With a quick hop, skip, and a jump, I boarded a plane from LAX en route to YUM. Yes, that is the actual abbreviation for Yuma International Airport. YUM couldn’t be any more perfect for a food blogger summit! Even better, the mountains surrounding the Yuma area are called the Chocolate Mountains. Uh-mazing. As you can already tell, this was a food filled adventure! After my previous collaborations working with Natural Delights Medjool Dates I was invited to attend their first ever blogger summit in Yuma, Arizona. It was nothing but delightful. ha. ha. pun definitely intended.
Let’s start off with why I LOVE Medjool Dates so much:
- They are naturally sweet - Medjool dates are naturally sweet and contain no added sugar, making them an ideal alternative to artificial and processed sweeteners.
- They help protect against cancer - Medjool dates are filled with polyphenols, powerful antioxidants that help protect the body against the oxidation and inflammation of cells that can lead to cancer. Medjool dates contain more antioxidants than blackberries, plums and apples.
- They help stabilize blood sugar levels - Medjool dates rate low to low/medium on the Glycemic Index (GI). A low-GI carb diet keeps glucose and insulin levels stable, helping maintain sustained energy and a healthy weight.
- They make you feel fuller for longer - Medjool dates are loaded with dietary fiber. Just one-quarter cup of Medjools provides 12 percent of the daily requirement of fiber and helps satisfy between-meal cravings.
- They can reenergize - Rich in potassium, manganese and other important minerals, Medjools help balance blood sodium levels and release energy from protein, fat and carbohydrates.
- They are a healthy snack - Medjool dates are a no-fat and no-cholesterol treat, making them ideal for snacking.
- They help fight against “bad” cholesterol – Medjool dates help lower LDL cholesterol levels, which decreases the risk of diabetes, heart disease and stroke.
- They can ease labor and deliveries in pregnant women - A study in the Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology indicated that pregnant women who consumed six Medjool dates for four weeks prior to their estimated delivery date had easier labors with fewer complications.
- They help lower blood pressure - Medjool dates are also dense in copper, Vitamin B6, niacin, calcium, iron and Vitamin K, making it the perfect addition to the DASH diet, which is proven to lower blood pressure.
- They have a long shelf life - Medjool dates have a shelf life of 30 days when stored at room temperature – making them ideal for travel and enjoying at work, home or play.
In attendance were these fineeeee bloggers:
Very front: Beth Atkinson from DGWB – thanks for the pic, girl!
Second Row (from left): Cynthia David - Cynthia David Blog, Caroline Edwards - Chocolate and Carrots, Me!
Third Row: Theresa Albert - My Friend in Food, Nicole Hamaker - Pinch My Salt, Kim Nguyen - Lovin’ From The Oven
Back row : Alyssa Brantley - Everyday Maven, Jackie Bruchez - The Seaside Baker
I arrived in Yuma to sunny skies at a warm 103 degrees and tons of Natural Delights goodies in my air conditioned hotel room!
Night one started with a happy hour full of Medjool date appetizers like mascarpone stuffed dates, and sweet Medjool date salsa.
After happy hour we made our way to Glen Vandervoort’s house for a beautiful dinner with other Bard Valley Medjool Date growers and their families. The Medjool date appetizers continued with prosciutto wrapped dates, and an olive date tapenade that was to die for. Just think, salty sweet deliciousness. I will be sharing the original recipe with you this week!
I came home from dinner to turndown and a box of Bard Date Company chocolate covered dates from Dave & Debbie Mansheim’s shop Basket Creations and More. They are like chocolate covered raisins, but better. Much better! Want to make some chocolate covered dates similar to these? Try this recipe for Medjool Date Pecan Chocolate Truffles!
The next morning, we all met in the conference room for breakfast, history of Natural Delights Medjool Dates, and a rundown of their current and upcoming products.
Natural Delights is now offering Snack Packs of Medjool dates and their super popular date rolls. I love the convenience of these mini bags. They make for a great healthy on the go snack! I actually wish these would be in the check out lines at Whole Foods and other grocery stores. I would definitely grab mini bags of fresh Medjool dates versus a bag of candy any day!
Glen Vandervoort brought us freshly harvested medjool dates straight off of his tree for us to try during breakfast. Words cannot even describe how divine fresh dates are. They literally taste like caramel. For the rest of the day, all we (the bloggers) could talk about was how insanely amazing the fresh dates were!
After breakfast we visited the medjool date gardens!
We had the opportunity to go up in the cherry picker and harvest dates from a 30ft tree.
Safety First! Andrew Costanza: Bard Valley Medjool Date Growers Association’s Director of Compliance and Standards got us in our sweet harnesses before going up in the trees. How fab do Alyssa (Everyday Maven) and Kim (Lovin’ From The Oven) look?!
When dates are growing, they are covered in cloth bags to prevent birds from eating them, and any from falling to the ground. In order to harvest dates we shook the bags, untied the string holding the bag together at the bottom, and then let the ripened dates fall out of the bag and onto a tray.
Once the dates fall onto the trays, they are checked and sorted depending on their ripeness. As you can see the yellow date closest to the front is not yet ripe, the date in the center is only partly ripe, and the last one is just perfect.
Theresa (My Friend in Food) sorting through her pile of harvested Medjool dates.
Beth from DGWB harvesting dates with the bloggers!
