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food bloggers unite: feeding south africa

February 10th, 2014 | 2 Comments »
“It is our moral obligation to give every child the very best education possible. In order to learn, children need to be nourished. The Lunchbox Fund ensures that ever child is equipped to embrace the future and change it for the better.”

— Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu

This year’s event by The Giving Table focuses on South Africa, and The Lunchbox Fund, which “…..has been feeding impoverished and orphaned schoolchildren since 2005. It brings communities together with the help of small local businesses and entrepreneurs, and provides vulnerable students with healthy meals that nourish their bodies and minds.” 

  • The Lunchbox Fund identifies schools or forms partnerships with locally based NGOs or community organizations in order to evaluate and identify schools. It funds distributers to buy and deliver food, monitor the feeding scheme, implement a Project Manager, and deliver reports back to them for evaluation.


Maybe you were here last year when I told my own personal tale of being hungry, and the impact it had on me. Last year’s cause focused on children in the USA that went hungry every day, on families that struggled to make ends meet and provide enough food. But children go hungry all over the world. And we know they do. But what do we do about it?

What have YOU done about it? What are you WILLING you do about it?

While breakfast is one of my favorite meals ever, lunchtime is a treasured routine, a suspension in the middle of any day when all activity stops and we sit down to nourish ourselves for the rest of the day. As far back as I can recall, I have so many memories of lunchtime; from being able to come home for lunch when I was just a kid (do any school children actually do this anymore?? It was such a treat.) to a break in the action of high school to gather in the lunchroom and catch up with everyone. Then, we enter the workplace, and those moments when work ceases and we pick up our lunch totes, or head out for a quick fix. Weekend lunches of leisure and leftovers. It all resonates. I’ve always enjoyed lunchtime, no matter where I am, or how old I’ve become.

I cannot imagine being in school and not being able to eat lunch. When my boy was young, and when he allowed me to pack a lunch for him, I wanted it to be something special that he enjoyed and we worked together to make it fun, to be something he looked forward to and would eat when the time came. He would help me pack his tote, make sure that he had a napkin or the right utensil for his yogurt, a cup of dressing to dip his carrots in, an apple cut up just so. When he wasn’t looking, I would slip in a note just for him. Eventually, he wanted school lunch just like the other kids, and when he got home, we always talked about what he ate, why he liked it and what he didn’t. One day, I clearly recall when he told me how he and a few friends shared their lunch with a new boy in their class who had no food. When he asked me why that boy wasn’t given lunch, or didn’t bring any with him, I had no answer. We talked about how it was always a good idea to share if someone had none.

 

  • Lack of food can diminish concentration, erode willpower, and strip away a child’s potential; without food, a child’s attendance and performance at school is severely jeopardized. 
  • 65% of all South African children live in poverty. Receiving food encourages these children to stay in school and obtain their education.


We know, as adults, that being hungry makes it hard to concentrate. We know how it can affect our work, and most of us keep snacks at hand to ward off hunger if our meals don’t carry us through, but imagine being a child, in school and trying to concentrate while hunger gnaws at your belly. There are no snacks. Likely there’s little at home to even start the day. And there may even be no promise of food throughout the entire school day. No one should have to live like that.

Can you find it in your heart to donate even a small dollar amount to help? All you have to do is click on this link..….. it’s so easy, and so profound. We all spend money throughout our days that provides us with simple pleasures that we take solely for granted; our daily latte fix, that cup of yogurt with all the fancy toppings, a candy bar, a soda, the latest fashion or gossip magazine, even the money we spend on our own daily lunches. Where does that money go? Would you consider donating only $10 dollars? Most people spend that every day and rarely can recall on what, but $10 would help fill The Lunchbox Fund and provide 100 school children their only meal of the day for an entire year. Can you imagine the impact of that small of a donation?  Compare that to a cup of yogurt, or your fancy latte and I think you’d agree it’s money well spent.

My lunch now is always fairly simple. I like quick, nourishing salads for my midday meal, or simple foods like an apple and peanut butter, a handful of nuts, hummus and vegetables, a quick meal of leftovers from the previous night. I like the calm of a quiet half hour to eat, to taste and enjoy, to watch the sun out the window and just be.

