I don’t wish to frighten the horses, people, but Christmas is a matter of weeks away and it’s time to talk dates.
Not first dates, or blind dates or hot dates; those were the kind of dates I concerned myself with as a younger person. Back then, three dates in a day meant going out for breakfast, lunch and dinner with three different blokes. No wonder I had such a battle to keep the weight off in my twenties, right?
No, I’m talking about Phoenix dactylifera – the fruit of the date palm.
As a youth, my only experience of edible dates came around Christmas time with the introduction to the fruit bowl of a packet of ‘Eat Me’ dried dates – product of more than one country.
You might remember them. They came in a long packet with rounded ends and the words ‘Eat Me’ in yellow and red.
Inside, there was the novelty plastic twig with which to spear the sticky, dried fruits. Usually the plastic twig would go missing, to be found sometime in April down the back of a sofa.
The dates would sit in the fruit bowl alongside the walnuts. It was really only my mum who liked them. She would settle down in front of the Morecombe and Wise Christmas Special and pluck out that plastic twig.
For the rest of us, the dates were the stuff of last resort. Once we’d eaten all the Quality Street, drained the chocolate liqueurs and been unable to locate the nut crackers, we might just reach for the plastic twig ourselves. I only say ‘might.’
The thing was, we’d been on holiday to the States when I was nine years old and found ourselves in a hotel overrun with cockroaches. The cockroaches which covered the walls and floor of our hotel room were small, oval and brown.
They looked like moving dates.
Thereafter, when I looked in the Eat Me box, I could only see a whole community of cockroaches spooning each other.
And like cockroaches, they seemed to be able to last forever. Well, at least until February.
Life however, moves on. Even memories of cockroaches fade.
And the time came when I discovered Medjool dates, sold loose at the greengrocer’s. I bought five to try.
The mere act of purchasing them made me feel healthy. Hell, I’d read those articles by Deliciously Ella! I’d heard about the efficient workings of celebrity bowels made perfect by swapping Hob Nobs for dried fruit.
I may not be a celebrity myself, but I can enjoy celebrity bowel health!
By the time I’d got back to the car with my shopping, I’d eaten the five fat dates and felt like Cleopatra. Brilliantly sweet and chewy, I knew I’d found something to rival my love of the Curly Wurly.
I’ve just spent a week in the UAE, the actual home of the hot date.
Middle Eastern cuisine is peppered with dates; they’re in curries and salads and breads and mezze and puddings and there’s no getting away from them.
They come stuffed with pistachios and orange peel and walnuts and cheese and god knows what else.
I loaded up with duty free dates and flew home.
This week, I tried a dietary experiment. I went sugar free for three days.
In place of the two digestives I have with a cup of tea around 4pm at work, I ate two Medjool dates.
Perfect. It worked. You just don’t dunk the date, obvs.
The following day I rejected a brownie in favour of another two dates.
By day three, I’d forgotten how good the filling between layers in an Angel cake was. And it didn’t bother me.
“I can do sugar free,” I thought smugly. “Forget Deliciously Ella and welcome Sensationally Sam!”
On day four I popped into Asda (don’t judge) and by chance in the seasonal aisle, alongside the Terry’s Chocolate Oranges were boxes of Medjoul Dates ‘stuffed with orange peel, chopped pistachios and marzipan, dipped in milk and white chocolate.’
Dried fruit. And chocolate. A combination to give a girl pause for thought.
What would Cleopatra do?
Life is about compromise. And you can’t be good all the time.
Christmas is coming. Get dating!