While I had apples and grapes, cheese and crackers, and 2 homemade chocolate chip cookies, the other kids had Gushers, Cheez-its and Nutty-Buddies. Most memorable though, at least early on, was the sandwich bread- I always had some variation of brown bread; whole wheat or nine grain or twelve grain, when all I wanted was Turkey or PB & J on white
Wonder Bread. If I ever won a white bread battle at the grocery store, I don’t remember it.
Of course now, and since I was 12 actually, the only bread I prefer when it comes to a homemade PB & J is grainy, nutty, whole wheat bread that, without looking, you’d bet money the main ingredient was “bird feed.” I don’t consider myself to be a judgmental person, but people who buy white sandwich bread over whole wheat leave me no choice. Of course I wouldn’t let it get in the way of a friendship, though now that I think about it, I don’t believe I know of any friends that make a habit of it.
That being said, I now find myself in a country that seems to be uniquely unaware of wheat or grain bread. With so many darling little bread and pastry shops on every corner and in most train stations, you’d think, however expensive, wheat would be among the dozens of choices. Don’t get me wrong, I quite enjoy sourdough or the occasional croissant, but I reserve those treats for lunch out with a friend or a coffee date with the latest Vogue.
To be honest, I can’t remember the last time I made myself a PB & J, but it seems I picked up the craving for one about a week after landing at Narita Airport here in Japan. Maybe I liked the thought of quick and easy prep, but more likely it was a tragic case of “wanting what you can’t have” -I knew American peanut butter was expensive and wheat bread non-existent. Either way, I was going to make it happen. I bought a loaf of French bread that cost the equivalent of ten dollars, which prompted Grant to make the executive decision to choose the cheaper peanut butter and jam to balance out the cost. The French bread was good, the jam was pleasant, and the peanut butter was…interesting. The best and simplest description I can give is that it tasted like sweetened peanut butter, but looked and felt like caramel (which I have since learned is how most Japanese peanut butter is made. Something about it going with bread and the thought that sweet and bread go hand in hand). We finished it (waste not want not) but our next trip to the store we got white bread and Skippy peanut butter. Well worth the trade.
In Japan, those who don’t want to make a sandwich can go anywhere from the airport or Starbucks, to street vendors and station kiosks for a pre-packaged white bread sandwich with the crust cut off. I can’t quite tell what is on most of them, but I did recognize egg salad, as well Jelly and something - the “something” I assume to be “peanut-caramel” so I haven’t tried it. Others look like meats with soft boiled egg, lettuce and tomato. I picture a young mother in her 1950’s kitchen, wearing a fabulous apron tied over an even more fabulous polka dot dress and cutting the crusts of each sandwich, saying things like “woopsie daisy” every time the cut is less than perfection.
Even more interesting are the “ice cream-like” stands that sell, essentially, whipped cream wrapped in white bread. You can also find these pre-packaged “treats” in convenient and grocery stores. Some have chocolate or bananas and strawberries, other things I’m sure, but the thought of the two main white ingredients together appeal very little to me, so I have not further inspected the phenomenon of flour and sugar in this combination.
The “loaves” of bread sold in grocery stores and bakeries are between 4 and 8 slices and are the same size loaf, you just decide how thick you would like each individual slice. After doing the math, the house I grew up in would need to pick up at least 30 loaves of bread each time someone went to the store.
Had I known in my single digit years, I would have petitioned to move to Japan if for nothing more than to have a white bread sandwiches for lunch. Then again, I’d probably be wishing I could have one of those seaweed wrapped white rice triangles with fishy stuff in the center, instead. I was finally able to try one a few days ago and just as I had imagined – delightful! I need to find out what they are called. Probably: Wonder Rice.
PS Thank you mom and dad, for the wonderfully Wonder Bread-free lunches you prepared for me during grade school, but most importantly thank you for the stickers on zip-locks and love notes on napkins.