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Do you need a new lunch box snack in your life? Do you need something that is nut free/ dairy free/wheat free/ refined sugar free and manages to sneak a sly vegetable into whoever is consuming it? If so, I think I can help. These date and sesame bars may just be what you’re looking for. They’re politely sweet and sturdy enough to quell the 10 am hungry yaps. They work well as a breakfast on the fly. And if you’re one of the folk who can’t abide baked bananas (yes, I know you lurk among us), they also manage to lean on another source for pliability (mashed sweet potatoes, I”m looking at you). If these sound like something you’re in need of, stat, then skip straight to the matching photo and recipe at the bottom. If you have the wherewithal for a bit of navel gazing, updates and endorsements, read on. 

I wrote something on Instagram a week or so ago. I might have spooked a couple of people out about the state of my mental landscape. I was ruminating while sitting on the side of a soft play park, watching one of my offspring totter and tumble. It had been a rough week. I may have forgotten to eat breakfast that day.

Motherhood tastes like:
The nub of a sausage, abandoned on a plate.
Crudites of futility (batons of carrot and cucumber pushed to the side of a melamine plate with a cartoon face that you salvage while piling cups into the sink).
Fenugreek.
Chocolate eaten in secret in the pantry.
Cold apple juice sipped through a straw on the floor of an emergency room’s triage, while two nurses try to insert a nasal gastric tube into your floppy, yet flailing daughter.
Crusts of $17 organic stoneground sourdough toast with avocado that your child ate three bites of.
Ground pepper that you licked off the top of the toast to induce them to eat some of it.
Mango, banana and pear infant squeezies found stashed in your handbag and sucked in a hangry haze straight from the pack, while a child stealth-naps in a stationary car.
Warm pink wine, drunk from paper cups at the park on Friday afternoons.
Meatballs. The same you made in bulk as a shared cooking project with a four year old; lovingly squelched and formed. That the child then refused to eat, because he can see a speck of green in one.
The sudsy mint of Rennies.
Slices of apple, slightly brown on the crest.
Cherry paracetamol syrup, spilled all over your chest.
Licks of strawberry ice cream, to dam the tide of it as it melts down onto dimpled sticky hands.
Double shot lattes, with a side of guilt, because you forgot your re usable Keep Cups, once again.
Cold tea.

There had been a lot of cold tea that week.

It turns out simple sniffles can turn scary in little ones quickly, as they slide from boisterous barky coughs, to limpish in your lap. Bronchiolitis was not a word I knew how to spell before this year. Now I’ve got it down pat. And somehow the universe knows to invite this house guest across the threshold just as my spouse steps onto an international flight.

Here’s something I know about adrenaline. It’s a master that believes in compound interest. The full impact of holding my daughter down for twenty minutes with the weight of my body while two nervous health professionals struggled to insert a tube down her nose and into her stomach and she screamed and her brown eyes pleaded at me to make them stop wasn’t felt until a full week later. We were some of the lucky ones in the fluorescent light of the isolation ward in pediatrics. We got to come home from hospital after a day. That’s the thing with little ones. As quickly as they fall, the bounce back. Fluids, oxygen, rest and affection. Often they don’t need much more than that. It’s just a breathless day, long rattly night and a crash course that teaches you pyjamas that allow access to small feet will be most useful in hospital, so bleeping monitors can be attached to their toes. After that; she’ll be right. 

A Trauma Teddy that is hand knitted in fuchsia and aqua wool now sits on the mantle of her room as the main legacy of her stay. On we came home, retrieved her brother from the kind care of friends and cut off her identifying bracelet we beavered on with the week we planned;  a day of shopping and baking and writing and packing. A night drive down south for my mother’s birthday (cake in tow), to parties, then home to another bloated week and more house guests. 

Yet the fear and adrenaline of it all came flooding back at the side of a soft play centre with the smell of a neighboring plastic bottle of apple juice with a sippy cap top. It was apple juice that one of the nurses gave me to sip when the walls narrowed, the horizon tilted, my brow beaded and I slid down to the floor when they called for a consult to confirm if they had accidentally inserted the tube into her lungs, instead of her stomach.

I don’t know what the taste of motherhood really is. I’m just stabbing in the dark. This is a degustation and I’m not even past the cold courses at the start. 

So all of that may help explain why there are no apples in this slice, though I suspect you could just as easily substitute apple puree for sweet potato in this recipe. Instead it’s chock full of sesame- both in tahini and the seeds itself, which is an excellent source of calcium for those who need to be dairy free. It’s also brimming with dates and oats and chia seeds (known for some unknown reason as dragon seeds in our house), all because Evie likes them.

And really, right now she can have anything she darn well likes. She’s right as rain now. And I am too (nearly). 

