Hello hello hello! Is There Anybody Out There? (God, I love this album.)
But seriously: Are any of y’all still reading here? The blog stat says that a good bunch of you all are still coming and visiting (thank you! thank you!) but I know I’ve been MIA and I’m truly sorry for the absence. Perchance it made the heart grow fonder?
You see, my second epic trip to Iran (commenced circa September 2015) which was meant to last all of two months turned into a semi-permanent stay. I ended up not leaving and instead living here. In the interim, a whirlwind of activity ensued: I gave a TEDxTehran talk; I took a few cool trips (gastro, cultural and business) in Iran; I started a podcast series called the “Stories of Fig & Quince” (in Persian for the time being but moving forward I hope to do have an English version as well); AND, I ended up starting a digital media company (Zeerak Media) in Tehran! I mean, WHOA!
Throughout, I’ve wanted to share it ALL with you, every bit of it, every day, and yet, a body has just so much energy and yours truly is doing my best to stay afloat and play catch-up (while self-medicating with plenty of Persian pastry and such for the upkeep of spirit). It bears repeating that while absent from the blog’s website, I have been micro-blogging regularly and practically daily on Instagram and if so inclined, you could always follow my adventures there. Just saying!
To get warmed up and back in the blogging game, I thought I’d share a few photos of my very short yet truly memorable trip to the exotic, colorful, hospitable and entirely fascinating Persian Gulf region of Iran (or “jonoob” as we also call it here) circa February 2016.
The genesis of my trip was an invitation to attend a 3-day music festival in “Tiroor” (a small city an hour drive from Bandar Abbas, the main port of Persian Gulf.) The festival planners had set up local food and arts & crafts kiosks for the local artisans to show off and flaunt and vend their handiwork. The lady in the photo, a local artisan, is covering her face with something called a burqa. This is a type of hejab exclusive to the “bandari” women of this region, and it has become more or less defunct and prevails mostly as the custom of the women who live in the small cities and villages in the region. There are many different types of burqa and each has a significance and signals the wearer’s status: married, widowed, young, old, bride. It is fascinating and yet too deep a subject for us to address except in this very harried and rather perfunctory way. (You can see a bunch of examples here.)
The traditional “bandari” clothing is very ornate, very cheerful, and boldly bright. There is nothing bashful or understated about the fashion, let’s say that straight up! The embroidery is called “golabatoon” and it is used on all the party and formal wear of the women. For example, a bride typically needs to have a trousseau of at least 20 outfits – tunic and leggings – all of which needs be embroidered and bejeweled by hand and it can take up to two weeks just to create one legging! It is a big and serious business, and the sweet lady featured here is one such much-in-demand artisan who meticulously embroiders these ornate designs on fabric. She told me she was booked solid for a year!
During the 3 nights that I spent in Tiroor, I was hosted by a wonderful family, with 6 daughters and one son; each nicer and kinder and more hospitable than the next, and here are glimpses of the 2 youngest sisters with whom I spent the most time. As you may be able to tell from the photo, the leggings are a marvel of patterns and handiwork, and mind you, these leggings are the casual ones they wore for informal entertainment around the house!
Continuing with the dizzying yet pleasing plethora of the bold patterns abundant in the region, here we have a bowl of dry & crispy and somewhat spicy snack popular in the region that is called “pofak hendi” or alternatively “ajeel hendi” but it also has a very cute bandari nickname which unfortunately I no longer recall!
Now let’s discuss this photo! It brings back such wonderful memories! The cover photo at the top of the page and this one is the documentation of the lovely and delicious breakfasts I was treated to every day by the very nice family who I mentioned hosted me during my 3 night stay in Tiroor. As you can spy with your little eye, the breakfast (served in a round tray as is the charming custom of Iran) included walnuts, sliced tomatoes, honey, taftoon bread, feta cheese and tea! It was such a nice and indulgent way to start the day. The lady of the house also made a tall stack of the small round soft bread you see in this tray in a little portable “tanoor” oven she had in the house. The sound you heard just now were a re-enactment of the squeals of joy I made when I was offered this bounty!