This raw kale salad has been on repeat in my lunch repertoire since discovering it’s simple tastes, the crunch of pistachios and the dreamy, chewy dates that bounce off the tart dressing. It’s a breeze to prepare, and taste much better the next day, after the lime juice, miso and sesame oil have a chance to penetrate the kale, soften it fully and infuse it with flavor. Make it the night before and by lunchtime, it will be perfect.

Raw Kale Salad with Lime-Sesame Dressing,
Pistachios & Dates

For the salad:

One bunch Lacinato Kale, washed, stems removed and rough chopped
1/3 c. pistachios, roasted & salted (or raw, if you prefer)
2 Medjool dates, pits removed and minced
1 t. fresh squeezed lime juice
Pinch of sea salt

For the dressing:
2 T. toasted sesame oil
1 T. extra virgin olive oil
2 T. fresh squeezed lime juice
2 t. white or brown miso
2 t. honey
2 T. white or brown sesame seeds, crushed
Pinch of sea salt

Place kale in a bowl. Drizzle with the teaspoon of lime juice and the pinch of sea salt. With your hands, gently massage the lime juice and kale for a few minutes until it becomes soft. Set aside

In a measuring cup or small bowl, place the crushed sesame seeds and sea salt. Drizzle with the lime juice, sesame and olive oils and whisk gently to combine. Add the miso and honey and whisk together thoroughly. Taste for seasoning. It should have a nice balance of tangy, salty and sweet. Adjust with a bit more miso or honey, if desired. Drizzle half the dressing over the massaged kale and toss to combine. Add more dressing if needed, but you may not use all of it. Add the pistachios and minced dates, toss well and serve. Salad will deepen in flavor if allowed to sit for a few hours, or overnight.

date and nut oat bars

November 5th, 2012 | 3 Comments »

I’m a total rebel.

It’s November, and everywhere you look is pumpkin. In everything. Or butternut squash. In everything. There’s sweet potatoes lurking over there; an acorn squash holding an adorable filling, perfectly browned edge glinting just so. It’s the season for all things roots and orange.

People are already gearing up for Thanksgiving, too. Decorations for Christmas have come out in certain stores. WHAT!!? Gah.

And here I am, dreaming of gooey dates and a crumbly oat bar.

Sarah at The Yellow House recently wrote a post about her Mother’s recipe box, and a particular recipe memory she was seeking, in the stumbling way that a motherless daughter tries to find answers to the questions that can never be solved. Sarah’s post, even in it’s despair and sadness, triggered something in me because I know all about that bitter walk after your Mother dies, the questions you wish you could ask, the reassurance like an anchor, that a Mother brings. She sought answers about a particular barbecue sauce recipe, and for me, the always unattainable answer I sought from my Mom’s spirit was for a treasured Date Bar recipe.

I’m pretty biased towards these iconic baked goods as they’ve been a favorite ever since I could remember stepping up to a kitchen counter, reaching up to place my hands on the worn edge and leaning hard around my Mom’s arm to see what she was doing. A recipe box open, the mass of dates simmering on the stove, the bowl of oats and sugar standing silently, waiting. The small pan ready. A kitchen warmed by an oven.

But then in a flash, I’m grown up, and my childhood kitchen dissipates. I’m a parent now, too. When my tiny boy reached his own chubby fingers towards that kitchen counter, I pulled up a chair and got him situated. We stirred together. We mixed and measured, my hand over his as his blue eyes watched closely. I gave him a knife and he carefully trimmed vegetables. He pushed his luck against my stern warning that yes, indeed that stovetop is still hot even though the burners are no longer red. I dried those tears and soothed the burns. We soldiered on. Pans of Brownies and chocolate cake came and went. Chocolate chip cookies- of course!- and Oatmeal Raisin, Snickerdoodles and Dark Chocolate Drops; Oatmeal Scotchies and Applesauce Cake, cookies every Christmas. Full bellies and full hearts, him and I.  His interest wavered, waned and often, he was absent as he grew too cool to stand by my side. Then, in some great moment of clarity, he returned to the kitchen again, a young man. Now he cooks his own food. Experiments. Expands. Still, if he said to me ‘Can you please make ______ ?’ I would likely tell him ‘Yes.’ and reach for the flour canister.

