The Devil’s in the Peanut Butter

In honor of those people in New Zealand who lost their lives due to prejudice and ignorance, here’s a repost from a few years back. Before you blindly hate or fear people who may have different beliefs and a different life style, get to know them.

I dropped out of college when the chance to live in Europe came along and didn’t have a chance to return until the mid-eighties when my life hit an unfamiliar period of calm and, because I wasn’t used to calm, I decided to spice life up by returning to UC Berkeley. However I needed childcare as my son was just a toddler. Finding childcare is always a sticky-wicket if you don’t have a mother-figure nearby to help.

After fretting over my options for a couple of weeks (potential child abusers versus soulless baby mills), my husband pointed out that we had an extra bedroom with an attached bath, so why not find a college girl willing to trade room and board for help with the children?

th-2He envisioned a buxom blonde from Sweden. I thought more along the lines of a quiet farm girl from Kansas. 

The ad read: “Room and Board in exchange for child care a couple of times a week. House is only 15 minutes from campus.”

I’d just returned home from posting the advertisement when the phone rang. On the other end of the line was a young man with a thick accent. “I have sixteen brothers and sisters,” he informed me. “I know all about babies.”

Stunned stupid I mumbled:  “But you’re a man.” Something which he’d probably already figured out.

“But your ad didn’t say…”

What a corner I’d painted myself into! I couldn’t say we want a girl, now could I?  That would be sexist. Besides, he had a point. There was no “must have a vagina” in my ad.

“I can come in for an interview today.”

“Today?  Ah, no, um –  that won’t work. Tomorrow, eleven o’clock,”  I needed time to figure out how I was going to reject him. Now, I should have said the position was already taken but I’ve never been that quick on my feet.

OmarSharifThe next morning at precisely eleven the doorbell rang. How stupid, I thought. I’ve probably just invited a serial killer or a rapist to my house while my husband was at work. I should have arranged to meet him somewhere else, a public place with lots of people around.  I should have had him come when my husband was home. But as I said, I’ve never been quick on my feet. 

Like a ninny I peered out the living room blinds.  At my front door stood a young Omar Sharif in a plaid shirt and slacks, his dark hair cut short. Figuring that serial rapists generally don’t look like Omar Sharif, I opened the door and let him in.

“Just call me Aziz,” he informed me. “Americans can’t pronounce my real name,  Azizulah.”

“Azizulah, that’s not such a hard name to pronounce.” You twit, I thought, feeling insulted. I’d traveled the world. I wasn’t a typical American, or so I thought.

He went on to say he was a graduate student from Karachi who had scored fourth in Pakistan’s version of the SATs which guaranteed him entrance into just about any college in the world (lack of confidence was not one of his failings). He took a look at the room and the bath and declared it would suit him just fine as it was far away from the “family” quarters and he liked to touch base with his family in the middle of the night. He also informed me that he expected to be allowed to cook at least one meal a week and asked if the local butcher stocked freshly slaughtered goat.


Aziz with the woman he couldn’t possibly live without and Cam

I was about to tell him that we’d get back to him when my son who was sitting on the floor abusing the dog began to wail. Aziz picked him up, made a funny clacking sound with his tongue and Cam settled right down. They got along so well that I invited him back to meet my husband for dinner that evening. 

“Is there anything you don’t eat, other than pork?”

“Peanut butter!”  He said, looking as if he’d just smelt a fart.

He stayed with us until he married the woman he claimed he “would die without.”  It was true. Whenever she was out of town he couldn’t eat or sleep, often stumbling from his room red-eyed and moaning.  I’ve never seen a man so love-sick. 


Hindu Marriage Ceremony

Unfortunately, she was a Hindu. And so, of course, his family boycotted their wedding and my children played the roles meant for the groom’s siblings. After a few years and children, fortunately his family softened their stance.

Here are just a few of the things I learned during my years with Aziz:

  • Peanut Butter is the food of the Devil. Grilled Cheese isn’t far behind.
  • The worst thing you can call someone in Urdu is a Devil.
  • Pakistanis do not celebrate birthdays because many of them have no idea when they were born (Aziz was either 24 or 26 depending on whether he believed his mother’s journal entry or his father’s).  The date on his passport was made official by a bribe to an immigration official.
  • Pakistanis also do not believe it is necessary to either give or receive thanks. People are expected to do good deeds for each other without expectation of a thank you.

We introduced Aziz to Thanksgiving turkey, Christmas cookies, and Easter bunnies. He introduced us to curry, Eid and Ramadan. One summer, part of his large family came for a visit, staying at the Claremont Hotel and traveling around the Bay Area in a Azizconvoy of vans. They owned a factory on the outskirts of Karachi and made replicas of the kind of furniture you’d find at Versailles which they sold primarily in Europe. They invited me to their home but, after Aziz told me the honored guest is always offered (and expected to eat) the eyeball of a freshly slaughtered cow, I declined the invitation!

I used to joke that during the time we were all together, we had the bases covered – the son of a Holocaust survivor, a baptized Christian (drifting towards Buddhism), a Hindu and a Muslim – should the world come to a sudden end; an end which would probably have been caused by one or all of the above religions.  Ironic, isn’t it?

Holy Mole

On the third day of chili grinding (see Making Mole Sauce and Making Mole in the Modern World) the chili-nut-fruit mixture was still not ground to Liz’s satisfaction and so I kidnapped every grinding machine I could find in Joel’s well equipped kitchen and brought them to her house.


