Two years ago around this time of year, I cracked open “Appetites: A Cookbook” by Anthony Bourdain. I had received the book as a Christmas gift a couple of years prior. The famous chef and TV personality took his own life in June 2018, and that morning I was rolling over in my bed to check my phone, barely awake — and then suddenly awake — as I read the most recent news notification on my phone’s screen.
Bourdain was not everyone’s cup of tea, but I grew up watching him on TV — “A Cook’s Tour,” “No Reservations,” “The Layover,” “The Mind of a Chef” and “Parts Unknown.” Most of the shows I watched as a kid were centered around traveling or food or learning about something new. Between watching Rick Steves’ European adventures on PBS, Samantha Brown’s weekend getaways on Travel Channel and Bourdain’s programs, I spent a lot of time dreaming of jetting off to new places and trying new things. I still do, especially now.
I think many people were impacted by Bourdain’s death. His shows and writing resonated with people who were hungry for more than just food and sightseeing. It was one of those celebrity deaths that impacted me more than I expected it to. For that reason, it took me a long time to watch his shows again, or try his recipes. Many months after he died in June 2018, around the holidays, I pulled his cookbook off the shelf. I’d never made anything from it, but I wanted to go out of my way and try one of his recipes.
My boyfriend and I decided on a recipe for spiced bar nuts. I think we had a party to go to and we thought it would be a nice thing to bring, and an easier recipe to accomplish. We thought the nuts were great. They ride the line of sweet and spicy, but it works. We’ve made them around this time of year for two years now, and we’re going to continue carrying on the tradition. In our own circle of friends, they’ve sort of become their own hyped-up holiday event. “When are they going to make the nuts?”
This year, I’m enjoying the nuts while I work from home and occasionally daydream about the international travel I won’t be able to do for at least a year, if not longer. Having something to look forward to, even if it’s at an undetermined time in the seemingly far off future, can still be comforting.
In the top note of the cookbook, it says the genesis of the bar nuts is with his friend, Beth Aretsky, who later came to identify herself as “the Grill Bitch,” at One Fifth, a long-gone New York City restaurant.
“She created these spicy and sweet bar nuts, which caused many a customer to linger over drinks far beyond the advisable cutoff point. They are truly addictive,” Bourdain wrote in his cookbook. A quick Google search of Bourdain and “bar nuts” will populate with the original recipe.
We have strayed from the recipe the last couple of years, and just buy whatever nuts we feel like adding. This year we opted for Brazil nuts, macadamia nuts, cashews, peanuts, pecans and almonds. As we were eating them we wished walnuts could have fit in the picture. Your favorite nut mix will probably be made up of your favorite nuts, so really follow your heart when it comes to this recipe. We also like to double it, because the nuts last forever and are great for sharing with others. Put the nuts in baggies and drop them off with friends and family for a little holiday treat. We could all use fewer October surprises and more holiday treats.
4 egg whites
5 pounds of mixed nuts
1⁄2 cup of sugar
1⁄4 cup brown sugar
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
11⁄2 tablespoons cayenne
11⁄2 teaspoon of salt
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Prepare two baking sheets with parchment paper. Whisk the egg whites in a mixing bowl until they are nearly whipped and foamy.
In a new mixing bowl, combine the rest of the ingredients — the nuts, sugars and spice — and mix to combine and coat the nuts in the sugars and spices.
Fold the egg whites into the nut mixture, making sure to coat the nuts.
Pour the nut mixture onto the parchment paper-lined cookie sheets, and place in the oven for half an hour, stopping halfway through to stir the nuts up. Let cool and enjoy.