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 walnut out from my bleeding gums, looking for all the world like an Alpaca chewing a cud, and I ask, through gritted teeth: “Are there nuts in these brownies?”
They always look confused, as if I just asked them if they could see grasshoppers crawling out of my ears. “Yeah,” they answer, very matter-of-factly. “Of course. It’s brownies. Why wouldn’t there be nuts?”
Why, indeed. I’ll tell you why: Nuts are always optional. That’s why. With the exception of pecan pie, there is no baking recipe known to man that includes nuts as an essential ingredient. No bread, no cake, no cookie, and no brownie ever has relied on two cups of chopped nuts, or the whole thing goes to shit.
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 side dish 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 for three days until firefighters dug you out? Why would you pass your damage on to the rest of us?
Let me be very clear about this: I don’t have a problem with nuts that I can see. Toasted pecans, in a bowl, or mancala almonds, salted cashews or even pistachios, all by themselves? 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: that half a cup of chopped pecans that you dumped into a cake batter “to give it some texture.” Hey, news flash, Paula Deen: The “texture” of cake is soft, spongy and cake-like. It’s not cake-like with hidden, errant 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 moist and delicious! But you know, what would make it even better is if I dumped a clump of chopped pecans into it.” Honestly, I don’t know how these things got started, but the line must be drawn HEEAH!
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.
1. “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 like I’m sifting for gold in river silt. I’m over fifty. I don’t need my mealtime to become a game of I-Spy.
2.”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 nuggets in my soft, mushy food. The chewing system for soft foods is completely different for the chewing system for hard foods. You moosh soft food against the upper palate of your mouth. You don’t “bite” ice cream; you scrape it into your mouth and push it around with your tongue. Hard, sharp chopped nuts should be pulverized between your teeth. You can’t pulverize pecans and moosh ice cream around at the same time. It’s isn’t brain surgery.
If you don’t like soft food as-is, and feel that you can’t properly digest anything without swallowing a few gastroliths, like an ostrich, then quit making Jello Salad and banana nut bread. You take care of you, and stop foisting Ninja nuts on the rest of us.
3. “But Mark, everyone likes nuts in their brownies/cake/ice cream/mashed potatoes/chocolate pudding. It’s expected. What’s wrong with you?” 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 crushed walnuts are structurally integral to the brownie. I dare you, I double-dare you, Mothernutter.
There’s not a cookbook in existence that advises you not to skimp on the nuts or your Jello will fall apart. They have always been an optional garnish-like thing. In fact, you don’t need them in soft food at all. They add nothing to the flavor of anything, and only produce irritation for people like me who hate biting down on nature’s only mistake tucked away inside a spice cake. 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 a chocolate cake and she’d never notice. She’s like a billy goat, Aunt Rose.
You want nuts? Grab a handful and chipmunk 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.
4. “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 sponge cake 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 stuck into the top of it, like it’s wearing some strange druidic award for bravery, 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.
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 Brazil nuts into the mix. Go on, go hog-wild, why don’t you? Serve that to your shit-talking Uncle Billy, you sadist. 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? This is why we can’t have nice things.
And don’t even get me started on chicken salad with nuts in it. Just don’t do it. No, I don’t want to hear it. You’re wrong and you know it. Just stop.
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 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 milking nuts, we have so many of them. 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 instead proudly show them off; leave your nuts out in the open, all on their own, for everyone to enjoy.
Thank you, and Happy Holidays!