Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Palm Springs & A Trip to Sam Cobb Date Farm!


Road Trip!
A ginormous bag of fresh veggies is my number one favorite road trip snack. I really enjoy endless nibbling when I'm on road trips... but I don't enjoy the feeling of being stuffed full with crappy junk food. So, if I bring along a huge bag of veggies and a big thing of grapes, I'm usually pretty good to go.

A couple of weeks ago, Mr VE&T and I drove all the way down to Palm Springs for our annual tennis-watching, grapefruit-eating, desert-enjoying spring trip. Mr VE&T is a devout tennis fan, and happily for us there is a super great tennis professional tennis event held every Spring in Southern California (the BNP Paribas Open at Indian Wells, for those of you who are keeping track). I never saw it coming, but his enthusiasm has worn off on me, and these days I'm a pretty well-informed tennis fan myself. Plus, I am a also a fan of the desert, road trips, vacations with my bub, spring time in general, wildflowers, and swimming pools. So, it works out well for both of us.

My trusty little cooler packed full with roadtrip goodies: green grapes, giant bag of fresh veggies, Kevita for me and Iced Tea for Mr VE&T, and oranges. Once the cooler is packed, I'm pretty much ready to go. 

big batch of grilled tofu, recipe from "The Real Food Daily Cookbook."

The tennis venue has plenty of food options, but not many of them are vegan, and they are all big bucks. On the other hand, they are totally okay with letting people bring in their own food. So, for a frugal vegan like me, that is the way to go. This year I brought down lots of sandwich fixin's (bread, tomatoes, lettuce, etc), and a huge batch of grilled herb tofu for my sandwiches. This big tub'o'tofu lasted me a whole week and guaranteed super-yummy and super-satisfying sandwiches. I was quite pleased with myself!

pleased with my own vegan lunch planning
Lord knows, the world loves it some Smug Vegans. Ha ha! 



 sandwiches + tennis 

Here is a photo collage of all sorts of grilled tofu sandwiches featured throughout the week. Another great thing about bringing your own lunch is that you can just stay hunkered down in your seat and munch away while those players work so hard. Ha ha. Also, you can see that I have a cool little insulated lunch box. It worked great! We have a proper fridge at our hotel, so every night I would freeze an ice pack, and then load our sandwiches and goodies in with the ice pack in the morning. Even in the hot desert sun, the lunch box totally worked and the ice pack was still mostly frozen at the end of the day! How cool. Literally.


incidentally, it was pretty hot down there -- especially sitting in the sun and watching tennis all day! We both had sunscreen, sunglasses, sun hats, lightweight towels to cover our legs, and even special "wet towels" that we put under our sun hats. Ha ha. I think we looked like real weirdos. But we were comfortable and we didn't get sunburned! 

 spring wildflowers in the desert are most excellent

Another beautiful thing about going to the desert in the Spring is all the wildflowers. Uh, can you even believe it? On our drive down, we mostly just saw some green grass, but just one week later, after a spring rain, our drive home was pretty much 8 hours straight of amazing wildflowers. So beautiful and life-affirming. Why are flowers so special? Isn't it funny? You'd think we'd all be so jaded and adjusted to flowers by now... but somehow I don't feel that way at all. Each new patch of color sent me into rapturous fits of ooohs and aahs!


breakfast by the pool. I like it. 

The hotel we've stayed at for the last few years is pretty sweet, with a lovely pool and garden. Every morning I like to wake up early and do my yoga practice next to the pool. There are citrus trees and flowers everywhere, and birds flying overhead. The hotel also provides breakfast, though there's not much there for vegans. It's lots of baked goods and yogurts and cereal and bread that isn't vegan. But, they do provide a huge platter of fruit each morning, which I am quite enthusiastic about. There's a huge Whole Foods nearby, so I stocked up on some Kite Hill yogurt and other breakfast supplements and was a happy breakfast camper all week. I mean really, sitting poolside in the morning sun is a pretty excellent way to start the day.

Most days we would just head over to the tennis tournament and watch hours of tennis... but this year I requested at least one whole Non-Tennis Day. Mr. VE&T was totally stoked on that, and actually, I think our Non-Tennis Day may have been each of our's favorite day of the whole trip. We had a lot of fun that day, but I especially want to tell you about our trip to a date farm! I looked around at various date farms in the area and decided to visit Sam Cobb Farms. I fell in love with his warm and homey website. I love supporting family farmers and small-scale operations, and this looked right up my alley.


Me with The Real Sam Cobb

We drove out mid-morning on a Saturday and were delighted to find The Real Sam Cobb* manning his own booth! (note: the farm is only open to visitors and shoppers on the weekends). I love dates, but hadn't ever visited a date farm before, so I was pretty jazzed up. Mr. Cobb was so friendly and was happy to show us around a bit. 

*this is how he refers to himself on the website, so I introduced myself as The Real Amey Mathews


This is where our magical dates come from!

