Early in the morning, Lucy and I snuggled under the cozy blanket on the wide chair by the window. I knew about Brussels, more senseless deaths, carnage. She remained free of it. We opened my battered old hardcover copy of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Days before, I started reading it to her. I’ve been waiting for just the right age. Ten words in, she was amazed. For days, we had been galloping through chapters, morning and night, she laughing with delight. Early in the morning, I read the chapter where Charlie, whittled thin with starvation, finds the dollar bill in the snow. He rushes to the tobacconist and gulps down a chocolate, joy in every enormous bite. And then, deciding to treat himself, he buys another, opens it, and finds the golden ticket. Lucy was silent, body waiting, listening. When he found the ticket, she jumped high in the chair, giggling and shouting. And I gulped back tears, remembering my own delight in this book at her age and seeing hers before me at the same time.
Sometimes, life makes no sense, with the hatred and lives exploded in an instant. Most of the time, we’re all so damned caught up in the intense scrutiny of tiny details we won’t remember later. But there are moments like this one — started by art or nature or eating good food — that remind me just how lucky we are to be here.
gluten-free oatmeal date bars
Desmond, who turned 2 this week, shares our love of food. He’s chopping plastic vegetables on a cutting board on the counter next to us as we cook. He always wants to know what Daddy is doing in the kitchen. He knows that food is important to us. But he won’t sit down for a meal. Sitting still for a full meal is a lot to ask for any 2-year-old but this little guy moves. He’s naturally a grazer — 4 or 5 bites of food every 45 minutes, then off to look for helicopters in the sky or dance to Beyonce with his sister. (And if a fire engine goes by on the main highway, we have to run outside to see it. “Mama, the engine helps the people who are hurting. They are helping.”) He has a great palate: his three favorite foods are pickled ginger, braised white beans, and apples with hummus. Mostly, though? Dates. He will inhale dates. Since we want his few bites every hour to be meaningful, I started making these date-oatmeal bars for the afternoon snack time. Oh, they are a hit. And for a few moments, as he chews on these crunchy-on-the-edges-soft-in-the-center cookies, we are all happy and quiet together.
I used almond flour here because the flavor of almonds and dates together are fantastic. (Honeyville makes the finest-ground almond flour, to my taste.) If you can’t do tree nuts, feel free to substitute our all-purpose gluten-free flour. We’re pretty much always using coconut sugar these days, since I find the caramel flavor far more complex than white sugar. And this is an easy recipe to make, a one-bowl mix-it-up that can be in the oven in 10 minutes. With so much reading and running to do around here, that’s a welcome gift.
Prepare to bake. Heat the oven to 350°. Grease an 8×8 square pan with the fat of your choice.
Chop the dates. Chop the dates as finely as you can, chopping in rhythm, back and forth, until the date pieces are all less than 1/2-inch big.
Make the batter. Set a small pan on medium heat. Melt the butter in the hot pan. Remove it from the heat and pour the butter into a large bowl. Add the dates to the bowl and coat them with the butter. Add the sugar, almond flour, baking powder, and kosher salt. Stir them all up with a rubber spatula. Add the egg, vanilla, and oats. Stir it all up until everything is evenly incorporated.
Pat the dough into the prepared pan and spread it evenly to the edges of the pan.
Bake the cookies. Bake until the edges of the cookie are browning, the center set, and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, 20 to 25 minutes.
Let the cookies cool for 30 minutes, then cut it into squares and serve.