Because when I would sidle up next to my Mom as she thumbed through a cookbook, or pulled out her recipe card file for inspiration, often she would turn to me and say ‘Got any requests?’ and in my little girl, eager way, I would say “Please make those Date Bars!” And she would, smiling as she pulled the corner piece out of the pan to hand to me, it’s edges chewy and firm and we’d eat ’til our bellies were full, her and I. Eighteen years after her passing, her words still ring strong in my mind, for her baking was her love language, her moment to tell us how much she adored our faces, upturned and eager towards her as she pulled down worn metal tins of flour and sugar, turned the knob on the stove and sought out the warped, old cookie sheets, the favorite baking pan, drawing the aging cookie tin from the cupboard, the big round one with the roses on the top. I still have her recipe box, and I’ve poured over her it in vain, searching for that Date Bar recipe that she made for me, the one that was always just perfect, but I never found it. I poured pan after pan of warm date puree over an oat crust, trying to replicate the taste, seeking her smile in my memory and the love from a chewy corner piece but every time I bit down, the past wasn’t there. I wanted it to be, so badly. I reach for a container of flour, a sack of sugar,  thinking it will restore the dull ache in me that still echoes after nearly two decades. Sometimes the very act of baking will quiet the roar; other times, those first bites just make it more acute.

Then I find this one, a perfect Date Bar with a crunchy oat crust that browns and crisps in the oven, snapping apart to shower on the plate, crumbs falling in your lap that you happily pick up on moist fingertip, the rich dates cooked to a tender chew, gooey edge and all.

And the taste, smell and memory all come together in a tiny piece of cookie, too undeserving to be saddled with the burden of answering the questions of our past, but when I shut my eyes and bite, it’s all there. She’s all there. It’s swift and sharp, a nick of knife metal, barbed hooks caught against the heart. A moment meshes between child and adult, past and painful present wrapped in one oat crust, me as Mom and then, my Mother, with so many similarities between.

Oat and Nut Date Squares

1 8-oz package chopped dates (or equivalent of fresh)
1/4 c. black raisins
1 c. water
Zest from half an orange
2 t. orange  juice
1/2 c. ground almonds ( sub in walnuts or pecans if desired)
1/2 c. each whole wheat flour and all-purpose flour
1/2 t. sea salt
1/2 t. baking soda
1 t. ground cinnamon
1/2 t. ground nutmeg
1/8 t. ground cloves
1 c. packed brown sugar
1-1/2 sticks unsalted butter, diced, softened but still fairly cold.
1 c. old fashioned rolled oats

Preheat oven to 350° and spray an 8×8 baking pan with cooking spray. Line with parchment paper so that it hangs over edge of pan, then spray the paper.

In small saucepan, combine dates, raisins and water. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer, stirring occasionally until all liquid has been absorbed and fruit is a thick, concentrated paste. This should take about 10 minutes. Remove from heat, stir in orange zest and juice and blend well. Scrape onto a plate and spread to cool.

In the bowl of a food processor, place ground almonds, both flours, salt, soda and spices. Pulse to combine. Add in brown sugar and pulse to blend. Scatter butter over top and pulse until mixture is like coarse uneven meal. There should be lumps of butter in all sizes. Pour this into a large bowl and stir in the oats.

Press 2/3 of the mixture into the prepared pan, pressing down firmly. Spoon cooled date mixture over, spreading it to cover crust completely. Sprinkle remaining oat mixture over the top. Bake until top crust is golden brown and crisp, 30-40 minutes.

Cool bars completely on a rack, still in the pan. Once bars are at room temperature, gently lift them out of the pan using the parchment paper. Slice into 2″ squares to serve. These bars are delicious when chilled. Keep in airtight container or refrigerated.

