Sunday, February 28, 2010

Two differences, both consumable

For the past eight months, I've kept a list in my head of Things That Are Different About Oregon and New Jersey. None of the items seemed long enough for a post of its own. I was waiting until I had enough material for one long post on Differences Between the Northeast and the Northwest. This morning, however, while making breakfast, I realized that I was being silly. A blog is not a novel. In addition to a person's writing, it shows the evolution of thoughts, ideas, and events. The medium isn't free from the necessity of editing, but posts don't have to be like short stories-with a clear plot or focus. There doesn't have to be a beginning, middle, end - a resolution and a denouement. There can just be short posts. A few lines. One idea.

I am aware that I just wrote an introduction that will be longer than the post itself.

One of the first things I noticed when I moved out here was the butter. This still comes up from time to time. But before I get to that, I will write about something I didn't discover until I'd been here a few weeks, yet it is something with which I find myself constantly confronted. Tap water. Portland tap water does not need to be filtered. It is safe to drink it as is, and depending on where you live, it sometimes even tastes good that way. This morning, as I was measuring four cups of water to cook steel-cut oats, and then another cup to boil water for coffee, I thought, "This is one of the things that's nicer about Portland. You don't have to fuss with filtering the tap water. If you want to make oatmeal and coffee, you don't have to worry that you forgot to fill the Brita. You don't have to wait for five cups to filter."

On the other hand, there's the butter.

What is she talking about? you must be thinking. What fault could she find with West Coast butter? You must be thinking, in a city of foodies (also, I hate the word "foodie" as do so many of us who meet that description), the butter, if different at all, must be extraordinarily good! Maybe Sarah even has access to local butter, or raw milk, or, or, or...!

It has nothing to do with the taste or even the dairy components of the butter. It's the shape.

East Coast butter sticks and West Coast butter sticks are of equal mass - a quarter of a pound. On the butter sticks of both regions, one can find eight tablespoons clearly marked. But on East Coast butter, the teaspoons in between the tablespoons are also clearly marked. This is very convenient! Especially when you want something like 5 2/3 tablespoons of butter. On West Coast butter, the tablespoons are not marked. Because West Coast butter is too fat. Short and fat.

Top: Fred Meyer unsalted butter, typical West Coast-shaped.
Bottom: Mysteriously East Coast-shaped butter without teaspoon markings.

Before realizing that we had some sticks of butter of East Coast proportions already in the fridge, I asked my mother (in New Jersey) to measure some butter for me. She sent me the following instant message: 4 5/8 X 1 1/4 HOTEL BAR. By contrast, the Fred Meyer butter in that photo is 3 1/8" x 1 5/8".

You can see how this is confusing when all one has in the house is short sticks of butter. Their greater height and width, the 1 5/8" vs. 1 1/4", is not so obvious, is it? More than one East Coast transplant has confessed that they too, like me in the beginning, would miscalculate how much butter they were cutting from the stick for toast or for frying eggs. We East Coasters would go through butter like nobody's business.

And that is why this morning, I nearly ate decadent oatmeal for breakfast. I nearly stirred three tablespoons, not three teaspoons, of butter into my oatmeal.

1 comment:

ellen said...

margarine in macedonia (you can buy butter in the capital and about nowhere else) comes in a block, sans measurements...if i hadn't seen people cook here (no one measures anything, they just KNOW) i would be really confused by this. i dream of introducing us style sticks of butter, but pretty sure i'm the only one in this country who needs the measuring advice...