Continuing with the Friday theme of Iranian centric photo posts, let’s look at some B&W photographs.
This first one is of the students and teachers of the Bersabé Kindergarten ( کودکستان برسابه، اولین کودکستان ایرانی), the first modern kindergarten in Tehran, Iran. Taken on Sunday, March 19, 1939. (Great background info re the provenance of this kindergarden at the source.)
The traditional Persian martial arts (pahlavani) is a combination of weight-lifting, weight-maneouvering, weight-juggling and wrestling. The location (the gym, so to speak) where men went to practice the art and sport of phalvani were/are called “zoorkhaneh” which literally means “power houses” or “houses of power.” Traditionally, the Persian martial arts practices are accompanied with a live, very rhythmic music played on Persian drums called donbak (also called tombak, donbak, dombak, or zarb — a goblet drum hailing from ancient Iran.)
The happy athlete in the photograph is a champion pahlavan posing with a pair of light-weight meels (traditional tools used in pahlavani) resting on his shoulder. He has the title of “jahan pahlavan” which literally means “Pahlavan of the World.” (In Iran, if someone acted more aggressively than his circumstances might dictate, one would say: Who does he think he is? A pahlavan?)
This is a photo of one Mirza Ali Gholi Khan (Qajar Persian embassador to the U.S.) and his American hailing from the Boston high society wife, Florence Breed, in Washington D.C. From the looks of the photo, this is Edith Wharton era. The age of innocence! Mirza Ali Gholikhan was among the very first Iranian ambassadors to the United States – circa 1910 – and his official title was Charge d’affair of Persia. Here’s another photo of the Mirza Gholikhan and his spouse.
There are a number of fun photos of Elizabeth Taylor’s trip to Iran — circa sometime in the 60s — floating around the Internet. This one shows her in what I’m judging to be a tourist type of “Persian” coffee house. My main thought bubble is: Posture Liz! Posture!
Here’s a priceless shot of a group of Qajar era (remember the Qajar dyansty and quince kookoo?) female musicians. I detect two donbaks, one santoor, and what seems to be a mini organ. Kindly, do check out the brows and unibrows action. (The gentleman is a eunuch – I’m afraid and sadly suspect.)
Let’s end with a shot of lovely fresh-faced Iranian schoolgirls circa 1959. And not just any random group of girls. This is a snapshot of my mom and her best friends – circa 1959 – in 10th grade, Iran. Of the 6 friends: all got college degrees. 4 became medical doctors. 5 became mothers. 4 still live in Iran. 2 I called aunts. All 6 still remain good friends. My mom is the one second from the left. She and the one friend all the way to the right and the other friend all the way to the left were BFFs and known as the 3 musketeers. This is one of my favorite pix of all time.
Wait! What’s the sound? Oh, it looks like the school bell is ringing! Perfect for tanbal students like me to take off for recess.
So until next time: Happy Weekend!
Hi all. This is Jacqui — a lovely young woman I became acquainted with at The Herb Shoppe in Brooklyn — holding a mug of her delicious cocoa chai. I have the story and the recipe, but first, let’s sip something delicious and back track a bit:
Brooklyn is huge but it was just a small town when founded by Dutch settlers who dubbed their new home “Breuckelen” in a nostalgic nod to a town in the Netherlands. No offense to the Dutch, but “Brooklyn” has a nicer ring to it than Breuckelen. (Not to mention, it is infinitely easier to spell.)
I love living in Breuckelen. I mean Brooklyn! We have everything from Victorian townhouses so grand they make you gawk with admiration to industrial landscapes so picturesque they leave you speechless; we have wealth and squalor and everything in between; we have hipsters and a great many diverse ethnic enclaves.
Atlantic Avenue, a major street that begins at the Brooklyn waterfront and stretches a great length East is a good example of this diversity. On the waterfront end there is a mosque and a bunch of middle eastern shops and let’s not forget good ol’ Trader Joe’s, and then, there is a stretch lined with a cluster of hip, trendy stores and restaurants. Yet a further stretch will take you where there is nothing but you and the road and a somewhat desolate urban industrical landscape. I have not stretched any further than that! But venture further and you will hit Queens. So I’m told.
