National Grab Some Nuts Day

Hold onto your privates. Your private stash of nuts, that is! August 3 is National Grab Some Nuts Day, and we’d hate for you to come up short.

Humans have been grabbing nuts for about as long as nuts have been around to grab. Archaeologists unearthed evidence of this fascination with nuts at a site in Israel, where seven different varieties of nuts were discovered, along with the stone tools needed to crack them open. The site was estimated to be 780,000 years old, and included almonds, water chestnuts, acorns, and pistachios. Nuts were also popular closer to home; Native Americans frequently used “hammer stones” to crack open beech nuts, chestnuts, walnuts, pecans, and hickory nuts, which were either eaten whole or ground up into a nut butter. Other folks around the world prized nuts for their oil, or turned them into a powder used for thickening foods. Nuts pack a nutritional punch, making them a great source of energy and protein.

Nuts also have a very strict definition, which means that some of the nuts you think are nuts aren’t really nuts. That’s nuts! By definition, a nut is a fruit composed of a hard shell and a seed. So far, so good…but read the fine print: that shell must not open to release the seed. So, from a botanical standpoint, hazelnuts, chestnuts, and acorns are all true nuts. Peanuts, almonds, cashews, walnuts, and pistachios? They’re nuttin’ but wannabes. Though technically incorrect, any large, oily kernel found within a shell and used as a food source is considered a nut. So Planters, you’re off the hook.

One reason nuts are such a popular snack is due to their health properties. They are considered a “superfood” high in healthy monounsaturated fat and other good-for-you nutrients including vitamins E and B2, folate, fiber, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, copper, and selenium. They tend to be high in calories though, so a handful at a time is plenty.

A day rarely goes by where I don’t grab some nuts, so today’s food holiday was easy to conquer. I’m particularly fond of Blue Diamond’s lineup of bold flavored almonds, so I indulged in some Sriracha and Jalapeño Smokehouse nuts. For dessert, I added a few Planters Salted Caramel peanuts.


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There’s a Hummus Among Us

If you’re like me, you are fond of hummus. And you’re hardly alone: this dip, which originated in the Middle East, dates back to the 13th century; its popularity has spread around the globe, especially with health-conscious consumers who love the taste of, say, ranch dressing-but eschew the fat and calories.

The word “hummus” is Arabic for chickpeas. In addition to chickpeas (also known as garbanzo beans), hummus generally contains tahini (a type of sesame paste), garlic, and lemon. The earliest known hummus recipe appeared in a cookbook published in Cairo in the 13th century. Apparently, pyramid building helps you work up quite the appetite. This version was made with vinegar, pickled lemons, olive oil, and herbs, but did not contain garlic or tahini. Hummus was an ideal food for this region, as it was both nutritious and filling, and packed with flavor. Its reputation as a health food is well deserved: hummus is high in fiber and protein, low in saturated fat, contains good-for-you complex carbohydrates, and is chock full of nutrients including vitamins B6 and C, manganese, folate, iron, zinc, and potassium. Its main ingredient, chickpeas, is considered one of the world’s healthiest foods.

Hummus can be served many different ways. It is enjoyed as a dip or spread and scooped up with pita bread, crackers, tortilla chips, and vegetables; as an accompaniment to falafel, grilled chicken, fish, and eggplant; and can even be smeared onto a sandwich. Subway, in fact, has recently been test-marketing hummus as an option for its sandwiches. This is no surprise, considering its surge in popularity: in 2006, only 12% of U.S. households purchased hummus; that number is currently at 20% and continuing to rise, based on Americans’ growing embrace of exotic foods and desire for healthier diet options. This has prompted some experts to declare 2015 the “Year of Hummus” in America. The rest of the world is like, DUH. ‘Bout time you caught on, ‘Merica. 

I’ve enjoyed hummus for years – and with my recent health woes, it has become a regular staple in our household. I usually use it as a dip for vegetables – especially carrot and celery sticks, and snap peas. I also like to make a “hummus boat” by slicing a cucumber in half lengthwise, scooping out the innards, filling with hummus and topping with feta or goat cheese. This is a simple, nutritious – and best of all, delicious – snack.

