Last weekend, some friends and I were shuffling through a handful of antique stores in the Portland metropolitan area when one of them happened upon an old tin of date crystals from Shields Date Farm in Indio, California. Upon seeing its bright yellows and blues, I was instantly transported back to my time in Southern California. Around this time of year in 2010, I was in the midst of a demanding pediatric psychology internship at Children's Hospital of Orange County, had just finished a week of being on-call for the emergency department, and wanted desperately to get away for the weekend...a feeling I can identify with right now. February in Seattle, even one as balmy as this one has been, is perhaps the toughest month of the year, when the gray skies have worn out their welcome and spring coyishly flirts with its residents before winter sneaks up from behind and gives you a wedgie, reminding you that many a chilly (okay, chilly for Seattle) day lies ahead.
Back to 2010. In my quest to escape the rigors of my final year of graduate school, I set my sights on Joshua Tree National Park and Palm Springs, a mere two hours' drive from where I was living at the time. The weekend was a memorable one, and not just because it was the first time I heard a Justin Bieber song. Joshua Tree National Park is an other-worldly, peaceful place to explore the beauty of the desert, provided you remember the "look, don't touch" rule when it comes to cactuses and scorpions.
The group of Eastern European tourists that had arrived at the cholla cactus garden inside Joshua Tree had, unfortunately, never heard of this rule. I pulled up to the garden mid-day, the interior of my charcoal gray Mazda 6 sending off fumes of 'Murica under the scorching sun. Upon exiting my toaster of a transport, I noticed that one of the members of the tour group had reached down toward a fallen section of cholla that had rolled outside the fenced-in garden. Cholla propagate by sending segments of their delicately-attached branches on the backs of roaming animals, or perhaps taken by the wind, laying on top of the parched earth until they propel their tiny roots into the ground, securing a place for the newly-established cholla. Before anyone could say a word, the tourist lovingly picked up the fallen, spiky demon of torture and lifted it up for the others to examine. The cholla's barbs quickly sunk into her fingertips, causing a shriek of pain to echo through the desert. Instinctively, she reached over with her other hand to pull the cholla off the first. Both hands had become attached to the cholla, producing an inhuman cry as she gazed down at her new handmuff. Shouts proceeded from the group, with a particularly valiant(?) young man jumping in to pull the cholla off with his own bare hands. It was like that Spice Girls song, "When Two Become One," but less sultry and more screamy.
When one has had quite enough of hiking through the desert, Oasis Date Gardens is waiting for you with something sweet and refreshing. Although I've never been a fan of dates (to which my single status will attest), the clamoring online reviews of this tasty treat enticed me to partake of this creamy, dreamy, caramelly concoction. Perhaps you want to enjoy it whilst perusing the selection of dates and date-related items in the gift shop, or perchance while sitting on a cheery picnic bench, or maybe during a stroll down the rows and rows of date palms.
Alas, you are probably sitting at home, far away from sunny SoCal, shivering in your PJs and watching the snow fall outside. Here, let me bring you a little sunshine.
¼ c or more of dates, seeded and chopped
½ c milk
3-4 scoops vanilla ice cream
There are a variety of date shakes available online, some with coconut milk and diary-free ice cream for our vegan friends, others suggesting that a specific type of date tastes better than others. I find that it's really a matter of taste, which means that you should just buy a bunch of dates, a gallon of milk, and at least half a gallon of ice cream, use the recipe above as a starting point, and keep experimenting until you find your sweet spot. A few tips...be sure to remove the seeds if they didn't come pitted and, if you can, process the dates and milk on high to get a smoother texture before you add the ice cream. As my 6-year-old self can attest, the more you stir ice cream, the faster it becomes soup. Enjoy!