One of my favorite haunts on Atlantic Avenue – ensconced in that cluster of pretty stores I told you about — is a charming and delightful establishment called The Herb Shoppe. They offer an amazing array of all manners of familiar and exotic herbs and spices and botanicals and loose teas, all invitingly and temptingly displayed in rows of glass jars and bottles. It is one of my happy places! What I like about the store is that you are helped but you are not hovered over. The vibe is friendly, not fake and fawning, and if you ask a question, you’ll get an informed and enthused answer. I also like that you can purchase in bulk or in as small a quantity as you wish, so that you can experiment with herbs and spices without having to spend a fortune.
I first wandered into The Herb Shoppe over a year ago while on a wild-goose-quest for edible dried rose petals. Which: they carried! Jacqui, the lovely young woman profiled here, was behind the counter. We struck up a conversation during which I may have brought up Fig & Quince (ahem) and the whole bit about Persian food blogging. Since then, I have gone in now and again looking for everything from sage to turmeric to what not. At some point Jacqui mentioned some of her recipes and they all sounded enchanting! I begged her to share one. And she indulged me and did!
And this, my friends, is how Jacqui and I ended up meeting on a freezing cold January day in Brooklyn to bring to you a yummy & delicious- smelling raw cocoa concoction. In an attempt to Persianize the whole affair, Jacqui is enjoying the cacao drink while sipping it from an old-fashioned-style Persian tea cup!
Now just check out the ingredients: cacao, cardamom, cinnamon, ginger, clove, honey, vanilla, and milk. Talk about an ingredient list that sings!
Tthank you Jacqui for sharing your lovely recipe! It was fun! And you guys: the recipe is below. Click! Click here for the recipe!
Last week I posted some choice vintage pix of a time in Iran that is by now a foregone conclusion. A few of you were surprised by the Iran of the past and a few were wondering about the Iran that exists now. Just who are these Iranians we hear so much about on the news? Let’s take a pictorial journey across the ocean to a land steeped in ancient culture and modern controversy, the land of caviar and saffron and pistachios and rosewater and Rumi and Khayam, one of the oldest dynastic empires, and a land infamously labeled the Axis of Evil. (Since I have not been back since we left, I relied on Uncle Internet to gift me with some photographic evidence. Credit is given when the copyright owner is identifiable.)
Let’s start with the national Iranian airline again. In contrast with the swinging 60’s mini skirt touting flight attendants of the last Friday post, here are some pix I found of a modern day Iran Air crew: pilot , co-pilot and flight attendants. All seems normal and copesetic. But: no mini-jupe in sight!
Let’s take a look at some of the people who live in iran. Maybe we’ll see something different than just the saturated media images. What do people do in Iran? How do they live?
Looks like some people ski …
While some others snow board …
And some crazy people snowboard down the handrail.
Some women embrace the mandatory hijab (covering up, that is) with gusto while some observe it with a degree of inventiveness.
Some people take the train. They go places. Then they come back.
Some people enjoy a private swimming pool to mingle and play.
Some people go to the mosque of Emam Reza in Mashad to worship and pray.
Some people play music on the street. (Look! Iranian hipsters!)
And some people call it a day already and take a coffee break.
And on that note, I’m going to follow suit and break for coffee! To be continued!
Until then: Bye Bye & Happy Weekend!
Quince is a praiseworthy fruit unaccountably overlooked in the West but surely poised to receive its due justice and high praise … any minute now. Tick, tock, tick, tock! But while quince tap, tap, taps its foot, awaiting an end to its role as a steely ambitious understudy for the glorified pomegranate and making it “All About Quince” and finally taking center-stage in the West, it has the solace of having being treated with affection and high regard in other parts of the world, particularly in Iran, from the beginning, and since the ancient times.
In Persian cooking, quince is relished as a treasured culinary ingredient in manners both savory and sweet. From quince stew (khoresh ‘e beh) to quince dolmeh (dolmeh ‘ye beh) to a toothsome quince jam (moraba ‘ye beh) to the glorious quince tas kabab (tas kabab ‘e beh) to a quince and lemon syrup (sharbet ‘eh beh limoo) that is a refreshing and aromatic summertime drink, to a few other culinary treats besides. As you can see, in the Iranian culinary tradition, the degree of partiality to quince is extensive and eclectic.