Nowadays, there are more varieties of hummus available in the grocery store than ever before. Sabra may be the nation’s most popular brand, but some smaller manufacturers are getting in on the action, too. Here are my favorite varieties:

  1. Wildwood/Emerald Valley Kitchen Organic Greek Olive & Garlic Hummus. This smooth and creamy hummus is my top choice. It contains just the right ratio of kalamata olives to garlic, with each flavor harmoniously complementing the other, and is the perfect consistency for dipping and spreading onto your favorite cracker or veggie. At only 50 calories, it’s one of the healthier options, too.
  2. Hope Spicy Avocado Hummus. Love guacamole but shy away from its calories and fat? This hummus makes a great, guilt-free substitute that will help ease your separation anxieties. Its green color certainly resembles guac; in addition to avocados, it contains jalapeno peppers that provide a generous, spicy kick. This one is great spread in a wrap or on a sandwich, and scooped up with tortilla chips. It also contains 50 calories per serving.
  3. Athenos Spicy Three Pepper Hummus. Athenos separates itself from the competition by making its hummus with 100% pure olive oil, giving it a light and creamy texture. Red pepper hummus is very popular, but I find it a tad one-dimensional; Athenos packs in three varieties – red and green bell peppers, and jalapenos – for a little more depth of flavor. Yes, it’s got a little jolt of spice, but is more subtle than Hope’s. I like it with vegetables.
  4. Open Nature Tuscan White Bean Hummus. Hummus doesn’t always have to be made with garbanzo beans; this variety – a Safeway brand – uses lima beans instead. The flavor is a little more mellow than traditional hummus and the consistency slightly thicker, but it’s a delicious alternative to traditional hummus and can be enjoyed with anything.

Of course, hummus is easy to make at home and allows you to be creative with your ingredients! All you need are chickpeas, tahini, lemon, garlic, and a blender. Go crazy!

The best of the best.

The best of the best.

Categories: Condiments, Snacks | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

336/365: National Fritters Day

Don’t fritter away the day without enjoying a tasty, delectable fried treat. December 2 is National Fritters Day!

If you’re wondering haven’t they already done this before? then you have an excellent memory. Back in July we celebrated National Corn Fritters Day. Oh man, those were good! And simple to make. Fritters can consist of basically anything dredged in batter and fried in oil. Fruits, vegetables, and meat can all be turned into fritters; some of the more popular varieties include potato fritters, apple fritters, banana fritters, pineapple fritters, and zucchini fritters. Even crab cakes are technically considered a type of fritter, as is tempura.

Growing up, my mom used to make apple fritters. These were an amazing blend of sweetness and tartness, and a favorite childhood treat. I hadn’t had in at least 25 years…until a few months ago, when she surprised us with a batch. In retrospect, I know why she did this. We had had my parents over for dinner the evening we served corn fritters, and the following exchange occurred on the blog:

Screen shot 2013-11-07 at 2.42.07 PM

Well, it really wasn’t. I swear. But not long after, she made those apple fritters. Which were every bit as delicious as I remembered. The moral of the story? You can’t go wrong with a fritter.

I was torn between making those apple fritters, and the corn fritters we enjoyed last time. In the end, the fact that tomorrow is National Apple Pie Day swayed me toward the savory ones. Only this time, we added more ingredients to our original recipe (follow the link above), and I’m calling them Southwest Corn and Green Chile Fritters. They’ve also got diced onion, minced garlic, salt, pepper, and were delicious dipped in a green chili verde sauce.

National Fritters Day

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333/365: National Rice Cake Day*

Take today’s food holiday with a grain of salt. Or, more accurately, a grain of rice. November 29 is National Rice Cake Day!

It is also National Lemon Cream Pie Day, but if you’re like us, you had plenty of pie yesterday to tide you over for awhile. In fact, you’ve probably still got leftovers today. A light, tasty, low-calorie and low-fat rice cake sounds much more appealing on Black Friday!

