I wasn't the pickiest child ever, but I had strong opinions about food. I knew to pick my battles—there was no way that I was going to leave peas behind uneaten—but my mother was kind enough (or too annoyed to be bothered) to force me to eat the things that I truly detested. Maybe she was just happy to have a larger portion of broccoli for herself, but I had no complaints.
Strangely enough, nuts were some of the most problematic foods for me. Peanuts were all right, along with peanut butter and similar things (my mom's homemade peanut butter cups were a much-anticipated treat). Walnuts? Gag me. Pecans? No thank you. Hazelnuts, brazilnuts, pistachios? I doubt I had even tasted them. Even almonds—the almighty, healthy, versatile almond—were out; it wasn't until high school, when I fell in love with almond shortbread cookies, that I decided to give them another chance.
I'm a much more adventurous eater than I was before, and although I still don't particularly like broccoli or pecans, I made my peace with almonds long ago. I like them savory or sweet, and while I enjoy them in dishes, they are also one of my favorite snacks. I typically buy my almonds raw, in bulk; I grind them for tart crusts and pesto, toast them for granola or salads, and candy them for any number of dessert toppings. The recipe for cinnamon almonds below, adapted from a Martha Stewart recipe that we typically use for spicy cashew nuts, is the perfect almond recipe: eat them as snacks, sprinkle them over a dessert (like a marquise) to add crunch, or roughly chop them in a food processor (or in a plastic zip bag with a mallet) and fold into freshly-churned ice cream.
Adapted from this Martha Stewart recipe
1 egg white
¼ cup sugar
1 tablespoon cinnamon, cassia, or a combination
¼ teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups raw almonds
Preheat the oven to 300ºF. Beat the egg white in a medium bowl until quite frothy, about 20 seconds. Mix the sugar and cinnamon and add to the egg with the remaining ingredients; stir until the almonds are well coated. Spread in a single layer on a baking sheet and place in the oven.
Bake, stirring once or twice, until quite dry and golden brown, 20-25 minutes. Remove from the oven, stirring once more while warm, then let cool completely. Store in an airtight container.
Makes 2 cups