2nd February heralds the Big Game day, as in the Super Bowl, the championship game of the National Football League, that game where some music megastar performs during half time and loses track of their underwear or singing reputation. Almost incidentally, two football teams duke it out for the title of league champions. That’s followed two days later by Homemade Soup Day, which I’m guessing the Food & Drug Administration made up, or Heinz or Campbell sponsored. 10th February is Oatmeal Monday, the purpose of which may be to stoke you up with enough porridge to permit you to cope with the demands of Valentine’s Day. But I may be wrong.
Once Valentine’s Day is over and done with, there is Almond Day on the 16th, followed by the rival Pistachio Day on the 26th, then the double whammy finale on the 27th to wind up February of Chili Day - and Strawberry Day, in case you ever questioned whether Americans eat seasonally.
Of course, if you go into In Depth research, you’ll also discover that, along with other US national days in February allocated to Nutella, Chopsticks, Frozen Yogurt, Fettuccine Alfredo, Molasses Bars, Bagels and Lox, Pizza, and Chocolate Fondue, the whole of February itself is Berry Fresh Month, Celebration Of Chocolate Month, Great American Pies Month, National Canned Food Month, National Cherry Month, National Fiber Focus Month, National Fondue Month, National Grapefruit Month, National Heart Healthy Month, National Hot Breakfast Month, National Snack Food Month, and National Potato Lovers Month.
And you still think how and what we eat is under the control of us consumers?
It’s enough to drive you nuts. So let this February column provide a focus on those. Almonds (whose day, remember, is the 16th) and Pistachios (the 26th) are the treats allotted to people on diets in need of something tempting that raises energy while not entirely ruining sensible eating behaviour. But only in small quantity. Nuts are high in calories - around 400 in 85 grams, which amounts to two handfuls of nuts absolute tops.
Strictly speaking, a nut is a fruit. The word ‘nut’ implies that the fruit lies inside a shell which doesn’t open unless forced.
Almonds are full of healthy fats, fibre and protein, magnesium and vitamin E. They can lower blood sugar levels, cholesterol and blood pressure. A few of them can also reduce hunger pangs, which is why they’re proposed by dieticians to encourage those on diets. Pistachios have similar properties while also containing antioxidants, vitamin B6, and thiamine, and can promote gut, eye and blood vessel health.
Here’s a recipe for a moist cake in which you can use either almonds or pistachios, although pistachios will give it a more pronounced flavour. But where it reads ‘pistachios’, use almonds if you prefer. Stick a rose on the cake to celebrate Valentine’s Day with a slice, or bake it any day of February to mark the whole month.
Pistachio or Almond Cake
- 100g pistachios, chopped
- 200g golden caster sugar
- 150g butter, softened, plus extra for the tin
- 125g soured cream
- 3 eggs
- 200g plain flour
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
- 2 tsp vanilla extract
- 4 limes, zested and juiced
- 200g icing sugar
- 2 tbsp pistachios, thinly sliced
Heat the oven to 180C/ fan 160C/gas 4 and butter and line a 20cm x 10cm x 7cm 900g loaf tin with a long strip of baking paper.
Put the pistachios and sugar in a food processor and whizz until fine. Add the butter, soured cream, eggs, flour, baking powder, bicarb, vanilla extract and lime zest, and whizz until smooth. Scrape into the prepared tin and bake for 50-55 minutes or until a skewer poked into the centre comes out clean (if it browns too quickly, cover with a sheet of foil). Cool for 20 minutes in the tin, then turn out onto a wire rack to cool completely.
To make the icing, mix enough lime juice into the icing sugar to make a drizzle-able icing. Spoon over the cake then finish with the pistachio slivers.
This column written by Julia Watson originally appeared in the February 2020 edition of The Bugle.