Rice cakes are very popular in Asian culture. They may be made with rice flour, ground rice, or whole grains of rice compressed together. Rice cakes can be sweet or savory, and are available in a variety of flavors. Rice has been cultivated for over 7000 years, and is primarily grown in warm, humid climates. In Pacific Rim countries especially, rice is the basis for many meals and snacks. Sweet rice cakes called mochi were eaten by Japanese nobility as far back as the 8th century, and really began to flourish by the end of the 12th century. Once Tokyo became the capital of Japan during the Edo Period (1601-1868), rice cakes became a popular festival treat, and began appearing at roadside stands throughout the country. To this day, many Asian street vendors sell variations of rice cakes made with vegetables, seaweed, and seafood that are fried to order. In the U.S., puffed rice cakes are common. These are considerably healthier, and are a popular low-calorie substitute for pastries.

We picked up a bag of white cheddar flavored rice cakes to celebrate. This is my favorite flavor; I often enjoy rice cakes for a snack, and today was no exception!

National Rice Cake Day

Categories: Grains, Snacks | Tags: , , , , , , | 2 Comments

310/365: National Nachos Day

It’s nacho fault if you’re craving Mexican food today. November 6 is National Nachos Day!

Unlike many of the foods we have celebrated, there is no confusion over who invented nachos. That honor goes to Ignacio “Nacho” Anaya, a restaurateur in Piedras Negras, Coahuila, Mexico, just across the border from Eagle Pass, Texas. In 1943, a group of soldier’s wives on a shopping trip across the border entered Anaya’s restaurant, El Moderno, after it had closed for the day. Pissed that he hadn’t yet locked the door, Anaya was nevertheless gracious to his gringo guests, and put together a snack with the few ingredients he still had left in his kitchen: tortillas, which he cut into triangles, and shredded cheddar cheese. He heated them up until the cheese melted, added sliced jalapenos, and served them to the grateful group. One of the women nicknamed the dish “Nacho’s Especiales.” They raved over it, and word spread throughout Texas and the Southwest. Over time the apostrophe was dropped, and “Nacho’s Specials” became “special nachos” and then, simply, nachos. Anaya died in 1975 and a plaque was erected in Piedras Negras. El Moderno still serves Anaya’s original nachos to this day. Arlington Stadium in Texas began serving a modified version of nachos with a prepared cheese sauce in 1976, and broadcaster Howard Cosell further popularized them by mentioning the dish frequently in his football telecasts over the next few weeks. Nowadays, nachos can be as simple as Anaya’s original snack, or complex and loaded with a variety of toppings including meats, beans, vegetables, salsa, and sour cream.

To celebrate, we made nachos-for-dinner. As opposed to nachos-for-an-appetizer. We used seasoned ground turkey, pinto beans, cheese, onions, black olives, jalapeno slices, and sour cream. The result? Muy bien!

National Nachos Day

Categories: Snacks, Too Weird to Categorize | Tags: , , , , , | 4 Comments

243/365: National Trail Mix Day, National Eat Outside Day*

Hike up your pants and start walking to the cupboard. The last day of August is National Trail Mix Day!

It’s also National Eat Outside Day. If you’re literal-minded, as I am, then you’ll realize this is the perfect pairing. If you’re eating this mix of grains, nuts, and fruit on a trail, then you’re already eating outside anyway. That’s called killing two birds with one stone.

Sure enough, trail mix was invented with hiking in mind. It’s considered a perfect snack food to take along while hitting the Great Outdoors because it is lightweight, easy to store, and packed with nutrition. The carbohydrates in the dried fruit and granola, and the fat in the nuts, provide an energy boost to help you tackle the toughest of hiking trails. While some claim that a pair of California surfers invented trail mix in 1968 when they combined peanuts and raisins for an energy snack, fans of Jack Kerouac need only point to his novel The Dharma Bums to prove this story is a hoax: trail mix is mentioned in the book, which was published in 1958, back when the mystery surfers were probably still learning their ABCs. It probably dates back even further, under different names; an 1833 Danish book mentions Studenterhavre, a popular mix of raisins, almonds, and chocolate.

Trail mix can contain a wide variety of ingredients suited to your individual tastes. Common items include nuts, dried fruits, chocolate, granola, pretzels, seeds, shredded coconut, crystallized ginger, and marshmallows.

