Thursday, October 1, 2015



Luna, pretend, pretend the princess is on her way to the ball but she got lost.

Ok, but Soleil first pretend she is in her room practicing for the gymnastics competition and forgets she has to go to the ball.

But Luna pretend when she remembers she gets lost. Ok?

Set the pumpkin and orange on the cutting board.  Slice the tops and ends off each.  For stability, for support.  Use a sharp knife and cut downwards. Revealing the flesh. Be bold, be precise. Peel away the skin,the membrane, the rind. Let the curves of the fruit guide your way.

Mama, pumpkin is really a fruit because it has seeds. But we can pretend it's a vegetable if you want.  Should we pretend, mama?


Pretend your last Mehregan wish echoed up through the hills and beyond the valleys. 

Pretend she took heed of your murmurs, your whispers, and your cries. And the sky burst at the seams with a thundering bang and a rollicking roll.    

Like the heart of young lovers on a hillside under California stars.

Every strike of lightening peeling away the skin, the membrane, the rind.  Revealing the flesh.  The curtain pulling back and revealing her.  

The naked sky.  Drip, drip, dripping with rain. 

Cut the pumpkin in half and reach in for the seeds  The stringy pulp refusing to let go.  Pretend you enjoy the mess of it all.  Hold a fistful of pumpkin seeds in one hand.  You should make use of it all.  Don't waste anything.  Use everything.   

Let go.  

Watch them drop into the compost bin.  Think about how you could have rinsed them, dried them and roasted them.  But not today.  Maybe another day.  There will always be another day. 

Pretend a cool Autumn's breeze invites herself in.  And stays for a good long while. A much welcome, unexpected guest.

She runs her fingers through your hair and whispers sweet nothings in your ear.

Release the orange segments into a bowl.  Cool and slithery, slippery.  Bathing in orange blossom water.  Juices and all slipping freely though your fingers.  

Wash your hands and peer out your sink window.  Pretend the leaves have turned.  Rust, amber, strawberry blonde.  

Slice the pumpkin and dress it up for Mehregan.  The Autumn Festival.

Pretend you relish the warmth exuding from your oven as the scent of cinnamon, cardamom, nutmeg, cloves, ginger and cumin waltz around your kitchen.  An Autumn Waltz.  

A Mehregan overture. 

A prelude to a celebration of friendship, light, love, and compassion.

Spread the cool, thick yogurt over the roasted pumpkin, add the orange slices, juices and all.  Sprinkle all over with pumpkin seeds and sweet medjool dates.  Rust, amber, strawberry blonde.

A sweet pumpkin borani.  For comfort.  For Mehregan.  

For when you need to pretend it's Autumn under California skies.   

I'm thrilled to be once again joining the following Persian food bloggers for a collaborative Mehregan post.  Enjoy!

Tuesday, September 15, 2015


Music we're cooking to

The hunt for organic, grass-fed lamb testicles - donbalan - is complicated.

It takes time, patience and perseverance.

The quest for negotiating sensitive global issues, with potentially disastrous consequences, by means of diplomacy is complicated. 

It takes time, patience and perseverance. 

I'm not a big lamb eater (or red meat eater in general).  On occasion I do enjoy a sizzling, juicy grilled chop.  But it's a meat I usually reserve for eating out, not one that I prepare at home.  And although lamb figures very prominently in Iranian cooking it was not a staple in our house.  My mother would complain of its gamy taste and smell.  A pungent meat seemed to always be associated with uncleanliness.  And cleanliness ranks quite high in Iranian households.  On the rare occasion we did prepare lamb it would be soaked and rinsed a few times in cold water to rid it of any excess blood and undesirable smells, that was believed to come from the tail fat.

You set out on this quest by arming yourself with as much information as you can get your hands on. 

They say knowledge is power. Whoever they may be.

Theoretically - ideally - diplomacy should and must always be the leading force. 

The only force. 

The alternative should and must be unimaginable.  A last resort they say. 

Whoever they may be.
Preparing and eating lamb testicles has never ranked particularly high on my list.  But as is often the case with such things, my obsession with donbalan began after a series of texts with my brother.  I thought myself quite clever and funny as I (at the time jokingly) inquired where I might be able to find organic grass-fed donbablan.  Because if there was ever a time that one might feel the need to consume grass-fed meat it would certainly be when eating lamb balls.  The jokes flew back and forth between us, as banter of the sort does between siblings, (hopefully giving the good folks at the NSA a much-needed chuckle).  But, amidst our comedy routine the seed was planted. I was on a quest.

