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Filling The Days

Walnut Date Breakfast Bars

Last week on an oh-so-early Monday morning we climbed into the car and headed to the airport  to catch a plane for Palm Springs, California. Around this time of year in Seattle we all start really craving sunshine and last year I promised myself that a break was in order, so after the holidays we just scheduled it and put aside all the questions about work and if it was even possible to leave for four whole days– and just left. Now I’ll be the first to admit that it took me a while to get into the groove of vacation and to not be sneaking in emails and worrying about business contracts and granola orders. But on Day 3 a funny thing happened: I started to feel as if I’d just finished a really good yoga class … but that feeling lasted all day long. Hello, vacation! How I missed you. 

Joshua Tree Hike
An unusually large concentration of our friends have visited Palm Springs this year and I was a little skeptical that it would feel overly fancy (think tight white pants and metallic sandals) but it was actually quite the opposite — or at least our experience was. We stayed at the Ace Hotel and had a room with a little patio that was perfect for early morning coffee drinking and late night star gazing. There were a lot of young families and it was surprisingly mellow. Our days were filled with lots of reading and strolling, some riding into town on bikes and sharing milkshakes. There may have been an 11 a.m. Negroni at some point which I was pretty delighted by.

Joshua Tree Cactus Garden

The photo above and below were taken on our jaunt to Joshua Tree, where we spent a day ambling about rocks and dusty trails filled with other-worldy cactus, Joshua trees and windy vistas. On our drive home we stopped at Shield’s Date Garden where I snatched up a jar of date butter and some blonde dates which are, apparently, a variety that Shields cultivated themselves. While there, we shared a date shake and sampled just about every date known to man.

Ace Hotel

Beyond Joshua Tree and biking into town, we largely stayed by the pool and read — with breaks to wander to King’s Highway, the hotel restaurant, for a meal (two words: kale salad!). I realized  about halfway into the trip that one of the things I loved about Palm Springs is there’s not a whole lot to cram in and do or see. Often when I travel I feel a bit of urgency to get to the newest restaurant or see the sights that friends have talked about — that ‘you must see this before you come home’ scenario. And that type of travel often feels rushed and frenetic and not all that restful, really. But in Palm Springs that doesn’t seem to exist. To be honest, we found most of the food in town to be underwhelming and were perfectly content sitting outside and reading and napping for a large part of the day.

2014-04-02 16.18.04-2

I’d planned on trying to recreate the date butter we bought at Shield’s for this post but I’m sorry to say that TSA took it from my carry-on bag. I felt I made a serious case for the fact that it wasn’t a liquid — it was just solid dates that had been smashed up, but alas Sam whisked me off and pleaded with me to stop making my serious case. Apparently I’d become pretty attached to the idea of that date butter (since then, Sam has ordered some for us online to try so I’ll report back!). Instead, today I’m sharing with you a recipe for Date Walnut Breakfast Bars from Jennifer Katzinger’s beautiful new book, Honey and Oats.

Dates and Walnuts

This book was waiting for me in a big stack of mail when we got home and instead of unpacking or showering or doing any number of things that made more sense, I dug right in. Honey and Oats reflects the way that I bake at home — with whole grain flours and natural sugars. In truth, I’d been flirting with the idea of a second cookbook that would focus more on natural sugars and low and behold, Jennifer has beat me to it! But I’m so glad she did; if you are excited about the way that whole grain flours change the flavor of a recipe, you should get excited about this cookbook for the way that natural sugars can do the very same. There’s so much good here.

I’ll surely write about another recipe from this book this season (so many bookmarked!) but because I had these beautiful new blonde dates and very little in the way of groceries at home, I decided breakfast bars were in order. Now the bars in Jennifer’s book are called Date Bars and they’re poised as more of a dessert but in truth, I think because they’re so low in sugar and have such a soft, crumbly crust that they’re really great for breakfast. I added ground walnuts to the crust which is already packed with oats and a little coconut sugar — I also added a touch more salt and on the next go around, I think I’d fold in some sesame seeds or flax seeds for a little crunch.

A note on coconut sugar: I’ve been experimenting with this natural sugar more and more at home. It looks a lot like brown sugar and tastes much less sweet than granulated white sugar. Made from the flower buds of the coconut palm, it’s becoming more popular among natural sweeteners because of its darker flavor profile and beneficial nutrients including a handful of vitamins and minerals. You can find it at many health food stores, but if you’d rather not make the trip you can use your favorite natural sweetener here instead (natural cane sugar like turbinado would be great). 

