Hometown Cooking with Shae Ross

Hometown Cooking
Spice Your Own Damn Nuts…

Here’s the bad news: I’m not much of a cook. But here’s the good news: my best friend Jennifer is! Every December Jen hosts a cookie day for six of our closest gal pals. In honor of how our friendships began, we call this event, “Ferndale High School Cheerleader Cookie Day.” Baking begins at ten a.m., and by the end of day we divide the cookies into aluminum trays and take them home to our families. We’ve had dozens of recipes over the past ten years, but one must-have favorite is Jen’s recipe for “Spiced Nuts.”

Bullhorn announcement: Due to a recent change of policy, FHSC Cookie Day will now be referred to as “Ferndale High School Cheerleaders’ Wine Day,” and Jennifer’s spiced nuts have been officially re-named: “Make Your Own Damn Spiced Nuts.”

Here’s the backstory: We are six working women with a total of twelve kids. I resorted to using a color-coded spreadsheet to figure out a date that worked for all of us this year. “Might we want to scrap ‘cookie day’ and have ‘wine and relaxation day’ instead?” someone boldly suggested. Text messages started to swoosh in with fury. “We can’t end cookie day.” “My family looks forward to their cookies every year.” “It’s a holiday tradition.” The votes came in; four for wine, two for cookies. Even our hostess, Jennifer, whom I lovingly refer to as Martha Stewart on speed, was firmly in the ‘wine’ group. In the end, sentiment and tradition beat out Chardonnay and yoga pants, and the majority begrudgingly agreed. Cookie Day it is.

Jen spent her week stocking up on a mass of baking ingredients just in case one of us forgot something. (It’s usually me and I usually forget my cookies.) Jen spent another day spicing nuts–-a process that needs to be done a day early because it involves toasting multiple batches of almonds and pecans on commercial cookie sheets, rotating and cooling, gently folding in the spices, and packing into holiday bags. She decorated, cleaned the house, and prepared lunch for six – a savory Moroccan stew that she wanted to test for Anita’s Kitchen, the restaurant she and her husband own. Jen did all this with two sick kids and a limited range of motion in her right arm due to a torn rotator cuff.

Here’s where things start to break down: On the day before cookie day, two texts ping onto our group message. Laura’s sixteen-year old daughter has mono and Laura cannot make it. Gretchen has a holiday classroom project for her son and can’t be there until noon-ish. I’m on a writing deadline and have not had time to come up with a recipe or get ingredients–I’ll bring cookies from Roma bakery. Last year I didn’t even have time to get to the bakery. I drove through McDonalds, bought three-dozen chocolate chip cookies, and called it good.

So, it came as no great shock to me when I listened to Jennifers’ voice mail later that day. I can’t recall every word, but I heard this loud and clear: “Next year we’re doing wine-day and everyone can spice their own damn nuts!” So long spiced nuts. Another recipe added to the dozens we’ve discarded over the years. Sigh.

When we showed up at Jen’s, no one really had the energy to bake. Instead, we spent our time catching up and recalling old memories from twenty-plus years of friendship. One of my favorite moments of the day came when Jennifer demonstrated the extent of her injured shoulder. “Look,” she said, standing in her kitchen with a proud smile on her face, “I can only move my arm this far.” We spent some time trying to come up with ways she could still manage to drive and flip someone off if the need arose—and in between bouts of laughter I realized my most successful recipe will always be my recipe for friendship. This I can confidently share with you.

It has three ingredients and three directions:
Friends, Love and Laughter.
Gather, Stir and Enjoy.

And, if you want to “Spice Your Own Damn Nuts”, here’s Jen’s recipe! Ho, Ho, Ho!

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spread 1 and 1/2 cups of un-blanched almonds and 1 cup pecans on a rimmed baking sheet; toast until fragrant, about 10 minutes. In a large bowl, combine ¼ cup sugar, 1 ½ teaspoons coarse salt, and 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper. In a large skillet over medium heat, cook 1 tablespoon each honey and water with 1 teaspoon olive oil, stirring, until combined, 1 minute. Add almonds; toss to coat. Transfer nuts to sugar mixture (do not scrape extra glaze into bowl); toss to coat. Cool in a single layer.




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