A donbalan quest.

You mention you've had lamb balls on the mind for quite some time. And as expected it's met with howls, laughter, disgust, curiosity, jokes upon jokes. And the occasional  stories and shared memories of a land far, far away. Where donbalan is served hot off a charcoal grill on the side of the street.  Street food as it would never be imagined, halfway across the world.  Sometimes wrapped snugly in a piece of warm bread.  

Everyone has an opinion as to whether you should move forward with your quest   regardless if they've ever had a taste of your recent obsession or not.

Everyone always has an opinion.

There's been quite a bit of talk about this far away land for some time now.  It's far, far away so it's easy to make grand proclamations regarding its future.  And as expected opinions abound as to what and how it should be dealt with. 

Everyone always has an opinion. 

It turns out that finding organic, grass-fed lamb testicles in Los Angeles is not an easy task.  I first hit up all the local butchers and markets.  The young butcher at my local Whole Foods has no idea what I'm talking about as I rattle off all the euphemisms for lamb testicles. I start off with the most common name: lamb fries, moving on to rocky mountain oysters, prairie oysters (even when it comes to testicles Canadians need to distinguish themselves from their neighbors to the south).  My young butcher shakes his head no to each one. So I get straight to the point, I cup my hands for visual reference and ask for lamb testicles.  Baffled, he turns to the head butcher who kindly informs me that Whole Foods does not carry organic, grass-fed lamb testicles. I thank him in kind and move on with my $12 worth of NOT ultra-pasteurized bottle of milk. 

Next I hit up the sparkling new and hip local nose-to-tail butchers, where I am informed that lamb testicles are a specialty item and not an in-demand cut among the general nose-to-tail consuming population, and since the health department has very strict laws on the sale of offal (and in particular testicles) it's not easily accessible.  Perhaps these sparkly new shops should consider a slight change of name.  Nose To Tail (Except The Dangly Bits In Between).  

My local Iranian market however, does carry donbalan.  But the Saran-wrapped set of balls staring back at me from behind the deli counter do not exactly meet my required organic, grass-fed criteria.  All my research informs me that offal, and testicles in particular, should be purchased as fresh as possible. And promptly prepared or frozen for later use.  Not wanting to put my always helpful and kind grocer on the spot, I don't ask how old the testicles are and move on with my barbari bread and pomegranate molasses.

It's the location of this particular cut of meat and all that it symbolizes that gives people pause. (Curious however that a chicken breast doesn't seem to be an issue) And so in almost every language it is referred to by a gentler, less direct name, a name it seems more indicative with the spirit and culture of the country.  Only in Persian and Arabic are they called exactly what they are.

"Because of the sexual connotation, testicles are almost always referred to by a different name except in the Arab world where they are simply called balls of sheep. The Italians call them gioielli (jewels) or animelle, while the French alternate between les joyeuses (the happy ones, in the feminine, and I guess one can understand why), animelles or amourettes (darling ones or little loves, confirming the opinion that the French know how to live). Amourettes is also the name given to spinal marrow. The Americans, puritanical as ever, refer to them as prairie or mountain oysters, also as Montana tendergroins, cowboy caviar, swinging beef, and calf fries (the latter two showing a less puritanical streak). Calf's testicles are reputed to be a favourite of former US president George W Bush, and were apparently a staple on the menu when he was governor in Texas."  Anissa Helou - An A to Z of Offal - The Guardian

Along your quest you discover that animal testicles are prepared and consumed on occasion on this side of the globe; however, offal in general is not very popular in North America (save for the reemergence of bone marrow at all the hot restaurants in town). It's the unknown, the misrepresented, the unfamiliar.  And the unknown, misrepresented and the unfamiliar can be scary.   

It's the history associated with this far, far away land, the history of the past 35 years in particular that gives people pause.  It's the unknown, the misrepresented, the unfamiliar.  And the unknown, misrepresented and the unfamiliar can be scary. 

