I was first introduced to these cookies by my work colleagues who travelled frequently to Israel to visit their friends and family. On one occasion, one colleague returned with a box of these moreish cookies to share in the office, and I was instantly hooked. To say that I helped myself to more than my fair share would be a gross understatement; I embarrassed myself by dipping into the cookie jar every time someone wasn’t watching, quickly depleting the holiday gift that was meant for the whole office to share. But in some ways, I hope my greed was received as a compliment, as an acknowledgment of a culture which was very foreign and unfamiliar to me. Or at least that was the subliminal message I was trying to send. Thankfully, my colleagues have made many more visits to Israel since, each time returning with a box of these delicious treats to my delight.
To look at, these cookies are quite plain and reveal nothing special. But one bite into the crumbly and buttery biscuit and you are instantly hit with the nutty flavour of the tahini. And it is precisely the tahini which makes these cookies so addictive. It had never occurred to me that tahini could be used in baking; the tub of tahini sitting in my pantry had only ever met a hummus. So not only was I thrilled to come across a recipe for these delicious cookies, but this recipe also happens to be a fabulous way of using up that large tub of tahini that might be nearing its best-by date.
While working in the outer suburbs of Chicago in the last few years, I often found myself at a Barnes & Noble or Borders bookstore during lunch, not only because I have a fondness for bookshops but mostly because I discovered that living and working in Switzerland had had a big influence on my lunch-time eating habits.
Unlike the Australians and Americans who often grab a quick sandwich or heat up leftovers to eat at their desk, the Swiss tend towards a leisurely a 2-3 course hot lunch, followed by a customary coffee before heading back to their desks once their lunch hour (or two) is up. This is not to say that the Swiss are dwindling away their time during office hours; lunch breaks are mandatory by law and most people often use their hour for business chit-chat or networking, and enjoy a good meal in the process. It is also commonplace to lunch with your colleagues at the work canteen, so it is a culture which fosters social interaction amongst employees, even if you might only end up talking about work or engaging in polite chatter over your meal. I have to admit that I enjoy the Swiss approach to lunching and one often feels that the lunch break was in fact a break.
But as a visitor to the offices in the US, lunch was often a lonely experience for me. Several colleagues often went out of their way to lunch with me now and then, but I got the feeling early on that most tended to work through their lunch hours, that anything more than 15 minutes was only reserved for the odd occasion, like when a visiting colleague was in town. But as I often worked in the US for about a month at a time, I couldn’t expect a leisurely lunch everyday. Yet it didn’t feel right to sit in front of my computer with a styrofoam cup of soup and a plastic spoon when I was so used to sitting down to a proper meal with proper cutlery (or, as they say in the US, silverware). So on those days when I found myself alone at lunch, I would hop into the car and drive to one of the many malls nearby for some amusement. I didn’t mind so much hanging out on my own as it was rather an adventure to explore the mid-west while working there. And so I often found myself at a bookshop where I would grab a quick snack at their in-store coffee shop, and flick through books which I would never find back in Zurich, like the complete Paula Deen collection. Or the rather unusual semi-homemade offers by Sandra Lee. I must confess to having a soft spot for American cooking.