Even with guests in town, it was easy enough to celebrate today’s holidays. We shared a bag of trail mix outside. Done, and done!

National Trail Mix Day

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116/365: National Pretzel Day

You’ll be in the mood to twist and shout today if you’re a pretzel lover. April 26 is National Pretzel Day!

It is believed that the pretzel was created by a bored monk (is there any other kind?) in the year 610, at a monastery somewhere in southern France or northern Italy. Scraps of dough were formed into strips and folded, to represent a child’s arms in prayer, with the three holes representing the Holy Trinity. The warm dough was offered as a bribe to children who memorized Bible verses and prayers. They called the doughy creation pretiola, Latin for “little reward.” As it spread through Italy the name was changed to brachiola, meaning “little arms.” Germany, probably more closely associated with pretzels than any other country, offers up an alternate version of their backstory, claiming they were invented by desperate bakers being held hostage by local Dignatories. Whatever their true source, pretzels (called bretzels there) have been an integral part of German culture for centuries. German immigrants known as Pennsylvania Dutch introduced the pretzel to America in the 19th century, and soon handmade pretzel bakeries flourished throughout the Pennsylvania countryside and beyond. In 1850, the first hard pretzel bakery opened in Lilitz, Pennsylvania; hard pretzels became a popular snack food that appears in various shapes and sizes – sticks, rods, braids, and loops. In the 20th century, street vendors in cities such as Chicago, New York, and Philadelphia popularized soft pretzels. The pretzel remains an iconic image of Philadelphia today, with residents consuming 12 times the national average each year.

I love pretzels, particularly freshly baked soft pretzels warm from the oven, sprinkled with salt and dipped in yellow mustard. I will rarely emerge from a shopping mall without eating a pretzel. Sometimes, I go to the mall just for a pretzel. Today was one of those days. Auntie Anne’s never disappoints.


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96/365: National Caramel Popcorn Day

If you dig the combination of salty and sweet, you’ll be exploding with excitement over today’s food holiday. April 6 is National Caramel Popcorn Day! Funny, we just celebrated caramel yesterday…

Popcorn had been around for awhile when brothers Frederick and Louis Rueckheim, candy entrepreneurs in Chicago, came up with the idea of coating popcorn in molasses and adding peanuts. They debuted their product, which had the snappy name “Candied Popcorn and Peanuts,” at the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893. The molasses proved too sticky, so they went back to the drawing board and eventually developed a process that made the coating crispy and dry and kept the kernels separate. A customer tried a sample in 1896 and exclaimed, “That’s crackerjack!” – turn-of-the-century slang for “that’s really good.” Crackerjack is considered a type of caramel corn because the molasses is caramelized before being poured over the popcorn. See yesterday’s post for information on the caramelization process. Other competitors followed suit, many using caramel instead of molasses, and the caramel corn industry took off, particularly in the 1930s and ’40s. Popular brands include Fiddle Faddle and Crunch ‘n Munch. Nowadays, you can’t go to any farmer’s market or county fair, it seems, without bumping into a caramel popcorn vendor somewhere.

We are in Seattle this weekend, staying with Tara’s mom and celebrating her nephew’s first birthday. We’re having a great time! And yet, the blog is always on our minds, so naturally we made time for some caramel popcorn. Tracy offered to make it for us, and we were more than happy to take her up on the offer. Anytime we can get somebody else to do our dirty work, we do! It looked pretty easy, but took more than just caramel. She whisked in butter, brown sugar, Karo syrup, and vanilla. Dark brown sugar makes it sweeter, while light brown sugar is more subtle. You can use either. And I have to say, it was some of the tastiest caramel corn I’ve ever had! I swear I’m not saying that because Tracy is standing right here…

The art of making caramel popcorn.

The art of making caramel popcorn.

Categories: Snacks | Tags: , , , , , , | 7 Comments

73/365: National Potato Chip Day

If you’re feeling salty, your mood is sure to improve today. We celebrate one of the most popular snack foods in America: it’s National Potato Chip Day!

Tara's employer got in on the action today!

