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!
My friend Mette (who hails from the magical land of Hans Christian Andersen) and I have a giddy, gushing love of New York in common, plus a penchant for walking, and we have really good walking karma! In the good ol’ days when Mette lived in New York, we would go on epic strolls (reminiscent of Toni and Christopher who flânent their way through Paris in the wonderful Metroland novel by Julian Barnes) and we would always, somehow or other and often in surprising ways, encounter and experience perfect and memorable New York moments. Back then I was solely an urban walker but Mette also biked and mind you this was: without a helmet; in all manners of weather; and before the city was even remotely bike-friendly. I was torn between aghast horror for her safety and appreciative marvel at her chutzpah.
When I recently signed up for NY’s bike program, you may recall that my city biking adventures began somewhat inauspiciously. But as soon as my bruised ribs healed I was back on that bike and I have to say, I’m 100% addicted! Save for snowy days and a few sick days, I have been racking up the miles, rain or shine, pedaling in traffic and over bridges and alleyways and city streets and bike paths, visiting old far-flung haunts and discovering new ones, and through it all, I have often missed my buddy Mette because if she still lived here I know that we would be having so many epic biking adventures. Like all good friendships, when it comes to being enchanted by things, we speak the same language. Hopefully she can move back here like she wants to in the near future (let’s all send her positive vibes to win the U.S. Green Card Lottery) but meanwhile the consoling news for her tribe here is that she gets to visit us in NY rather regularly. She was here just recently, matter of fact. And of course, we had to go biking through Brooklyn!
And so it was that a few weeks or so ago we met up mid-afternoon in Brooklyn, on a FREEZING but super pretty (sunny, puffy clouds, blue sky) day and pedaled our way from the waterfront views of Williamsburg towards Vinegar Hill and on to DUMBO (with a fun coffee + chat + toe-warming pitstop) and then onwards to the Brooklyn Heights promenade. From there we traversed the gorgeous Brooklyn Bridge and on to Chambers Street in Manhattan, then rode all the way West to the Hudson River trail where we headed up north to 16th street (chatting while stealing glimpses at the glittering New Jersey skyline and a cruise ship sauntering slowly on the river) and we then made our way East to Union Square where we finally bid adieu to the bikes.
It was a whole lot of exertion, a whole lot of gorgeous views, a whole heck of a good time, and just an overall feeling of exuberance.
And then, we made our way to my parents apartment for din-din. Now, my parents theoretically & technically reside elsewhere, but for awhile now they mostly live in New York because of my father’s work. That day, they had just returned to the city in the early afternoon hours when I called my mother and asked: misheh ma sham biyayim khonahtoon? That is: I invited us over for dinner! My mom, champ & khanoom that she is, agreed and somehow or other in the scant few hours she had between returning to the city and before we got to their apartment, she’d set the coffee table with a bowl of fruit and ajeel (such a Persian thing to do!) and prepared a delicious dish: adas polo (Persian lentil rice) with raisin and dates and walnuts, served with saffron chicken breasts. (There was tadig too — of course!) Mashallah & hats off to her!
When we got to the apartment, we were welcomed not just with warm greetings but also an intoxicating waft of the heavenly scents of saffron, rice, cinnamon, and butter mingled together! Oh, mon dieu! Let me pose a perfectly rhetorical question: is there anything better than being hungry like a wolf and dropping in just in time to sit down to a delicious meal in the company of some of your favorite people?
Over dinner, being as it was the eve of their wedding anniversary, my parents told the story of how they’d met. (An interesting tale where the ritual of serving a tray of tea plays a pivotal and traditional role — so I’m saving their story for a future post about the ceremony of tea drinking and Iranians.) Mette indulged us with accounts of her life and work in Copenhagen; and I went on about the 1976 UFO sighting in Tehran (WHAT!) which I’d just found out about while listening to a TTBOOK podcast! After dinner, we had tea (with milk, please) and seeded pomegranates (another quintessential Persian thing to serve when having guests over) and some cookies for dessert. It was a really fun night. The perfect ending to a perfect afternoon. Wish you all could have been there!
Were it only possible! Sadly, and Napoleon Bonaparte’s decree on the impossibility of impossibility notwithstanding (and anyhow we saw how Napoleon fared with that motto of his in Russia) that lovely scenario does not seem to be ever possible in the realm of practical reality. BUT, it is entirely possible and even practical (that is if something that tastes magical could ever be said to be practical) to recreate your very own mouthwatering and delicious adas polo.
Now, a shocking thing about Persian lentil rice is that it is traditionally not considered a fancy enough dish for formal dinner parties, which is heresy and crazy talk as far as I’m concerned, because the amalgam of taste, texture and scent of humble lentils made decadent with saffron, butter, rice and advieh (mixed spices) combined with crunchy walnuts and sweetly succulent sauteed and buttered raisins and dates is enough to incite a swoon … oh my, do give me a minute to fan myself out of this tizzy.