That said, I’d never heard of a quince kookoo (kookoo ‘ye beh) until I read the “Forgotten Kookoo Recipes” section of a wonderful two volume encyclopedic Persian cookbook (a veritable tome) researched and written by Ostad Najaf Daryabandari. (More on this gentleman, who is a revered translator and public figure, and on the treasure of the cookbook he produced, at a later time.) It appears that the recipe for quince kookoo traces its origin to a 19th century cookbook scribed by one Mirza Ali Akbar Khan Kashani who was the chief royal cook of one of the more famous Persian kings of the Qajar dynasty: Nasser El Din Shah Qajar. The Qajar dynasty was corrupt (to the bone) but their saving grace is leaving a legacy of a specific style of painting that is nothing short of stunningly gorgeous. Behold as exhibit A, a portrait of the said Nasser el din Shah himself as painted in the Qajar style of art:
May we take a quick detour away from food and recipes and venture into the arena of amateur art appreciation? I mean, look at all the patterns in this painting! So many intricate and ornate patterns and yet, nothing clashes and the whole comprises a harmonious eye candy. That is quite an artistic feat, don’t you agree?
I am also quite amused by the body language of the king, who hails from the 19th century, yet whose posture is quite modern in that it’s entirely casual. His title may be “His Majesty King of Kings, the Ruler of the Whole kingdom of Iran” — that’s the translation of the Persian text (تمثال عدیم المثل اعلیحضرت شاهنشاه کّل ممالک محروسه ایران) inscribed below the painting — but the king’s posture is so nonchalantly cool that I could very easily imagine him holding a glass of artisanal micro-brewed beer in his right hand while holding court in a hip Brooklyn bar! The king does sport the much-praised Persian unibrow (praised by and a trademark of many Persian artists that is – often, women depicted in Persian paintings have magnificently arched and full unibrows.)
And do let’s talk fashion. Because I so dig the clothing! My mom looked at this painting and said: “Gosh! Can you imagine people wearing clothes like this?” And I looked at this painting and thought: “Gosh! Can you imagine people wearing clothes like this?” But my mother’s tone is one of “thank God the fashion and styles have changed” and my tone is “it would be ever so delightful if we still went around like this.” I love the profusion of paisley patterns – the quintessential Persian design motif – and I am amused by the eccentric hat that is also a crown bearing paisley-shaped gems in its feather duster band. It all looks entirely comfy, cozy and yet supremely pretty and luxurious to me.
One question before moving on back to food: are those shoes the king is wearing, or is he just wearing socks?
Moving on back to the delicious and delightful topic of food … since I’ve already sung the praise of kookoo on 3 separate former occasions (Kookoo sabzi, kookoo sibzamini, kookoo Sabzi II) and since we already spent a bit of time casting an admiring glance at the role quince has played in the cuisine of Iran and how it’s verily on the verge of stardom here in the west, I will cut to the chase and spare you further bavardage (or bolboli kardan as we call it in Iran, meaning chattering ceaselessly much like a canary) and suggest we head over to the recipe section and review the direction for the quince kookoo recipe found in the cookbook penned by the Qajar King’s royal chef.
I will only add that kookoo ‘ye beh (quince kookoo) is soft and lush and tastes very good and smells good too and it will serve you well as either an appetizer or a light meal. You could enjoy it with yogurt and a platter of fresh herbs (sabzi khordan); or you can go the route of topping it with something sweet like jam or syrup or a dusting of confectioners sugar. Either way, it’ll go quite well with some soft flat bread. Nice, comforting and yummy. Noosh ‘eh jan in advance!
A Friday post calls for a fun post. So I thought I’d round up for you some images of Iran that have caught my eye while perusing the Internet. The theme: vintage Iran of the 60′s and the 70′s. Let’s travel back in time. Berim!
This first picture is of 4 Iranian airline stewardesses (flight attendants) posing with varying degrees of levity in front of a plane that bears the words: “هواپیمای ملی ایران” which means: Iran’s National Airline. In English lettering to the left of the plane we have “Persia” except that the “P” is cropped out of the shot, leaving us with just “ersia.”
Judging by the outfits, this is the Mad Men era. And judging by the length (or lack thereof) of the skirts, it is Mad Men circa Don Draper’s second (Megan Draper) and not first (Betty Draper) wife. In Iran, mini skirts were known as “mini jupe” — the French term for the said style of garment.
By the way, going back to the airplane, do you see the 10th window-portal of from the right? Those were usually the reserved row of seats where the rolled up flying magic carpets would be stored for use in case of an emergency.
I kid! I kid.