 

{{adapted from an original recipe, author unknown}}

seeking a memory

December 16th, 2010 | 7 Comments »

Baking has always been about connections for me, most importantly, to my Mom. I treasure many of the delicious recipes that defined my childhood and love seeing some of those old favorites show up in the multiple blogs I follow. Cookies like Chocolate Crackles, a moist fudgey cake-like cookie with a powdered sugar coating,

{photo courtesy of Food Librarian}

and Nainamo Bars, or as we grew up with, Three Layer Bars, a superbly decadent blend of nuts, chocolate, coconut and vanilla pudding, carefully constructed into a glamorous tower that delights not only the eye but the tastebuds as well.

{photo courtesy of small home, big start}

These treats played a significant role in our lives, and it’s been such a joy to re-create these for family gatherings and be able to see my siblings once again appreciate some of the tastes of our past.

I personally have been searching for yet another taste of childhood, one that’s eluded me up until now- the taste of my Mom’s Date Bars. She made these especially for me, and for my sister Karen. We both loved the chewy date filling and crunchy oat topping. I was known to seek out the treasured edge pieces where the dates caramelized in the baking process, becoming firm and chewy, like date jerky if you will. I loved how it kind of stuck in my teeth, a sugary toffee feel in my mouth and I loved the anticipation of how the topping would crumble as I bit into it, catching the errant bits in my hand as they fell.

My Mom’s recipe box sits in my cupboard, but no matter how many times I combed through it, I never found that particular recipe, the only one over the years that’s been outside my grasp. I’ve tried several other versions that have passed my eyes and not one has even been close. It was probably one of those recipes that came on a carton of oatmeal, that she made a few times and somehow lost it in a move, or quite possibly, it was something she’d memorized, a small part of my growing up that went dark when she passed away. I could make her Peanut Butter Fingers, and the Coffee Toffee Bars that we loved; I could make the Sour Cream Drop cookies with the mocha frosting and pan after pan of Oatmeal Scotchies, even a batch of her famous Banana Bread but I could never find a recipe that brought back those Date Bars. I scanned dozens of them, and each one was cast aside, as I knew just looking at it that it would never be what I expected.

Then I happened upon a recipe that sounded like the siren call bringing me back to that sunny kitchen, my Mom’s smiling face and those chewy caramelized edges of a bar that was just perfect.

And years of wishing for one thing, one perfect treat from a time when I was small enough to lean an arm on the kitchen counter and be soothed by a crunchy and chewy bar made just for me, well that all fell away as I lifted the parchment sheet holding the thick mass out of the pan in my own sunny kitchen. The smell of these fragrant date bars made its way to my nose and the memory caught in my throat, threatening to send the tear ducts into overdrive. Smell and taste are so powerful in us, so driving us to seek those parts of our lives that have faded, sometimes too far for us to even recognize any longer. But this one had stayed, regardless of how long it had been, how far back I had to go to retrieve it, one whiff of this recipe and I was a tiny girl again, watching my Mom, with the scent of cooked dates in my head and the anticipation of that first bite, the shards of crunchy oats falling to my open palm, and her smile warm in my eyes.

And I happily welcome back this treasured memory. I’ve been patiently waiting for it to return and now it will have a permanent spot in my kitchen.

Oat and Nut Date Squares
adapted from an original recipe, author unknown.

1 8-oz package chopped dates (or equivalent of fresh)
1/4 c. black raisins
1 c. water
Zest from half a clementine (you can use orange zest, but measure 2 teaspoons for equivalent)
1-2 t. clementine juice  (use 1 t. fresh orange juice)

1/2 c. ground almonds ( sub in walnuts or pecans if desired)
1/2 c. each whole wheat flour and all-purpose flour
1/2 t. table salt
1/2 t. baking soda
1 t. ground cinnamon
1/2 t. ground nutmeg
1/8 t. ground cloves
1 c. packed brown sugar
1-1/2 sticks unsalted butter, diced, softened but still fairly cold.
1 c. old fashioned rolled oats

Preheat oven to 350° and spray an 8×8 baking pan with cooking spray. Line with parchment paper so that it hangs over edge of pan.

