Aug252015

Posted in Blog Posts.

Disclosure: My trip to California/Almond Orchard Experience was paid for by the Almond Board of California. I received no monetary compensation for this post.

Almonds are one of my most frequent recommendations to clients. Universally loved, they not only taste great, but they’re portable, full of good fats, and versatile. You can sprinkle them on a salad, eat them on their own, or spread almond butter on fruit. The possibilities are endless!

You all probably know about the health benefits of almonds, but just to remind you, check out this great infographic. There’s a good reason why dietitians and other health professionals love almonds. Actually, there are many good reasons!

almond nutrition

When the Almond Board of California invited me to travel to California to learn about almonds, of course I accepted. I couldn’t wait to see the beautiful almond orchards and learn some almond facts to share with my clients and followers. It’s also fun to meet people who you know from social media, face-to-face. There are so many talented dietitians who I interact with on a daily basis but haven’t ever met, so I was super excited to meet and learn from them, too!

We all stayed at the beautiful Wine and Roses hotel in Lodi, California which is in the Central Valley of the state. The area was full of gorgeous vineyards – including one adjacent to our hotel; as well as fig, pomegranate, and citrus trees. Being from Toronto, I still get a major charge from seeing fruit growing on trees. Yes, we have apple and pear trees up North. But Pomegranate? Love. Here are some photographs I took of the cool fruits I saw.

Almond Orchard FigsAlmond Orchard GrapesAlmond Orchard Pomegranate

The Central Valley region is actually a Mediterranean climate, which is perfect for growing almonds (and other things too!). The rich soils, high environmental standards, work and food safety, and innovative technology and research all work together to produce perfect almonds. There are very few regions in the world with a true Mediterranean climate, so the Central Valley of California is lucky to be one of them!

The first night, we watched a talented chef from Los Angeles demonstrate how to use almonds in really different ways when we cook. He made an almond cheese, which was awesome! It was the texture of ricotta, with a delicate flavor, and he served it with pan-roasted peaches. He also made an appetizer that I had actually made in my internship (which incidentally was in the same area as the hotel!): red grapes rolled in goat cheese and candied almonds. Heavenly! After an al fresco dinner under a beautiful white tent, and lots of chatting with the other fun dietitians, we all went to bed.

Almond cheese with roasted peaches and arugula

Here’s the roasted peaches with almond cheese. Yum!

The next morning after a run, everyone gathered to hear speakers teach us all about almond growing, marketing, science, and sustainability.

We learned a lot of fascinating stuff about almonds that morning, including the following facts:

  • 43% of almonds are consumed as snacks
  • 83% of California almond growers practice demand-based irrigation, tracking soil, tree, and weather condition before deciding to water each tree
  • Almond trees, and the water used to grow them, produce three things, two of which are foods
  • California grows 83% of the almonds in the world
  • Almonds are grown on 13% of California’s irrigated farmland, but use less than 9% of the state’s agricultural (not total) water
  • Almond trees have a lifespan of 25 years
  • More than 90% of California’s almond farms are family owned
  • Almonds and bees are tightly linked. Without bees, almonds wouldn’t exist. And almonds are often the first natural source of food for bees each spring
  • Because almond trees are not self-fertile, growers need to plant at least two, and typically three, different varieties of trees in alternating rows in order for the blossoms to be properly pollinated by bees

After a morning of learning, we were paired up into groups for a contest to create the best almond snack. Our team, with Deanna Seagrave-Daly of Teaspoon of Spice, April Graff of This RD Eats, Rachel Hartley of Avocado a Day Nutrition, and McKenzie Hall of Nourish RDs, was called the Smokey Nuts. We didn’t win, but clearly we were robbed because we created a very innovative smokey almond snack bar with chiles and dried pineapple. It was delish!

It also satisfied the three demands that today’s consumer is looking for in bars – it tasted great, it was nutritious, and it was satisfying. And almonds are the top choice of nut that people look for in snack bars, so I’m sure you all would have loved them!