Here are a few other things that are going on

Watching: ‘Younger’. It took a full season for me to drink the Kool Aid that is ‘Younger’. Initially the premise was noxious (Forty something woman who takes time out of workforce to raise children, then discovers on divorce that the only way she can be reemployed in publishing is to enact a charade where she is 26 years old). Hillary Duff was a postcard from my own youth and Darren Starr’s rendering of  female friendship occasionally jars. Yet, by the middle of season two I got hooked in a guilty pleasure way.  There aren’t that many good 22 minute shows around (the perfect length of time for the treadmill etc). The aping of the trends and pratfalls of contemporary publishing is fun and the support characters are glorious. And the real life instagram account of one of the main characters is one of the best pieces of performance art/lived comedy I’ve ever born witness to. (It has to be all an act. It HAS to. Check out his wedding photos) Thanks to my lovely friends Alice and Alex for sending them my way. They made my day. 

Writing: I’ve been moonlighting on the side crafting some profiles of members of the South Coast of NSW’s best co working place. I’ve so far had the pleasure of interviewing WorkLife Berry’s Founder Kate Dezarnaulds, and members Rich Mills and Amy Bowe on what motivated their tree changes from the big smoke to this heavenly hamlet two hours south of Sydney. They’ve chatted to me about everything from how they actually make the finances of ‘choosing life’ possible, where the best spots to eat around there are and what their side gigs are (designing and selling revolutionary kitchen bin chutes being one of them). 

Reading: Or re reading that is; ‘Bird by Bird‘, by Anne Lamott. It’s ostensibly a book about writing and it’s got some great shining coins of insight about character, plot, habit and techniques for collating information and inspiration. But what it’s more of is grist for life, if you’re ever feeling a little introspective. This bit was one that made me reach for an HB to scrawl in margins and draw stars. It also helps explain why sometimes the wellspring on inspiration remained dry for a while. To write she claims, is to give. 

“You are going to have to give and give and give, or there’s no reason for you to be writing. You have to give from the deepest part of yourself, and you are going to have to go on giving, and the giving is going to have to be its own reward. There is no cosmic importance to your getting something published, but there is in learning to be a giver. Your work as a writer, when you are giving everything you have to your characters and to your readers, will periodically make you feel like the single parent of a three year old….Your three year old and your work in progress teach you to get out of yourself and become a person for someone else. This is probably the secret to happiness. So that’s one reason to write. Your child and your work hold you hostage, suck you dry, ruin your sleep, mess with your head, treat you like dirt, and then you discover they’ve given you that gold nugget you were looking for all along’.(p 203)

Listening:  Lenka’s ‘Atune’. I met Lenka briefly at a glorious children’s birthday party a few weeks ago. Never has a rendition of ‘Happy birthday’ accompanied by a ukulele sounded so diaphanous. I’m loving her latest album ‘Attune’, particularly the lead track ‘Every Bird that Sings‘. Get it for lazy Sunday mornings with crumpets topped with an impolite quantity of both butter and honey.

‘Ladies, we need to talk‘ is a great podcast by the ABC about issues that women often only broach after their third glass of red wine. The latest episode on women who cheat is a cracker; particularly when they delve into women’s motivations for (as one of the psychologists so delicately puts it) ‘pushing it ‘F’ it button in their life. Listen here

On the ‘to buy’ list: ‘Amateur Hour: Motherhood in Essays and Swear Words’ by Kimberly Harrington. It looks like my kind of fun. More here

Keeping in the car: An emergency ’emergency’ bag. As in; a bag of things that you’ll need if you have to whisk a kid off to the emergency room in a hurry. You’ll thank yourself later. Contents include; a phone charger, toothbrush, make up wipes, tracksuit, warm socks, cosy clothes for the offspring and a spare comfort object/fluffy bunny/unicorn. 

Making: A new lunch staple is a mix of a poke and a fish taco bowl. Finely shred some green cabbage. Top it with finely diced cucumber, avocado and salmon sashimi. Add a handful of diced coriander, then dress it all with soy, lime juice, sesame paste and a good squirt of kewpie mayonnaise. A dash of hot sauce also wouldn’t go astray. Be sure to mix it all well with your fork just before eating. 

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Date and Sesame Squares

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Makes 8 bars, or 16 squares. These will keep in the fridge for a week and freeze well.

Ingredients

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75 g pitted dates
1 cup mashed sweet potato (approx 240 g). Peel and cut the sweet potato into pieces the size of playing dice. Microwave with 3 tbsp of water for 5-6 minutes until soft, then puree, or mash until smooth. Or else, make a bigger batch, use it as a base for sweet potato hummus/ sweet potato mash to have with steak or lamb and use the leftovers to make these.
3 eggs
1 tbsp tahini
3 tbsp sesame seeds
3 tbsp chia seeds
1 1/2 cups / 150 g oats
1/2 cup/ 30 g shredded coconut
generous pinch of salt

Method

1 Preheat the oven to 180 C /350 F and grease and line a 20cm square tin.

2 Blitz the dates in a small food processor until they are finely chopped. If you have a larger food processor you may need to add in the eggs to help the food processor get traction to chop them all.

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3 Combine the chopped dates with the mashed sweet potato and tahini. Stir or whisk well to combine and distribute the dates throughout all the mix.

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4. Add the eggs and stir until smooth.

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5 Add the remaining dry ingredients and stir to combine.

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6 Press into the prepared tin and press down with a spatula to make flat. Bake for 30 minutes until brown and firm to touch. 

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7 Allow to cool in the tin, then remove and slice into bars or squares.

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