“The Big Six”
Did you know that Medjool dates are one of the oldest cultivated fruits in the world? I bet you wouldn’t have guessed they have been around for 8,000 years! In 1927, eleven Medjool date trees were brought over from Morocco to escape disease. Of these 11 trees, nine were brought to Bard Valley and six still remain today. All 250,000+ Medjool date trees in Bard Valley can be traced back to “The Big Six.” Kind of amazing if you ask me!
Me standing with one of “The Big Six” Medjool date trees. As you can tell, they are soooo tallll!
After frolicking in the date gardens, we arrived at Datepac, LLC., where all of Natural Delights Medjool Dates are packaged for you! I loved the vase of pens in their front office with non other than date pits! Who needs rice or beans, right? Hilarious!
Health and safety required us to wear these super chic hairnets and visitor passes while inside. #lunchladychic
While at Datepac, we watched the dates make their way from being washed to sealed up in their packages.
After being washed, the dates go one by one down a conveyer belt which takes individual photos of each date with a fancy shmancy state of the art camera. Once the computer system receives each image, it determines the date’s size. A brief puff of air then blows each date onto next next conveyer belt according to it’s size. So high tech!
The packing grade scale doesn’t just go by size. It actually goes from highest quality and largest date, down to lowest quality and smallest date. The quality is determined by how tight or puffy the skin of the date is.
It was amazing to see how much of the process was actually done by hand. In order to sort the dates, it must be done by (extremely clean) bare hands to feel the skin’s texture.
We even got a chance to sort the dates and see if we could tell the difference between jumbo, large, extra fancy, fancy, mini, and confection.
After dates are sorted, they go to the packaging area.
Dates on dates on dates.
Another fun part of Datepac that we got to explore was the Date Roll area! We watched them make some fresh pistachio date rolls. The lower quality (not so pretty, but still tasty) dates are ground up (kind of like sausage), rolled in their topping, and then sliced up and packaged.
After our tour of Datepac, we had a beautful lunch at River City Grill. The restaurant made us a special lunch filled with, you guessed it: Natural Delights Medjool Dates! Lunch started with Bacon Wrapped Dates and Vietnamese Spring Rolls. Next up was a fresh Salad with Juicy Pears and Chopped Medjool Dates. For the main course, I chose a Medjool Date & Pesto Pasta. Our decadent lunch concluded with Date Caramelized Crème Brulée. Ohh my tummy was so happy!
Once we got back to the hotel from lunch, we had a social media break for a couple of hours before our next event. Andrew (Director of Compliance and Standards) asked if any of us wanted to go on a spontaneous trip to the sand dunes in California. Funny because we were staying in Arizona! Five of us we’re up for the adventure, and away we went!
The sand dunes were absolutely gorgeous.
On our little adventure, we also made a quick stop in Mexico. Just kidding! Kind of…
We were so close to the border. No joke! We were in Arizona, California, and Mexico all within 15 minutes! Andrew dared us to go and poke our fingers between the border fence, but none of us took the dare, haha! The sign was a bit intimidating!
Kim from Lovin’ From The Oven!
After our trip to Mexico (ha) it was time for a Date Shake Competition! All of the bloggers were randomly paired into groups of two and we had a huge variety of ingredients to use. Nicole (Pinch My Salt) and I made a “Bananaccino” with 10 different ingredients. Not exaggerating, there were actually 10 odd ingredients in there! It was…interesting to say the least! Unfortunately, Nicole and I didn’t win, but we had a great time anyways!
After our wild adventure to Mexico and Date Shake Competition, we had our final fiesta at Tina’s Cocina with Private Chef Alex Trujillo. Our extravagant dinner was made table side in the back of a historic church. We got to sip on Prickly Pear Margaritas and enjoy each other’s company while watching Chef Trujillo prepare our dinner! The endless courses started off with Baked Brie and Medjool Date Jam on crostini and five courses later ended with a Sweet Medjool Date Tamale with Coconut Rum Sorbet. It was a fabulous ending to a delicious summit.
The next morning a few of us who had later flights went on a tour of the Yuma Territorial Prison. 3:10 To Yuma, anyone?
Me, Caroline (Chocolate and Carrots), Kim (Lovin’ From The Oven), Nicole (Pinch My Salt), and Beth (DGWB) behind bars! Ahhh!
I had the absolute best time at the Natural Delights Medjool Date Summit. Every little detail of the summit was perfectly thought out and planned for us. Thank you so much to Erin Hanagan for finding all of the amazing venus in Yuma, to Dave Anderson for getting us everywhere promptly and keeping us with the schedule down to the second, to Glen Vandervoort and family for opening up your home to us, to Andrew Costanza for taking us to Mexico and back in one piece, to Dave & Debbie Mansheim for the Chocolate Covered Dates, to Ed O’Malley for the perfect tour of Datepac (and for remembering me from the PBH Conference!), to Jim Freimuth and Chris Nielsen for teaching us about organic dates, Steve for all of the great photos, and last but not least, thank you to Beth Atkinson from DGWB for organizing this incredible summit and having an answer to EVERY question! You guys are all Natural Delights! This is near the top of my list of favorite blogger summits I have ever attended. Of course it would not be the same without all of the hilarious, sweet, brilliant, creative bloggers that were a part of it. So many delightfully tasty memories!
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