<em></em>I was a picky eater as a child – I mean, <em>really</em> picky. The list of things I wouldn’t touch included most vegetables, anything creamy (I didn’t eat yogurt until my second year of university – now I make my own), anything weird-sounding, and definitely anything that looked remotely unappetizing.
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Luckily for me (and for people feeding me), there’s now hardly anything I won’t eat. Even if I don’t like something, it’s usually because of the preparation method – bok choi is great chopped up fine in salads, but please don’t serve me a whole leaf of it swimming in broth.
But I lament being so fastidious for so many years, because of the pure volume of delicious food I missed out on. I have 20 years’ worth of yogurt to catch up on, for example. Tomatoes? 18 summers of sweet, ruby-fleshed wonders, gone forever. Luckily, I recently had the opportunity to make up for a bit of the 16 years of date squares I missed out on.
Eric and I were talking about awesome “grandma” desserts. I missed out on these, my grandmother being of the “why make it when it comes pre-packaged?” school, but he has fond memories of banana cream pie, gumdrop bread, and gooey date squares from his grandma’s kitchen.
This recipe is adapted from Anita Stewart’s amazing <em>From Our Mother’s Kitchens</em>, which is full of the kind of recipes that surely contributed to the term “stick to your ribs.” I added about a tablespoon of toasted and finely ground spices: a ras el hanout blend, as well as an inch of cinnamon stick and some cloves, green cardamom, and nutmeg. To be honest, I would eat spices plain if it were socially acceptable, but I found that the fragrant, earthy spice tones complimented the dates fantastically. The crumbly oat topping was phenom – perfectly sweet, with big clumps of oats.
I’m proud to say that I’m well on my way to, one day, being someone’s grandmother that makes delectable date squares.
<strong>Date Squares</strong><em>adapted from Anita Stewart</em>makes about 24 bars
Filling:2 cups chopped pitted dates (I used dried; you could definitely use fresh)
1 cup water
1/2 cup brown sugar
zest and rind of one orange (I used lemon zest and a splash of spiced rum, as oranges are extra out-of-season, but orange water would also be great)MK -
1-2 tablespoons toasted and ground ras el hanout spice mix, or a mix of cloves, cardamom, cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, lavender, and hibiscus
2/3 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
2/3 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 3/4 cups rolled oats
3/4 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup brown sugarMK -
1/2 tsp salt
In a saucepan, bring filling ingredients to a boil; simmer until water is all absorbed, smushing dates against the side of the pan until smooth.
In a bowl, stir flours, oats, baking soda, and salt together. Cream butter and sugar together; mix in flour mixture until crumbly and moist. Press 2/3 of mixture into a lightly greased 9×9 baking pan.
Spread date filling evenly over crust; crumble remaining oat mixture on top. Bake in a 375f oven for 25-30 minutes, or until edges turn golden brown. Let cool for as long as you can stand (10 minutes or so) before cutting.