Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Keep Your Nuts to Yourself

As Thanksgiving descends upon us like the advance vanguard of an invading green and red armada of suck, and as the kitchens of America all go into high gear, and all of you talented amateur (and professional) cooks, chefs, and weekend caterers all dive into your treasured stack of recipes, and start posting pictures on Facebook, and even as some of you are considering sending along plates of sweets and Christmas tins full of home-made treats, allow me to offer one direct request:

Keep your nuts to yourself.

Not a year goes by that some well-meaning person doesn't bring me a plate of home-made brownies, just the way I like them, with the satin-sheen glaze across the top, that crust that breaks open and allows you access to this thick, rich, gooey, chewy chocolate center, and then all of a sudden--BAM! I'm digging a piece of a pecan out from between my teeth, looking for all the world like an Alpaca chewing a cud, and I'll ask, through gritted teeth: "ARE THERE NUTS IN THESE BROWNIES?"

They'll look confused, as if I just asked them if they were made of protein chains and water molecules. "Yeah," they will answer, in a kind of dazed wonderment. "Of course. It's brownies. Why wouldn't there be nuts?"

This is acceptable. Why? Because they are out in the open
where I can see them. 

Why, indeed. I'll tell you why: BECAUSE the NUTS ARE ALWAYS OPTIONAL. That's why. And yet, there are some of you with a hidden nut agenda, who will try to sneak those little brown tree stones into every single food on the table. Why? What's wrong with you? Were you hit on the head by a stray pecan as a child?  Buried under a bushel of walnuts? Why would you pass your damage on to the rest of us?

Look, let me say this up front: I don't have a problem with nuts that I can see. Toasted pecans, in a bowl, or mancala almonds, or even pistachios...wonderful. Great snacking. And while most of the world's nuts look, taste, and crunch like tree bark, I'm willing to let that slide because you can do an awful lot to a nut and it'll taste just fine. This is not an anti-nut rant.

My problem is with stealth nuts. Don't make that face at me; you know exactly what I'm talking about. I'm talking about that half a cup of chopped pecans that you dumped into a cake batter "to give it some texture." Hey, news flash, genius: The texture of cake is soft, spongy and cake-like. It's not cake-like with hidden, errant little granules of hard, sharp fragments that get caught between your teeth and tear your gums and hurt the top of your mouth because you were biting through a giant mouthful of cake and, frankly, expected no resistance from the local peasantry.

Who's idea was that, in the first place? "Oh, this chocolate cake is so delicious! I think it would be even better if I dumped a cup of bitter pecans into it." Honestly, I don't know how these things got started, but they need to come to a screeching freaking halt, here and now.

This is my nightmare. I shudder just looking at it.
What a waste of baking.
Some of you are hovering over your keyboards now. I can sense it. You can't wait to reply to this with some scathing rebuke. Let me see if I can't head your objections off at the pass.

"It's just a few nuts. Can't you pick around them? Why are you being such a baby?"

Listen, it's children who break their food apart, looking for suspicious foreign matter, not adults. I don't want to have to comb through my food for stray debris. I'm over forty. I don't need my mealtime to become a game of I-Spy.

"Are you allergic? No? Then why are you making such a big deal about this?"

It's not allergies. It's texture. I don't like rock-hard surprises in my soft, mushy food. If you don't like soft, mushy food, and feel that you can't properly digest anything without swallowing a few gastroliths, like an ostrich, then quit making Jello Salad and banana bread. You take care of you, and stop foisting Ninja nuts on the rest of us.

"But Mark, EVERYONE likes nuts in their brownies/cake/ice cream/mashed potatoes/chocolate pudding. It's expected. What's wrong with you?"

At least all the nuts are on top. No surprises, here. I still
won't eat it, though. It's soft underneath that armor coating.
It's only expected if you are a family of tree-dwelling squirrel-human hybrids. Go back and read your recipe again. Better still, I dare you to find me a recipe for brownies where the crushed walnuts are structurally integral to the brownie. I double-dare you, Nutty McNutterton. There's not a cookbook in the world that advises you not to skimp on the nuts or your flan will fall apart. They have always been an optional garnishey-like thing. In fact, you don't need them in soft food at all. Trust me on this. They add nothing to the flavor of anything, and only produce irritation for the people like me who hate crunching down on nature's only mistake. Your Aunt Rose never once said, "Oh, I'm only eating this brownie for the pecans." Well, maybe she did say that, but come on, look at Aunt Rose. She's never turned down a brownie in her life. You could put a spark plug in your brownies and she'd never notice. She's like a billy goat, Aunt Rose is.

You want nuts? Grab a handful and squirrel it up. Stop hiding them in food you're going to give to other people. It's sneaky, dishonest, and it smacks of passive-aggressive mothering.

"Okay, smart guy, what about X? Or Y? Or Z? It's got nuts in it, and you eat that!"

Let me explain the difference between eating a Snickers bar and biting into a soft, fluffy brownie full of tree pellets. I know there's peanuts in the Snickers. I'm braced for it. If the nuts are on top, like a Pay Day candy bar, or you have a brownie with a pecan mooshed into the top of it, like it's wearing some strange badge of honor, I can deal with that. I'll eat the nut separately, using an entirely different chewing system, and then tackle the brownie. But I won't--ever--eat them together.

And this goes double for savory dishes, too. The latest atrocity is people putting nuts in their dressing (or stuffing, if you prefer). What the bloody hell? I've seen some of the recipes that even say, "a half-cup of pecans," followed by the words, "for texture." It's CORNBREAD STUFFING, you asshole! You don't like the texture of soft, savory, delicious cornbread stuffing? Well, let's get crazy, Emeril. How can you improve it?  Ding! I know! Just dump three full cups of whole pecans into the mix. Go on, get crazy, why don't you? Serve that to Uncle Billy, why don't you. He'll think you're insane, and he'll be right. And now you've ruined Thanksgiving with your freakish nut obsession. Are you happy?

I'm not sure where it came from, or who started it. Probably the English, with their figgy pudding and spotted dick and their mushy peas. Hey, if I had to eat like that, I'd probably be crazy for something--anything--to distract myself from the thought of eating beef that's been boiled in water so as to remove all flavor and nutrition.

But we're not English anymore. We're Americans. We have more nuts than we know what to do with. We're all nutted up. So, serve nuts this holiday season--up top, out in front, in the open, and all by themselves. You'll be surprised at how quickly they disappear. But stop trying to make us eat nuts we didn't know existed, like some strange Schrodinger experiment.  Quit tucking your nuts away in the soft, squishy stuff, and let them stand out, on their own, proudly, for everyone to enjoy.

Thank you, and Happy Holidays!




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