My donbalan quest finally comes to fruition where I should have looked first - at my local Farmer's Market.  After some prodding about on the ever-useful world wide web I discover that Jimenez Family Farm sells grass-fed lamb and offal (true nose to tail) and I can pick it up at my Farmer's Market.  After some time and a few tries (since the testicles need to be as fresh as possible delivery depends on availability) I receive an email from the lovely folks at Jimenez Farm to pick up my order the following day.  Giddy with anticipation I set off early the next morning, ice packs and my trusted rickety, squeaky-wheeled Framer's Market cart in tow.  This trip has been months in the making and an assaulting, oppressive Los Angeles heat wave can't stop me.  I head straight for the Jimenez Farm stand where I am greeted by the charismatic and knowledgeable Mr. Gustavo Jimenez.  He hands me 5 pairs of testicles and I behold them like the gioielli that they are.  Never having held lamb balls in my hands I remark that they appear smaller than I had imagined.  I'm not really sure what I had imagined.  Mr. Jimenez also reiterates what I had been told by other butchers.  The health department makes the sale of offal, and parts like testicles in particular, extremely difficult and this may be in part why the use and popularity of offal has declined so dramatically.

In the far, far away land the slaughter and consumption of an animal is considered sacred.  It is a gift and in turn no part of the animal should be wasted.  Such is the cultural belief echoed around many parts of the globe.   

Once back home, I set three pairs of balls on the cutting board.  I stand above them, knife in hand. I try not to linger too long on the symbolism attached to this moment.  I stand simply where I stand most days and nights - at command central - at the kitchen island -  at my trusted cutting board with my preferred knife in hand.  I proceed as I might with a bunch of herbs or cloves of garlic. I swiftly separate each testicle.  Easy enough. The testicles are soft and a little slippery.  They feel more like chicken thighs off the bone.  They have a distinct sharp smell, much like lamb itself.  And yes, I have previously soaked and rinsed them in cold water. Cleanliness reigns supreme.  Each ball is covered in a thick outer skin.  And the skin needs to be removed.  I gently slip my finger under the skin (as one might when marinading a roast chicken) and slowly and carefully pull away at the skin, revealing a soft and delicate flesh.  I cut each testicle in half and simply marinade them with plenty of salt (though rich donbalan can be rather bland so season them well), some olive oil, squeeze of a lemon and pepper. My go-to marinade for anything and everything.  

And as is customary with all foods from the far away land, donbalan is known for its many benefits.  Donbalan is considered to give you strength and courage and of course it is an aphrodisiac and thought to improve virility. 

It dawns on me that I am about to grill about a pound of testicles.  And these kababs need to be eaten right away, hot off the grill.  No matter how much strength or courage I may be in need of, it would not be wise or possible for me to consume it all by myself.  So I send off a quick text to a couple of girlfriends who live close by and ask if they would like to join me for an impromptu luncheon of grilled lamb testicles.  And if that doesn't win them over I also mention that we have AC.  

Putting the kababs on the skewers proves a little challenging.  The meat is extremely tender and delicate so it is best to cut the kababs larger.  In my haste and excitement I forget to oil the hot grill so turning the very delicate kababs takes a little finesse.  I grill the kababs about 6 minutes on each side.  Enough to cook through but not too long to turn chewy and rubbery. 

We gather around my kitchen table, an impromptu get together with good friends, good food and plenty of laughter. We set down the grilled donbalan, split the lone bottle of beer lingering in the door of the fridge and proceed with the feast.  All before school pick-up.    

One of my girlfriends can't bring herself to trying the testicles so I warm up a veggie burger for her.  

In the far, far away land donbalan is often served as an appetizer accompanying a drink, with fresh herbs, and various pickled vegetables.   

We sprinkle the donbalan with plenty of sumac and fresh lime and assemble a perfect loghmeh - bite: a piece of sumac sprinkled kabab wrapped snugly in a piece of sangak bread, with some torshi and khiar shoor - pickled vegetables - fresh basil and a bite of a crisp, cool radish. All flavors and textures bouncing off each other in harmony.  The essence of a Persian meal.  

My other girlfriend proceeds to tell us about her Belgian home and the time her family grilled a whole lamb on the spit on a Belgian farm.  Nose to tail and all the dangly bits in between.  