Tara’s employer got in on the action today!

Potato chips actually started out as a joke. One evening in August, 1853, a diner at a restaurant in Saratoga Springs, New York was unhappy with his meal. He complained that his potatoes were too thick, soggy, and bland, and kept sending them back to the chef, George Crum. After trying to appease the customer several times (and probably hawking a loogie in his food at some point), Crum had had enough. He decided to slice the potatoes as thinly as possible, fry them until they were crisp, and season them with extra salt. The trick backfired when the customer loved them, and suddenly the restaurant had a new hit item on their menu called Saratoga Chips. In 1910, Mike-sells Potato Chip Company in Dayton, Ohio became the first company to mass-market and sell potato chips. Back then, they were sold in barrels and tins or scooped out of bins. California entrepreneur Laura Scudder developed a wax bag to fill with potato chips at her factory, a revolutionary invention that kept them fresh and crispy longer. Flavored potato chips were developed in the 1950s by Joe “Spud” Murphy of the Tayto company, who came up with Cheese & Onion and Salt & Vinegar flavors. Flavored chips became an overnight sensation, and Murphy became filthy stinkin’ rich. Nowadays there are dozens of potato chip flavors, including Chicken & Waffles. Really, Lay’s?! But that’s not unusual compared with flavors found in other parts of the world, like Canada (Ballpark Hot Dog, Greek Feta & Olive); Japan (Scallop With Butter, Mayonnaise); and the United Kingdom (Prawn Cocktail, Lamb & Mint, Sausage & Ketchup, Stilton & Cranberry).

For our challenge, we stuck with regular ol’ original Lay’s. They may not be exotic, but they are dependably salty, crispy, and delicious!


Categories: Snacks | Tags: , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

64/365: National Cheese Doodle Day*

Orange you glad we chose to celebrate cheese doodles today, rather than Absinthe? (Actually, I have to confess to a curiosity about the “Green Fairy.” Absinthe was banned in many areas of the world up until recently. I almost bought a bottle, but I despise black licorice (it supposedly tastes like anise or fennel) and so we decided, instead, to honor National Cheese Doodle Day).

Which, in itself, almost proved a challenge. There are cheese doodles and there are Cheez Doodles, a brand of cheese doodles. Confused yet? Cheez Doodles, the brand, are manufactured by Wise and available on the East Coast, but tough to find out West. Believe me, I tried. One of my trusted research sites said, “Common brands in the United States include Cheetos, Cheez Doodles, and Chee-Wees. They are called by something else in other parts of the world.” Since it’s cheeSE doodle day and not cheeZ doodle day, we were able to get away with eating Cheetos, which are fortunately easy to find out here.

I’m not sure if the fact that there are dueling brands of cheese doodles means “imitation is the sincerest form of flattery” or is a testatment to the collapse of western civilization as we know it. Nothing in Nature is that orange – not even oranges! Neon color aside, cheese doodles are pretty damn irresistible. They are made from puffed corn (and heaps o’ orange dye) and have been around since the 1930s. Two people claim to have invented cheese doodles. One is Edward Wilson, whose Flakall Corporation in Wisconsin manufactured animal feed but one day decided to deep-fry, salt, and add cheese to a batch of the puffed corn made by their machines. He applied for a patent in 1939 and named his creation Korn Kurls. The Elmer Candy Corporation of New Orleans claims to have invented the same product in 1936. Sales manager Morel Elmer held a contest to name the new snack, and the winning entry was CheeWees (still manufactured today by Elmer’s Fine Foods). In the battle between Cheetos and Cheez Doodles, Cheetos debuted first (in 1948) and were invented by the same guy who pioneered Fritos, Charles Elmer Doolin. Cheez Doodles followed a few years later, developed by Morrie Yohai of the Bronx.

It wasn’t real tough to honor cheese doodles. Tara and I both had a handful with lunch. Good stuff, and our fingers were a luminescent shade of day-glo orange for hours afterwards! Or would have been, if we hadn’t licked them clean afterwards. Let’s face it, that’s the best part about eating cheese doodles, right?

Cheese Doodles

Categories: Snacks | Tags: , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

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