Theatrics aside, what I’m saying is … Trust me, this is no hyperbole. Persian lentil rice is good, good, GOOD! Go for it! Make it your New Year’s resolution.
Happy 2014! Make every day count this year!
Old Mac Ghassem (also known as Mashdi Donald) and his coddled pishi kat Meeyou and the rest of his cute critter-menagerie join Fig & Quince (and 7legs) — in this very special time of year — with a heartfelt and bellowing chorus to wish you all:
Happy Holidays, a Merry Christmas, and a very happy New Year.
Let’s all sing along together now (to the tune of ♪ Oh, Old MacDonald Had a Farm E.I.E.I.O ♫ ):
With a woof woof woof and a cluck cluck cluck and an oink oink oink and a meow meow meow and a Perzh Perzh Persian and a neigh neigh neigh here and a baa-baa-baa there, here a cluck, there a woof, here an oink, everywhere a baa, here a Persian or two, and there a MEOW … Ooooh …
La la la la la LA! ♪
I preach boldness to myself, even so, I routinely shy away from many risks and adventures and even harmless culinary escapades like making bread or pizza dough because I feel intimidated. But a good many months ago I wanted to entertain and feed a little boy I adore who adores all things carb and bread and pizza and I was thus motivated to finally take the plunge to make a pizza from scratch to make him happy. (In a battle between intimidation and love, fear often whimpers away and goes poof!) I looked for a foolproof recipe and it was Suzanne’s very easy quick pizza dough recipe to the rescue which came out great, smelled quite good, felt wonderful to touch when handled (pliable, soft, stretchy) and made for a toothsome pizza (even though I burned it a bit) that was devoured with enthusiasm.
Learning how to make a homemade pizza is a delicious but dangerous skill. There are very many calories in a given slice and a given slice can be eaten in a lickety-split and yet your tummy goes right back to demanding: Gimme More you troll! So rather intentionally, I refrained from avidly exercising this new-found skill. At the same time, making dough is such a tactile pleasure and a plain pizza dough itself is a blank canvas primed to be personalized and beckoning customization with an endless versatility of taste and toppings and flavors and I’ve since positively yearned to make a series of so-to-speak-Persianized pizzas.
The first Persianized pizza idea that popped into my head was to use persimmons. They are in season here in the U.S.; they are lovely to look at and to taste (although it took yours truly many years until I learned how to eat and enjoy persimmons); and they remind me of my childhood in Iran. I was beaming with confidence that a persimmon pizza topping was my very own singularly brilliant and novel idea but a “persimmon pizza” Google query quickly slapped me out of this notion and I snapped out of it. (Extra credit & pizza toppings for you if you get the movie allusion, ha ha!)
Refuting my unique genius, as mentioned, there are a good number of persimmon pizza recipes out there, and a conference of persimmons with goat cheese and basil seems to be the most popular combo for this type of pizza. Instead of reinventing the wheel, I went with the popular tried & true & praised triumvirate. And let me tell you: the flavor & texture combination of persimmon and goat cheese is heavenly. Heavenly! Both are soft and comforting in the best way, and one is delightfully pungent while the other is delectably sweet, and topped with the pizza bread they are yummy yummy yummy. And basil of course plays beautifully with persimmon and cheese and dough and brightens up the entire game.
If I make this pizza again, though, I’d like to experiment with a more melty type of cheese (the goat cheese softened but didn’t melt the way I was hoping it would; and I also think a sharper flavored cheese may work nicely as well) and also next time I won’t skimp on the dough (I halved mine and the result was a thin crust that turned crispy instead of pillowy.) This persimmon pizza I feel pays merely a lip-smacking service to Persianizing, so I will do better next time instead of taking the easy way out. A Twitter friend suggested berberry as a topping, which: love the idea! Very inspiring and plan to use it. The beauty of pizza is that it opens up wide the doors of experimenting with different tastes and textures and I definitely want and plan on making many different types of Persianized pizzas in the near future.
A couple of notes before moving on to the recipe:
And now: Pizza Pizza!
