Date Night With Martha!- Whole Wheat Date Bars! -237 eggs, 180 1/2 cups of sugar, 182 sticks of Butter, and 226 1/2 cups of flour used so far- 35 recipes to go!

September 5, 2011

Martha's Whole Wheat Date Bars

André's Whole Wheat Date Bars

Dates get a bad wrap as far as I’m concerned. People view them as large raisins, akin to prunes or other high-fiber dried fruits prescribed to the elderly to maintain regularity, certainly not as something that could be enjoyed of one’s own free will. I, however, find dates a delicious treat and Martha’s Whole Wheat Date Bars proved to be one fantastic cookie. Mona is a friend and co-worker who has been a terrific ally at my workplace and a huge supporter of my work with AIDS Walk as well as always lending a sympathetic and supportive ear. Her birthday seemed the perfect occasion to whip up a batch of Whole Wheat Date Bars.

Although the name lends this cookie an illusion of being healthy, it still contains a little over a stick of butter (but lets not focus on that). A bit like a fig newton, these bars are first made by pulling together a dough made of whole wheat flour, wheat bran, butter, salt, brown sugar, lemon zest, egg and applesauce. The dough is chilled and then rolled into two large rectangles which are filled with a date mixture made of reconstituted and ground medjool dates and apple cider. The dough is then folded and pressed at the seam to envelop the date filling. They are then baked until slightly golden and allowed to cool. Once cooled they are sliced into newton-sized bars and are good for up to three days if stored in an air-tight container.

These bars are absolutely delicious. The dough is slightly sweet, flavored with apples and brown sugar and the dark, almost smokey flavor of the date filling is perfectly complimented by the soft yet sturdy texture of the dough. Mona was quite happy to see these waiting for her at her desk. Her mother, she informed me, used to buy a mix to make date bars as a family treat and she hadn’t had a chance to enjoy them since. I was very happy to hear this. Flavors and smells can be such strong mnemonics and I was glad to hear these had evoked a sense of happy nostalgia in my dear friend.

I recently ran into a friend who is an avid reader of my blog and told me he enjoyed most of my stories but had concerns I was working through some psychological stuff through all this baking and blogging. I just love pop psychology. Don’t you? I told him I thought most of us were working through psychological stuff all of the time. We all wake up in the morning and process our daily grind and unexpected events through the filters of our own personal experiences. I assured him I’m not a terribly sad person and I’m not sending out my stories as some sort of call for help but rather I’m simply documenting this cookie endeavor and disciplining myself to try to recall and write about my experiences growing up. If people like to read them, great. If not, I’ll survive.  I walked away thinking he wasn’t really convinced of my mental stability but convincing people of my emotional soundness has never been a big priority for me.

Still, our conversation made me think about what filters I was experiencing my life through. For instance, I’ve been watching a lot of local news lately. Mostly to keep an eye on the weather. I think as one grows older these sort of things matter more. I don’t know why but, in any case, I’ve developed a sort-of addiction to weather forecasts. Watching these evening newscasts I’m struck by the sheer number of murders and injuries due to gun violence. Just last night two cousins in the East part of town (that’s our local news’ polite way of indicating the predominately African American section of Kansas City) settled a heated dispute by shooting each other in their Aunt’s house. These types of reports are daily occurrences. No one seems surprised they are happening and no one seems to have an idea of how to make them stop.

I have a deep-rooted visceral reaction whenever I hear about gun violence. I have an even deeper reaction when I hear people defending the current lack of regulations around gun ownership. It has to do with my personal filter. I grew up in a quiet subdivision in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, a predominately middle-class neighborhood filled mostly with retirees in ranch-style, brick houses with large, moss-covered trees stretching block after block. No one notable came our of our neighborhood and even if they did, no one would’ve noticed. The only time the neighborhood got into an uproar was when a black family purchased a home in the middle of the block. They were the first non-white family to move into the Broadmoor subdivision since it was built in the late fifties. People were angry that the seller had agreed to make the sale. They thought it was understood that Broadmoor was to stay white and that property values would decline by letting “those people” in. Even my mother, who I always viewed as being more level-headed about such matters, told me I didn’t understand how badly this would affect our home’s value.