In small saucepan, combine dates, raisins and water. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer, stirring occasionally until all liquid has been absorbed and fruit is a thick, concentrated paste. This should take about 10 minutes. Remove from heat, stir in clementine zest and juice and blend well. Scrape onto a plate and spread to cool.

In the bowl of a food processor, place ground almonds, both flours, salt, soda and spices. Pulse to combine. Add in brown sugar and pulse to blend. Scatter butter over top and pulse until mixture is like coarse uneven meal. There should be lumps of butter in all sizes. Pour this into a large bowl and stir in the oats.

Press 2/3 of the mixture into the prepared pan, pressing down firmly. Spoon cooled date mixture over, spreading it to cover crust completely. Sprinkle remaining oat mixture over the top. Bake until top crust is golden brown and crisp, 30-40 minutes.

Cool bars completely on a rack, still in the pan. Once bars are at room temperature, gently lift them out of the pan using the parchment paper. Slice into 2″ squares to serve. These bars are delicious when chilled. Keep in airtight container or refrigerated.

The flavor of Winter

January 6th, 2010 | 12 Comments »

Cranberry and orange is a classic combination, and even the thought of it brings me swiftly back to Christmas as a child when my Mom would pull out her superbly old hand-cranked food grinder and clamp it to the counter edge to make a fresh cranberry-orange relish that filled our kitchen with the lively tang of oranges and the tart haze of cranberry. My sisters and I loved standing at the counter turning the crank of that grinder while Mom fed whole cranberries and oranges into the hopper, the pop and crunch of the fruit filling our ears while the mouth dripped it’s ruby mass into the bowl underneath. It was the scent of the holiday for us, more than a fresh ham baking in the oven, better than her scratch mincemeat or a simmering apple pie. I can zest an orange in the burning July sunshine, wearing shorts and a tank-top, and I will immediately be transported back to wintertime, as a kid again in Mom’s kitchen, fighting my sisters for a turn at the grinder. Back then, the tart cranberries were not to my liking, but I absolutely adored that smell.

The mix of cranberry and orange seems to be everywhere right now, and for good reason as fresh cranberries are in season. For some delicious winter baking, I grabbed it with both hands and enjoyed the promise of greatness found in this match.

There were scones first…..

I had to backtrack to find out exactly where this recipe came from, but thankfully came across it on LoveFeast Table so I can be sure to give proper credit. I’ve linked the recipe for you because I seriously suggest you make yourself a pan of these before too long. The flavors speak of winter, they require you to pour a steaming coffee to sip alongside, and will make you smile happily with delight. We all need that in the chilly months ahead.  This past year has been a big one for me in terms of muffins and scones. I like being able to put together a batch if the moment seems right, and you really can’t lose with anything that has some semblance of chocolate in it. Even when the chocolate is white. And these scones are tender, moist and airy. You’ll never purchase a coffee shop hockey puck again.


Then, even while there were still a few scones left over, I forged into a Cranberry Date and Orange quick bread to bring to one of our Christmas gatherings. It was so hard for me to wrap these loaves and slip them in the freezer to await our celebration, because when I knocked them out of the pans to cool, the smell that rose from them reached into my nose and tickled it immensely. I had to walk out of the kitchen in order not to rip a chunk off one to sample. Thankfully, we ended up with plenty of leftovers.

CRANBERRY DATE ORANGE BREAD

2 c. all-purpose flour (I used half whole wheat)
3/4 c. sugar
1 1/2 t. baking powder
1 t. baking soda
1/2 t. salt (I started using sea salt in baking and I love the results!)
1 egg
1/2 c. orange juice
Grated peel of 1 orange
2 T melted butter or margarine
2 T. hot water
1 c. fresh or frozen cranberries
1 c. chopped dates
1 c. coarsely chopped walnuts (or pecans- but either is optional)

Heat oven to 325°. Spray a standard 9×5 loaf pan with cooking spray and set aside.

