It is New Year’s eve, and I am flipping through my binder of recipes and when I come across a recipe for date pastries that I had copied from a beautiful library book with recipes for baked goods from around the world. I consider attempting a gluten-free version of the pastry dough, and then I remember a muffin recipe I’d gotten years ago from a friend in Portland, ME. A chevre-filled muffin studded with dried fruit that we’d made during one of my visits to that dear city.
For the last few days of the year 2014, I had a craving for dates. Not the kind of date where you meet a stranger for dinner, nor the kind of date you choose for a flight to warmer climes… Nope, I had been yearning for the rich, buttery, deep sweetness of a medjool date. And I wanted it warm, and a little gooey, with moist, buttery crumb surrounding it.
I pull out the falling-apart old recipe book I’d started at age 13; a notebook that used to have a blue, card-stock cover on which I had written this quote: “Animals are my friends and I don’t eat my friends” (conveniently that page fell off around the same time I started eating animal flesh). The first entry in the book is for carob chip cookies because it was around that time when my mom and I started investigating the blood type diet, and being type Os, carob was supposedly a better option than chocolate. Although I loved carob, and that particular switch was easy for me, at the time I apparently wasn’t quite ready to adopt the rest of the recommendations for the Type-O diet, which included eating lots of animal (protein). It wasn’t until at least ten years later that I finally released myself from the vegetarian diet I had been raised on, and fed myself more of what my body really wanted to eat. Today, though, what it really wants is not meat, but DATES!
Food writer Susan Russo describes them perfectly, “Medjool dates are deep amber-brown and have a slightly crinkly skin that shimmers from natural sugar crystals. Bite into one, and your teeth sink into satisfyingly sticky flesh that tastes of rich caramel, hints of wild honey and a touch of cinnamon. Melt-in-your-mouth Medjools are so luscious they taste as if they have been warmed in an oven.” from NPR’s “Kitchen Window” series.
Flipping through faded pages, I find the muffin recipe and it actually calls for dried figs. I figure it will work just as well with dates, and I set the book out on the kitchen table ready for brunch on New Year’s Day. The first day of January 2015 arrives clear and bright, and making my way to the kitchen, I tie on my favorite green apron. I pull out the magical medjool dates, homemade chèvre and goat milk kefir, Pamela’s gluten-free baking mix, Massachusetts maple syrup, coconut palm sugar, Green Island Farm eggs, a meyer lemon–fresh from a friend in Florida, un-bleached parchment jumbo muffin papers…and I get baking!
Recipe: Medjool Date Muffins filled with Maple Chèvre
Mix together and set aside:
1/2 C. plain chèvre (homemade if you have it)
1 t. meyer (or regular) lemon zest
1 T. real maple syrup
1/2 t. vanilla
2 C. plus 1 T. Pamela’s Gluten Free Baking Mix
1/4 t. fine sea salt
1 t. coconut flour (or an extra Tablespoon baking mix)
2 jumbo eggs, or 2 large eggs plus one extra white
1/2 C. coconut palm sugar
1/3 C. olive oil (or melted coconut oil)
1 C. goat milk kefir (or buttermilk)
1 C. pitted and chopped medjool dates (or dried figs)
Preheat oven to 425°. Line nine jumbo or twelve regular sized muffin tins with unbleached papers, or oil thoroughly. Make chèvre mixture. Pit and chop dates. Sift dry ingredients in to mixing bowl. Beat wet ingredients together with sugar and then mix wet into dry. Fold dates into batter, making sure to separate clumps as you add them. Spoon batter into muffin tins. Top each one with a teaspoon of chèvre mixture (which should sink into center of muffin as it bakes) and bake for 15-20 minutes until tops are golden brown and a toothpick comes out clean. Cool for 5-10 minutes in tins before moving to a wire rack. Serve to people you love.