Saturday, August 27, 2011

Cinnamon Raisin Almond Butter

Almonds and I have a bit of a love-hate relationship. The love: I enjoy them by themselves as a snack, in my granola, in a snack bar, mixed in my oatmeal—those instances where they get to shine and be their independent little almond selves.

But the hate: I have yet to find an almond milk that I like. I have a hunch that a sugared-up chocolatey version would be right up my alley, but that kind of defeats the purpose, don't you think? Also, I've tried a store-bought variety of almond butter, and I hated it so much after the first bite that I had to give the rest of the jar to a friend so it wouldn't just go to waste in my fridge.

Hmm. Almonds are touted as being one of the very best nuts out there, with dozens of healthy benefits coming your way for eating them. So I'm determined to find more ways to like them!

Enter: homemade almond butter. I've been curious to try making my own, in the hopes that I'd like my own concoction better than something I'd buy at the grocery store. I love my homemade cashew butter (courtesy of the great Alton Brown), and I love that sense of victory you get when you successfully make something yourself that you only thought to buy before.

I found this recipe for Cinnamon Raisin Almond Butter two ways (a mention on Tasty Kitchen, and it's from a food blogger I like—Eating Bird Food), and the title was just calling my name. What a tasty way to venture into homemade almond butter! It was a very simple recipe:

Cinnamon Raisin Almond Butter
From Eating Bird Food

2 cups Almonds
1/4 cup Raisins
1 t. Cinnamon
1 t. Vanilla bean paste or vanilla extract
* Water or oil - my addition, see notes below.

1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Spread almonds on a 9x13" baking sheet and bake for 10-12 minutes. Cool for 20 minutes or so.
2. Place roasted almonds in a food processor and process for 10 minutes (yep, 10 minutes), occasionally scraping down the sides.
3. Add remaining ingredients and begin processing again.
4. Process until smooth, occasionally scraping down the sides. About 3-5 more minutes.
*5. Drizzle in water or oil in small bits while processing, if almond butter hasn't reached your desired creaminess after 15+ minutes.

I didn't feel like heating up the oven, so I toasted my almonds in the microwave for a few minutes instead. Spread them in a single layer on a microwave-safe plate, and microwave on high in one-minute intervals. My instinct is the only real difference it makes is in flavor, so if you prefer the taste of raw almonds, by all means, skip that step!
As the almonds processed, they became more powdery or almond-meal-like than creamy. When I first started, I was skeptical of the "process for 10 minutes" direction, but even after 10 minutes, my almonds still weren't creamy:
When compared to the other nuts in the spectrum of nuts, seeds, and peanuts, one reason almonds are a top choice for many is the lower fat content, which I'm sure is because they're lower in natural oils. So it would make sense that it would take a little more effort to make a creamy almond butter.

But before I started making alterations to the recipe, I decided to see it through to the end and see how the raisins might change things. So in went the raisins, cinnamon and vanilla extract:
After another 7ish minutes of whirring, it still hadn't reached anything close to what I'd consider "creamy." Time to start altering.

I had some walnut oil on hand specifically for making homemade cashew butter, so I drizzled in about a tablespoon (a little at a time over a few minutes) while it was processing. It helped a lot, and it got me to this stage:
And there I stopped. It was spreadable and quite tasty! You may also be able to use water instead of oil to help it get creamy, and I've seen recipes call for that. If, after I've eaten all this, I want to make it again, I may give that a try. If you're going to go for an oil, I'd recommend a nut oil like walnut oil, or something without much of its own flavor, like canola oil.

I also don't know if almonds vary greatly, or how roasting them in the oven would have changed things. Judging by the comments and reviews on Tasty Kitchen, achieving creaminess is a common challenge.

I'll be storing mine in the fridge, since that's Alton Brown's recommendation for my beloved cashew butter. Yum!

Have you made your own almond butter? Any tips?

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Balloon glow

August means it's State Fair time in Indiana, and this year, I got to see something that I've been wanting to for years: the evening glow of the hot air balloons.

The annual balloon race has been a tradition for many years, though it was just moved to Saturday morning (from Friday) a few years ago. For me, this is great news, because it actually gives me a chance to see it. The night before the race, the balloons gather in the infield of the fairgrounds. They inflate but don't leave the ground, and as the sunlight fades, the light of the propane burners turns the balloons into giant lanterns.

The field is clear of spectators while the balloons are being inflated, but we were able to watch from outside the fenced area and see part of the process.
Each balloon, as it was inflating, had one or two team members holding tight to a tether on the very top, keeping it straight and (for the most part) away from its neighbors.

It looked a bit like they were playing tug-o-war with Goliath.

The sight of the illuminated balloons is truly spectacular. You can help but smile in awe, whether you're six or 86.

The evening's emcee had the pilots do several coordinated "all glows," where they all lit up together (as you see below).
When all the balloons had successfully inflated, we were cleared to come closer and wander amongst them.
I was amazed by the intensity of the heat that emanates from the propane burners, and I didn't get any closer than about 15 feet away. I can imagine that the people in the actual basket stay pretty toasty on cool morning rides!
If I had a good opportunity to go for a ride in a hot air balloon, I'd take it. So far, the cost has been prohibitive for me (expect to shell out around $300 for a trip!), but maybe someday I'll suck it up and get a chance to do it.
Have you ever ridden in a balloon? Would you?

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Feline family

I will never, ever, ever understand how some people can unceremoniously dump an animal and absolve themselves of further responsibility by just driving off. It makes me absolutely sick.

That's probably the strongest sentence I've ever used to start a post here, but it makes me pretty angry.

I understand that having animals can become quite expensive (which is just one of the reasons Buster is still "my" dog and I haven't yet gotten a dog that is solely my own). I understand that they require attention and space, and if you're not entirely enthused about them, they can feel like a burden. I get it.

But to go to the effort of driving an animal somewhere, kicking it out of the car, then driving off to forget about it... it's disgusting.

When you live in a more isolated area, dumping of animals seems to become more noticeable. For one, with fewer houses nearby, fewer domesticated animals randomly wander onto your property.

And if a mother cat with four kittens appear all at one time, you know they've been dumped.

My aunt and uncle recently had these five cats dumped at their house. Luckily for the cats, they're people who like cats and were willing to give them shelter and food. The kittens, when they arrived, were just a few weeks old; they were barely off their mother's milk.

I'm not interested in having a cat right now (I'm much more a dog person), but if I were, I'd take one of these little guys.
To the people who dumped them, I give you one word: