Date Balls

IMG_1246One 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.IMG_1254

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.IMG_1247

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.IMG_1251

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.IMG_1257

Date Balls

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

Directions:

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

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No-Bake Chocolate Peanut Butter Bites

IMG_2440I’m sitting here in shorts and a tank top, the thermometer reads 78.4 degrees, and I have an awesome tan line on my neck/shoulder from wearing a side ponytail all day while out in the sun (<—fail). So basically, for all us Pacific Northwest wussies, it’s a sweltering summer day. Sorry if you happen to live in Phoenix or something and would give up an arm and a leg to have a 78.4-degree day right about now, but up here in the land of clouds and drizzle we consider this a hot day indeed. Or at least I do. But I still love it!

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Even though I really do enjoy the warmer weather, it certainly doesn’t make me too excited to turn on the oven for a baking project in the middle of the day. Instead I turn toward no-bake desserts like these awesome little energy bites. The good news about these treats is that they aren’t full of fat and sugar to weigh you down. They’re made with a super short list of fresh, healthy ingredients and are gluten-free, vegan, and contain only natural sugars. (If you’re making them gluten-free, be sure to use gf oats!) You do need a food processor for these, but if you don’t have one don’t worry. Just try these other wonderful energy balls instead!IMG_2451

My family went nuts over these cookie-dough-like bites. They’re perfect as an after-dinner treat or as a little snack to pick you up from an afternoon slump. You could even grab a few for breakfast! I love how in a matter of minutes I can be eating these delicious, nutritious little balls in a house that hasn’t turned into a sauna from a 350-degree oven. It’s almost like eating chunks of oatmeal-chocolate-peanut butter cookie dough, but the ingredients are actually good for you…summer eating at its finest!IMG_2444

No-Bake Chocolate Peanut Butter Bites

Makes about 24 small bites

1/2 cup peanut butter

1/2 cup quick-cook oats

2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2 cup dates (about 12 dates, or 86 grams)

2 tablespoons water*

Shredded coconut, mini chocolate chips, or extra cocoa powder for rolling (optional)

Directions:

In a food processor, combine all ingredients except for the water. Process until the mixture clumps together. Add in the water and pulse until incorporated. Pinch off pieces of the mixture and form into small balls (I ended up with about 2 dozen). Roll in shredded coconut, chocolate chips, or cocoa powder if desired. Store the bites in the refrigerator.

*To make the bites a little sweeter, substitute 1 tablespoon agave nectar, honey, or maple syrup for 1 tablespoon of the water

(Recipe adapted from Chocolate Covered Katie)