Azul (the beautiful lady in the photograph) was one of the guests at my sister & brother-in-law’s Thanksgiving potluck party that I just posted about. Azul hails from Argentina and she is a software programmer and an artist and she likes to cook and she is very, very nice. It was a case of instant “like” when I met her at the party, and also an instant case of “yum” when I tasted the delicious sunflower seed hummus she had made for the potluck. I loved the taste (nutty & round, a bit peanut-buttery in flavor) and texture (creamy and grainy) of this hummus and while it was served as a dip I can easily imagine it also as a wonderful sandwich spread or even a relish. The good news is that the recipe for sunflower seed hummus recipe is beautifully healthy and simple and Azul is graciously sharing it below as a short and sweet guest-blogger post. Further good news: she has promised a guest post about a Persianized version of an Argentine dish down the road. It’s safe to say that I can not wait! Meanwhile, without further ado, let’s dip into this delicious guest post in Azul’s own words:
I learned to make this dip in Nono, Córdoba Province, in Argentina when my violinist friend Marcos invited me to a gathering to meet a group of wonderful people who were also living part of the year in this beautiful location. One thing we all had in common was that we all had lived in different places; loved the arts, music and dance; were interested in eating healthy; and most importantly, our common interest in doing something daily to appreciate nature and life as a way of living and a simple philosophy.
Overlooking the landscape through the kitchen windows I learned how sunflower seeds could become a wonderful hummus bringing the natural oil of the seeds for a smooth texture.
Here is how:
Thank you Azul for this great, simple, healthy recipe with an enchanting history! You guys, be sure to check out Azul’s photographs of the art retreat near Nono and at Los Algarrobos, in the Córdoba Province, Argentina, where this recipe was passed on, and also her artist website.
Back to the recipe: I know I’ll be making a big batch at first opportunity. I tend to enjoy things a little bit on the salty side, so the only revision I’d personally make would be to add a bit more salt. I’d also love to see how it fares mixed in with some dried cranberries. I like that the recipe is versatile enough to add various types of green as well (would love to try it with kale) and I bet it’ll adapt itself well to further improvisation. In any event, I do recommend this recipe heartily!
Thank you again Azul jan!
Thanksgiving was a potluck affair of family and friends over at my sister and brother in law’s this year. To give you an idea of the scope, the stats were this: 25 people big and small, 3 turkeys, 8 pies, 1 espresso machine, 1 gnome.
So. The turkey … Or rather, the turkeys. 3 of them as I said. To clarify, 2 were originally birds, one was originally tofu. Yup, there was tofu turkey! I’ve long heard tales of these mythical creatures but had never seen one with my own eyes and was quite curious to glimpse one up close. I had imagined it’d be tofu in the shape of a turkey. But … no. It looked like a roll of meatloaf, and it came with gravy. Apparently some tofu turkeys also come with a mock wishbone (called a wishstix) made out of tofu jerky. Doesn’t that sound … amazing? This one didn’t – and I’m undecided if that was good or bad. May I say that tofu turkey is not the most enticing or tantalizing looking offering?
However, one person at the party absolutely loved the tofu turkey. He kept boisterously and (truth be told) somewhat aggressively pointing to it and asking for: “mo”, “mo”, “MO!” That someone was my 2 year old nephew. He couldn’t get enough of it! So funny.
The other turkeys had an interesting fate. They were not roasted in the oven as is the wont of most turkeys during the holidays. They were instead deep fried! This was another thing I’ve long heard tales of (including on an episode of King of the Hill) but had never witnessed with mine very own eyes. The idea and its contraption-construction and execution were my brother-in-law’s — who is prone to making things adventurous and theatrical and who has the grace-under-pressure aplomb to pull it off. There were some technical glitches and for a little while we thought it might be a turkeyless thanksgiving after all. But we never doubted and glitches were resolved after all and turkeys were had. Thus, it was not just delicious but a fun spectacle and memorable.
Needless to say, aside from the turkeys, there were food galore. Befitting a feast. There was: cranberry sauce, 3 different types of stuffing, 2 dishes of roasted Brussel sprouts mixed with other goodies, biscuits, haricots vert, stuffed grape leaves (if I make it again will post its recipe), sunflower seed hummus (yum and I’ve been promised its recipe and will share!), a fab wild rice dish, and sweet potato fries. A Persian mixed-rice and tadig peacefully mingled with the American food. May the respective nations do the same.
And you didn’t forget about the pies, did you? There were 8 of them! And of course by pies, I mean desserts, if you are going to be a stickler and insist on accountability and accuracy. So, 8 desserts, give or take, including: a pecan pie, 2 fruit cobblers, an apple cranberry crisp, a chocolate marquis, a traditional pumpkin pie, and 2 pumpkin creme brulees. Ah ha & oh la la! Blow-torching to make the delicious glassy brulee crust is one of those things that’s just fun to watch. Tristan, who made the phenom creme brulee pumpkin pies, did the blow torching honors. Dave is pointing approvingly – prior to commencing his own thriving made-to-order espresso-drink stint with his espresso machine. (The best cappuccinos!) Ben & Stella gamely supplied the accompanying awe + shock vibe of comraderie that is a pivotal part of a any successful blow-torching session.
Thus concludes a post looking back at a day chock-full of big and little blessings.