What I Do all Day, and Emergency Spiced Maple Pecans

Maple Spiced Pecans

For someone who has posted thousands of tweets over the past couple of years, my Twitter stream has become unusually quiet over the past few weeks. So has the chatter with my Facebook friends, and even my favorite social media tool, Instagram, has often gone dark. No, I’ve not retreated to a Caribbean island for the winter, I wish, but I have essentially grounded myself. Because there is no denying the fact that the deadline for the manuscript for my second ancient grains cookbook is approaching fast.

So I’ve turned off my landline, and I keep my iPhone at arm’s length to avoid distractions. I largely talk to family, and my only contact to the outside world is in the form of dinners I occasionally host to test final versions of new recipes and to get feedback from trusted friends. Still, unlike what I thought the first time around, writing a cookbook is often a solitary experience — not an endless breakfast, lunch, and dinner party.

And in case you are wondering what I’m doing day-in and day-out, here is a little window into my world: I spent the past month or so assembling, rearranging, and rethinking the chapters of the cookbook, the essays I hope to write, and fine-tuning its overall concept. And don’t even think I’m close to ready! I also decided which of the dozens and dozens of new creations I experimented with are worth including, lining them up in folders to avoid drowning in a creative mess. All the while, I tossed out many hours of work because recipes were merely “tasty”, or “good”, or “solid.” Here I follow my gut, and the advice of the wonderful Paula Wolfert who once said many years ago “only include recipes in a cookbook that you are absolutely in love with.” What a fabulous way to put it.

Some days I spend many tedious hours entering recipes into the computer after testing and re-testing them, creating or duplicating soup after soup, and dish after dish with ancient grains. Believe me, I’m ready to go on a low-carb diet! In between I buy huge amounts of groceries, and 2 weeks ago I even went hunting for purslane before the first hard frost so my dedicated recipe tester Karen could try a new creation — too bad we didn’t find a trace of the delicious weed. And sometimes you’ll find me in my kitchen lightly tapping a jar with spicy cayenne exactly 6 times onto a piece of paper and creating a funnel to carefully let the red powder slide into a measuring spoon — yes, for this post! — and hoping that it would be close to a 1/8 teaspoon-measure so you, dear reader, can replicate it.

Some recipes come along beautifully. Other creations are stubborn: a biscotti recipe refused to live up to my standards recently. And while everyone seemed to enjoy them, a sloppy cutting job for a party did the trick. I sliced the biscotti thinner than intended and — boom — they crisped up so much nicer, and their overall mouth-feel was amazing. But don’t think that I’m done then; I still tested the recipe one more time to be sure, and had 2 people repeat it to confirm the results. That’s why writing a cookbook takes time.

It is during such intense and energy-consuming days that it helps to have an emergency supply of nourishing maple-roasted pecans at arm’s length (and unlike the iPhone I mentioned above you can actually eat them!).

Thank you all for your patience with me in the next few months. Now at least you can envision what I might be doing when you previously thought I’m off to the Bahamas. In this spirit, I wish everyone Happy Thanksgiving, Happy Holidays, and a Wonderful New Year 2014 — just in case…!

Spiced Maple Pecans

Crips and crunchy, with just a hint of heat, these pecans pair with almost everything. You can sprinkle them onto a green leafy salad together with dried cranberries, serve them next to an assortment of cheese for dessert, or just enjoy as a nourishing snack on their own.
This is a super-easy recipe you can do last minute. It uses no butter or egg whites but I added a dusting of coarse Turbinado sugar — it adds an exquisite light crunchy coating to complement the aroma of the maple syrup.

Maple Spiced Pecans by Maria Speck

Makes about 2 cups

8 ounces raw pecan halves (about 2 1/4 cups)
3 tablespoons (60 g) maple syrup
1 tablespoon (12 g) Turbinado sugar
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon good-quality chili powder (I use Simply Organic)
A scant 1/8 teaspoon cayenne, more to taste (optional)
2 pinches fine sea salt

1 Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 350ºF. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicon mat.

2 Add the pecans to a medium bowl. Drizzle with the maple syrup and sprinkle with the Turbinado sugar, cinnamon, chili powder, cayenne, and salt. Stir with a spoon until the nuts are well coated. Spread the pecans in a single layer onto the baking sheet.

3 Roast for 10 minutes. Stir, again trying to even out the sticky nuts as good as you can, and bake until the pecans look dried out on the surface and have a caramelly taste when you pick one off the baking sheet with a spoon, 12 to 13 more minutes. The nuts will still be a little soft; they will crisp as they cool. I found this the best way to tell whether delicate pecans are done. If you wait for them to darken, they will be on the edge of burned (lesson learned!).

4 Immediately slide the parchment paper with the nuts onto a wire rack. Allow to cool completely before storing in a tight-fitting jar. They will keep for at least 5 days but they won’t last. Guaranteed.

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