The donbalan is soft and rich.  It's gamy as one would expect it to be, but not offensively so.  It reminds me of grilled liver, but much more delicate in texture.  More like a scallop in texture.  The use of sumac and accompanying pickles and herbs is essential in balancing out the richness.  It is not unlike any other rich tasting meat.  Juicy and tender.  And because it is so rich I think it is best suited as part of a tapa-style meal rather than a main course.

And so my quest comes full circle.  With a few texts exchanged back and forth, a comedy nights worth of ball jokes, and plenty of gained wisdom, strength and courage.

It appears some decisions about the far, far away land are about to come to fruition. A victory to some and a loss to others.

I offer all involved in this decision making a platter of grilled donbalan.  

For strength and courage.

The strength and courage to move forward, to move beyond. 

The strength and courage to get to know the unknown, the misrepresented, and the unfamiliar.

Because the alternative should be unimaginable.

Monday, July 27, 2015



He sends you flying.

It's controversial.

High up in the air.

The same way hummus is controversial.

You spread your wings, catch your breath, and squeal with delight.

Or guacamole.

It's innate. The dream of flight.  And in an instant he has given you wings.  

To soar.  Beyond your dreams.

Or fesenjan.

He claps once.  Maybe twice.  Depending on how much air you catch.  

A recipe can only take you so far. 

Fathers love this game.  Mothers hold their breath and look away. 

Children are perpetually caught in the middle.  In mid-air. 

A recipe is only as good as the hands that prepare it.  The soil that feeds the herbs.  The stories, memories, love, frustrations, ambitions, disappointments, history, experience, traditions, culture, tears and laughter that pour out of your heart, surging through your shoulder blades, down your arm, through your finger tips, on to the cutting board, and sizzling into the pan.

You come tumbling back down.  Back down into his arms. 

And sometimes a recipe is just a recipe.  A means to an end.  And that's ok too.  

He's always there to catch you. Baba. 

Carbonara is a maddeningly delicious - lick your fingers, smack your lips and go back for more - comfort food. It boasts very few ingredients while stirring up very strong opinions and allegiances.  At its most traditional preparation it is simply fresh raw eggs (yolk only or the whole egg is debatable), Parmigiano Regianno and Pecorino Romano (the use of one or the other or a combination of the two, also debatable), and guanciale - Italian cured pork cheek or jowl (the use of pancetta and bacon, again, debatable), black pepper and the pasta cooking water (the use of which is non-debatable, salt that water and use it!).  

Purists and traditionalists will demand you stick to these few simple ingredients and beware their wrath, disapproval and eye rolls lest you venture off course.  Passions run high.  Very high.  

And so it is with a healthy dose of respect and a nod to tradition that I stir up the carbonara pot and debate even more.

No matter where you fall in the carbonara wars, one thing can be agreed upon by all sides: the freshness of all your ingredients.  Especially that of the eggs.  I use the whole egg here, the yolk and the whites.  And since the eggs are raw, it is imperative that they be as fresh as possible.  Baba's Carbonara starts off with a saute of onion and prosciutto.  You could use pancetta, bacon or guanciale, but the sweet prosciutto works wonderfully here.  Baba also likes to stray from tradition and add fresh parsley and basil to his carbonara.  The fresh herbs really brighten and lighten up the dish.  And I love incorporating fresh herbs anywhere I can.  The fresh herbs are mixed in a bowl with the eggs, parmesan/pecorino, pepper and crushed garlic.  This mixture is set aside until ready to be incorporated to the pasta.  It is also imperative that the pasta be drained (reserve about 1 cup of that pasta water) al dente because it will continue to cook as it is tossed with the onion and prosciutto.  The trickiest part of preparing carbonara - what is seemingly an easy dish to prepare - is incorporating the egg mixture with the pasta without srambling the eggs. The success of every carbonara is judged upon this.  The idea is that the raw eggs will cook with the residual heat of the noodles, creating a smooth and creamy consistency.  No scrambled eggs!  Once you add the egg mixture to the noodles you need to quickly and efficiently toss the pasta.  And add the reserved pasta water as needed (judiciously, not too much and not too little) to thin out the sauce and to keep the noddles from drying out.