And let’s end with this still life of some of the souvenirs I brought back with me from this awesome trip. From top & clockwise: a really great book about the region written by a local female scholar; a red woolen burqa (older women wear this); a gold burqa (brides wear this); and a lovely bag of bandari mixed spices (cardamom, pepper, rose petals in the mix with other spices) that the locals use in everything from stews to seasoning fish and seafood.
OK, then! Hope this will do for a breaking-the-ice post after such a long absence and that you enjoyed it and that you’ve forgiven me a bit for going radio silent.
Meanwhile, for those of you who are farsizaban, I have a new podcast episode up narrating a tiny bit more of the story of the marvels of this trip to the Persian Gulf region of Iran. Do catch a listen and if you enjoy it, please do share the link with your friends. (Link!)
And now, it’s time to bid you a fond farewell. Thanks for sticking with me and I promise I shall be back soon with actual recipe posts (the food of the south and north of Iran is a revelation!) plus photo essays and travel stories. My intention is to start writing here regularly again. That is my fond hope and desire, and by golly, I shall do my best to fulfill it or bust.
Hello friends! One of the interesting things that happened to me while I’m here in Iran is that I was approached to do a podcast series. I’ve been a podcast junkie myself for like ever (like totally! & way before Serial) and absolutely love the genre; and of course as a blogger – namely someone who is compelled to record and share observances and thoughts and stories – the concept of creating a podcast channel immediately and intensely appealed to me and hence, I jumped on the idea! So it was that the “Podcast tales of Anjir ‘o Beh” was born! (“Anjir o beh” is Persian for “fig and quince” in case you were wondering.)
I debated about doing a bilingual version – one in Persian and one in English – and I really really do want to be able to offer the podcast stories in both languages in the future so that those of you who don’t understand Persian (Farsi) can also have a listen but at least for the first season, it was not feasible. You should go have a listen anyhow! 😉
I’m happy to let you know that the 1st season is in the bag: a couple of teasers about Norooz (the Persian New Year) were released (here and here) earlier in the spring and the first full episode – an introduction – finally went live a few days ago.
Going forward, there will be new episodes every Sunday and Wednesday at 4 pm (Iran time.)
The 2nd Fig and Quince podcast episode is also now up as well. And it’s a really good one! In this episode I chat with Haleh Farajollahi, a dear childhood friend (our moms were classmates and BFFs) and she tells mesmerizing tales of witnessing the sight and sound of thousands of silkworms feasting on grape leaves and the beautiful heirloom cloths her grandmother then made with this harvested silk and other impeccable housekeeping customs of her grandmother (let’s put it this way, Martha Stewart would have LOVED Haleh’s grandmother!) and the delicious food of the northern region of Iran.
The cover photo is a souvenir pic of me and Haleh just before we went down to the studio to tape our episode. (The turbaned gentleman in between us is none other than Ferdowsi, the revered Persian poet who is to Iranians what Homer is to the Greeks.)
Here are a couple of other photos related to what we talked about in this podcast:
One of the heirloom silk cloths: handmade and designed and dyed by Haleh’s grandmother with the silk harvested by the silkworms feasting on grape leaves. Isn’t that enchanting?
And this is another such priceless heirloom silk cloth. Haleh says she very carefully stores all of the cloths passed on to her by her grandmother and hopes to pass them on to her own children and that each year, just before Norooz and as an integral aspect of the “shaking the house” part of greeting the Persian New Year, she takes them out and airs them and admires them, before storing them again for another year.
What a treasure trove !
And here’s Haleh as a little girl with her little stuffed animal. I mean: how adorable is she?
Do go and have a listen to this delicious 2nd episode of Fig & Quince podcast series (even if you don’t speak Persian, haha) and if you like what you hear, please do share the link with your family and friends.
Till soon, I remain your faithful blogger
With love and affection, from Tehran Iran
As wise as making lemonade out of lemons is making sweet jam from sour cherries.
Start with a heap of fresh lovely bright red and oh so tart sour cherries. Wash and dry. Take out the pits. While you are thus occupied by this monumental yet ultimately meaningful task dangle a few double-stemmed sour cherries from your ears like earrings. A throwback to the days of yore of childhood; when even eating fruit led to simple joyful pleasures. No reason it can’t be that way still.
