Last Thursday, kids across America checked if it was sunny enough for the groundhog’s shadow to send him back into hibernation. This week, in Israel, almond blossoms are pulling me out of hibernation. Until we discovered International Ice Cream for Breakfast Day, my husband’s favorite holiday was Groundhog Day. By favorite, I mean the most amusing. A holiday celebrating that there are six more weeks until spring?? Because of a story about a small, furry animal?! Really?!
Tu B’Shvat, the fifteenth of the Hebrew month of Shvat, will be this Shabbat (Saturday). In Jewish law, it is the “birthday” for trees, the cut-off date connected to certain agricultural laws. Some people celebrate by eating fruits grown in Israel or the “seven species” of Israel–wheat, barley, fig, grape, pomegranates, olive, and date; some even have a seder ceremony. In modern times, many have expanded the idea of Tu B’Shvat to be a time for planting trees and general environmental awareness.
For me, Tu B’Shvat is a time of hope. Still six weeks until the month of spring, Nissan, the almond trees are already blossoming. On the one hand, we see that spring is coming. It is time to start planning Purim costumes and maybe even cleaning for Pesach. On the other hand, there are still two months left for much-needed rain. It’s still winter, and that’s great, but don’t worry, spring is coming, too. Isn’t that what Groundhog Day is about?
Last week was cold and blustery, tomorrow it is supposed to rain again, but for a few days the sun was out. I took the kids to the playground every afternoon. I walked around my neighborhood, and in addition to the little wagtail birds that fill Israel in the fall and winter months, beside the bare skeletons of trees and the winter citrus trees full of lemons and oranges, I spotted almond blossoms! When I see the first flowering almond trees of the season, I feel like skipping down the sidewalk and singing “Hashhedia Porachat” (The Almond Tree is Blooming), but I let my kids do that for me.
Aren’t they beautiful? Doesn’t that put a smile on your face? Now, can you spot the honeybee and hummingbird in the pictures below?
This winter, Israel has seen fires, terror attacks, and an eviction of a community. I have been more acutely aware than usual of how many problems people in my own life have, as well. Health problems, financial problems, family or relationship problems can all create a personal winter. Life can be very cold and dark at times. Tu B’Shvat cannot solve any of these issues, but perhaps the almond blossoms can offer a smile, a glimmer of hope for a spring yet to come.
As the Beatles put it, “…It’s been a long, cold, lonely winter. Little darlin’, it seems like years since it’s been clear. Here comes the sun, and I say it’s all right…”
If you are looking for fruit recipes for Tu B’Shvat, I recommend Winter Fruit Salad with Lemon Coconut Mousse or Gluten-Free No-Bake Brownie Bites (which are actually made from dates and walnuts). Personally, I’ve been in an almond mood all week. These coconut almond granola bars are vegan and gluten free, but they are not diet food. They are not low fat or low sugar, but they are full of healthy fat, protein, and fiber. They are chewy and crunchy at the same time, portable, and a delicious snack for people eating one-handed at a desk, driving a car (not so safe), holding a baby, etc.
Coconut Almond Granola Bars Recipe (Vegan, Gluten Free)
Yield: 16 snack bars
1/2 cup coconut oil, melted
1/2 cup date syrup (or other liquid sweetener, slightly less if using honey)
1 teaspoon almond extract
1 cup quick oats (or whole oats, chopped in food processor)
1 cup shredded coconut
1/2 cup chopped almonds
1/2 cup ground almonds
1/2 cup mixed seeds (I used sunflower, pumpkin, chia, sesame, and flax)
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt, if using unsalted nuts
- Stir together oil, sweetener, and almond extract
- Add dry ingredients and mix until thoroughly and evenly combined.
- Press into a square pan lined with baking paper (for easy cleanup).
- Bake at 350F/180C for 15 minutes. (This step is probably optional if you’re in a rush or don’t have oven access, but toasting brings out all the nutty flavors.)
- Refrigerate for at least an hour until bars are fully cooled.
- Cut into 16 squares. Store in the refrigerator or freezer in a container or individually wrapped to grab and go!