Baba's Carbonara is the one dish that has my girls (and husband) drop whatever they're doing and come crashing to the dining table. It is the dish that every other carbonara is compared to.  It's Hawaii in December.  It's Vancouver in July.  It's Baba and Grandma Kumi working side by side, a finely honed duet.  Baba chopping the herbs, Grandma Kumi cracking the eggs.  It's the constant debate over how many eggs to use.  One more she suggests, one less he insists.  Passions run high.  Very high. It's everyone stepping back and giving Baba room to swiftly and expertly incorporate the raw eggs with the steaming pasta.  

It's the hands that prepare it. 

He is no longer able to send you flying. You are grown now and his back is far too weak. 

It's Baba singing and his granddaughters trailing him with squeals of delight as he sets the carbonara on the table.

But he is always there to catch you.  

In mid-air or with your feet planted firmly on the ground.

Carbonara.  It's controversial.  It's family.  And it's maddeningly delicious. 


Thursday, May 14, 2015


She wrote this song about John Mayer. You whisper conspiratorially into his ear.  

There was a time when this easy lean into his shoulder, followed by hushed murmurs, carried with it information of a different nature. 

But today it's all about Taylor Swift.

Such is the evolution of a marriage.

He - your husband - looks back at you slightly intrigued but mostly bewildered.

You - his wife - raise your eyebrows as you often do to emphasize your foolproof knowledge of a fact, and nod simultaneously to really drive home the point.

Exactly when and how you came upon this very important piece of information is unclear. 

Exactly when and how Taylor Swift entered your realm of existence is also unclear.  But it was bound to happen.  You had heard of this sort of thing happening to other families.  Families with slightly older children than yours.  

The young girl,15 maybe 16 years old, croons sweetly as she strums her guitar.  Her father respectfully stands a few steps behind her. Making sure she has the full spotlight.  Making sure she shines.  As he and his electric guitar provide backing - guidance - unconditional support.

Family Recital Night. 

I first met Cheryl Sternman Rule at The Saveur 2014 Food Blog Awards in Las Vegas. Cheryl's 5 second rule was one of the first food blogs I discovered early on, well before our meeting, and return to time and time again.  Not only for the tempting recipes but also for her beautiful and distinctive writing style.  Her wit and humor casually guiding your way to a muffin tin and a few wholesome and tasty ingredients.  Her laser sharp precision and unsentimental economy with words lodging a lump deep in your throat before you are even aware it's happening.  

And so it only made sense to meet for the first time and discuss our mutual love and respect for all things yogurt at the art gallery in The Bellagio Hotel as the sommelier gave us all a private tour of the collections while pairing individual wines to each painting.  A wine and art pairing. Yes. Such jobs do exist.

A few months ago Cheryl reached out to me to see if I would be interested in contributing to her new site Team Yogurt.  Friends, if there was ever a team I was destined to be a part of it would be Team Yogurt.  A delicious and informative site devoted entirely to all things yogurt.  And as if that was not enticing enough a couple of weeks ago Cheryl's beautiful new book Yogurt Culture (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2015) landed on my doorstep and was instantly whisked off to the kitchen.         

Next up is a family of four. Older daughter on piano, father on guitar, mother and younger daughter harmonizing a Pete Seeger classic.  

Mother with her eyes closed. 

The parents must have picked this song, you think to yourself.

Young daughter with her eyes wide open.

When will they ever learn?  You sing to yourself.

When will we ever learn?  You think to yourself. 

Yogurt Culture is everything that I look for in a cookbook.  Besides the fact that it is pretty much about the one food item that I can not live without.  Cheryl's well-researched book takes a global look at yogurt and the many ways it is incorporated into the cuisines of so many varying cultures.  Stories, history, facts and accessible recipes weave cohesively with Cheryl's knowledgeable and friendly voice guiding your way. The photography is beautiful and simple, allowing the food to shine.  But what is most important is that Yogurt Culture makes you want to get in the kitchen and get cooking.  And what better way to start than with these elegant and decadent milk chocolate yogurt pots.

She takes her place at the piano and pushes her side-swept bangs behind her ear.  As she always does. 

He takes his place a few steps behind her.  He straps on his bass guitar and turns on the amp. 

She gives him a quick glance and he nods his head four times. They set off on a 45 second duet of Classical Dance.  Left hand and right hand play together. As he picks at his electric bass as gently as possible.  He is there to back her up, to provide support, to let her shine. Unconditional.

