The photo series above shows my dear father snapping off a one inch piece of Dartstrip to put up a cute pic of the grandkids on the wall. What is Dartstrip, you ask? Why, it’s a wonderful, patented product (a cross between a scotch tape and a bulletin board, made of snappable steel backed with removable adhesive) that solves the dilemma of displaying artwork and photographs without having to worry about putting a hole in the wall or peeling the paint.
On the one hand, I’m interrupting our regularly scheduled programming and begging your indulgence to blog about this product because my sister, my bro-in-law (remember his no-knead-bread?) & their biz partner are the team behind Dartstrip, and thus I am beaming with pride and I want to support their Kickstarter campaign to raise funds to bring Dartstrip to the market.
On the other hand (the one that’s doing the jazz hands!) I’m blogging about this solely for excitedly selfish reasons, because I want and need something like this product that lets me put up and rotate images at a whim and to my heart’s content (on any kind of wall surface and with zero nagging concerns of damaging the said well) in my life … like, stat. So I’d love for their project to make a go of it.
Please check out their adorable video (with more cameos of my dad and behind the scenes peek at the team with juggling and dancing if you watch it to the end) which charmingly demos the product and consider supporting their Kickstarter campaign.
Thank you guys & a lovely weekend to all!
I sorely miss the generous stretches of light once summer yields to fall — when dusk and darkness encroach ever more greedily to chase away the daylight. There’s something so tangibly and instinctively foreboding and gloomy about this shift of lightness to darkness as the seasons turn. Still, fall has charm to spare. From the colorful orchestra of the leaves; to a fruit bowl filled with persimmons and pomegranates; to the cozy indulgence of nursing a delicious pumpkin pie cafe latte on a pretty autumn day.
Pumpkin pie cafe latte is an ancient beverage that traces its roots to the Persian royal courts of the Achamenid dynasty when King Darius the Great would end his afternoon hunts by savoring hearty gulps of it out of a magestic silver drinking cup, cast in the form of a winged griffin … JUST KIDDING! I was just pulling your leg! Ha ha! Coffee, awesome amazing delicious coffee, was not gifted to the humanity by the ancient Iranians, although for centuries, there have been public hangouts called gahveh khaneh (literally: “coffee house”) where people, traditionally men, gathered to meet and mingle and drink … tea! We’ll visit this conundrum at another time.
Meanwhile, speaking of the origin of coffee, I always mistakenly assumed that coffee was not in widespread use until Christopher Columbus mistook America for the Indies, but it turns out (at least if we take Wikipedia‘s word for it) that we either have a 9th century herd of buzzed and caffeinated goats, or, an exiled and ravenous sheik, hailing from Mocha, Yemen (Mocha! Ha! Aha!) to thank for the discovery of this most glorious, legal substance.
Pumpkin pie cafe latte is one of the many delectable instances of the artful evolution of coffee in modern times. To Persianize it, I substituted the original recipe’s vanilla extract and pumpkin pie spice (whatever that is) with a mixture of cinnamon, nutmeg, and of course, cardamom. I didn’t have cloves, else I would have used some of that too. It is a truly minor revision that stretches the boundaries of “Persianizing” more than Kim Kardashian stretches her two-sizes-too-small outfits, but instead of raising an eyebrow in consternation, let’s consider it a culinary poetic license and shrug it off, shall we? Because this drink tastes and smells delicious enough to almost make up for the missing summer sunshine — it verily is autumn in a cup — and I really want to share it with you.
And here it goes …
Click here for the recipe!
Tas Kabab is a type of Persian dish that is a fusion of meat and various vegetables, layered and piled on top of each other, nestled in close proximity in a pot, and cooked ever so slowly. In this simmering manner, the various ingredients grow cozy and intimate. They bond! Each conveying its distinct quality to a neighboring companion but also picking up the essence of its in-the-same-pot comrades. The result: a dish with a fusion of flavor, aroma and texture far greater than the sum of its parts. What’s more, it’s a healthy and nutritious meal.
This dish really reminds me of New York. What I mean is that if New York had to be a Persian dish, I think tas kabab is what it’d be. And not just because the ingredients are crowded together in tight quarters, much like people are in the subway or a typical New York apartment building. And not just because this dish reaches skyscraping heights of dizzying flavor. Which boy oh boy, it does. It’s also because tas kabob is ultimately a dish that is all about layering, lauding, and harmonizing diversity; and in that sense, it mirrors the breathless diversity of origin, ethnicity and race of New Yorkers of all walks and standings who live, work and mingle together and in the process create a tapestry of energy that is far more interesting and vibrant than it’d ever be were this a homogenous city.
