag when our sprightly nurse skipped into the room and pointed out that the Justin’s label is no longer peanut free.
Yes, well, apparently they’d pulled a fast one and switched up the processes in the last few months and now use peanuts on the same machine as the almonds.
That’s like telling Dorothy that her shoes are actually lace-up sneakers and she now needs to sprint to the Emerald City instead of taking a meandering walk down a lovely brick road. In other words: not good news.
To summarize, my relaxing few hours looked like this:
• Patient eats a hospital-provided raw almond
• Patient gags on the texture and bursts into hyperventilation-induced tears (can you blame her? She’s been told for 7 years that nuts are criminal)
• We receive the exceptionally good news that she’ll need to eat 25 almonds to pass the test
• Two-ent-teey five
• Clearly impossible given the state of affairs
• Permission to leave the building granted
• Oh look, there’s me, sprinting around the Upper East Side to five different grocery stores looking for hospital-grade almond butter (cursing the nurse and her cheery request: “please don’t shop for food other than this!”)
• There’s me again! I found a super top secret stash of Justin’s almond butter cups!! There I go, rifling through the box at the register, examining all 45 labels while people behind me are huffing and eye-rolling. Did I really need to tell them that I was simply looking for some expired nut butter cups, have a little patience people
• Race back to the hospital with a milk chocolate bar and pot of jam tucked under my arm (a combo could work?)
• Nurse reviews my items like they’re gum stuck to the bottom of her shoe
• I realize that I, myself, might expire when I notice the fine print on the chocolate bar (processed in a facility with nuts!) [&*4*@$**#@*&^.]
• In the blessed name of jam we do proceed
• Patient gags down three more almonds with strawberry jam
• More hyperventilation
• Patient develops itchy throat and nausea
• Ripcord to end the test mercifully pulled 2 hours after we’d started
If someone else’s kid were going through this, I’d have yelled out “good grief, stop this madness!”
But when you know how much your own kid was looking forward to a good outcome, you’re eager to give it your best shot. You say “hold on kid, I’ve got a solution!” You strategize, you cheerlead, (it’s just one nut at a time!) you look like an overzealous New York mother on the field of her three-year-old’s soccer game, spit flying, hollering positive affirmations. “You can DO it! I KNOW you can! Who’s the TOUGHEST girl I know?!”
But sometimes, you have to accept that the outcome you wanted so badly is out of your grasp.
You let go.
Which is fine. Our friend the pumpkin seed will pick up the slack. We’ll just have to give him a haircut and a new set of clothes; style him differently; pair him with a few exotic ingredients like a creamy dilled spread (I used plain Chobani yogurt), Spring vegetables, grilled garlic flatbreads and homemade preserved Meyer lemons (recipe here).
Pumpkin seed, we’ll hang with you for a little while longer. You’re not so bad after all. In fact, on the right day, under the right circumstances, with the right mood lighting, you’re actually pretty spectacular.
This post was written in partnership with the lovely folks at Chobani. All opinions are, as always, my own.
- 1 5.3-oz container of plain yogurt (I used Chobani)
- 3 tablespoons whole milk ricotta
- ¼ cup dill, finely-chopped
- 2 tablespoons of chopped preserved lemons
- 2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
- 4-5 green onions, cleaned of any loose papery skins
- 2-3 garlic flatbreads, depending on how many you’re serving (you can use plain flatbreads here too, but Whole Foods makes a garlic variety that’s perfect in this dish)
- ¼ cup pumpkin seeds
- 1 tablespoon Baharat (a ground, Middle-Eastern spice; if you don’t have it on hand, there are easy recipes to make a version at home using a combination of dried mint, oregano, cinnamon, coriander, cumin and nutmeg)
- 2-3 red radishes, thinly-sliced
- Handful of watercress leaves
- Salt and pepper to taste
- A few Maldon sea salt flakes to finish the dish
- To make the creamy dill spread, mix the yogurt, ricotta, dill and preserved lemons in a small bowl. Taste for saltiness- the preserved lemons are quite salty, but feel free to add a little more salt to taste. Set aside.
- Heat a large grill pan or saute pan on medium-high heat, and when hot, add 1 tablespoon of olive oil and the green onions. Grill or sauté for a few minutes, turning every so often until they’re charred in parts. Season with a little salt before you pull them off the heat but leave the pan on.
- Add your flatbreads to the grill or sautee pan and cook for a minute or two per side until the flatbreads are toasted but still pliable.
- In a smaller sauté pan, heat the remaining tablespoon of olive oil on medium heat, and when hot, add the pumpkin seeds. Keep an eye on them, stirring occasionally, and take them off when they’ve almost turned in color from green to a puffed and toasty shade of brown, add the baharat spice powder. Sautee for another minute, taking care not to burn them. As soon as they’re cooked, transfer them to a bowl and season with a little salt. Set aside.
- When you’re ready to assemble, plate each flatbread, and divide the yogurt spread equally (you might have some left over).
- Top with the grilled onions, the sliced radishes, and some torn watercress leaves and scatter the spiced pumpkin seeds on top. Finish the flatbreads with a light scattering of Maldon sea salt flakes for some additional saltiness and texture.
- Depending on how many flatbreads you make, you may have some leftover yogurt spread, which is fantastic on toast or as a dip for vegetables.