Isn't it beautiful? Remember, this is in the middle of the desert! Once the trees have grown a bit, and are large enough to provide shade, they actually create a very lovely and inviting canopy of shade. As you can see in this picture, it's necessary for farmers to cover the clusters of dates with cloth (the white one in the foreground) or paper (the brown ones) -- this is so that the birds and insects and coyotes don't eat them. I loved learning that coyotes like to eat dates!

He also taught us that the date trees grow quite slowly and that it takes several years for them to begin regularly producing fruit. Date varieties can't be propagated from seeds -- in order to ensure that you are growing the same variety, you have to harvest the suckers that grow at the base of other juvenile trees (kind of like with strawberries). Isn't that interesting? You can see come suckers growing out of the base of the main tree in this picture. If you plant a date seed, you'll get a date tree, but it will be its own new variety of dates. I guess this means that every time we throw out a date pit, we are passing up on the opportunity to grow a new kind of date!


Goofballs

On one "tour tree" there is one cluster of dates that Mr. Cobb has left uncovered, so that visitors like us can get a closer look, and so we can pick one off and eat it ourselves! I could have stood there like a little coyote and nibbled away at those dates all afternoon. I think maybe these were Zahiri dates, if I recall correctly.


I love this picture that Mr. Cobb took of Mr. VE&T and me. You can see that I am really in my happy place! 


nature is amazing!

Look at this stunning close-up of dates on the tree! I love those squiggly little threads that the dates grow on, and the beauty of ripening dates. If you've ever had fresh dates, they are also super delicious - they're plump and taut and yellowish, compared to the brown and more wrinkly look of fully ripened dates. Mr. VE&T and I each picked a date to enjoy -- and you can see all the little nubs where dates used to be, from the other hungry folks who had come by before us! 


just some of our purchases

At the farm stand, Mr. Cobb has a set-up such that you can sample all the different varieties of dates that they grow on his farm. I think there were at least 8-9 varieties? In truth, Mr. VE&T has never been a fan of dates... but guess what? It just turned out that he hadn't tried enough kinds of dates to know what he likes! Right away he fell in love with Mr. Cobb's Safari dates -- they are a really dry date with a lovely nutty flavor. To my joy and surprise, Mr. VE&T quickly selected two big tubs of Safari dates for himself.

sampling all the different dates was so fun and interesting! 

I loved all of the dates, and I loved getting to try them all back-to-back, so that I could really appreciate and detect the differences between each one. I bought some to bring back for our much-appreciated housesitters. Fortunately, our housesitters are also dear friends of mine, so I am intimately aware of their date preferences, and I knew just which dates to buy for each of them.

But, as for what to buy for myself? I had a personal favorite: The Black Gold date! Holy deliciousness, Batman. These dates are a bit chewy like a medjool, but not as soft or gooey. Their flavor is rich and chocolatey and caramel-y. They are officially my new favorite date. And guess what? Sam Cobb Farms is the only place in the world that grows them! Suffice it to say, I have already finished off my giant 18 oz tub... and have already called Mr. Cobb and placed an order for more. They should be on their way to me soooooon. If you want to try some for yourself, you can just call him up, give him your credit card info and mailing address, and order some for yourself. It's so easy! 

with arms full of cartons of dates... 
I was a happy date customer, for sure! 


32 comments:

  1. Oh, my gosh!! That looks like so much fun. I would love to see dates growing like that and also to have a "date tasting" to find which type I liked the best. That is so cute that you introduced yourself as The Real Amey Mathews. In our house, you're still "Amey - Yummer's mom." But maybe I'll have to think about changing your title. :)

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    1. Ha ha, actually, I'm pretty stoked to be "Amey - Yummers' mom"!!! :) The date tasting was so fun. They are all so DIFFERENT

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  2. Amey, I love this post so much! Your breakfasts by the pool sound lovely and those wildflowers are spectacular, but my favorite thing of all is the date farm! I would be so happy trying all of those dates. It sounds like Sam Cobb really knows what he's doing with his friendly set-up and I am sooooo tempted to order some black gold dates now! Yum!

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    1. Elizabeth - I HIGHLY recommend it! I just got my order in the mail and they are sooooo good. amazingly good.

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  3. Thanks so much for this post! I totally trust your judgment and will be ordering these soon!

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    1. Beverlee! DOOOO IT! Tell him Amey "the blue haired lady" sent you! ha ha. Honestly they are just great.

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  4. I've never seen date trees before - SO cool!

    Also loved the wildflower pics and your idea for leg towels - genius for sunburn prevention!

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    1. I can't take any credit for the leg towels - that was my husband's idea... we use these super lightweight cotton towels that I brought home from India. They're perfect!

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  5. I loved reading this post! Nick's not a date fan either but maybe he just hasn't met the right date yet! Fresh dates are amazing! So different to regular store bought dates, I've only had them a couple of times as they don't appear in UK health food stores very often but YUM!

