The other day, a friend who just returned from a long trip to China invited me over for barbecue and to see photos. And many photos there were! We munched on shish kebab and vegetable stir-fry, and then sipped our beers for about three hours while the photos unraveled on the screen. Chinese food is plentiful today in China and is very diverse and brightly-colored. Doesn't look much like the Chinese takeout you get in a hurry from the corner shop. It looks way better! In outdoor food markets, the price is uniformly 10-yuan, but the amount of merchandise one will get for that price depends largely on one's mastery of haggling.
We also talked about a different lifestyle. It turns out that in China grown men and women congregate in the park early each morning to play games and get some exercise before going to work. All the games are collective. You don't really see people jogging or stretching by themselves. Instead, they form circles and dance and hop, engaging in what can only be described by Westerners as childlike behavior. And this all happens at -10 °C (14 °F), what is deemed a "warm winter" in Harbin. "You'll never sell an exercise program in China," my friend comments. Being active is already an integral part of their culture and their daily lives.
Perhaps if we lived in a society where we saw more people being active, running or riding their bikes to work, incorporating physical activity into their daily lives instead of setting time aside for "working out," perhaps we'd be more tempted to emulate them. As a collective, people in any community learn from each other. Earlier this year, in Griffith Park near Los Angeles I saw a man doing handstands and yoga poses at the top of the Hollywood mountain. It was so beautiful. I wasn't that advanced in yoga back then, but I promised myself that I would train to do handstands, or at the very least headstands without assist. Without realizing, those around us - even mere strangers - inspire us. We have much to learn from other cultures, but even more so, we have much to learn from each other.
After what seemed like days of stories and photos and novelty, we helped the host pack up leftovers before leaving. I ended up taking some of the leftovers home, which I couldn't refuse, and I once again blamed my undernourished appearance for people's compulsion to force food on me.
A few days later, I wanted to thank my friend for the good food and good company, and what better way to say thank you than with cookies? It's not just because they are gluten free, but these babies make a very tasty and satisfying dessert. If you like shortbread cookies, or those addictive Pepperidge Farm Chessmen, or the Girl Scout Trefoils (Girl Scouts, please come baaaaack) you will definitely love these!
I'm always hungry for time, so this recipe is a quick one too. Prep time was about 15 minutes and they stayed 10 minutes in the oven. The recipe makes a lot of cookies, so before you start baking think of someone with whom you can share the plenty. I ended up sending half of them to my friend and the other half, well, they didn't last too long on my counter. Don't be discouraged by some of the unfamiliar ingredients - any Whole Foods (perhaps regular grocery stores too) carries those things and they're inexpensive. Here's what you will need:
1/2 cup butter (leave it an hour beforehand to soften at room temperature)
1/4 cup agave nectar (or honey)
2 Tbsp brown sugar
1 large egg
3/4 cup tapioca flour (I used Ener-G Pure Tapioca Flour, from Whole Foods)
1-1/4 cup rice flour (bulk from Whole Foods)
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp baking powder
Preheat oven to 350 °F. Make sure the butter is soft - it should be neither hard nor entirely melted. Mix or whip butter, agave and brown sugar together until fluffy. Add egg and mix until creamy and fluffy. Don't panic if it looks like it's separated in the beginning, just keep mixing energetically and it will eventually hold together like this:
Add remaining ingredients and mix for about 1-1/2 minutes. This is what the dough should look like when you are done:
Place on baking tray about the size of 3/4 tablespoon, half an inch apart. If you don't have two trays, you may have to bake them in two batches. Refrigerate the remaining dough covered with plastic wrap while the first batch is baking. Bake each batch for 8 to 10 minutes.
These are happy cookies. No wheat, no dairy, no gluten and you can even substitute honey for the brown sugar to make them sugar-free too! Desserts are awesome, and don't let anybody tell you otherwise.
This recipe was adapted from the Ener-G Tapioca Honey Cookie recipe.