Date Walnut Breakfast Bars
When I make these again, I think I’ll put the date mixture into the food processor and smooth it out a bit — it has a rustic texture which in many ways is perfect for the crumbly crust and topping but I can’t help but wonder what it would be like with a more uniform filling. For the record, Sam likes them just as they are.

Slightly adapted from: Honey and Oats 

Makes 16-24 bars, depending on size

2 1/2 cups (390g) pitted, chopped fresh dates
1 1/2 cups water
3/4 cups (70g) walnut halves
1 1/4 cups (185g) whole spelt flour
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 cups (150g) rolled oats
1/2 cup (65g) coconut palm sugar (or any natural cane sugar you like)
1/2 cup (115 g / 1 stick) cold unsalted butter, sliced into small cubes

Preheat the oven to 350 F. Lightly grease a 13 x 9 inch baking pan.

In a medium saucepan, simmer the dates in the water for about 30 minutes, stirring frequently and mushing them down as you go. Continue until a thick paste has formed; avoid letting the mixture boil or burn.

Meanwhile, lay the walnuts out on a small baking sheet and toast for about 8 minutes, or until fragrant. Set aside to cool. Once cool to the touch, pulse in a food processor until coarse and crumbly.

In a large bowl, combine the flour, salt, baking soda, oats, ground walnuts, and coconut palm sugar. With a pastry cutter or your fingers, cut the butter into the dry mixture until crumbly. Add 2-3 tablespoons cold water and mix lightly until larger clumps begin to form.

Press 3/4 of the dough into the prepared pan. Spread the date mixture on top. Cover with the remaining dough and pat it down lightly. Bake until the top is lightly browned, about 35-40 minutes. Let cool for 1 hour before cutting into slices (I prefer 2-inch square slices but 1-by-3 inch rectangles are nice, too). While I do think these bars are best enjoyed the day they’re made, feel free to cover leftovers and store at room temperature for up to 2 days.

  1. Posted April 10, 2014 at 9:16 am

    These bars look lovely, and I bet they’d be great with pecans too! Yum!

  2. Posted April 10, 2014 at 11:08 am

    This is so funny. I, too, think the food in Palm Springs is very meh. Even the restaurants that people rave about I find all about the “scene.” But whatever, Palm Springs is amazing. It’s the perfect place to do absolutely nothing. And shop. I love the vintage shopping there! These bars look dope.

  3. Posted April 10, 2014 at 12:53 pm

    I just made an incredibly similar recipe from Rose Carrarini’s Breakfast, Lunch, Tea! It, too, was delicious, but I’ve been scheming about tweaks, including less sugar and fewer dates, which both are reflected in this recipe. Because also, I am waiting for that book… They brought it the other day but didn’t leave it at my stoop – the nerve! (:

    So glad you got a nice vacation in!

  4. Posted April 10, 2014 at 5:05 pm

    I only used natural and unrefined sugars now, having weaned myself off refined white sugar a few years ago. I love the complexity they add to baking and the fact they are not as sweet. Whenever I travel to Asia I scour the local markets for new sugars to try. Palm sugar is quite similar to coconut sugar and may be slightly easier to find in some locations due to its use in Thai cooking.

  5. Posted April 10, 2014 at 6:19 pm

    The Joshua trees… other-worldly indeed, but so beautiful! So glad you got a respite in and that you just DID IT! But I would have never thought the TSA would have interest in dates. I’ve got some dates and walnuts on the ready in the fridge. Instead of spelt flower though, I think I’ll try the cracked Kamut I have on hand. Thanks for sharing Megan!

  6. megang
    Posted April 10, 2014 at 6:33 pm

    So true, Adrianna. Even the “good” restaurants felt very meh to us … we ended up eating at The Ace quite a bit and strangely didn’t do much shopping! Next time … rode on bikes by a few vintage stores I’d love to hit up next time around.

  7. megang
    Posted April 10, 2014 at 6:33 pm

    The nerve! Stacy, you’re going to like the book. It has a million things I want to make and I know it won’t appeal to everyone b/c it is pretty darn low sugar — but that’s my jam lately :) Hope you’re doing well. Come visit Seattle this summer!

  8. megang
    Posted April 10, 2014 at 6:34 pm

    Thanks, Tania. Yes I think coconut palm sugar is the same as coconut sugar, yes? Not sure why this is more confusing than it should be! But I agree re: the complexity with baked goods and the exciting opportunity to add flavor. I hope you enjoy the recipe. Also: have you tried date sugar? Good stuff.

