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A Nuttier Kind of Butter

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It's back to school, chickadees! After the pencils are sharpened and the textbooks are covered, let's get to a more pressing issue -- like what's in that lunchbox of yours.

Rather than reinvent the meal, let's talk simple tweaks instead. I'm thinking about peanut butter and jelly, that old reliable staple of American lunchrooms over the past 50 years, the one true north for kiddies and adults who don't want to grow up.

Who in this country doesn't love a PB&J? When you're broke, it solves a lot of problems. It's a cheap dose of protein that fills you up and can be eaten at any time of the day. Plus, it still tastes good after being squished in your book bag.

However, a peanut allergy can make the PB&J a moot point, and jelly sandwiches are for crybabies. (I just want to know why peanut allergies are all the rage now. When I was a little girl, there was nary a goober-induced incident.)

The solution is not to give up on the old classic altogether, but to give it a new spin so you can avoid anaphylactic shock and still be part of the lunch bunch.

Meet the alternative butters. I tried four jarred nut butters -- almond, cashew, macadamia and soy -- to see how they match up against peanut butter and if any comes close to the real thing. Herewith my tasting notes (calorie and protein count is based on two tablespoon serving):

Almond: Elegant without being too rich. Spreads easily and talks to the jelly. Divine with sliced banana and cinnamon. For a more erudite B&J diner. Calories: 195; Protein: 8g.

Cashew: Surprisingly dreadful given my love for whole cashews. Chalky flavor; uncooperative spreading action. Give this the heave-ho, unless you're planning a prank on someone in the lunch bunch. Calories: 190; Protein: 5g.

Macadamia: Gorgeous flavor. Decadent enough to be dessert. I might add chocolate sauce to the mix for a heavenly midnight snack. However, with decadence comes a price; Calories: a whopping 230; Protein: a measly 3g. Also the most expensive, bordering on six bucks for an 8-ounce jar.

Soy Nut: Actually, this is made from roasted soy beans. There's no such thing as a soy nut. If you had to fool someone, this would be the one to use. It looks, smells, spreads and almost tastes like peanut butter. Look for I.M. Healthy brand, flavored with honey. Calories: 170; Protein: 7g.

Now butter up that bread, will ya?

Culinary questions? Reach CL's Kitchen Witch at kim.odonnel@creativeloafing.com.

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