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How to Eat | Almond, Sunflower & Coconut Butter

Almond, Sunflower & Coconut Butter

If you’ve been reading here, you are aware that this is my first winter back in a cold climate after seven years of living in California. And while this has been a mild winter in Chicago, or so I’m told, I’m not all that into it, I’m sorry to say. I am hopeful that it will get better with more time, friends and winter gear, but that’s just the truth right now.

In addition to finding the cold, well, cold, I definitely have not figured out how to shop for groceries through these barren months in a way I feel great about. In the Bay Area, I chose to purchase mostly local food because I believed in it for a variety of reasons. But it would be naive to overlook the fact that it was also very possible—and honestly not that hard—to eat a wide-ranging diet sourced locally. I could get fantastic produce straight on through winter, fat pomelos and lemons and avocados and all kinds of lettuces, not to mention nuts and dried fruits that came from nearby. It wasn’t hard to find local cheese, milk, yogurt, butter, eggs, fish, tofu, beans, almond butter, bread or grains (or wine!). I could walk to my farmers market and carry it all home. I know, I know—some things about California are as good as they say. There’s a part of me that still doesn’t know how I let that go!

(Oh wait—it was exorbitantly expensive to live there! Also, earthquakes! But California is popular for a reason, you guys!!)

Anyway, all that to say: there’s a huge difference between that experience of shopping locally and the version in which there’s not much in season. One thing I kept telling myself as I anticipated this particular loss in the wake of our move was that if I really believe in eating locally, this would be a good test. What does it look like to eat locally when you don’t have access to abundant produce? What do you do when winter offers only beets, enormous overwintered carrots and potatoes—do you choose local, or do you choose a varied diet? What do you do when the options are local or organic? What if my fears of botulism rule out the potential of me ever becoming a prolific canner? And what do you do if you don’t have money? Even in the Bay Area, shopping locally isn’t easy at all if you are poor, and/or far from fresh markets or well-stocked grocery stores. For me, buying primarily local food was affordable, but while I’ll always advocate for the seconds bin, I absolutely recognize that I’m able to spend a lot more on groceries than many people can. I had a satisfactory answer on how to eat when I lived in California with a good income and a car, but that only solves the problem of food for a tiny fraction of the population. Alice Waters arguably represents the most virtuous form of eating in our modern food culture, and while it’s fully understandable that she took advantage of the Bay Area’s bounty in the course of defining her cuisine and her cause, the ethos might apply universally, but the practices don’t. When it comes right down to it, what is this so-called virtuous eating anyway—and who gets to define it?

I should say now that I don’t have any answers to these questions. And while there’s more I could say on the subject, I also don’t want to pretend that I’m an expert on this. I’m just one person who loves food, trying to figure out how to live a life I feel good about in this very complicated world that demands a multitude of decisions that run from silly to serious. I’ve decided that I still get to eat avocados and oranges and almonds even though I don’t live in Oakland anymore. But the truth is that it leaves me with some cognitive dissonance. I have a winter CSA that has been great, especially once we moved from shallots and beets to spinach and mushrooms. I’m reveling in the things I can get, including a shocking variety of local grains, maple syrup and popcorn from any number of farms. And I’ve found it helpful to make a few more things from scratch. If I’m further from the source of certain foods, perhaps I can get closer to the origins of others.

And that brings me to my favorite cookbook this winter, Amy Chaplin’s Whole Food Cooking Every Day. The book’s 20 chapters are organized around specific categories, including porridge, fruit compotes, nut milk, soups, dressings and granola. Each chapter has at least one base recipe, the most simple take, followed by many variations on that theme. These are definitely recipes for people who want to cook, as many are staples that could be purchased or made more simply (e.g., here, you are soaking whole oat groats overnight and grinding them to make your oatmeal). Please note that I am not recommending this book to you if you hate being in the kitchen or don’t want to devote much time to cooking. There are other great cookbooks for you! Just maybe not this one. And a lot of it is hippie food for sure, what with all of the soaking and blending and seeds and lack of sugar. But as someone who loves both hippie food and cooking, I am all in.

Most of the recipes make nice big batches, so any work required up front pays off for days. I’ve loved waking up knowing that I have porridge, a compote, berry chia pudding and nut butter to assemble into breakfast. What I’m sharing below is a delicious nut and seed butter that is excellent atop toast, drizzled on oatmeal, scooped alongside an apple or eaten straight from the jar. Back in my dreamy California life (JK! It was a really good life but honestly never dreamy!), I had two to four favorite nut butters, none of which I can find here. In their absence, I have felt extremely annoyed with the expensive and not-that-amazing grocery store options. This recipe has made me way less cranky and very satisfied. I hope it brings you the same as you persevere through winter/life.

Almond, Sunflower & Coconut Butter

Lightly adapted from Amy Chaplin’s Whole Food Cooking Every Day

Makes 1 cup (240 ml)

This is just one of many nut and seed butter recipes in this book. I’d encourage you to pick it up for that and much more inspiration! The original recipe calls for 1 teaspoon of flaky salt, which I found too salty for my taste—and I like salt. I’m giving a range below and suggest you start at 1/2 teaspoon and adjust from there.

Almond, Sunflower & Coconut Butter

1 cup (140 grams) whole raw almonds

1 cup (130 grams) raw sunflower seeds

1 cup (85 grams) unsweetened shredded dried coconut

1/2–1 teaspoon flaky salt, or to taste

Begin by toasting the almonds, sunflower seeds and coconut. Preheat the oven to 300 degrees Fahrenheit. If you have three pans that fit into your oven at once, you can toast these simultaneously; otherwise, take them one by one. Toast the almonds for 16 to 18 minutes, the sunflower seeds for 10 to 12 minutes and the coconut for a quick 4 to 6 minutes. Check at least once during baking to shake and turn the pans for even toasting. Everything should be golden brown and fragrant. Allow to cool slightly before proceeding.

Put the toasted nuts, seeds and coconut in a food processor and process for 2 minutes, or until they are broken down and come together in a mass. Break up the mixture, scrape down the sides of the processor and continue blending until the butter is completely smooth and liquid, 3 to 4 minutes more. Scrape down the sides of the processor again, add 1/2 teaspoon of salt and pulse to combine. Taste for salt and add more if you like.

Store in a sealed glass jar or an airtight container at room temperature or in the fridge for up to 1 month. This butter is very smooth at room temperature and quite solid straight out of the fridge. Assuming it’s not the height of summer, I think this stores best unrefrigerated, but if you keep it in the fridge, take it out 30 minutes before you want to use it, if possible.

Note: I’m aware that there’s something wrong with the comment function on my site right now—I’m working on getting to the bottom of it! Thanks for putting up with the lo-fi nature of this humble blog in the meantime.

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