This rather handsome man, Behrooz Vossoghi, was the biggest matinee idol (think Brad Pitt or George Clooney) of my parents’ epoch. I don’t believe I ever saw even one of his films as my parents were rather picky and strict about the type of movies we could watch. Pity, but such are the cards we are dealt in life. Do you see the movie poster in the top middle that reads: Arrivederchi Tehran? Oh, I would so like to see it! Netflix … are you listening?
Like any sex symbol movie star worth his salt, Behrooz Vossoghi was romantically linked to a number of stars and starlets. None however piqued the interest of people more than his pairing off with Googoosh. Ah, Googoosh, Googoosh! Googoosh was a huge pop star, an icon, and someone I would like to feature at length. But for now, let’s just note how pretty the two look together and leave it at that. Behrooz Vossoghi and Googoosh married, divorced, and made a few (not good but popular) movies together.
Speaking of vintage and times gone by, you can’t get more vintage than this: Jacki O, the Shah of Iran, Farah Diba the former Empress of Iran, and JFK – all dressed to the nines – on the occasion of what I presume can be nothing other than a formal White House visit circa Camelot. I do like how they all seem sincerely interested and engaged.
So many things to note about this picture! It is the cover of what was a very popular women’s magazine named “Zan ‘eh Rooz’ which means “Today’s Woman.” My mom would bring issues to the house but I was strictly forbidden from reading it. However, I will confess that I considered it a dare and managed to read every issue, front to back and back to front, on the sly. This particular cover is apparently of that year’s “Dokhtareh Shayesteh” which literally means “glorious girl” (or something like that) and which was Iran’s title given to the winner of a beauty pageant who would go on to compete in the Miss World competition. This cover announces the excitment of Iran’s contestant’s impending trip to partake in the international beauty pageant competition.
Most interestingly: she’s posing in front a Paykan car.
The bilingual highway sign is sufficient commentary for this photo I found online, don’t you think? I can look at this photograph for a long long time.
This truly is a moment frozen in time. On the verge of exiting Tehran.
While I dream of seeing the sign on the other side of the highway:
“ENTER. TEHRAN. 1 Kilometer.”
Is it too late to take stock of 2013 and reminisce about the past year? Are we over the newness of this year already? Please tell me it isn’t so — 2014 is only a hint over two weeks old, still shiny and filled with promise and potential and hope, and surely not in need of some botox yet — what, with 349 whole days left till 2015. (Although actually, while that sounds like a lot of time, let’s face it, it may go poof and vanish just like a dandelion caught in a gust of wind.)
Did you make any resolutions? Are you sticking to them? I don’t make New Year’s resolutions but I do have a few mottos I have adopted throughout life that I do my best to live by, and come a new year, I polish them up so that they burnish more brightly on the forefront mantlepiece of my mind. They serve me well, so I’ll share them with you:
Perfect is the enemy of Good. (Another variation of this motto is: Done is better than Perfect. Quilt artists are fond of this aphorism. Understanding this wisdom liberated me beyond measure. Ending a bout of years-long self-fulfillment paralysis. May it do the same for you. Whatever you want to do, just do it. Who cares whether it is perfect or not?)
Don’t drown in a cup of water. (I forget where I came across this. It is simple yet profound wisdom. I interpret it to mean: don’t freak out, don’t fret over little things, handle conflict and travails with grace, have faith.)
Be Bold. Whatever you do or dream you can, begin it. (Ghoethe said this and I’ve already waxed plenty poetic about it.)
Be kind. (Kindness is a gift to oneself as much as it is to others. I try to remind myself of this and practice it. Even on the subway!)
It is the sign of the times we live in that blogs also have occasion to review and take stock of their performance in the year past. WordPress sends out an “annual report” for all the blogs they host. A nicely designed and engineered report with a fun and festive fireworks animated GIF and interesting statistical analogies that among other things also identifies the 5 most popular posts of the year on one’s blog. A few cool bloggers shared their top 5 blog posts of 2013 list, and I thought I’d be a copy cat (MEOW!) and do the same.
Let the countdown to Fig & Quince’s top 5 posts of the year begin:
A yummy & truly simple vegetarian (can also be made vegan style) eggplant dish from the Northern (shomal) region of Iran. The story and recipe delightfully narrated by Yvonne joon, a most charming racounter, and the very first Fig & Quince guest blogger. I’m not surprised that out of the 60 odd posts on the blog last year, Yvonne joon penned one of the top five. She is witty, pretty, kind and oh so bright and her friendship I count as one of the great bonuses of having started this here blog.