Fill a pot with all your pitted sour cherries. The labor of your beautiful soul, your beautiful hands. Add sugar, the equivalent of the amount of your sour cherries, on top of the heap. For example, if you have one pound of pitted sour cherries, add a pound of sugar. Allow sugar to lay restful, in intimate sojourn with the sour cherries for 3 or 4 or even let’s say 5 hours. Snow white and crimson, sweet and tart, in an embrace. Oh, what will they speak of. The tales they will tell.
After a few hours, feel free to interrupt this aforementioned liaison. By then, sugar and cherries will have concluded their tete a tete by creating a beautiful puddle of lurid pink liquid. Use a utensil or preferably your (clean) hands to nudge and gently mix well the sugar with sour cherries.
Place the pot over high heat and bring to a boil. Gently boil for … how long? Well, the length of times depends on how much sour cherries you used. For example, for a pound of sour cherries, 20 minutes will suffice. Longer if you have more cherries.
Make sure to skim and discard the pale pink foam as you boil the sour cherries. Doing so will make sure that you’ll end up with jam that won’t spoil or turn sour. Heed this advise and profit.
Once you’ve boiled the sour cherries for a sufficient amount of time, remove from heat, add rosewater, and let cool. How much rosewater you ask? Again, depends on how much sour cherries you used to make your jam. For example, for one pound of cherries, add 1/4 cup of rosewater. Feel free to trust your tastebuds, your senses, your instincts.
Allow to cool. Store in sterilized jars. But before doing so, make sure you make a number of delicious bite-sized sandwiches with yummy bread and butter. I personally also love the taste of feta cheese with sour cherry jams. Yummmmmmy!
You may also want to pose with your sour cherry jam for a food blog. Ideally in a scenic yard at the foot of beautiful mountains in Tehran. A swing set is optional. But preferable. Vastly preferable I say! Essential, some may even lay claim.
Hope you liked this recipe and may you enjoy the summer and its delicious bounty my friends. Let’s not even think of fall and the mares of nights of November elections with its orange-skinned people and such things. Let’s just pick fruit off trees and eat our fill and make and eat moraba. With rosewater. With pleasure. With gusto. With love. With bread! Lots of bread. And butter.
ps I must mention (and not in passing but with much gratitude) that the wonderful moraba ‘ye albaloo (sour cherry jam) photographed here is the handiwork of a truly wonderful khanum who feeds us at work. I’ll write more about the lovely khanum and also feature her stuffed grape leaves (dolmeh ‘ye barg ‘e moh) and finally tell you all about this work I’m doing here in Tehran, Iran by and by and now truly bye bye.
Hi guys! A future blog post is about making dolmeh with grape leaves but today’s post is about loss and scholarly life in Tehran. With some fruit and food pix thrown in for good measure. To distract you from the fact that I haven’t written any recipe posts lately. Tssk tssk.
First the loss – already alluded to in the last post. That is, I lost my phone. It must have slipped out of my pocket while I was riding a “taxi khati” (the kind of taxis where you share rides with others who are going your way, a manner of transportation that has its own lore and lure and culture and tricks and charms and repulsions, and one that I should definitely write about in a later post) and I only realized it was missing once I was home. A realization that had me in a cold sweat (literal!) followed by a hot sweat (also literal) and then a few minutes of numb acknowledgement of the fact. Is it hyperbole to say that the sensation – a horrible sinking feeling in the pit of the stomach and a clenching of the heart – felt like grief? Like deep mourning? Because it kind of did. Ah well, by now I’ve come to terms with it and have learned the lesson of backing up data the very hard way. Ouch and ooy and boo hoo.
Anyhow! Let’s now change course and look at some delicious fruit as an amuse bouche topic:
The pile of herbs are “sabzi Kohee” or wild mountain herbs; and right behind it we have some loquats (azgil) and next to it we have that mythical and iconic Persian fruit of spring, that is: “gojeh sabz” aka, sour green plums.
