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Betty Teller, Amuse Bouche: Going nuts – Napa Valley Register

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acorns

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Thunk. Thunkety thunk. Ka-thunk. That’s the soundtrack to my life right now. It’s the noise of acorns falling onto my roof, fence, and patio. Incessantly.

Despite the drought (or maybe because of it?) this is a bumper year for acorns. Woody, the magnificent valley oak that shades my house and yard, is right on trend, dropping them by the thousands, day and night. Not just dropping them, really. More like throwing them at my head. (Ow! Those suckers are hard, besides having a sharp point on one end.)

He’s really out to get me for some reason. I think maybe he sided with the squirrels in the rodent vs. heating system battle and resents that the fluffy-tailed marauders are now residing in his branches instead of nesting in my ducts. At any rate, he is defending his territory this fall.

Besides landing on me from above, the acorns are a hazard underfoot — a carpet of oblong ball bearings just waiting to trip me up. To keep things under control, I have been putting on my hardhat and sneaking into the disputed zone to collect them several times a day.

I have at least 50 pounds so far. Before I relegate them to the compost bin, I thought I’d look into turning them into food. I know they are edible because they were a staple food for the Native Americans that settled this valley, though they start out bitter and nasty-tasting. Then again, so do olives, and look how well they turn out.

I went online to the Farmers’ Almanac and found instructions on how to prepare them. What a pain in the neck they are! To begin with, when fresh, like mine are, the shells are a bit soft and hard to crack, so the Almanac suggests storing the acorns in a warm, dry place for a year. (Right. Just what I need, a large bag of tempting rodent food sitting in my garage or shed all year. Why do I not think that is a good idea?)

Fortunately, they don’t have to age; that’s just a suggestion to make them easier to handle. I tried cracking open a couple of dozen fresh ones and it wasn’t impossible, though if acorn-eating becomes a thing, someone is going to have to invent a better nutcracker. Acorns are long and skinny and have very little interest in sticking around to be cracked open. They’d much rather fly around the room. My heavy Thai stone mortar and pestle was a better idea.

After I managed to get some open, I have to admit they looked pretty tasty. The insides are cream-colored and tend to separate easily into two large pieces. I was tempted to pop one in my mouth, but that would have been a big mistake. They don’t come out of the shell ready to eat like walnuts or pecans. Cracking them open is only step one.

They are filled with very nasty tannins that have to be removed to make them even remotely edible. The Almanac gives two methods for doing it. The first involves immersing them in boiling water until the water turns brown, then transferring them to a second pot of clean water, boiling them again while heating clean water in the first pot and then transferring them again, and so on and so on nonstop for about an hour.

I think the Almanac is written someplace where it actually rains. We’re in a drought and I wasn’t about to fill pot after pot of water for this experiment, so I went with the second method, which involves letting the nut meats soak at room temperature for about three days, changing the water only when it gets brown from the tannins.

Unfortunately, I don’t think it works as well. My acorns have been sitting in beige water for a couple days already and still tasted nasty when I nibbled one just now.

They might be ready by the end of the week. But even that is only step two. After the tannins are leached out, the nuts have to be dried thoroughly in the oven or a dehydrator. And then toasted. And then ground. At that point, they may or may not be delicious — I’ll let you know if I ever get there.

Though don’t hold your breath. I’m the queen of labor-intensive cooking and even I am ready to ditch this experiment.

I’m just trying to figure out how to sneak all those acorns I collected into the compost bin without Woody finding out. If he takes it personally, I could be in real trouble.

Judging by the current rate of ka-thunking, he still has a lot of ammunition stockpiled.

Yogurt Chicken Marinade

Did you really think I was going to give you an acorn recipe? You guys are always asking me for simple recipes, so I’m not about to burden you with one that takes an oak tree, a week and multiple steps, all for dubious results. Of course, I have a backup plan.

I attended a virtual cooking class this week with an amazing chef, Ayesha Nurdjaja, from the restaurant Shukette in New York. She was fabulous and entertaining — she could have a second career as a stand-up comic — though the organizers of the class desperately need some remedial AV classes.

Between the horrible sound quality, the erratic camera work and the recipes that bore no relation to what she was actually doing, it was the most frustrating class I have ever taken.

Nevertheless, I could tell her flavors and technique were brilliant, so I took the basic idea of her chicken marinade recipe and invented my own version based on what she said and did, rather than the recipe the organizers sent me. I don’t know if it is exactly the same as hers, but it turned out great and is going to be my go-to chicken marinade from now on.

1 large pinch of saffron

1 Tbsp. hot water

2 small onions, roughly chopped

Cloves from 1 head of garlic (about 1/4 cup), roughly chopped

1-1/2 cups yogurt, preferably full-fat Greek

Juice and zest of 1 small lemon (about 2 to 3 Tbsp.)

2 Tbsp. tomato paste

1/4 cup olive oil

1 tsp. turmeric

1 tsp. ground coriander seeds

1/2 tsp. salt

1/2 bunch fresh dill, chopped

Chicken of your choice (whole chicken or chicken parts, with bones and skin or without)

Crush the saffron with a mini mortar and pestle and add the hot water. Let it sit for a few minutes to bloom.

In the meantime, in a blender, puree the onions and garlic with the lemon juice and zest, yogurt, tomato paste, olive oil, spices, salt and dill, then blend in the saffron water.

To use as a marinade, slather it all over the chicken you are using, coating it thoroughly. This recipe makes a lot, enough for two whole chickens or at least 10 thighs or breast pieces, but it is fine to pour it all onto whatever amount of chicken you have. Let it sit, refrigerated, for at least 3 hours, overnight or even 2 days. The yogurt will tenderize the chicken while delivering the flavor to it.

When you are ready to cook, scrape off the excess (don’t get overzealous) and cook in your favorite manner. I used it on chicken thighs that I threw onto the grill and they were great.

It’s apple cider season and we have the perfect cocktail for you just in time for your Thanksgiving celebrations. Buzz60’s Chloe Hurst has the story!


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Betty Teller is not cut out to be a hunter-gatherer. If you are, she’ll happily share Woody’s bounty; just contact her at amuse-bouche@sbcglobal.net.

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