This is a two for one blog post today! I’m sharing a great recipe for raspberry zinger energy balls, which are little bites of energy-packed goodness, with the flavors of raspberries and coconut. I’m also sharing a recap of my time at the California Almond Orchard Experience last week in Lodi, CA. Disclosure: All expenses relating to the California Almond Orchard Experience were paid for by the Almond Board of California. All opinions expressed on this site are my own.
Let’s start with the Almond Orchard Experience. It was AWESOME! A group of about 25 recipe developers, bloggers, and dietitians were invited out to Lodi, CA for a three day event dedicated to the almond.
On Monday (day 1), I flew into Sacramento and took about an hour drive south to get to Lodi, which is in the northern central valley of California.
Once in Lodi, I was taken to the Wine & Roses Hotel. This is where we all stayed and where many of our activities took place. Wine & Roses is a stunning hotel. The rooms, eating areas, and lounge areas are spread out over a lot of ground.
There are paths connecting the areas of the hotel which are surrounded by greenery, flowers, fruit trees, and even exotic birds. I kept thinking, this would be a nice place to have a wedding.
I stayed in a palm room, which was massive. It had a cute patio area with more views of the beautiful gardens and a water feature nearby which made it ultra relaxing.
Once we were all checked into our rooms, we were ready for our first event. We mingled and got to know one another as we sampled the local wine. Then, Chef Greg Hozinsky lead an almond focused cooking demonstration. He made candied almonds, which he used to make grape-stuffed candied almond goat cheese balls. Then, he demonstrated how to make almond cheese, which is often used as a vegan cheese alternative. He used the almond cheese to make an appetizer with halved grilled peaches topped with the almond cheese, fresh arugula, chopped almonds, and a balsamic vinegar and almond oil dressing.
Almond oil is now on my list of must have kitchen products. Yum!
Next we walked over to an outside dining area under a large white canopy for dinner and more local wine.
We started the next morning with a 6:30 AM outside yoga class lead by one of the attendees, Alex. I was a little hesitant about getting up so early after a late night but as soon as I stepped outside, I was glad I did. The weather in Lodi was absolutely perfect. It made me want to be outside every chance I got. And the class was fun. Alex did great!
I like this next picture because it really shows how green and tropical looking the hotel grounds are. That’s me in the back row in the light blue tank.
The majority of day two was spent attending educational sessions relating to almonds; how they’re grown, how they’re processed, their nutritional profile, and almond related research.
Some interesting nuggets of knowledge:
- California grows 100% of the almonds commercially produced in the U.S., supplying 104,000 local jobs in the central valley. And, the vast majority of almond farms are multigenerational family farms.
- Something on everyone’s mind right now is the severe drought in California. This is especially true for farmers. The California almond community has funded 91 irrigation research projects. And, over the past 20 years almond growers have improved their water use efficiency by 33%.
- Research shows that almond consumption: is linked to a healthy heart and cholesterol levels, is helpful in maintaining healthy blood sugar levels, and is helpful in curbing appetite and maintaining a healthy weight.
- 1 oz. of almonds = 23 almonds = 1/4 cup, which provides 6g protein, 13g unsaturated fats, & 4g fiber.
Of course, we took breaks for food. We had a fun almond themed snack break…
and a BBQ themed lunch…
Did I mention that we ate well on this trip. 🙂
In the afternoon, we had a chopped-style competition. We broke up into teams to create a snack using almonds. There were lots of different ingredients available for us to choose from to create our snack. I was lucky enough to be on the winning team!
Our team created these Triple Almond Energy Bars based on one of Megan’s bar recipes.
We ended day two with a trip to Lange Twins Winery.
We started the evening with an introduction in the vineyard. These are some of their beautiful wine grapes.
We toured the massive Lange Twins production facility. Then, we sampled wine and had appetizers in their tasting room.
Then, we moved over to their barrel room, where they set up a long dining table right in the middle of the barrels.
They had an amazing menu planned which was paired with 4 different Lange Twins wines.
The starter course: Jicama Orange Salad paired with Sangiovese Rose.
The entree course: Shrimp with Romesco Sauce, Almond Oil Drizzled Lamb Kabobs, Paella Timbales, & Roasted Summer Vegetables paired with Pinot Noir and Zinfandel.
Dessert course: Almond Cake with Berries paired with Moscato.
This buttery almond cake was ridiculous!
As you can imagine, I slept well that night after all that amazing wine.
On day three we took a tour of the Travaille & Phippen Almond Orchard and almond production facility. This was such an educational experience. Before this trip, I had no idea what an almond tree looked like.
As almonds are growing on their trees, they sort of resemble little green fuzzy peaches.
You have to crack through a couple layers before you find the almond. Almonds have fuzzy outer layer called the hull, a hard brown shell, and an inner kernel which is the almond that we eat.
Nothing goes to waste. The Hulls are used as cattle feed. The shells are used for alternative energy and cattle bedding.
This is how they get the almonds off the tree. This machine goes through the orchard and shakes the heck out of the trees, causing the almonds to fall to the ground.
Then, the almonds are scooped up and taken to this production facility where they are shelled and the broken almonds are removed.
After our tour, we were treated to a picnic lunch surrounded by the almond orchards. I was lucky enough to sit at a table with Mr. Phippen, who told stories about growing up in an almond growing family and keeping the bees in his orchards happy.
Almond trees require two or three different varieties of almond trees be planted near each other and bees are needed to cross pollinate them. So, almond growers take bee health seriously. The almond board funds over 90 projects relating to bee health research.
Isn’t this the most beautiful setting for a leisurely lunch?!
After the orchard tour, most of the attendees headed home. But, about eight of us stayed another night. I had a few hours of free time, so I did some exploring. I went for a run around Lodi lake, which is about 1/2 mile from the hotel. And, stopped to take a mid-run selfie, of course. 🙂
The few of us that remained on the third night went out to a local bar and grill for another evening of good food, wine, and conversation.
The next morning I was on a flight back to St. Louis. Whew, what a trip! To the California Almond Board, Thank You!!
After learning so much about almonds during the Almond Orchard Experience, I was eager to get back into my kitchen and start experimenting with new almond recipes.
These raspberry zinger energy balls are a winner. They have both whole almonds and almond butter in the recipe. And, they taste like raspberries and coconut.
They are meant to have the flavors of those raspberry zinger snack cakes many of us ate as kids. But, these are much better for you! There’s nothing but fruit and nuts in these little energy bites.
- 1¼ cups shredded coconut, divided
- ½ cup raspberries
- ½ cup almonds
- 4 medjool dates, seeds removed
- ¼ cup dried cranberries
- ¼ cup almond butter
- Add ½ cup of the coconut to a food processor and process until it’s a fine crumb texture. Remove the coconut and set aside.
- Add ¾ cup of coconut and the remaining ingredients to the food processor. Process on high speed until the ingredients are well broken down and incorporated together. Stop the processor to scrape down its sides and press down the mixture as needed.
- Grab about 1 tablespoon of the mixture and roll it into a ball. Press the ball into the coconut, coating all sides. Place the ball on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Repeat with the remaining raspberry mixture, making 16 balls.
- Place the baking sheet in the refrigerator for 2 hours before serving.
- Store in a sealed container in the refrigerator.