I think I love tas kabob nearly as much as I love New York: it’s the ultimate in comfort food with a core of unpretentious sophistication that can not be beat. The ingredients for it are pretty flexible and interchangeable, almost all types of vegetables would work out beautifully. My all time favorite though is when it’s made with quince, that deceptively brutish-looking fruit with an intoxicating aroma and delectable flesh. If quinces are out of reach, green apples can be substituted in a pinch. Traditionally, meat is the anchor igredient of any type of tas kabob, but for a vegetarian/vegan meal it is possible to skip it and one may substitute the meat with portobello mushroom instead without missing out on much of the goodness of this dish.
Tas Kabob is one of those dishes that’s all about the prep and assembly, which you can do in a cinch, and once you’re done with that, you can kick back and let chemistry take its slow course and do its delicious deed.
In a Persian nod to this most classic American holiday, last year we made the super delicious butternut squash khoresh (which is currently my favorite Persian stew, specially when made with plums.) This year I thought why not make a pumpkin kookoo? There is no authentic recipe for it, so I improvised, and inspired by Pomegranate Diaries, I made it in muffin tins instead of frying it in a pan as is the traditional manner. The result: a decidedly non-spooky savory kookoo that can be served with a sweet garnish (I used roasted cinnamon walnuts and confectioners sugar.) The recipe, however, needs further tinkering (flavor: good; texture: needs work!) so I’m skipping it for now. I do kind of dig the photographs though, so let’s just consider this a Halloween postcard.
Have a safe and spooky Halloween! Lots of treats, not too many tricks!
When I first moved to New York – pre Mayor Bloomberg and designated bike lanes - I rode my bicycle in the city a few times but it was way too stressful so I kissed the idea and the bike goodbye. Recently though, after hearing someone rave about the Citibike NYC program, I went for it and signed up. The very first time taking out a bike out of the dock and the very first hop on the seat … I tumbled and fell sideways!
A big tree broke my fall and I broke the fall of the bike. A nice guy asked if I needed help and I said no and did my best not to look embarrassed – which I was. I was embarrassed to the very core of my being.
I dusted myself off, got back on the bike, rode hesitantly at first and then a good many miles, and at some point the nerves ended and elation kicked in. Traversing the neighborhoods that would take nearly an hour by foot in mere minutes, and zipping past the Williamsburg bridge with the Manhattan landscape glittering and sparkling on the other side of East River – a magical view I had not glimpsed in years – was exhilarating. I thought: I want to bike all the time, everywhere! I thought: Biking in the city is the next best thing to flying in the city. I thought: Oh, the freedom I will have. The freedom! It was a definite high!
It wasn’t until later at home that I even realized that I had bloodied and scraped a good chunk of my left knee, arm, and elbow. Adrenaline, mighty drug you are!
Then the next day, I had horrible chest pain which ebbed then later grew more alarming: it hurt to move, laugh, sneeze, or even talk with animation; and I could only take very shallow breaths. Turned out I had badly bruised ribs and was down for the count for a number of days. A painful physical impairment – the very opposite state of freedom – that got me blue and feeling rather sorry for myself. So I threw myself a huge pity party. (Didn’t you get the Evite?) Why oh why did I fall like that when I’ve known how to ride a bike since I was 4 years old? I lamented. But it was no mystery. I fell because I was a bundle of nerves and anxiety about riding in the street with cars and traffic. I was afraid. I tried not to be, but, I was. So I fell before I even started. Fear is … Fear is a mother chucker.
And what does this saga have to do with with sohan ‘e assal, aka Persian honey almond brittle?
Well, this: the ingredients of sohan ‘e assal are beguiling and few (saffron, sugar, slivered almonds, honey) and the recipe (while requiring a specific mis en scene and tools) is straightforward as well – but, and it’s a big but – it does require watchful concentration; precision; and at the somewhat nerve-wracking last step, quick steady hands. If you are impatient or if you are nervous and frazzled, you’ll mess it up. If you are prepared, however; and keep calm and carry on with confidence, you’ll end up with a crispy, crunchy perfect little candy treat that is delicious on its own and also pairs spectacularly well with tea. (So good, it’ll even chase away bruised-rib blues.)
Persian food does not have a tradition of desserts, as meals are finished off with tea and fruit instead, so there’s a limited amount of authentic Iranian sweets in the culinary repertoire, but this Persian honey-almond-brittle candy is one of them — a traditional and popular sweet in Iran that is among the shirini (candies, sweets, pastries) served for Norooz — a favorite with young and old.
