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Nuts

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I?m a late bloomer. This is true of every single aspect of my life, especially my developing palate. I?ve acknowledged that I am a picky eater. Until I reached my twenties, I would eat only about six things. Happily, my culinary world is opening up, and I am at least willing to try anything except bugs and guts once. The previously reviled food I?m going to write about today is nuts.

As a child, nuts were on my run-past-screaming list. I couldn?t figure them out. Where did they come from? Why did my parents put out bowls of these when we had company? Why did the grown-ups eat these with such relish?and at warp speed? The only nut-like item I would consume was creamy peanut butter. Any remnant of an actual peanut would never pass my lips. In fact, I just recently started eating the peanuts in Cracker Jacks, my Dodger Stadium staple. I terrorized my mother into baking her incredible chocolate chip cookies with no nuts, when she really wanted to make ones with nuts. (I?ve made up for this trespass, though, as you?ll see in next week?s post.) Almond Joy was my favorite candy bar as a kid, but I would eat around the almonds, removing all the chocolate with my mouth, before tossing them into the garbage. You?re probably thinking, Okay, why didn?t she eat Mounds instead? Dark chocolate, that?s why. Another previously avoided food I now eat with regularity! I fell in love with hazelnuts as a teenager, but they needed a milk chocolate chaser.

Thinking back, it was probably pretty gross to watch me eat as a kid, with all my picking stuff apart and creating piles of refused food on my plate. Not to mention the contortions my face would go through when I disliked something. My mother used to call this my dirt-eating face. I know this look, for I have seen it in my son. I have mostly outgrown being a disgusting dining companion because I managed to have boyfriends who would take me out for dinner, and my husband, Dan, has yet to avoid eye contact with me during a meal.

I really didn?t start eating nuts until a few years ago, when I was searching for meatless forms of protein and couldn?t stomach soy or other kinds of fake meat. After I had whipped up a particularly delicious romesco sauce, which is made with almonds, I remember thinking: Wow, have I been living a sheltered life! I started exploring the vast world of nuts with a scary fervor usually reserved only for Raiders fans. I used nuts in baking, cooking and salads, and I learned of the gloriousness of toasted nuts in all of the aforementioned culinary modes.

There was one nut that eluded my repertoire, though: the pecan. I was not a fan of pecan pie or any other iteration, for that matter. That is, until I had pecans recently when I was in Tucson, Arizona. Pecans are grown in Green Valley, which is about 30 miles south of Tucson. These Arizona pecans were so fresh and tasty they made me want to slap myself for avoiding this wonderful nut. I know there will be other foods that I will come to love as I slowly shed my comestible fears, so thanks for being patient while I come around.


Banana-Pecan Muffins
Vegan
Makes a dozen muffins

When I was in Arizona, I went into a cool store called Tumacookery in Tubac, an artists? community 40 miles south of Tucson. In addition to lots of kitchen gadgets and necessities, it has an excellent collection of spices and cookbooks on southwestern cuisine. Nancy, one of the friends I was with, turned me on to pecan meal, made from Green Valley pecans, which takes the place of half the flour in this recipe. Pecan meal not only provides texture and taste?heck, it?s good for ya! You can use it in cookies, piecrusts, cakes, quick breads, romesco sauce, to sprinkle on yogurt or whatever else your creative mind can conjure. If you have trouble finding pecan meal at a place like Whole Foods or Trader Joe?s, don?t fret. You can either grind pecans finely in a food processor or order pecan meal from the Green Valley Pecan Company.

1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup pecan meal (or finely ground pecans)
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon sea salt
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3 very ripe medium bananas, mashed
½ cup brown sugar, packed
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
½ cup unsweetened almond milk
? cup canola oil
2 tablespoons coarsely chopped, toasted pecans
Sugar for sanding

1. Preheat oven to 350° F. Prepare muffin pan by lining with baking cups or lightly greasing and flouring. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, pecan meal, baking powder, sea salt, nutmeg and cinnamon.

2. In a large bowl, whisk together the bananas, brown sugar, vanilla, almond milk and canola oil. If you?re tempted to eat the bananas in all their pudding-y goodness, abstain. You have muffins to make. Mix the dry ingredients into the wet and combine.

3. Spoon batter into baking cups until ¾ full. Top with chopped pecans. Take a pinch of sugar and top the pecans with it. Bake 18-20 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Transfer muffins to rack to cool. Make sure they are cooled completely before transferring to an airtight container, where they will remain tasty for about two days.

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