Dark Chocolate + Orange Blossom Date Caramels
“So there’s attention, creation, love and dessert.” -Anne Lamott
Do you ever catch yourself getting tunnel vision? That palpable sense that everything is getting smaller and tighter around you? It may sound a bit dramatic, but lately I feel this happening with all of the things I am juggling every day. Classes, rehearsals, writing weekly, travel plans coming up and then of course the daily little details of meetings, meals, responding to emails and keeping the house fairly tidy. They pile up until they are all you can see and think about and they completely block the view of the bigger picture. I think it is normal that our focus hones in and out in cycles, but I know that when I find myself honing in a little bit too much, it’s time to readjust.
First I start to notice my own signs- getting more easily irritated, my mind wandering to a million different places while I’m trying to practice yoga or meditate and wanting to stay in bed for hours in the morning because my brain feels like it needs to rest. When I feel all of these things happening at once, I know I am getting too attached to the material stuff. It is time to switch focus and start moving outwards towards the bigger, more important things. Usually it takes finding one large thing that matters and putting more energy towards that, whether it is self-care, spirituality, or intellect and gaining knowledge. In my case these days, and because of the looming holiday this week, I feel drawn towards pulling myself out of the tunnel through focusing on the overarching importance of relationships. Forming them, strengthening and nurturing all different kinds.
Now, Valentine’s Day as a commercial holiday is controversial to say the least. People sway between loving it, hating it or being completely apathetic. I fall somewhere in between apathetic and trying to make the most out of the nice parts, which is why I am planning on using this week to refocus my energy and intentions towards the people and connections that deeply matter, from M, my parents and brother, to real good friends.
In the book I currently reading, Composing a Life, Mary Catherine Bateson writes a section on partnerships and relationships that got me thinking. She says,
“The tendency is to regard passion or tenderness as distractions. Although we are extraordinarily romantic about marriage, we are curiously blind to the joys and benefits of real partnership.”
Working towards a real partnership, whether in marriage or friendship, is one of those big-picture things that needs our attention and can help to pull us out of our own small tunnels of busy work. I think Bateson is all-too correct in saying that we don’t always put it front and center among the tasks in daily life, but to quote one of my favorite songs, we should all “try a little tenderness” more often and with more concentration.
So, instead of buying extravagant presents or showing affection materially, this year during Valentine’s week, I have decided to take advantage of the love in the air as the perfect moment to refocus my energy towards the relationships that matter to me. The partnership between me and M, connecting with my family no matter how far away we may be at the moment, and reaching out to those people whose friendships matter deeply in my life. Maybe this means sending a long, heartfelt email to someone I haven’t talked to in a while, or on the other hand, putting down the phone or closing the computer in order to really communicate face to face without distraction. Instead of what you can buy to show your love, what actions can you take to make your relationships more meaningful? This is what I am asking myself every day this week, in hopes that it will put more importance on the human connections in my life, and less onto the tunnel of busy work that I have been digging myself into this past week.
That is how I plan on celebrating Valentine’s. Although, I have to admit, there is one material detail that I cannot quite let go of.
I mean, does Valentine’s Day even exist without chocolate?
I have seen a lot of amazing date-based caramels and candies around the food blogging world lately, between Minimalist Baker’s truffles and Heartbeet Kitchen’s salty chocolate date caramels, so I was inspired to do a more Moroccan-ized version of these healthier sweets.
There are these traditional Moroccan treats, usually served at weddings or events, that are simply ground up blanched almonds mixed with sugar and orange blossom water, rolled into tiny logs and stuffed into whole dates. They are so easy to make and have so much amazing flavor. I decided to turn them up a notch by blending all of the ingredients together and coating it in dark chocolate. Hence, these dark chocolate + orange blossom date caramels were born. M was my taste tester and immediately after the first bite proclaimed that they taste like fancy boxed chocolates, but even better. There is no need for extra sugar between the chocolate coating and the sticky-sweet date filling, and the perfumed scent of orange blossom comes through with just the right strength and subtlety. Make these for yourself or anyone else you love to celebrate tenderness, partnerships and real, deep connections.
Through chocolate and caramel, of course.
Dark Chocolate + Orange Blossom Date Caramels
Makes about 20 caramels, vegan + gluten-free
- 150g pitted dates (medjool or any other sticky, caramel-y kind)
- 150g almonds, blanched
- 3/4 tsp orange blossom water
- 1/4 tsp cinnamon
- 1/8 tsp salt
- 125g dark chocolate, broken into pieces (minimum 70% cocoa is best + use vegan chocolate if needed)
- 1 tsp coconut oil
In a food processor, blend the blanched almonds until they form very fine, almost sticky crumbs. Remove and then add the dates, blending them until they become a paste. Add the almonds back in and mix together until smooth, then add the orange blossom water, cinnamon and salt and blend another minute or so until totally combined. Remove half of the caramel date filling from the food processor and on a clean surface, roll it out into a log about 1-1.5 inches thick, depending on how large you want your caramels to be. Repeat with the other half of the filling. Place both logs on parchment paper and set in the fridge or freezer while you make the chocolate coating (just don't forget about them in the freezer for too long or you won't be able to cut them).
While the logs chill, melt the chocolate and coconut oil together in a microwave or a double boiler until smooth and shiny. Let it cool slightly. Remove the logs of filling from the freezer and cut each into about 10 equal-sized disks. Dip each disk in the melted chocolate using a fork or your hands (if the chocolate has cooled enough), swirl around a bit to make sure the sides are covered as well, then turn out onto dish lined with a sheet of parchment paper, smoothing the tops if necessary. Once all of the caramels have been dipped in chocolate, place them in the fridge to set for 5 minutes or until ready to eat/give as presents to your own valentines.