all so refreshing

What is it about this time of year that makes us want to start fresh? It's not the same back to school feeling of September, either. It's not new pencils and homework assignments and blank notebooks, because all of that is routine. Your life begins and ends with the school bell, and while it's a new year, a new grade and a new teacher, it's more of the same. A comfortable routine. Right now, I'm talking about actual change. New ideas. Clearing out the physical and mental clutter. Making lists of tasks that will refresh and inspire us. Achievable, for the most part, so come March we aren't completely disappointed with ourselves.

As for me, I've had an itch lately. At first, I wasn't entirely sure what for. What I did know is I struggle with the decision to read a novel instead of the latest food manifesto. Lose myself in a story, or learn the inner workings of our food system? Both are important, but the latter seems more useful somehow, though that wasn't always the case.

Do you remember college, when it was essentially your job to read and and think and write papers? It wasn't all rosy every minute, but it was blissful at times. I think I miss that, not having to choose between something practical and something whimsical. For several years, it was my academic duty to read novels and write poetry and take art history classes that met on galleries instead of classrooms. It was all so refreshing. So I'm looking for a bit of refreshment, it seems.

I've spent the better part of last year reading books about the food system and building a website to educate people about why the choices they make are important. I've loved doing this, and I have some new ideas for 2012, but I also hadn't read a single poem or turned the page on more than one novel chapter, and I was starting to feel the emotional pull. I discovered a way to combine food and literature, and this project has been a long time coming, I think. Now is the right time, and I'm more energized than ever.

But you came for the food. Speaking of refreshing, I love discovering new-to-me ingredients. Take dates. Why haven't I cooked with them until now? And my word, they make a lovely addition to a cheese platter. The batter for these bars is quite simple to stir together, and the sweetness from the dates and brown sugar is punctuated by creamy white chocolate and hearty oats.


Recipe adapted from Miss in the Kitchen

1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted
3/4 cup brown sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup all purpose flour
1/2 cup oats
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup chopped fresh Medjool dates (about 6 large)
1/2 cup white chocolate, chopped

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Add the butter to a large bowl and melt in the microwave. Let cool slightly, then whisk in the brown sugar and egg. Stir in the vanilla. Add flour, oats, salt, baking soda and stir to combine. Fold in the dates and white chocolate with a spatula.

Pour into a greased 8x8 baking dish and spread evenly with a small icing spatula. Bake for 25-30 minutes, or until the edges are crisp and the bars are golden brown. Remove from the oven to let cool. Turn out bars to a cutting board and slice.