In a medium saucepan, combine cranberries, dates, water and butter. Heat to a low simmer, stirring occasionally and cook for about 5 minutes. Some of the berries should start popping but you want them to retain their shape as much as possible. Turn off the heat and stir in the orange juice and zest. Allow to cool until barely room temperature.

In a large mixing bowl, combine dry ingredients. Beat egg separately. Add egg and cranberry mixture to dry ingredients, stirring just until moistened. Fold in nuts, if using. Spoon into prepared loaf pan. Bake for 60 minutes or until toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean. Cool for 10 minutes before removing to a wire rack.

National Date Nut Bread Day

December 22nd, 2008 | 5 Comments »

And you thought I was done talking about food holidays!!

date-nut-bread-002

December is National Fruitcake and National Eggnog Month.  Blech. Just the word ‘fruitcake’ conjures up images of crazy people, and the real deal is not at all appetizing although I would like to taste one, for real, that is fresh and worthy of praise instead of ridicule. The poor Fruitcake just never gets any respect- the lil’ Rodney Dangerfield of food.

Today is National Date Nut Bread Day. I’m a big fan of dates and have been since childhood. My mom made the standard Date Bars- you know, with the oat topping?- and I loved them dearly. Sadly, her recipe isn’t in my treasured recipe box of hers, and despite several attempts with recipes found on-line, I haven’t been able to duplicate her offering and gave up, full of sad face and regret, resigned to a date-less existence.

But the holiday intrigued me because this is bread, and it has dates and it shouldn’t be too hard to come up with an option that doesn’t make my teeth hurt from being too sweet. Dates are notoriously sweet and contain the highest concentration of sugar in any dried fruit. They are also higly caloric, but they are loaded with potassium and fiber and can be an enjoyable treat, in moderation. One thing they don’t need at all is any extra sugar, so in finding a recipe that relied on only the dates for sweetness was a bonus in my mind.

date-nut-bread-007

I’m not one to expend too much effort searching online recipe databases for the perfect recipe. I’m not patient enough for that. If I’m looking through Recipezaar, AllRecipes, Epicurious or any other site, I want to find something quickly and not spend endless time perusing through countless offerings, reading dozens of reviews and gazing at pictures. I trust reviews the most and they need to be unanimously positive. Coming across this bread recipe on the AllRecipes site, the first thing I noticed was that it had no added sugar, the next thing I read were the enthusiastic reviews that claimed this moist tender bread would surely be a hit. I didn’t need any more than that.

The best part was, they were right. Even slightly overcooked- which seems to be a recurring theme in my kitchen lately- the bread held a nice moist feel and was chock full of date flavor without making my eyes water from the sweetness. Without the sugar, the true flavor of the fruit shone through, and really, isn’t that why we eat something in the first place? This will be a repeat in my kitchen, with proper oven timing, whether it’s a food holiday or not.


Moist Date Nut Bread
from AllRecipes

  • 2 1/2 cups chopped dates
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 1 1/2 cups boiling water
  • 1/2 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup chopped walnuts
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees F). Grease and flour a 9×5 inch loaf pan.
  2. In a medium bowl, combine the dates and butter. Pour boiling water over them, and let stand until cool.
  3. When the dates have cooled, stir the mixture to break up any clumps. Mix in the brown sugar and egg until well blended. Combine the flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt; stir into the date mixture until just blended. Pour into the prepared pan.
  4. Bake for 50 minutes in the preheated oven, or until a wooden pick inserted into the center comes out clean.

KATE’S NOTES:
I followed this to the letter except for the walnuts. I don’t do walnuts, not after a childhood of dealing with walnuts in every home baked goodie I ate. I loved my mother’s baking, just not her love for walnuts. Instead, I finely chopped almonds and sprinkled them over the top of the loaf before baking. I think pecans would be nice too.

Be sure to thoroughly allow the dates and butter to cool and absorb the liquid. It will become a thick fragrant paste and really, is quite delicious all on it’s own but keep your spoon out of it and use it in the bread! A little fresh grated nutmeg would probably add a nice flavor touch to this, but the date flavor all on it’s own is really delicious.