In honor of National Snack Month, here's a primer on our favorite culinary pastime. Etymologists trace the word "snack" to the Dutch "snacken," which translates to "snatch," as to bite or snap like a dog chowing down on a morsel or treat.
The first were created by chance in the kitchen of the Moon Lake Lodge in Saratoga Springs, N.Y. When a persnickety patron sent the thick-cut fries back to the kitchen complaining of the unappetizing soggy texture and chunkiness of the fries, the American Indian chef named George Crum attempted to pare down the fries to a more-streamlined shape to please the guest.
After several returned orders of fries, the enraged Crum, out of spite, created a paper-thin crisp "chip" that was even too hard to pierce with a fork and had to be eaten out of hand. Shockingly, the customer loved these crunchy chips, which soon became all the rage at the resort and a regular menu item named "Saratoga Chips."
Today's potato chips come in varieties with such kitschy flavors as spare rib, chutney and mayo available at specialized potato chip boutiques. For the health-conscious, look for lightly salted, baked versions.
The birth of the pretzel has religious roots circa 610 A.D. somewhere along the northern Italian or southern French border where a monk was baking strips of leftover dough to make a concoction for Lent.
Folklore has it that he twisted some of the dough strips into shapes resembling a child's arms crossed in prayer, leaving three holes representing the Holy Trinity. These baked treats were given to children who studied their Bible verses and prayers, and were hence named "pretiola," meaning little reward.
Today, pretzels come in salty and sweet flavors in a multitude of shapes and sizes, both soft and jaw-breaking. My picks are honey whole wheat and pumpernickel. With annual sales topping $180 million, they are second only to potato chips.
This unusual strain of maize that pops on command was first developed by pre-Columbian Native Americans in Mexico more than 5,000 years ago. Now, more than 1 billion pounds of air-popped and microwavable popcorn are consumed every year in this country, including caramel and cheesy corns; sweet and salty kettle corn that was created during Colonial days; and funky gourmet flavors such as macadamia butter crunch, dark chocolate cherry, and cookies and cream. May I suggest ready-popped organic popcorn made with olive or safflower oil?
Also known as gorp, "good old raisins and peanuts" or "gobs of raw protein," trail mix is a light, nonperishable carb and protein combo perfect for providing a spurt of energy for hiking, power walks or a midday pick-me-up.
Try blending dried cherries, cranberries, dates, apricots or candied ginger with raw almonds, walnuts or pepitas along with bittersweet chocolate chips for a heart-healthy, mood-elevating, sustained energy treat.
Other healthful snack choices include baked pita chips with organic hummus; celery, carrot and jicama sticks dipped in salsa or guacamole; almond butter-and-jelly sandwiches on whole wheat; banana walnut bread; smoothies with berries and coconut milk; fresh fruit skewers with a vanilla yogurt dip; baked veggie quesadillas; and my personal fave, my Aunt Betty's oatmeal date cookie sandwiches, which are portable, hearty, wholesome and divine. Wash it down with a cup of green tea or a tall glass of almond milk, and I promise you've found your snack bliss.
Oatmeal Date Cookies
- 3 cups of rolled oats
- 2 1/2 cups of unbleached flour
- 2 teaspoons of baking powder
- 1 cup of brown sugar, firmly packed
- 1/2 cup of melted butter
- 1/2 cup of vegetable oil (grapeseed is my preference)
- 1/2 cup of almond or hazelnut milk
- 4 drops of vanilla extract
- 2 tablespoons of fresh squeezed orange juice
or the filling:
- 1 pound of dried dates (pits removed)
- Juice from half a lemon
- Sprinkling of ginger powder
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. In a large mixing bowl, combine the dry ingredients. Add the butter, oil, milk, vanilla and juice to form a dough. Flour a board. Take one-third of the mixture and roll into a thin layer. Cut out cookie shapes with the rim of a juice glass dipped in flour. Repeat until the dough is all used. Grease a parchment-lined cookie sheet with the grapeseed oil and bake until golden, about 10 minutes. Let cool.
For the filling, combine the dates, a cup of water, ginger and the juice in a small saucepan. Cook and stir until melted and smooth. Spread the filling on one cookie and top with another, making a sandwich.