February 26 (next Tuesday) is World Pistachio Day. (Un)surprisingly, it’s also National Pistachio Day in the US, which gives us twice as many reasons to sing the praises of the “happy nut.”
Fun Facts About Pistachios:
Pistachios aren’t nuts. Not botanically, at least. A member of the cashew family, pistachios are the seed (the “culinary nut,” to be precise) of the drupe (fruit) of the pistachio tree. The pistachio is also botanically related to mangoes, sumac, and (get this) poison ivy. Luckily, pistachios don’t resemble any of those particular relatives, and are unlikely to give you an itchy rash.
Happy and smiling in the ‘Stans. Pistachio trees are native to Asia Minor and the Middle East (think the ‘Stans: Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Pakistan; along with Iran and Syria), and are still grown there today. Iran produces more pistachios than any other country; the US crop (mostly grown in California) comes in second. In China, pistachios are colloquially called the ‘happy nut.’ In Iran, they are called the ‘smiling nut.’
Pop! No snap or crackle needed. The fruit of the pistachio tree has a hard, cream-colored outer shell. The seed (aka nut) has a rose-colored skin and light green (pistachio-colored) flesh. The fruit ripens so “energetically” that the nut outgrows its shell, which abruptly splits partly open. This helps explain why the pistachios you buy at the store look as though they are partially cracked open. This is known as dehiscence, and it happens with an audible pop.
More about that pop: legend has it that lovers are granted good fortune if they embrace beneath the trees to hear the pistachios crack open on moonlit nights.
What do you do with pistachios? I mean, the whole point of talking about them here is to talk about how to eat them, right? Often eaten whole, fresh or roasted and salted, pistachios are also often used in desserts (most famously in pistachio ice cream, Italian spumoni, frozen Persian treat Bastani (pictured), and historically in Neapolitan ice cream). And of course, pistachios are the garnish of choice on sweet, delicate baklava, encased in crunchy pistachio nut brittle, or baked into cookies and homemade biscotti.
With more savory dishes in mind, pistachios also figure frequently in Mediterranean, Middle-Eastern and Asian recipes. Pistachios go best with veal, pork and poultry, but they pop up in a wide range of recipes. Some favorite pistachio recipes include Pistachio Pesto, this amazing Saffron Curry Sauce, adding some crunch to green salad, or Pistachio Herbed Chicken with Mustard Cream Sauce.
Good for you, too: Heart-healthy pistachios have lots of phytosterols, which can help reduce cholesterol. This tree nut is made up of about 90 per cent unsaturated (good) fat, which adds flavor and makes them a highly satisfying snack. They also contain many antioxidants which aid the heart and body. A great source of dietary fiber, pistachios are also among the highest fiber nuts, providing 12 percent of the daily value in a 1-ounce serving.
Beware of spontaneous combustion! No, seriously. Because of their high fat and low water content, pistachios are prone to self-heating and spontaneous combustion when stored with the oil-soaked fiber / fibrous materials. So, however you like to eat your pistachios, be careful how you store them. Especially if you buy them in bulk, lest you end up in a spooky pantry retelling of a Steven King story where pistachios try to kill you.
This coming Monday (February 18, 2019) is Presidents’ Day.* Since 1971, the holiday has been celebrated on the third Monday of February (which usually falls somewhere between Abraham Lincoln’s Feb 12 and George Washington‘s Feb 18 birthdays).
Some lucky folks will even have the day off from work and school, giving them a three-day weekend.
In honor of the holiday, and to give people with a day off something to do instead of shopping Presidents’ Day sales, here are some fun facts (and yummy recipes!) about past Presidents’ favorite foods:
Barack Obama: Just Good Chili When asked by the North Coast Journal, “What’s your favorite dish to bring to a potluck?” he replied, “I’ve been using this chili recipe since college and would bring it to any potluck. I can’t reveal all the secrets, but if you make it right, it’s just got the right amount of bite, the right amount of oomph in it and it will clear your sinuses.”
George W Bush: A really good sandwich (or burger). In the book White House Chef, Walter Scheib and Andrew Friedman report, “There was a handful of things that the President wanted for lunch, and he almost never deviated from that list. There was a BLT…He liked his grilled cheese sandwiches made with Kraft Singles and white bread…He also enjoyed peanut butter and honey sandwiches, and occasionally a burger, cooked between medium and medium rare, on a bun with lettuce and tomato on the side…”
Bill Clinton: While he was in the White House (and before he had heart bypass surgery and became a (mostly) vegan), President Clinton was famously a big fan of “stuff with fat in it,” especially enchiladas. Said Mrs. Clinton, around the time of his first inauguration, “The good news is, my husband loves to eat and enjoys it,” Hillary Clinton said. “The bad news is, he loves to eat, even when things are not always right for him.”
George H.W. Bush: George HW Bush (pictured, above) is probably the only President best known for disliking a particular food. That food would be broccoli. The elder President Bush was reputed to be a big fan of pork rinds, hot dogs, Butterfinger candy bars, and especially popcorn.
Ronald Reagan: President Reagan’s petite ex-movie-star wife Nancy was said to be keen on keeping the President’s diet low-fat and healthy, but Reagan’s favorite foods were the hearty, simple fare of his youth: meatloaf, mac and cheese, roast beef for supper, and pull-apart monkey bread for breakfast. Reagan’s favorite food for which he was most well-known was his omnipresent jar of Jelly Belly candy — which the former Chesterfield spokes-actor began eating when he quit cigarette and pipe-smoking.
*And, in Federal law, the Presidents’ Day holiday is still officially titled Washington’s Birthday.
In addition to being World Autism Sunday, Umbrella Day, and “All the News That’s Fit To Print” Day, February 10 is celebrated as National ‘Have a Brownie Day.
Does it need to be a holiday? Probably not. But we’re glad that it is, anyhow.
What’s the big deal about brownies? Brownies are a popular American dessert. Full of chocolate, super-simple to make, limitlessly customizable, it’s easy to see why brownies are one of America’s favorite dessert treats.
As far back as 30 years ago, Americans ate over two billion brownies per year, and current consumption numbers show no sign of letting up.
The chocolate brownie was developed in America in the late 1893s by hotelier and socialite Bertha Palmer (of Chicago’s Palmer Hotel). A recipe for chocolate brownies was first mentioned in print in Boston’s Fanny Farmer cookbook (1896), and the small chocolate dessert became popular throughout the US and Canada during the first half of the 20th century.
The basic brownie recipe is incredibly simple, with only five ingredients: butter, sugar, chocolate, eggs and flour. You can make brownies with melted chocolate chips, but straight cocoa powder or unsweetened chocolate are normally used, with a healthy serving of sugar.
Throughout the month of January, we’re going to look at several different types of popular contemporary diets, and share a few recipes that illustrate that particular way of eating.
Stone (Age) Soup. Sometimes also called the Stone Age diet, or the “caveman diet,” Paleo is a high-protein, very low-carb eating regimen based roughly on the kinds of foods we presume to have been eaten by early humans: consisting chiefly of meat, fish, vegetables, nuts and seeds, and fruit.
A paleo diet uses none of the “modern” foods that were introduced to our diet when farming emerged (about 10,000 years ago), transitioning us from nomadic hunter-gatherers to settled agricultural lifestyles. What’s more, the Paleo diet largely avoids all processed foods as well. These restricted foods include dairy products, legumes (peanuts and beans) and grains. Oh! And caffeine and sugar.