Then we got an assembly line going – using one grinder until it started to overheat and then switching to another.  BTW – the best grinder in our assortment was the small white one on the right (a Grup).  I’m happy to say that no grinders were permanently damaged.  Finally we had a Costco-size pretzel jar full of perfectly ground mole powder!


Above is pork mole with sourdough bread and my share of the mole powder. It should last a year.

Liz then added a cup of the mole powder to 8 ounces of tomato sauce and sauteed the mixture with a cup of chicken broth and grated chocolate to taste. Please note, if you use dark, dark chocolate you may want to add sugar to prevent bitterness which we did.

The mole was divine.  Worth every blister!


Liz’s Paternal Grandmother’s recipe – Note the final step – “Then take all ingredients to a mill and have it ground!” No shit!!!!!!!!


Last night I made chicken mole with the commercially made powder for a taste test.  Aside from being a little sweeter than the homemade, it was also excellent.

When Liz enrolled her son for kindergarten she told the principal that he was bilingual, that English was his second language. The woman countered by saying she didn’t think it would be too much of a “problem.” A problem, Liz thought, seething.   Of course, it wasn’t a problem a few months later when the son of a Venezuelan ambassador interviewed at the school and they needed a translator.

Stereotyping by political buffoons  “Mexicans are all rapists” may seem like merely the ranting of an opportunist but unfortunately it’s far more pervasive in our society than we blush-faced Euro-types want to admit.  And don’t get me started on racism. 

And while I’m at it, next time:  My Pakistani Nanny.  


Making Mole in the Modern World


Traditional Mole Grinding Tool

Making Mole Sauce, Part Two (Part One here)

After giving up on the mortar and pesto, we turned to Liz’s antique Mixmaster to grind the chilies into dust.  However, after five minutes of grinding the mixture looked like cornflakes and the machine began overheating. Liz unwrapped a present she planned to give her daughter for Mother’s Day: an electric coffee grinder and so began stuffing it with chilies.

Alas, it soon became apparent that between the smoking mixmaster and the tiny coffee grinder we would be pulverizing chilies until the end of days. Luckily I knew where to find a much more powerful mixmaster and a substantially larger coffee grinder.


Modern day poblano chili grinders!

“You’re not taking my babies to Liz’s house!” My husband said.

He adores his gizmos. Almost obsessively and Liz, well, Liz has no patience with a machine that doesn’t obey verbal orders.  He went on to catalogue all the things we’d lent her which came back a little wonky.

“I won’t let Liz touch it.  I’ll do all the grinding myself.”

He didn’t believe me but when informed no Mixmaster equaled no mole sauce, he relented. I returned to Liz’s house and we commenced our never ending chili grinding operation.

Step 2:  Roasting the spices, fruits and nuts


Once the chilies were finally pulverized, it was time to work on the other ingredients: hazelnuts, almonds. raisins, pecans, cinnamon, garlic, sesame seeds, anise, and plantains. All of which would need to be roasted until they were fragrant.


As Liz roasted, I pulled apart garlic.  I love garlic, I really do.  But peeling garlic, oh my, do your fingers get sticky.

When we were young mothers I envied Liz.  I was divorced and struggling in a community were misfortune was treated like rabies while she lived in a sprawling ranch-style house on a hill. Her  husband was an attorney specializing in environmental concerns, her large close-knit family always around for family dinners and impromptu babysitting, her children were invited to all the parties mine were not. So when her family adopted me and my son as a part of their extended family, I smiled and pretended things were not as bad as they were for me. I always assumed the same women who pretended not to see me when I went to school events, welcomed Liz into their fold because, unlike me, she hadn’t caught the misfortune bug.  Apparently she was as a good a pretender as I was. 

Ah, the things we do not see.  Until Liz was 30 she was a legal resident of Mexico, having come to this country at age 5. She graduated college and worked for the state for twenty years but, even after she got those citizenship papers, she still felt like an outsider.

“Remember Miss Crap?” she asked as we were roasting away.

Miss Crap is what she calls our boys’ kindergarten teacher. Her real name was Miss Trap.


“Remember how we all had to go in and help her out once a week?”


“You know what the bitch had me doing?”

Miss Trap generally put me in charge of an art project. I always assumed it was the same for Liz. “No.”

“Cleaning the damn windows!”


Ground chili powder on top of the nut/raisin/spice mixture.

After filling the house with their heavenly fragrance, we dumped the spices, nuts and raisins into the Mixmaster and let ‘er rip. Unfortunately the raisins proved to be a problem. They don’t grind very well. We ended up with a mixture the consistency of lumpy peanut butter.

And there was another problem.  The plantains were not ripe.  “I’ll call Pat and have him buy some more plantains,” she said.

Pat, Liz’s husband, had been MIA most of the morning.  After she reached him, he called back several times, unable to find plantains anywhere.


Our hands were chapped and bleeding.  Our wrists aching from that damned mortar and pestle adventure. “Oh crap, I’ve had it,” said Liz. “Let’s have a glass of wine and call it a day.”

I didn’t argue.

Stay tuned for the final episode – will Pat find ripe plantains?  Will Liz and Jan figure out how to turn raisin goop into powder? Or will their mole turn out to be mole paste?

Anyone have a suggestion as to how to grind roasted raisin goop?