Rumi’s Thanksgiving Poem | Happy Thanksgiving Y’all!

Noosh jan B Persian illustration calligraphy digitalThis illustration is a digital calligraphy of the Persian word “noosheh jaan”, a word which you may have noticed I use to sign off on recipes, which literally means “may it be delightful to your being/soul”, a veritable florid mouthful in translation, but one that in common parlance simply expresses the sentiment of: “bon appetit” or “enjoy your meal.” Iranians pronounce this to the gathering at large before beginning to eat – be it an ordinary family meal or an elaborate dinner party, and I thought it might be an appropriate sentiment to anticipate the culinary feast of Thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving in the U.S is a lovely national holiday centered around food, togetherness, and gratitude – celebrated on the last Thursday in November with a festive meal with one’s family and close friends. The roots of the holiday are traced to an event commonly called the “First Thanksgiving” when the Pilgrims threw a feast to give thanks for the bounty of their first harvest in the New World in 1621 — inviting 90 Wampanoag Native Americans to join them in celebratory festivities lasting 3 days. New settlers in a new world, grateful for surviving, grateful for the kindness of the native inhabitants, all breaking bread together. One can only conjecture about the exquisite, heightened emotional nature of such an event.

One can also rightly wonder about the delicious food the Pilgrims served. The menu is historically recorded to have included waterfowl, venison, fish, lobster, clams, berries, fruit, pumpkin, squash and wild turkeys. A roasted turkey (the bigger the better it seems; the ceremonial carving of which is an integral part of the holiday ritual) remains the formidable centerpiece of a traditional American Thanksgiving dinner; with goose, duck, and the tofu-turkey vegetarian concoction as alternatives. Cranberry sauce, gravy, mashed sweet potatoes, and pumpkin pie are the basic, traditional side dishes – and let’s not overlook the stuffing, which is quite often the most delectable and sought-after delicacy at the table.

I wish I had a photo of our first Thanksgiving meal. When we first left Iran and moved to the U.S. my mom went through an intense period of ferocious homekeeping. She knitted, she sewed, she cooked. She clipped and collected recipes galore and made yogurt, feta cheese, jams, jellies, pickles, preserves, pizza dough, pie crusts, you name it, from scratch; and she embraced Thanksgiving and all its accoutrements with vim, vigor, zeal and zest. Which is not surprising really – come to think of it. Our first year in a new world felt like such a battery of emotions not unlike being shipwrecked at times — exile is a historical punishment for a good reason, it is extremely painful — and food and togetherness are anchors and safe harbors. Our first Thanksgiving was a gorgeous bountiful spread – my mother’s crusade of delicious soldiering-on. Of re-building a home. I took it for granted then and it is only in retrospect that I have the wisdom to admire her resilience and strength.

illustration vector home turkey pumpkin pie thanksgiving Fig Quince

At some point, I’d love to share some of my mom’s by now tried-and-true family classic Thanksgiving recipes as well as some of our new Persianized concoctions; but for now, let’s conclude with this feast of a poem about giving thanks and thanksgiving by the revered Persian poet and mystic, the one and only Rumi.

Rumi’s Thanksgiving Poem

Thanksgiving is sweeter than bounty itself.
One who cherishes gratitude does not cling to the gift!
Thanksgiving is the true meat of God’s bounty;
the bounty is its shell,
For thanksgiving carries you to the hearth of the Beloved.

Abundance alone brings heedlessness,
 thanksgiving gives birth to alertness.
The bounty of thanksgiving will satisfy and elevate you,
and you will bestow a hundred bounties in return.
Eat your fill of God’s delicacies,
and you will be freed from hunger and begging.

- Jalal Ad-Din Muhammad Rumi

    Patch of New York sky the day after Hurricane Sandy

Patch of New York sky the day after Hurricane Sandy

Happy Thanksgiving!

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Dartstrip | It’s Magnetic!

1 b dartstrip fig quince photo2 b dartstrip fig quince photo 3 b dartstrip fig quince photo

Baba joon using Dartstrip to pic of grandkids

Baba joon snapping a 1″ piece of Dartstrip to put up a pic of the grandkids

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.

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Thank you guys & a lovely weekend to all!

Pumpkin Pie Cafe Latte | Persianized?

01-B-Persianized Pumpkie Pie Latte Coffee Nooshidani hot
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.

04 Persianized Pumpkie Pie Latte Coffee Nooshidani hot
And here it goes …
Click here for the recipe!

Quince Tas Kabob | A Persian Dish with a New Yorker Flair

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4quince tas kabob Persian Iranian food cooking blog

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.

3quince tas kabob Persian Iranian food cooking blog

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.

2quince tas kabob Persian Iranian food cooking blog8quince tas kabob Persian Iranian food cooking blog

Diversity is delicious! Click here for the recipe!

Persian Pumpkin Kookoo Gone Awry! | A Halloween Postcard

Halloween Persian Kadoo Pumpkin 06
When we first moved to America, I was delighted by a number of novel things: fireflies, peanut butter, Seventeen magazine, and the very fun and spooky holiday of Halloween.

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.

Halloween Persian Kadoo Pumpkin 52

Have a safe and spooky Halloween! Lots of treats, not too many tricks!

Fear & Boldness | Sohan ‘e Assal (Persian Honey Almond Brittle)

23-Sohan Assal Persian Iranian candy brittle food blog

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!

8 boo boo scrape wound

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?

A partial batch we made for the COP event

Some of the sohan ‘e assal candy jars we made for the COP event

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 butit 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:

Goethe_portraitBe bold and go forth and make some of your own sohan ‘e assal.

Click here for Khojee joon’s recipe!

Tehrangeles! | Brownbook – Issue #41

07-B-Tehrangeles Brownbook sharbat sekanjabin persian blog

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!

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This is Mr. Ali, the kindly proprietor of the Williamsburg shop who helped me track down copies of Brownbook’s Tehrangeles issue and who indulged my photo-op requests.

CAPTION

A really really nice guy, Mr. Ali continued to humor my tomfoolery by also posing with the magazine opened to my article’s page.  Pages 174-178, baby!

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.

Of note, Davar Ardalan (NPR senior producer and creator of The Persian Square) and Alex Shams (editor-in-chief of Ajam Media Collective) were kind enough to contribute quotes to the article.

Here are a couple of outtakes:

1-Tehrangeles Brownbook sharbat sekanjabin persian blog

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Sharbat ‘eh sekanjabin, flanked by cherries, figs, blooms. Makes me nostalgic for summer!

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 would be me.  Captured on a cloudy day captivated by the magazine.

This would be me. Captured on a cloudy day captivated by the magazine.

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!”

Click here to find out where!

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