So up until the late eighties our neighborhood was white. As white and as a middle-class neighborhood could be. And yet in our quiet subdivision there was violence. A lot of it, in my estimation.

Death has always been an obsession of mine. Violent death, to be precise. It has always been a favorite topic of my dad’s, of most Southern Louisiana folks, to be honest. My paternal grandmother would speak of almost nothing else, as would my dad and his brothers and sisters. I would watch old black & white movies and my dad would gleefully rattle off the names of the deceased actors and how they met their untimely and unfortunate ends. Death seemed to be the topic du jour at every family gathering where stories would be exuberantly traded, each person trying to out-gore the next.

I was fascinated. Being the son of a life insurance salesman, I had been keenly aware of my own mortality from a very early age. Death lived in the dark wood paneling of our musty living room. It lurked in the pile of orange shag carpeting that stretched from wall-to-wall. Every cup of coffee, every bowl of sugar, every fried donut was spiced with a smidge of death. Anyplace where two or more gathered, death was there to be discussed, gossiped and debated. It wasn’t a distant, looming specter. It was a familiar relative, a palpable being who visited often and took unexpectedly, a figure of greed or lust or hunger and we delighted in it.

Strange? Perhaps. During my childhood, our quiet neighborhood had seen its share. There was a murder by stabbing, a planned assassination (one of the first of its kind captured on video), a murder-suicide with an innocent bystander injured, two murders/burglaries, an attempted suicide, an accidental suicide and a successful suicide.  This doesn’t, of course, count a slew of natural deaths within the neighborhood, including my maternal grandfather, the young girl across the street and her father and two deadly plane crashes affecting my dad’s side of the family in Bordelonville and Metairie.

It wasn’t until adulthood I realized that this was not a normal amount of violent crime to grow up around. I hardly ever broach this topic around friends. I learned that most people find the subject distasteful. But when my family and I get together, the stories pour out.

All of these twisted and violent events were part of my experience growing up in Southern Louisiana and will be the stories I’ll write a bit about in the next few posts.

Until then, try not watching the local news… unless it’s the weather report.


2 Responses to “Date Night With Martha!- Whole Wheat Date Bars! -237 eggs, 180 1/2 cups of sugar, 182 sticks of Butter, and 226 1/2 cups of flour used so far- 35 recipes to go!”

  1. Chelsea Says:

    I love this post Andre! Not as devastatingly emotional (in a “hurt so good” sort of way) as others, but packed full of interesting topics that make me wish we were sharing a fag (you know what I mean) and the time to talk about it all. I think you’re wrong, by the way, about everyone working through their shit all the time. I think most people don’t and that’s probably why your fan is such an avid reader. I think most people get on auto at some point and forget to reflect. That’s why I love your blogs. I love baking and am totally impressed with your dedication to Martha and her seemingly ridiculously, difficult tasks, but honestly, I can’t wait to get to the “good part” of your posts where you tell a story about your past. Its like getting a novel in installments from a weekly paper. I’m grateful for the times when our lives overlapped because my memory is so horrible and you make me feel what it was like at that time, but I’m always interested to hear about the times before and since we’ve met. If you are working “stuff” out through your writing, so fuck! That’s one of the greatest gifts of writing and the fact that it is enjoyable is bonus.
    I completely understand the death thing. My mom is obsessed with obituaries. Just last night she was reading to me about someone we knew who passed away that she found out about through the o-bits. She also read to me a long o-bit that was not anyone we knew but fascinating all the same.
    Also, I think Louisiana has a peaceful surface ready to explode like an alligator springing from the water most of the time. Makes for some very interesting story-telling so I can sympathize with your obsessions.
    Anyway, like I said, wish we could discuss in person. Thanks for sharing.

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