ALmond Orchard Bar

The Smokey Nuts rule! Our delish snack bar.

After an incredible tour (complete with fantastic wine in the middle of a vineyard at dusk) and an almond-inspired dinner at Lange Twins Winery, we headed home for a good sleep before the almond orchard tour the next day.

The highly anticipated almond orchard tour was as awesome as you would imagine. At the Travaille and Phippen orchard, rows upon rows of beautiful trees weighed down with almonds surrounded us. We learned the difference between ‘amands’ (they’re still on the tree) and ‘almonds’ (already been picked), and we were lucky enough to see the shaker, which is this loud machine that shakes the almond trees to release the nuts from the branches. The nuts then get picked up from the ground and processed.

Almond Orchard Branch

Almonds in their husks, on the tree

 

Almond Orchard Rows

The Travaille and Phippen orchard. Isn’t it beautiful?

 

Almond Orchard Hands

Those are my friend and fellow RD Christy’s hands. We scooped up lots of almonds off the ground, and I even brought some home for my family to try.

Almond Orchard Close Up Nut
Almonds on the orchard floor after being shaken off the tree

The orchard floor littered with almonds after they were shaken from the trees.

Check out the shaker harvesting the almonds! Just click on the link below:

Almond Orchard Shaker

After a tour of the almond production facility – SO MANY ALMONDS!! – I had to leave and catch my flight home.

But First! A few pictures of the processing facility. Can you imagine having to eyeball all of these almonds and pick out the bad ones? I’d have googly eyes after 2 minutes!

Almond Orchard Processing

After being shelled and picked over by a robotic arm, these patient workers give the almonds another look and pick out random shells, debris, and duds before the nuts get the ok.

Almond Orchard Blue Diamond

Got nuts?

It was such a fabulous trip, I couldn’t wait to get back to my computer and share my experience with you. I also got busy in the kitchen, developing a yummy almond-crusted chicken recipe that you’re going to love, right below. Thank you so much to the Almond Board of California for inviting me to have this once-in-a-lifetime experience!

Smoky-Sweet Almond Crusted Chicken with Honey-Mustard Dipping Sauce

My biggest pet peeve with homemade chicken pieces is that they get dry and completely unappetizing. I’ve managed to get around this by adding a bit of mayonnaise to the wet ingredients. The smoky paprika combined with the sweet maple syrup and crunchy almonds is a taste combination that the whole family will love!

Almond Crusted Chicken Overhead

Almond Chicken Close Up

Serves 6

2 large boneless, skinless chicken breasts, around 1.5lb

3 eggs

1/3 cup milk

1/4 cup mayonnaise

1/4 cup maple syrup

2 cups finely chopped almonds

1/2 t garlic powder

1 t smoked paprika (use the sweet type unless you like spicy, then you should use the spicy one!)

1/2 t salt

1/2 t cayenne pepper

1/2 cup Dijon mustard

2 T honey

Preheat your oven to 350F and line a baking sheet with parchment.

Cut the chicken into chunks – I use kitchen shears and cut each chicken breast lengthwise, then into 6ths.

In a bowl, scramble the eggs, milk, mayonnaise, and maple syrup until well blended.

In another bowl, combine the almonds, garlic, salt, cayenne, and paprika.

Setting the bowls and baking sheet in a row starting with the egg mixture, then the almond mixture, then the baking sheet, dip each chicken piece into the egg and then dredge in the almonds. Lay each coated piece on the parchment-lined baking sheet.

Bake for 30 minutes at 350F. After the chicken is done, it’s VERY IMPORTANT to remove it from the oven and let it rest for about 10-15 minutes before serving. If it’s too warm, the coating will fall off the chicken pieces. Cooling slightly helps the coating adhere.

While the chicken is baking, combine the mustard and honey and stir until well-blended. Serve with the chicken.

 

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