  9. megang
    Posted April 10, 2014 at 6:35 pm

    I know that the TSA agents are enjoying that date butter now, Traci! Kamut flour would be great in these. I hope you enjoy the recipe and the rest of the week! ~Megan

  10. Posted April 10, 2014 at 8:23 pm

    so glad you made the trip! We are hoping to do one night away before the babe comes and Palm Springs is the perfect place for a quick getaway. So happy you gave into feeling vacation – truly the best. Date shakes are SO amazing and I am sure your bars are nothing short of that either.

  11. Posted April 10, 2014 at 11:09 pm

    These bars look absolutely lovely. Since dates are quite sweet, does the coconut sugar do more for the overall consistency of these bars than to just sweeten? And what a wonderful sounding trip. The best ones when the focus is to just relax and lounge.
    P.S. I would have been mad about the date butter too, that is totally not liquid!

  12. Posted April 11, 2014 at 10:58 am

    Too bad about that date butter, but how wonderful that Sam has ordered you a jar! I am so enjoying your cookbook Megan (speaking of many bookmarks! And that granola was everything I’d hoped it would be and more) – if Honey & Oats is anything like it, I will have to check it out for sure. I’m glad to hear you had a nice vacation – it was well deserved, I’m sure.

  13. Posted April 11, 2014 at 3:00 pm

    These remind me of the date and nut bars that my grandma always made, but I love that they’re health-ified, which makes it much more likely that I’ll be able to find reasons to make them. They look wonderful!

  14. Posted April 12, 2014 at 6:32 am

    These sound absolutely delightful! Love the use of natural sugars.

  15. Posted April 12, 2014 at 3:22 pm

    This makes me happy, that you had happy times in one of our favorite places. Nothing like a little pool time, sunshine and a negroni to get the body back on track!

  16. Posted April 12, 2014 at 4:39 pm

    Sounds like the perfect vacation. And these breakfast bars look incredible. Can’t wait to try them out!

  17. Posted April 16, 2014 at 6:44 pm

    These bars look divine – perfect for a road trip snack! I wonder if I can substitute the sugar component for a small amount of honey?

  18. megang
    Posted April 18, 2014 at 7:26 am

    Hi, Krystal-
    You know, substituting a wet sweetener like honey for a dry sweetener can be a bit tough. I think you could work in a little honey but I worry that they’ll be overly sticky if you did a full substitute. If you experiment, let me know how it turns out! Happy Friday ~Megan

  19. Posted April 24, 2014 at 9:42 am

    Ohh great minds! We’re just back from holiday where we stayed at the Ace in Manhattan :) These look pretty amazing – I’m looking at a ‘healthy start’ after consuming inhumane quantities of meat at every corner. Cheers!

  20. Hillary
    Posted May 4, 2014 at 7:50 pm

    Do you have a suggestion for replacing the butter? My daughter is sensitive to dairy (and eggs-boo), and so we’re avoiding both these days.

  21. megang
    Posted May 4, 2014 at 8:16 pm

    Hi, Hillary-I want to say that coconut oil would be o.k. but I haven’t tried it so I can’t be 100% certain. I bake with coconut oil a lot and think that since this isn’t a super flaky pastry and has much more of a rustic crumb, I have a feeling it will be just fine. Let me know! ~Megan

  22. Posted May 14, 2014 at 8:21 pm

    Megan,

    Just wanted to say How much I’m loving Honey & Oats as well! Worked as the photo assistant on it. It reminds me of your book so much. I thought I’d started to learn a little something about whole grains, then I realized-oop! I know nothing =)
    I love your interpretations of the recipes! Sometimes I forget to play with the ingredients myself.

    Just had to tell you how much I always love reading your blog- the writing is SO GOOD! Definitely my favorite.

    Keep it up ;)
    Shannon

  23. megang
    Posted May 17, 2014 at 6:54 pm

    Hi, Shannon!
    I’m so, so glad you’re enjoying the blog. And I LOVE the Honey and Oats book, too. I want to make every. single. thing. in it! Knowing nothing is kind of fun, too … then you get to learn about this whole big, wide world of newness. Thanks for taking the time to say hi. Hope you’re enjoying the weekend! ~Megan

  24. Maria
    Posted August 15, 2014 at 1:34 pm

    Hi, what can I substitute the spelt flour for?

  25. megang
    Posted August 15, 2014 at 5:56 pm

    Hi, Maria-
    Spelt flour is a really easy one to substitute in for most flours. So feel free to use all-purpose if that’s what you have on hand. Whole-wheat would probably work just fine. I bet oat flour would be tasty … have fun. ~Megan

  26. Ashley
    Posted August 25, 2014 at 10:56 am

    I finally got around to making this yesterday (with a few modifications) and we really enjoyed it. We’ll definitely be making it again. Thanks for sharing!

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