One of the perks of being born and raised in Colorado for the first nine years of my life was the access to incredible skiing. The town my family lived in was only about 40 minutes from Vail, one of the most stunning ski towns in the United States, and during the winter we frequented various other ski slopes. I had my first skiing lesson when I was six, and quickly graduated from the conveyor belt of the kiddie slopes to the real white powder of the “grown-up” slopes. I loved the thrill that came with riding the chair lift up to the top of the peaks, my skis swinging below me as I gazed down at the busy white world below. Sure, there were several occasions where I failed to smoothly glide off the chair lift at the top of the mountain and ended up in a heap on the snowbank beside the operator station, skis twisted and snowsuit dampened, but I loved those cold, quiet rides.
Even better was the whoosh of icy air as I pointed my toes downward and took off, refusing to wait for my brother and dad…or to turn. I preferred to go straight down the slope, hoping that others would make room for me as I whizzed by, a tiny figure in a pink-and-purple snowsuit. This fearlessness clashed with my usual shy, conscientious demeanor, and I nearly gave my dad a heart attack on several occasions.
My favorite part of each ski slope was the “camel humps,” which were essentially a roller-coaster of carefully molded snow. Sometimes I tripped and lost a ski (or a boot), but I loved the sensation of flying and falling, flying and falling, over and over. After several runs, when my feet, nose, and hands were pink and numb, my dad would lead my brother and me back into the lodge. We would shuffle in our awkward ski boots to a table in the darkened room, where we would drink something hot and rest our tired legs.
Long gone are the days where I clomped around in ski gear across the cobblestones of Vail Resort, but I still hold those memories tightly. In a moment of happy nostalgia this summer, I stumbled across a spiral-bound cookbook given to my family many years ago, compiled by the mothers of two of my dad’s ex-students. It is entitled Red Checkered Picnics, and features recipes that were created for gourmet ski tours across Colorado. I can’t say I’ve ever packed a gourmet picnic to take on a cross-country ski trip, but I have tried out many recipes from Red Checkered Picnics over the years.
This summer, as I flipped past the molasses-and-flour stained pages of the cookie section, a recipe popped out at me. Date Balls, which I probably would have gagged at as a picky eight-year-old, suddenly sounded perfect. As much as I love the tranquil predictability that comes with making “regular” cookies (cream the butter and sugar, add eggs and vanilla, stir in the flour…), I was up for something a little different. This recipe looked fast, easy, delicious, and somewhat healthier than your typical cookie fare. Feeling like my young, aspiring-baker self from back in the days of camel humps and chair lifts, I spread open the familiar cookbook on the counter and rolled up my sleeves.
Whether or not you pack up these Date Balls to take on a long day of outdoor adventures, they’ll provide you with a most delicious source of energy! They are packed full of crunchy sunflower seeds, chewy dates, and a sweet honey-butter reduction, all rolled in flaky coconut. Make them as big (or as small) as you want, and store them in the fridge for the best results. And is it just me, or do things always taste better when they’re made from a cookbook you know and love? I mean, the internet is great (for goodness sake, I’m writing on a blog here), but there’s nothing like flipping through the well-worn pages of a favorite cookbook. It’s like gliding onto a ski slope after years and years of absence. Can you tell I’m a little nostalgic
sometimes all the time? Haha. Even though these Date Balls triggered a trip down memory lane for me, they can still trigger some delicious enjoyment for all of you! They really are fast, tasty, and super easy. No skiing experience required.
Makes 2-3 dozen balls
2 cups chopped, pitted dates
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
1/2 cup honey
1 egg, beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 cups sunflower seeds, chopped
1/2 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
In a medium-sized saucepan, stir together the honey, egg, vanilla, and salt. Add the stick of butter and place over medium-low heat, stirring often, until the butter is melted. Add in the chopped dates, increase the heat to medium-high, and bring the mixture to a rolling boil. Boil for 1 minute, stirring constantly, then remove from heat and transfer to a mixing bowl.
Stir in the sunflower seeds and place the bowl in the refrigerator for about an hour, or until cold. Form the mixture into balls and roll in shredded coconut. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator.
Recipe adapted from Red Checkered Picnics