She - your daughter - takes her bow with pride and beams as she introduces her father, her accompanist - your husband - also beaming with pride.  

She floats off the stage and into your arms.  She declares she's ravenous.  Post-show hunger pangs.  You remember the sensation well.  

You remind her of the milk chocolate yogurt pots waiting for her at home. The ones setting in the fridge.  You remind her of the chocolate you gently melted. She reminds you of the thick, creamy yogurt you slowly stirred into the luscious warm chocolate.  

The chocolate and the yogurt melding into each other, shining as one. The sweetness of the milk chocolate backing up the tang of the yogurt.  

A well-orchestrated duet.  Deliciously played, Cheryl.  



Thursday, April 16, 2015


Grab your gardening shears.  Grab a basket, a bag, a sack, anything with handles.  Feel the weight and the cool metal of the shears rest against the warm embrace of your palm.  Make the most of this auspicious occasion. You don't garden.  You'd like to.  But you don't.  

Call out to your shadows.  Announce you are off to forage.  You don't forage either.  But you hear it's the thing to do, the word du jour to throw around.  So you try it out.  It makes you feel current, in the know, in the now.

You steal.  

From your neighbors.  

With your children in tow. 

You have been given permission to do so.  So your conscience sleeps easy.  

Most nights.

Make the marinade.  Combine the yogurt, shio koji or salt, and honey. Yogurt tenderizes, shio koji for umami, and a drizzle of honey to balance out the acids but more importantly to sweeten your taste buds and your life.  Marvel at the instant color transformation as the saffron water drip-drops into the yogurt mix. It just never gets old. The beauty of saffron.  Refrain from dipping your finger in for a taste.  There's more goodness to come.  

Take your children by the hand and walk them across the street.  Show them how to look left - right and then left - right again before crossing. Such a simple gesture holding such weight.  Will they ever get it?  Have you repeated yourself enough?  Will your heart ever grant you permission to let them go?  

Across the street.  

Across town. 

Across the ocean.  

What if they look left but then get distracted by the rolly polly bug they have entrapped in the fold of their skirt and forget to look right?   

Let go. 

Watch them run towards the overflowing, bountiful rosemary bush standing guard at your neighbor's front yard.

Put the neglected shears to work and snip away as the girls run their hands along the spindly branches and stick their noses in as far as they can and take a long, deep inhale. Mmmm's and ahhhs  abound. Mostly for their own pleasure but also to please you.  To let you know that they're old enough, sophisticated enough to appreciate the sharp, woodsy aroma that permeates the air as they brush against each and every branch.  The scent that carries with it a promise.  A promise of something good and tasty to come. They want you to know that they get it. They're in the know, in the now.  

Cut a lemon in half and squeeze with one hand as the other hand catches the seeds before they hit the yogurt mixture.  Inevitably a couple always sneak through. Fish them out with a spoon, a fork, your fingers.  Balance the microplane over the bowl and zest an orange, rhythmically tapping on the side of the bowl as you release all the brilliant flecks.  Magical fairy dust your girls would proclaim.  Flip the microplane over and run your finger along the back of the cool grates. Inevitably some of the magic gets stuck back there.  Refrain from dipping your finger in for a taste.  There's more goodness to come. 

Move on to your next heist.  The next house.  The next yard.  The lemon tree.  The very same one that serves as the official ambassador for the girls' lemonade stands. The very same one that brightens up every stew, sauce, dip, and dressing with a burst of flavor. If it needs fixing squeeze a little lemon on it (a little more salt wouldn't hurt either).  

Fill the basket, the bag, the sack with as much citrus as you and your shadows can carry back.  Haul your loot back home. 

Take the top off the orange blossom water.  Bahar narenj - spring orange.  Bring it close and take a long deep inhale.  You do this every time.  Even though by now you are fully versed with its mesmerizing scent.  The scent of spring, of love, of poetry.  Mmmm and ahhhh to no one in particular.  Mostly for your own pleasure but also to please your sense of memory.  Memory of a land, a time, a childhood that you can now only recall in fragments, in splinters and in the alchemy of bahar narenj.  Carefully, very carefully add a few drops to the yogurt mixture.  You don't want to go overboard with orange blossom water. 

Spread your loot out on the backyard table.

