One of my life’s great woes is that I am constantly hungry. You could see this as a blessing; my food writing career requires that I be always ready to sample whatever tasty treat should come my way. However, more often than not it’s something of a curse, given the fact that I am completely unable to function when hungry. I genuinely cannot comprehend those people – you know the type; you may even be one of them – who can breeze empty-stomached through a whole day and then remark, astonished, by evening that they haven’t eaten anything all day and gosh, how silly, they probably should have something then really shouldn’t they, but they’re just not that hungry!!!!
Sorry, but I hate these people.
Hunger is the bane of my existence. If I didn’t love food so much, I would happily subsist on meal replacement drinks. I’d get so much more done. To this end, I’m constantly aware of the need to carry some form of sustenance around with me for when hunger renders me unable to function on any normal level. There are logistical issues with this. Bananas, my favourite snack, are not particularly portable (unless, of course, you have a handy banana guard: a bright yellow plastic case that magically fits any size and shape of banana; the only problem with this is you get some very funny looks pulling it out of your handbag), nor are a lot of fruits. There seems to be a direct correlation between the deliciousness of the fruit and how impractical it is to carry around as a quick snack: mangoes, papaya and pineapple, for example. Sometimes I like to snack on hummous and raw vegetables, but again, you can’t exactly keep these in your handbag for weeks (or even hours) on end for when hunger strikes. I refuse to eat cereal bars because they taste like cardboard and are full of sugar and processed rubbish. What to do?
I was recently invited to take part in the ‘Snack Happy’ challenge by California Almonds, who sent me a vast supply of lovely almonds plus a handy little tin to keep them in – the portability problem solved right there and then. I actually used to eat handfuls of almonds as a snack for a few weeks during my Masters, then fell out of the habit, though I can’t remember why. When they contacted me, I wondered why I hadn’t considered almonds as the solution to the snack problem. They’re filling and incredibly good for you, including fifteen important nutrients - more than any other nut. They don’t cause blood sugar to crash and will keep you sustained for hours. Most importantly, they’re all natural.
This week I attended a special event in London organized by California Almonds, which focused on the health benefits of almonds, providing one-to-one consultations with a nutritionist to help suggest ways of incorporating almonds into your lifestyle. Something I learned, and had always wondered about, was that despite their high fat content, almonds don’t cause you to put on weight, because they have a satiating effect that means you eat less during the rest of the day. You also don’t actually absorb the entirety of the calories they provide, as the body doesn’t digest the whole nut. I also learned that almonds are an excellent post-workout snack, and are also good before exercise, though you need to eat them a few hours beforehand to get all the benefits, as they take a while to digest.
Denise van Outen, a big advocate of almonds, was there to tell us about her love affair with the nuts as part of a healthy lifestyle, and Dariella from California Almonds showed us some beautiful pictures of the Californian almond trees in blossom. There was a big focus on wellbeing, with free manicures and massages, and – just as important – large quantities of prosecco, along with an almond milk cocktail featuring vanilla, Cointreau and vodka, which was absolutely delicious and tasted dangerously like cheesecake.
The most exciting feature, though, was the huge ‘pick n mix’ stand with a variety of flavoured almonds and dried fruit, which you could pile into little California Almond-branded jars to create your own snack combination. Almonds on their own can be a little bland, but these were a revelation. The Jakarta spice nuts were plump and fragrantly spiced, the lemon almonds dark and glossy with an incredible sharp tang. There were ‘smokehouse almonds’, salty and smoky and ridiculously moreish, soy and wasabi flavour (which I have to admit I wasn’t too partial to!), cinnamon (pale lilac coloured and just sweet enough), flaked almonds, plain roasted almonds, plus sweet varieties like honey roasted (encrusted with delicious sugary crystals) and dark chocolate, as well as dried fruit and vegetable crisps. I preferred the savoury varieties, so teamed the Jakarta spice, smokehouse and lemon with some dried cranberries, apricots and banana chips. The jar is going to sit on my desk at work, though I fear it might turn into more of a desirable treat than simply a snack to eat out of necessity.
My favourite part of the night was sampling the delicious treats prepared by the dashing chef, known only as ‘Chef Jack’. The extent of my cooking with almonds is sprinkling them on top of a tagine or using them in cakes, but the recipes showcased here were inspiring: chicken skewers with an almond satay sauce, for example, which was thick and creamy and slightly sweet, very different to the usual peanut variety but very tasty nonetheless (I plan to replicate it, but make the chicken spicier in contrast with the sweet sauce). There were little puff pastry vegetable tartlets with goats cheese and flaked almonds, roasted vegetable pastry rolls with almonds, crackers with an almond, olive and anchovy tapenade, and little blinis with smoked salmon and almond pesto (I’d never thought of mixing smoked salmon with pesto before, but this was very good).
Then sweet morsels: almond brownies, which were gorgeously gooey in the centre and crusty on the outside, dotted with little fragments of almond, almond butter flapjacks, which are surprisingly healthy, containing no actual butter (although topped with chocolate…hmmm), peach wedges with a delicious praline-esque chocolate and almond sprinkle, and – the star of the evening – luscious gooey almond macaroons topped with mascarpone and passionfruit, and sprinkled with toasted flaked almonds. These were just beautiful; I’d forgotten how good passionfruit is, especially when paired with thick creamy cheese and those sweet, gooey, chewy biscuits; macaroons can sometimes be a bit dry and crumbly, but these were really moist and moreish. This recipe is going to be the centerpiece of my next canapé party, should I ever have such a thing.
After such a lovely evening, I feel inspired to make almonds more of a focal point in both my snacking and my cooking life. They’re definitely a much more convenient food to have on the go than fruit or vegetables (you may have noticed the California Almond ad campaigns, which suggest every girl should carry them around in her handbag along with other essentials), and although not as satisfying to sink your teeth into as a piece of bread or a chocolate bar, leave you feeling much fuller and healthier for longer. Plus, you can whip them up into a passionfruit macaroon and claim you’re being healthy. Win-win.
Thank you very much to Caroline and California Almonds for inviting me to the event and to take part in the Snack Happy challenge.