Saturday, April 8, 2017

Tilting at Windmills
What’s cooking? Date Shakes

Just to be clear, I don’t actually have imaginary enemies, but I really wanted windmills in the headline, and that’s all that came to mind. I might, on the other hand, have a few imaginary friends. Have to think about that one.

My hubby and I recently returned from the latest in a series of biennial reunions among his college friends and their wives. Yes, you heard me correctly: biennial. Every two years for the last decade, we’ve gotten together with this group – guys my mate lived with his junior and senior years, plus their wives – in various places around the country, depending on who was foolish enough to volunteer as host. And if you’re wondering, yes, we hosted four years ago, and it was such fun, I/we have actually offered to do it again.

This year, we went to Palm Springs, where we took over a delightful boutique hotel called The Monkey Tree. We played golf and croquet (not your grandfather’s game – this one on whites-only, tightly manicured lawns), swam, hiked, biked, shopped, and generally shot the breeze for four days.

Then we found the windmills. Someone got the idea of touring the windmill farm in Desert Hot Springs, just outside Palm Springs on US10. Totally amazing. We learned more, really, than we even wanted to know about the history of wind power generation and the renewable energy industry; but being a massively geeky group, we loved it. It turns out that the San Gorgonio Pass, the gateway into Coachella Valley which extends southeast from Palm Springs, is one of the windiest places in California. So it’s a natural habitat for the more than 4,000 windmills there.

Just to give you some perspective on the size of these puppies.

At the end of the tour, the bus stopped at this place, Windmill Market, a few miles west of town on a barren stretch of Indian Canyon Drive. Where we were all treated to date shakes. OMG. The Kitchen Goddess was in heaven. Big, gloppy milkshakes like we used to get at the local drugstore soda fountain, where you sat on stools that twirled and watched while they poured milk and ice cream into those big metal cups. Oh, my. And these drinks were flavored with dates grown nearby, at Leja Farms.

Now, before you get all “ewww-y” on me about the dates, let me say that there must have been 25 people at this little store, and every single one of them guzzled those shakes down like there was no tomorrow.

So of course, the KG had to try it at home. And she has two versions that you will absolutely love. She won’t promise they’re as good as the ones from Windmill Market, where you can slurp their cool, creamy sweetness while gazing at the San Bernadino Mountains and the swanlike grace of the giant wind turbines. Like that fresh clams oreganata you had on the Amalfi Coast, the atmosphere gets a lot of credit for improving the taste. But first...

More than you ever wanted to know about dates: The dates to use are Medjool dates, larger and thinner-skinned than most other varieties. The fruit is rich in dietary fiber, which prevents LDL cholesterol absorption, and high in iron (oxygen in blood), potassium (heart rate and blood pressure), and B-vitamins (eye health). Coachella Valley is the date capital of the U.S. More than 90 percent of dates harvested in the U.S. are grown there.

I could go on, but will limit myself to this one cute story. Historically, dates have long been an essential element in Middle Eastern diets; evidence of date palm cultivation has been found that goes as far back as 4000 BC. But they aren’t native to the U.S. At the turn of the 20th century, when USFDA experts were looking for ways to expand U.S. agriculture, they noted that the climate and soil conditions in the Coachella Valley were similar to those of Algeria, so they arranged for 9,000 Arabian palms to be shipped to California. Most recently, palms in Morocco and Algeria have been practically wiped out by disease, and some Americans have returned the favor by sending healthy stock back to its homeland. Maybe this is how we achieve world peace.

Kitchen Goddess note: When you make your shake, you’ll notice that it doesn’t really look like enough for 2 people. I say it serves 2 because it’s very rich and very filling. Which is not to say you can’t just drink the whole thing yourself. The KG, in fact, downed a whole batch for breakfast on the day she made these, without even an ounce of regret. But she did feel much like oinking for most of the morning.

Date Shake

Adapted from Kim Severson in The New York Times (October 19, 2010)

Serves 2.

4 pitted Medjool dates, coarsely chopped
½ cup cold milk (whole, low-fat, or skim, though whole is the choice for the richest drugstore fountain experience)
1-1¼ cups good vanilla ice cream
Optional garnishes: whipped cream, a few gratings of nutmeg

Combine the dates with half of the milk in a blender, and blend on high speed until the dates are smoothly puréed. Add the ice cream and the rest of the milk and blend until well incorporated and smooth. Pour and enjoy.

And now for a slightly different take on the same concept...

Creamsicle Date Shake

Serves 2.

Instead of the cold milk, make your date shake with fresh orange juice and vanilla ice cream.

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