El Nino may be playing its tricks again, keeping the weather unseasonably mild (and smiling on paddlers across North America), but the countdown to Christmas has nevertheless begun. A first sprinkling of snow last weekend in my neck of the woods set me to thinking that the holiday season is once again approaching rapidly.
Memories of Christmas past
I still remember being the first out of bed as a child on Christmas morning and running to the fireplace mantle to check out a stocking stuffed with what seemed to be the most exotic treasures from faraway places : mandarin oranges, nuts still in their shells, and, of course Christmas ribbon and cut-rock candies.
I've already started making my lists for this year, and among holiday traditions, a bowl of unshelled nuts is still a must at Christmas. And this year, I’ve decided to prepare small baskets of mixed nuts to give as gifts. I’m mixing roasted unshelled walnuts, almonds, pecans, filberts (hazelnuts) and Brazil nuts. Not only do unshelled nuts keep much longer than shelled nuts, they also cost less and they represent the holiday season.
A healthy Christmas treat
And the scientific evidence is that eating a small quantity of nuts regularly is good for you. Research indicates that 30grams (or a small handful of nuts) 5 times a week, as part of a heart healty diet, can reduce your risk of heart disease by about 30% to 50% and lower blood cholesterol by about 10%.
- Walnuts have been cultivated for more than 4000 years. They contain the highest source of natural plant omega-3s, and also provide a healthy protection for your heart.
- Almonds are rich in Vitamin E, and 30 grams provide 85 % of the Recommended Daily Intake for Vitamin E and help to maintain heart health.
- The word "pecan" apparently means "a tough nut to crack" in Algonquin, but once you do crack it, the pecan provides essential nutrients that help reduce blood cholesterol.
- Filberts, or hazelnuts as they are commonly known, were first described in manuscripts almost 5000 years ago. They contain significant amounts of B group vitamins, and provide the most amount of fibre of any nut.
- Brazil nuts are especially beneficial because they contain a high amount of selenium, which helps make their protein content complete, similar to animal proteins. Selenium is also a powerful antioxidant that helps reduce the risk of cancer and heart disease.
The fact that a small quantity of nuts eaten regularly can be good for you is a plus, since most people enjoy them so much. And in fact, unshelled nuts could be a perfect gift for paddlers as well. After all, they come in their own containers, and can be kept in their shells at room temperature for four months; up to a year if they are refrigerated, and up to two years in the freezer.
This year, they are near the top of my list to serve as treats around the house, and to give as gifts to friends and family. Happy holidays and happy paddling!
Spicy Christmas Nuts
- 8 cups mixed nuts (pecans, hazelnuts, almonds, etc.)
- 4 egg whites
- 2 cups sugar
- 4 tsp cinnamon
- 1/2 tsp ginger powder
- 1/2 tsp allspices
- 2 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp chili powder
Preheat oven to 225°F. Cover 2 large cookie sheets with parchment paper and spread with cooking spray. In a large bowl, whip the egg whites until firm. Pour onto the nuts and mix well. In another bowl, mix all spices with sugar and salt. Sprinkle on nuts and mix well. Spread the nut mixture onto the baking sheets and cook approximately 3 hours, in the center of the oven, stirring regularly, until it becomes crunchy. Let cool in a dry place and put in glass jars wrapped with a ribbon for a nice gift.
Nutty Christmas Fruitcake
- 4 eggs
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 3/4 cup white sugar
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 1 package pitted dates (8-ounce size)
- 1/2 cup raisins
- 2/3 cup candied orange peel
- 1/2 cup candied green cherries
- 1/2 cup candied red cherries
- 1 1/2 cup whole Brazil nuts
- 1 1/2 cup walnuts
- 1 cup pecan halves
- 1 ounce brandy – optional
Combine nuts, dates, raisins, orange peel and cherries. Mix together flour, baking powder, sugar and salt and sift mixture over fruits and nuts, making sure everything is well coated. Beat the eggs with vanilla extract and add to flour-fruit mixture.
Grease two 9 x 5-inch loaf pans, line with parchment or wax paper. Pour in the batter and bake at 300°F 90 minutes to 2 hours. Cool, then wrap in plastic wrap. After several days, brush loaves with brandy if desired. For best results, bake 2 to 3 weeks before serving.