Bearing some resemblance in looks (if not taste) to the Mexican mole, fesenjoon (also called fessenjan), is known as the king of khoresh. Made with a mixture of ground walnuts and pomegranate syrup, fesenjoon’s flavor is tangy and sweet and rich and its texture is heaven: soft but granular and thick. It is almost unbearably delicious when served with rice. Trust!
Persian rice is a science and art to itself and the measure by which one gauges the true talent of an Iranian cook. This post, part 1 of a Rice 101 series, is an introduction to the rice (polo) and also to tadig (also spelled tahdig sometimes) or the bottom-of-the-pot crunchy crust of the rice that is the most coveted offering at any Iranian dinner table.
Oh, I get so happy looking at these pictures. They bring back fond and wholesome memories! They are from this past March when I sprouted lentils and sprouted wheat and watched them grow. Sprouting seeds, called “sabzeh sabz kardan” is one of the many very pretty customs of the secular and ancient celebration of the Persian New Year aka Norooz. I confess I’m still smiling looking at the photos – they are synonymous for me with spring! I may just rush spring and sprout some seeds right away just for the sheer pretty pleasure of it. ( A step by step guide to grow sabzeh at the full post.)
And, ta da, drum roll, the number 1 most viewed post:
Perhaps not surprisingly, yet another Persian Rice 101 post, this one a pictorial step by step guide to making the perfect Persian rice took the #1 most viewed post. All credit is due to Persian rice itself, which truly, is the best rice in the world. It just is! The directions may seem exhaustive, but give it a try or three, and once you get the hang of it and it becomes second nature, you can make a fluffy pillowy bed of fragrant and perfectly steamed rice with one arm behind your back and win friends and influence people. Promise!
So that was Fig & Quince’s highlights in 2013, according to Word Press. For 2014, I have some theme adjustments (that I hope you’ll like) and a few fun plans for Fig & Quince up my sleeve. One of the plans intersects with my personal life and it is major and so dear to me that just thinking about it makes my heart go: thump, thump, thump! I hope I can realize it. I pray it will happen. I will weep if it does (with joy.) I will weep if it doesn’t (with sadness. And I might just burst.) Hint: its realization involves getting on a plane! ;) Please wish me luck!
And in conclusion and as I bid you adieu till we read again, I hope the new year has been treating you kindly thus far and that it will coddle and pamper you till the next one and I hope that you are either keeping up with your good resolutions or have the good sense not to beat yourself up if you have not.
One of the earliest posts on Fig & Quince was a recipe for kookoo Sabzi, a very popular type of Persian kookoo that is enjoyed year round and is also among the traditional foods served during Norooz — the Persian New Year’s 2 weeks long celebration — because it is green and thus symbolizes growth, renewal and spring.
What exactly is a kookoo? As I wrote earlier, I like to imagine kookoo as the precocious love child of a quiche and a soufflé. The Zelig of egg dishes: because it bears a semblance of resemblance to a frittata, fritter, omelette or even a pancake!
But ultimately and in a nutshell, kookoo refers to a genre of Persian food made with whipped eggs which then are folded in with various ingredients. In Iranian cuisine, we have garlic kookoo, eggplant kookoo (one of my favorites – yum), green bean kookoo, potato kookoo (delicious with candied turnips), meat kookoo, cauliflower kookoo, and a bunch more besides. Variations abound! Kookoos can be served as an appetizer, a side dish, or a light meal. Since they travel well, most versions of kookoo are also quite popular as picnic fare.
A good kookoo sabzi is a thing of beauty: fluffy, fragrant, hearty yet light, filled with nutrition, and absolutely delicious! The contrasting play of the tangy berberries and crunchy earthy walnuts in a bite of fluffy herb-infused kookoo sabzi, when partaken with yogurt and some bread, is poised to delight even a persnickety palette. [Fun Fact: Kookoo sabzi was one of dishes served at the 2012 White House Passover dinner.]
Recently I had occasion to avail myself of the goodness of this lovely kookoo and it occurred to me to repeat the recipe for those of you who may have missed it earlier – because it’s just too good a recipe to miss tasting and having in your repertoire, and because as Doctor Seuss said: “If you never did eat kookoo you should. These kookoo things are fun and fun is good.”
Let’s not just sing Kookoo sabzi’s praise – let’s get cooking and make some!