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    1. Oh wow! Next time to come to California.... Also even at our farmers market here, we have a guy who sells at least 7-8 kinds. It would be fun to Nick to try them and see if he finds one that he likes!

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  6. Those dates look trippy! I had no idea how they grow.

    I also loved your "smug vegan" t-shirt. And your sandwiches look quite yummy. I bet you could have sold them in the stands!

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    1. Ha ha, I'm sure you're right about selling the tofu sandwiches. If I sold them for only $10, I could really take in some cash!

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  7. The date farm looks amazing! Who knew there were so many dates? We only really get the medjool dates here.

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    1. Oh no! There is a vast world of dates for you to explore! Maybe I should sent you some? Or maybe there would be rules against sending them to Aussieland?

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  8. What a great idea for a Non-Tennis Day activity! Visiting a date farm (and stocking up on fresh dates!) must be awesome. And doing so right before your No Ruz party is brilliant timing: what would an Iranian feast be without dates on the table, right? Even better when you got them straight from the farmer!
    Thank you for sharing these highlights from your trip!

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    1. You got it!! I totally stocked up extra for dates for NoRouz! <3 Ha ha! The date farm really was cool. What a special place!

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  9. I've bought fresh dates before, with the "branch", but I never imagined it would grow like that. What a fascinating post!

    You were in Indian Wells! I watched a couple of matches online.

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    1. Oh!! Are you a fellow tennis fan? It is a REALLY fun tournament to visit! It's a great facility, and it's so fun to see the players in real life.

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  10. Arghhh I LOVE dates so this would be my happy place too! And the flowers are so pretty; I always try to get a few wildflowers going in my garden every year, and every year I fail :P

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    1. ha ha, ME TOO. I think the gophers eat all my wildflowers. I mostly have lots of weeds, which they appear totally uninterested in. how unjust!

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  11. I have never seen a date tree, they look so cool.
    Dates are one of my favorite deserts after lunch.
    I'll order some soon.

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    1. Yea! Let me know if you do end up ordering some. I also love dates so much. I've been enjoying my Sam Cobb Farms dates with some peanut butter stuffed inside, and it's so delicious!

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  12. Your date date looked uhmeeeezing. And the real Sam Cobbs and I would probably get along great. Plus, how cool are those dates???

    But what I really came here to talk about is your tofu grill pan. My pan just leaves little thin lines on my foo. What the heck kind of pan are you using? I have that cookbook, so I'm game to try a new recipe, but please share your secrets the real Amey Mathews Yummer's Mom.

    xo
    kittee

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    1. Oh, you want my tofu secrets? I'll happily tell you! I use my panino press!! I don't have a grill pan, so a long time ago, I just started using my panino press and it works so fantastic EVERY TIME. I love it!

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  13. Wow a date to a date farm, how cool!
    The grilled tofu looks great - it's nice that you're allowed to bring yr own food. I wish more places did that.
    love the cartoon of you & the mr. all covered from the sun - that's how i look almost all of the time.

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    1. ha ha, I usually don't mind a little sun, but the sun down there is SO intense... it's really remarkable. Just by 8 am, sitting outside to eat breakfast starts to feel like too much - and that's in MARCH. What a wild place to live year round!

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  14. Sounds like an awesome trip! I am right with you ooo-ing and aah-ing over spring flowers. At least here in Boston everything has been so dead all winter that as soon as we see a little pop of color it is MAGICAL!!

    Speaking of magical...Holy DATE ENVY!!! I've never really thought about a date farm... but you've just given me a new life goal! I must go visit (and try all the dates, obviously)! Wow that is just so cool!!!

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    1. Hi Phoebe, we had our first rainy winter in about 4 years out here, so this spring has been extra special here too. It's so beautiful. And yes, I highly recommend date farms!!! So fun, and so yummy!

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  15. I had no idea there were so many date varieties Amey! I totally called up the Real Sam Cobb and bought a package of each variety (and he says "Hello" to the Real Amey Mathews, by the way). I'm excited to try each variety and share them with my Dad, who loves dates. Thanks for letting us know about the date farm!

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    1. Oh my gosh, this makes me SO HAPPY. I can't wait to hear what you think of the different dates - and if you and your dad have the same favorites! Musty and I had completely different favorites. Sam was such a cool guy. <3

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  16. Road trips are so fun! I like to pack snacks too - your sandwiches look especially delicious.
    And wow! A date farm tour!!! That is super cool =) It's going on my to-see list, maybe this very date farm! I am totally calling Mr. Cobb for some Black Gold dates as those sound insanely awesome!
    I think I have only ever heard of 3 date varieties, so this is very exciting to learn about all of the other kinds out there.

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    1. Yeah, the date farm tour was really cool. SO neat to see the trees and feel how cool it was in the shade under their fronds. It turns out that there are SO MANY date varieties. Now I am excited to learn more too! If you order some black gold dates, let me know what you think!

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