Ok, so these are obviously not fruit, but I can’t help resist the impulse of sharing with you this yummy photo of a window display with tantalizing offerings of kooloocheh, n’oon panjareh (Persian “Window” candy) and “cake ‘eh Yazdi” (very similar to muffins.) If only calories did not count, it is quite possible that I would spend days if not weeks eating nothing but generous multiples of each of these every blessed day for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
I am nursing a nasty cold but no grudges; I lost my workhorse iPhone but on the bright side I have a refrigerator filled with barbari bread and sour cherries picked from a garden near Tehran; and I have lots of news and a bunch of good posts coming your way – delicious recipes and sweet and bittersweet stories and lots of snap-happy photos, but meanwhile … I woke up this morning to the wonderful surprise of an email from my Edible Manhattan editor with the news that the article I recently wrote for them about Norooz in New York is an Eddy Awards 2016 finalist in the “Best Story” category. Say what! It obviously made my day. It’s an honor to be a finalist but (needless to say) I won’t scoff at the idea of actually winning in the category either. That’s where you, wonderful gentle reader, come in. As the winner will be decided by votes.
Last week I spent a few days in Shiraz on a business trip. Remember? I saw and ate and enjoyed many many good things, and I’m going to do my best to document it all in a fashion that will be concise yet somewhat of interest to you, my lovely joon readers. Advance warning however, that I will do so in bits and pieces and fits and starts and in several posts. Thus, begging your generous understanding from the very beginning of our journey.
For today’s post, let’s go with a pictorial essay of some of the pretty things I saw.
If you must make a business trip while in Iran, it may as well be a trip to Shiraz, the city of pomegranate blossoms and roses and bahar narenj and poetry and oft: staggering beauty. And if you must go to Shiraz, it might as well be in the month of Oridbehesht — a spring month that ends with the suffix of “behesht” or paradise. And if you are fortunate indeed, you might also be hosted by people who are not just kind and lovely but who love food and feed you splendidly! And thus, it may transpire that your first breakfast in this ancient and fabled Persian city might be a simple but seductive Persian breakfast centered around a quail egg sunny side up omelette.
To recreate this scene at home, follow these easy steps.
First, crack open a dozen quail (or “belederchin” in Farsi) eggs. Heat some butter in a small skillet till it sizzles, and until it does, gaze at the golden yolks and enjoy their sunny disposition in a pleasant reverie.
Then, once the kitchen is filled with that unmistakable heavenly aroma of sizzling butter, pour the yolks in the skillet. Scramble the yolks just a teeny tiny bit and cook over medium heat till the omelette sets nicely but is still sunny side up.
Slip the omelette on a beautiful china plate and serve as the centerpiece of a very pretty and delicious Persian breakfast. (Note: breakfasts in Iran can be quite elaborate and based on my non-scientific but homegrown polling tend to be super popular in Iran. I’ve met so many people who say variations on this theme: “I go to bed dreaming of my breakfast!” ha ha.)
Let’s explore this particular enchanting culinary landscape that yours truly got to savor at further length! Starting with the plate of herbs and cucumber and tomato (the essential ingredients for making a traditional Persian “loghmeh” or bite-sized sandwich) let’s work our way clockwise left to right:
yummy creamy feta cheese; a container of khameh (thick cream) on a plate; a tall glass of frothy homemade banana milkshake (fill blender with 4 cups of milk, add 2 ripe bananas, blend till smooth and foamy and serve); a heart-shaped bowl filled with soft succulent homemade strawberry jam (so good with that thick cream on some bread); the glorious aforementioned quail egg omelette as the piece de resistance; and of course: bread.
Can you say: YUMMY? Oh boy, it was. (Thank you Farzaneh joon!)
Finish off polishing your fill of this heavenly morning repast with a cup of coffee served in manner most dainty, pretty and charming.
It will greatly enhance your experience if you could do all of the following while inhaling that je ne sais quoi springtime air of Shiraz fragrant with the smell of roses and honeysuckle; laden with the memory of centuries of poetry and bohemian pleasure-seeking flair that all of Shiraz is known for and renowned.
I want everyone I love to come and visit and experience the glory of Shiraz. You all: do it! Seriously! More on Shiraz to come. Promise.
Till then, xoxo and boos boos.
ps Have a lucky Friday the 13th 🙂