There are various sohan ‘e assal recipes. Some use rosewater, some use butter, some do this, some do that, but after a few trial and vexing errors, the recipe we’re sticking to (get it?) — since it’s proven consistently reliable in producing the type of candy texture that is crisply and densely chewy without being sticky, tastes best, and comes out a nice color — is the recipe given us by Khojee joon, a beloved family friend.
So, as Johann Wolfgang von Goethe said:
Well. It was nice to take a blogging break and as I like to say, laziness is its own reward. However: I missed y’all and it’s good to be back! There are some fun recipes in the works down the pipeline, but first, I’m excited to share the news that a few months ago I got the chance to work with the wonderful team (editor and art director) of Brownbook (a cool online & print lifestyle guide to the Middle East) to write & photograph an article for the Tehrangeles-themed issue #41 of their magazine.
Tehrangeles is a hybrid (Tehran + Los Angeles) nickname that’s a wink-wink nod to the fact that more Iranians live in Los Angeles than anywhere else in the world outside of Iran — an interesting statistic that is the direct outcome of the exodus of 1979. (Why did so many self-exiling Iranians pick the city of angels as a landing pad? I don’t know and I do wonder about that. We almost ended up there as well except that my mother vetoed the move but that’s another story entirely.)
The striking cover image — “Hybrid Girl 1″ — is a work by the artist Shirin Aliabadi. Someone on Facebook questioned the aptness of the choice – making a valid point that Iranian women in Los Angeles (or anywhere outside of Iran for that matter) do not cover up with hijab. But: poetic license and all that. Personally, I love it! It’s odd and bold. Eye-candy, in the best sense of the word.
The magazine was published in early September but available for purchase here in the U.S., this past week. Finally!
My contribution to the issue was to photograph and write about the Persian beverage sharbat ‘e sekanjabin: a classic, delicious type of sharbat, unique in that it can also be served as a dip with fresh crispy romaine lettuce leaves — praised by Ibn Sina; coveted and copied by the ancient Romans; imbibed by wise Iranians in the hot months of summer — made with honey and vinegar and sprigs of fresh mint.
Here are a couple of outtakes:
The issue is jam-packed with interesting features and images. I loved it all, specially the Kish Island feature; the bit about Mashti Malone’s Persian ice cream parlor; the interview with Arash Davari, editor of Bitaarof magazine; and the intro essay by Porochista Khakpour. But I have to say that I was most intrigued by the profile on (and as a result am currently borderline obsessed with) Ana Lily Aminpour, a filmmaker who’s created the first Iranian Vampire Western! (WHAT!) I can’t wait to see it and I want to watch all of her short films as well, including Pashmaloo, which means “hairy” in Persian and is a word that does not cease to delight me.
This was my first print publication and I’m tickled pink to be included in this terrific issue and in such good company. A meaningful personal milestone that I thank you for letting me share.
In conclusion, as someone more articulate than moi put it: “Pick up a copy and help keep print alive!”
You know how ballerinas are known to have horribly disfigured feet? Corns, blisters, calluses, deformed toes — feet battered by the practice of an ethereal art that is also a punishingly rigorous sport.
Running a blog on a regular basis is a little like being a ballerina. All you want to display to the world is a beautiful, expressive dance, seemingly effortless, and yet, there are those mangled feet tucked inside the pretty ribboned ballet shoes even as you twirl twirl pirouet and hope that you land gracefully on your toes.
Blogging is a performance, and there’s more than meets the eye, which does not make it an act of artifice or deception, merely … a performance. And there comes a time when you’ve gotta take a break and message and knead your ugly, painfully throbbing feet, so that you can perform with your heart and soul instead of just going through the motion.
And that, my friends, is my trademarked long-winded-dancing-around-the-issue way of saying that I need a break from blogging and Fig & Quince is going on a two week hiatus. Maybe shorter. Hopefully not longer.
I have to confess that I already played hookey this Saturday by going to the DUMBO Arts Festival instead of cooking up a storm for blog posts as I’d originally planned. Regrets, I have a few, and not too few to mention, but that decision – taking a break and soaking up the light, views, art, and life in one of my favorite Brooklyn neighborhoods – is not one of them. Recommend the practice to other freelance slaves!
The plan is to be back recharged and fully-loaded with recipes for: quince jam (Persian style); quince tas kabob (a personal favorite dish of mine that is simply amazing); Persian pickles; an indulgent personal announcement; a Persian Wedding post; and hopefully a tadig how-to post, and some fun stories.
Meanwhile, if you need to get your Persian-food fix on, and who can blame you if that is the case, please gracefully tiptoe over to any or all of these stellar Persian food blogs: Turmeric & Saffron, Pomegranate Diaries, Cafe Leilee, Ahu Eats and Fae’s Twist and Tango.