Dates dates dates!

"Dates, we could all use more of them ;)" said the DC metro food tours guide during  an Eastern market food tour I took with my friend Sylvie this past Sunday. And I cannot agree more. While I've been through this market a few dozen times, I always pass by certain items - like dates. As part of the tasting tour, dates were one of our treats. And I have to say, WHY don't I eat more of them? I've had them before, but I never buy them, and they are sublime! 

As I took some out tonight I thought to myself, why don't we eat them more often? Where do they originate from? What do they go best with? What kind of nutrients are in them? What's the best way to store them? Are they grown sustainably? I know nothing about dates! And every delicious taste experience should be an opportunity to learn. So I dug up the answers, and if you're as curious as I am to find out all about dates, read on! 

Ok, granted, dates aren't the most attractive thing to look at, but give these sticky shriveled fruits a chance. They come from the date palm, a tree native to North Africa and the Middle East. This I had a hunch about as they were commonplace in Egypt when I visited in 2007/08. The Egyptians consider dates as a symbol of fertility. The fruits are cultivated in other parts of the world too (with similar sub-tropical, desert like conditions, Southern Cali being one) and are one of the world's oldest cultivated fruits.

Sustainable? - well, somewhat. The date palm back in the day was used in its entirety (for food, for drink, for weaving, for fuel) and did literally sustain livelihoods. Known still today as the bread of the desert these dates have the highest natural sugar content of any fruit. Admittedly, I need to do more research on how sustainably this treat is grown these days..

Season - Fresh dates are available Aug-Dec and dried ones are found year round. 

There are 3 types but many varieties - soft (like Medjool which are what I ate), semi-soft (like Deglet Noor,), and dry (Thoory). They ripen in 4 stages. I'm familiar with the ripe soft stage. 

Storage -  so semi-soft dates should be refrigerated (upto 6 months) and stored in air tight containers, but, be aware that they will get hard. For the ripe ones, if you eat them often, store in cupboards, and if not, store them in the fridge and to soften them up, soak them in warm water. You can use the date water i'm sure, don't toss away that flavor!

Nutritional value/health benefits - interestingly, nutrients and vitamin content vary with different types and ripeness of dates. These little desert wonders are chock full of carbs, fiber, potassium, and some protein. And they are very good for those with digestive disorders. I read that they are a cure for alcohol intoxication too.

Now, how can you eat them? Just as they are (in fact they can be great on-the-go travel snacks), but first, please take a moment to smell them. The natural caramel-like syrupy smell is so divine. Then bite into the moist glossy date and enjoy. The food tour paired dates with almonds - take the seed out and stuff the almond in - really good combination. Or stuff them with peanut butter as an old colleague of mine introduced me to ages ago (thanks Rebecca F!). 

And of course, you can cook with them! - I went on epicurious and got 154 hits. Pick one and go have a date!


Seattle - not just rated #1 for delicious coffee!

I recently went to Seattle for the first time and it was a breath of fresh air. Literally. The city was ranked this year with the #1 top air quality in the U.S. And that's not all - in fact it was rated as this year's top "large" (population over 250,000) city in the U.S by NRDC in their Smarter Cities rankings. Let me break it down - #1 in air quality (achieved because they use hydoelectric plants to produce 90% of its power), green building, and energy production and conservation :) And some other not so shoddy grades in green space, recycling and overall standard of living, to name a few. Out of 9 criteria and put up against 75 other large cities this environmentally savvy city is I think, a model to aspire to. Seattle's Mayor Nickels has introduced global warming initiatives that provide incentives to carpool, and be more energy efficient, and the city offers a FREE Carbon Coach training program to allow citizens to educate and teach others how to reduce their emissions. What a fabulous idea!
The city's environmental record, along with its plethora of independent coffee shops, large farmers markets, friendly people and delicious food has made me a #1 fan.
A couple
of my favorite food finds while I was there (recommended for when you visit) :
The Crumpet Shop -
these spongy, porous muffin/pancake-y wonders can be topped with everything from nutella to eggs and ham to marmite and they are a wonderful texture, slightly crunchy, chewy and soft. Amazing. And the staff is super friendly.
- salami, salami, all kinds of peppered and fennel and sweet salami. Lines are always long, this place has the Bourdain stamp and the sandwiches are delish, but could use a little more salami.

Now what will it take for DC to be a top ten Smart City next year? They were only #31 this year. Interested to see how smart your city is? See rankings here.


Onward to greenville

Welcome readers. This blog has been a long time in the making, but my most recent trip through the green valleys of the west coast of North America have once again brought to the forefront the importance of being green, the joy of nature and breathing fresh air, the pleasure of local eating, and the constant reminder that I want and need to be more sustainable wherever I go. My love of food and travel often collide with being sustainable and green, and I am no green angel, but I shall, through this blog, seek to be a little more mindful as I find suitable substitutes and appropriate alternatives to things I can't yet give up, and find ways to stretch my dollars wisely while shrinking my footprint steadily.

Please enjoy. And bring on your comments, questions, and healthy debate.