Walnut Date 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
- Yield: 16-24 bars
- Prep time: 58 mins
- Cook time: 35 mins
- Inactive time: 1 hr
- Total time: 2 hrs 33 mins
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
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.
Healthy Comfort Food
Thai Carrot, Coconut and Cauliflower Soup
People describe raising young kids as a particular season in life. I hadn't heard this until we had a baby, but it brought me a lot of comfort when I'd start to let my mind wander, late at night between feedings, to fears that we'd never travel internationally again or have a sit-down meal in our dining room. Would I ever eat a cardamom bun in Sweden? Soak in Iceland? I loved the heck out of our tiny Oliver, but man what had we done?! Friends would swoop in and reassure us that this was just a season, a blip in the big picture of it all. They promised we'd likely not even remember walking around the house in circles singing made-up songs while eating freezer burritos at odd hours of the day (or night). And it's true.
Oliver is turning two next month, and those all-encompassing baby days feel like a different time, a different Us. In many ways, dare I say it, Toddlerhood actually feels a bit harder. Lately Oliver has become extremely opinionated about what he will and will not wear -- and he enforces these opinions with fervor. Don't get near the kid with a button-down shirt. This week at least. He's obsessed with his rain boots and if it were up to him, he'd keep them on at all times, especially during meals. He insists on ketchup with everything (I created a damn monster), has learned the word "trash" and insists on throwing found items away on his own that really, truly are not trash. I came to pick him up from daycare the other day and he was randomly wearing a bike helmet -- his teacher mentioned he'd had it on most of the day and really, really didn't want to take it off. The kid has FEELINGS. I love that about him, and wouldn't want it any other way. But, man it's also exhausting.
Cheesy Quinoa Cauliflower Bake
I just finished washing out Oliver's lunchbox and laying it out to dry for the weekend. My favorite time of day is (finally) here: the quiet of the evening when I can actually talk to Sam about our day or sit and reflect on my own thoughts after the inevitable dance party or band practice that precedes the bedtime routine lately. Before becoming pregnant for the second time, I'd have had a glass of wine with the back door propped open right about now -- these days though, I have sparkling water or occasionally take a sip from one of Sam's hard ciders. Except now the back door's closed and we even turned on the heat for the first time yesterday. The racing to water the lawn and clean the grill have been replaced by cozier dinners at home and longer baths in the evening. You blink and it's the first day of fall.
Stuffed Shells with Fennel and Radicchio
I'd heard from many friends that buying a house wasn't for the faint of heart. But I always shrugged it off, figuring I probably kept better files or was more organized and, really, how hard could it be? Well, I've started (and stopped) writing this post a good fifteen times which may indicate something. BUT! First thing's first: we bought a house! I think! I'm pretty sure! We're still waiting for some tax transcripts to come through and barring any hiccough with that, we'll be moving out of our beloved craftsman in a few weeks and down the block to a great, brick Tudor house that we wanted the second we laid eyes on it. The only problem: it seemed everyone else in Seattle had also laid eyes on it, and wanted it equally as much. I'm not really sure why the homeowner chose us in the end. Our offer actually wasn't the highest, but apparently there were some issues with a few of them. We wrote a letter introducing ourselves and describing why we'd be the best candidates and why we were so drawn to the house; we have a really wonderful broker who pulled out all the stops, and after sifting through 10 offers and spending a number of hours deliberating, they ended up going with ours. We were at a friend's book event at the time when Sam showed me the text from our broker and I kind of just collapsed into his arms. We were both in ecstatic denial (wait, is this real?! Did we just buy a house?) and celebrated by getting chicken salad and potato salad from the neighborhood grocery store and eating it, dazed, on our living room floor. Potato salad never tasted so good.
Smoky Butternut Squash and Three Bean Chili
If your house is anything like ours, last week wasn't our most inspired in terms of cooking. We're all suffering from the post-election blues -- the sole upside being Oliver's decision to sleep-in until 7 am for the first time in many, many months; I think he's trying to tell us that pulling the covers over our heads and hibernating for awhile is ok. It's half-convincing. For much of the week, instead of cooking, there'd been takeout pizza and canned soup before, at week's end, I decided it was time to pour a glass of wine and get back into the kitchen. I was craving something hearty and comforting that we could eat for a few days. Something that wouldn't remind me too much of Thanksgiving because, frankly, I can't quite gather the steam to start planning for that yet. It was time for a big bowl of chili.
To Talk Porridge
Porridge is not the sexiest of breakfasts, it's true. It doesn't have a stylish name like strata or shakshuka, and it doesn't have perfectly domed tops like your favorite fruity muffin. It doesn't crumble into delightful bits like a good scone nor does it fall into buttery shards like a well-made croissant. But when you wake up and it's 17 degrees outside (as it has been, give or take a few, for the last week), there's nothing that satisfies like a bowl of porridge or oatmeal. It's warm and hearty and can be made sweet or savory with any number of toppings. The problem? Over the years, it's gotten a bad rap as gluey or gummy or just downright boring or dutiful -- and it's because not everyone knows the secrets to making a great pot of warm morning cereal. So let's talk porridge (also: my cookbook comes out this month! So let's take a peek inside, shall we?)
Katrina @ Warm Vanilla Sugar
These bars look lovely, and I bet they'd be great with pecans too! Yum!
Adrianna from A Cozy Kitchen
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.
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.
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!
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!
Tania @ The Cook's Pyjamas
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.
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.
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!
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
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.
Katie @ Whole Nourishment
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!
Amanda @ Once Upon a Recipe
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.
Christina @ but i'm hungry
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!
These sound absolutely delightful! Love the use of natural sugars.
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!
Liz @ Floating Kitchen
Sounds like the perfect vacation. And these breakfast bars look incredible. Can't wait to try them out!
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?
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
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!
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.
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
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 ;)
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
Hi, what can I substitute the spelt flour for?
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
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!