Saturday, July 14, 2012

Two Great Tastes

Remember the old Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups jingle, “Two great tastes that taste great together”? And they were soooo right. Peanut butter is good; chocolate is good. Put them together and they’re better than good – they’re great! This is a prime example of the old saying that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

This concept is on my mind today because yesterday I was shopping at Target and a bag of Oreos jumped right into my cart. I can’t remember the last time I had an Oreo cookie, but when I got home from the store, I poured myself a big glass of cold milk, got out a little stack of Oreos, and started dunking. Milk is good; Oreos are great; the combination of the two is spectacular.

This is true of a lot of foods, if you stop and think about it. Particularly with desserts and junk food, many foods just naturally complement each other. Coffee and donuts are better together than either is alone. Cake is best with an ice cream accompaniment. Graham crackers are kind of boring and so is milk, but put them together and WOW! And let’s not forget the dessert trifecta of graham crackers + marshmallows + chocolate that is a s’more.

But it can true for savory foods as well as sweet. Pork chops and applesauce. Eggs and bacon. Tomatoes and basil. Bagels and cream cheese. Lamb and mint jelly. Pretzels and Dijon mustard.

But what is it that makes these pairings so complementary? What is the common relationship between the two members that makes each pair so delicious? I think what makes them all work so well together is that they’re different.

Oreos are very sweet and a bit dry. Milk is bland but wet. The two combined are the perfect balance of taste and texture. Same with coffee and donuts: coffee is bitter and donuts are blandly sweet – taken together, the sweetness level hits just the right note and the donut is infused with the rich coffee flavor. Ditto for a savory example: tomatoes are acidic but sweet; basil’s freshness mellows the acidity and brings a layered flavor to the sweetness. Salty bland pretzels mingle with spicy, overly-strong Dijon mustard to enhance the best flavor qualities of both.

A lot of life is like that. You can find a balance by combining two things that are overly strong and letting them cancel each other out a bit, or by combining two things that are a bit bland and letting them bring out the best in each other. It works for jobs, it works for people, it works for situations. You like your job but it has frustrations. You like your hobby but it has frustrations. Doing both somehow cancels out the frustrations of each and enhances the enjoyment of both. You’re a bit shy and inhibited and so is your best friend, but when you’re together you give each other courage to try new things and go new places and meet new people.

And if you can’t figure out exactly what you need to complement your life, just sit down with a big glass of milk and a bag of Oreos. Your life might not quite be perfect in the big picture, but for those few moments of dairy-infused chocolate nirvana it will be.

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