Spiced Sesame Date Cookies + On Redefining “Healthy”
Oh hello, holiday season.
The cold, brittle wind that has been leaking into our apartment is now officially made up for by the hanging of multi-colored twinkling lights, candles in every corner, and the stream of fresh cookies and treats that I plan to have coming out of the oven almost every weekend. I am ready for it all.
The only thing that I am not ready for are the posts and articles that continue to pop up everywhere that are talking about how to have a “healthier” holiday this year. What does that even mean? It always seems to be about how to cut back, control, label and define your consumption.
In parallel with this, I also feel like lately I have been hearing a handful of random people exclaim to me, “you eat so healthy!” This is usually, I presume, based on what they see through instagram and general assumptions made about dancers and their diets. I never know exactly how to respond because “healthy” is such a relative term. It looks and feels different for everyone and cannot always be judged by appearances. I try to eat a decent amount of vegetables and fruit, because I know that is what makes my body feel its best, but I also know that a large handful of Moroccan sweets can be soothing for the soul. Balance feels healthy to me, but other people may have their own definitions.
I am always cautious about making or agreeing with any statements that compare my eating habits to someone else’s, ranking it as better or worse, which I feel like is implied when we throw around the word “healthy.” This is why I never know how to respond when someone comments on how I appear to eat. Being a dancer, I would say I do have a decent awareness of how what I eat effects my energy and stamina and is something I try to keep in mind, but also something I have had to keep in check so that it doesn’t take over too much brain space. I know for a fact that labels, eliminations and extremes do not work for me.
The thing is that the way we label food and eating these days has gone much further than just “healthy” and “un-healthy.” There is a name for everything- paleo, keto, vegan, gluten-free, intuitive eater, etc. Some people feel more comfortable having a label for their own way of eating, which is completely fine. It is a personal choice when it comes down to it. However, I get pretty uncomfortable when others try to stick a label on me. I don’t believe that eating habits should come from external sources and influences. Our bodies have the capacity to tell us exactly what they need and it is a beautiful and powerful thing to be able to listen to it.
With all of this in mind, I have been consciously trying to use the word healthy less lately, partly because I think there is no shame in eating a lot of cookies around this time of year, but mostly because healthy looks so different for everyone. Instead, I’ve been trying to use more descriptive and less judgmental words, like energizing, filling, fresh, and hearty. I have been trying to focus more on food as a whole experience, especially a shared, communal one during this time of year. I keep coming back to this quote from a book I read a while back by Mary Catherine Bateson,
“Human beings do not eat nutrients, they eat food, food with symbolic meanings, flavors, colors, and smells, food in the form of traditional dishes that fit the days of feast and fast and speak of the relationships of husband and wife, parent and child.”
I think this is such a beautiful way to think about food- as a whole form of story-telling, sustenance and pleasure, as opposed to breaking it down into categories and numbers. Health, when we look at it from this perspective, encompasses the physical, the emotional and the connectedness we feel to those around us. That is what I intend to focus on during this coming month.
So, with all of that being said, I suppose you could still call these cookies “healthy.” They do fit all of those other labels we like to throw around as well- “gluten-free,” “refined-sugar-free,” “vegan.” However, when it comes down to it, they are just plain delicious.
Naturally caramel-y sweet from the blended dates, lightly spiced, with a little tang of orange and a lovely nuttiness from the almonds and sesame. I’ve been having these alongside my breakfast for an extra treat in the mornings or as an afternoon pick-me-up with some tea or coffee. Being ridiculously easy to make (thank you, food processor), they could be the perfect little extra addition to a holiday cookie platter.
Spiced Sesame Date Cookies
Makes 12 cookies, gluten-free, refined-sugar-free, vegan
8 large dates (the softer the better)
1 cup (100g) almond flour or finely ground almonds
2 tbsp tahini
2 tbsp orange juice
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp ginger
Pinch of nutmeg
Pinch of salt
1/4 cup (35g) sesame seeds
Preheat the oven to 350ºF (175ºC) and line a baking tray with parchment paper.*
In a food processor, combine the dates and tahini until they form a smooth paste. Add the remaining ingredients, except for the sesame seeds, and process until fully combined. Form the dough into small tablespoon-sized balls and roll in sesame seeds. Press each one onto the cookie sheet to form a flat disc. Bake for 8-10 minutes or until dry to the touch. Let cool for about 10 minutes before enjoying alongside a cup of tea or coffee.
*Note: these can also be made as “no-bake” cookies. Simply leave out the baking powder and follow the same steps to make the dough, then refrigerate until firm instead of baking in the oven. I just prefer them baked because it gives them a more pillowy texture and toasted flavor.