Lay down a few rosemary sprigs on a small roasting pan.  Set the chicken on top.  Gently run your fingers under the skin of the breast, creating some space without tearing the skin.  Work your way around the bird as much as you can.  Lifting the skin off the meat.  Gently.  Gently.

Take a moment and look up.  Look up and beyond. That's where true beauty reveals itself. Up and beyond your shared fence. Up and beyond where your next door neighbor's orange tree weeps down over your fence. It's not oranges that you spot but orange blossoms. Uncapped. Un-bottled. Fragments and splinters of memory permeate the air and swirl all around you at a dizzying speed.  

Spoon half the the marinade under skin of the chicken.  Get in there with your hands.  Rub it all around.  Gently.  Gently.  Try not to tear that skin.  Pour the rest of the marinade on top of the chicken, and inside the chicken.  Front and back.  

Grab a stool.

Stuff the cavity with lemon, orange, a shallot, a sprig of rosemary.

Grab your shears. 

Place the chicken in the oven.

Climb on top of the stool.  Reach your arm out and grab a branch.

While the chicken roasts prepare the barberries and caramelized onion. 

Ignore the concerned calls from your shadows.  

Scatter the barberries over the orange blossom chicken and serve.

It's a quick clean cut.  A single click of the shears and there you stand with an orange blossom branch in your hands.

Set aside a plate.  Place a few chicken pieces on the plate and spoon the fragrant juices all over.  

Walk over to your next door neighbor's house.  With your shadows in tow and a plate of chicken in hand.  

Make sure you have some crusty bread to dip into the pan juices. 

Ease your conscience and tell the neighbors about the shears, the orange blossom, the thieving.  Hand over the chicken plate.

Mea culpa.

Monday, March 16, 2015


I wish we could all be together this Nowruz.

I wish we weren't all scattered across the country.

Scattered across the continent.

Scattered across the globe.

She sits in her dedicated spot at our kitchen table.  Her words echo through the kitchen, twisting and turning, bouncing off you, looking and yearning for a spot to land, eventually finding their way out - seduced by the wide open door and a gentle late winter breeze.

Scattering across our parched lawn.

Across our parched city.

Across the country, the continent, the globe.

Slowly and meticulously she sorts through the bunches upon bunches of green herbs scattered before her.   

Parsley, cilantro, dill, chives, tarragon, fenugreek, spinach, green onion, mint.

Fragrant and willing representatives of new life, new beginnings, and Spring.  Nowruz.  Persian New Year.

Back in those days - when I was a little girl - in Iran - everyone started their khooneh takooni - the shaking out of the house weeks before the new year.

She moves on to the cilantro.  Notoriously difficult to sort through.  Methodically her aged but still elegant hands pick the leaves off the stems.  Setting the stems aside for a broth to be used for aash-e reshteh.

Windows would be washed, closets and attics would be sorted through, rugs would be swept and hung out to freshen up.

You turn your head, look over your shoulder, and sneak a quick glance at your carpet.  Faded - but ever present markings of a certain time, a certain age staring right back at you.  The spinach smoothie that got knocked over, the blueberry sauce that didn't quite make it to its destination, the chocolate shavings forever embedded into its mosaic theme.  

Then, on the night of Chaharshanbeh Suri (the last Tuesday night before Nowruz) my Aunt - Ammeh joon and Uncle - Amoo joon would take me to the Chaharshanbeh Suri bazaar.  This was one of the joys of our childhood.

You glance up at the clock, hurriedly grab the sorted bunches of parsley, dill and chives and escort them to the sink.  Scattering the herbs across the cool water.

All the streets would be lit up with lights, candles, colorful balloons, all sorts of decorations.  The scent of the sonbol (hyacinth) drunkenly guiding us through the streets and alleyways.

She slowly but purposefully makes her way to the sink, nudging you away.  You've rinsed the herbs twice.  She thinks they need another rinse.  Her hands reach into the cool water and gently, respectfully lift the greens in and out of the water.

Scattered showers.

Joyful music filled the streets.  Everyone would be out selling their goods. Ajeeleh Chaharshanbeh Suri Tabrizi, the mixed nuts from Tabriz was the best.  And all the kids would get to pick out their favorite candy.  Everyone loved khooroos ghandi - the rooster-shaped, sweet, hard candy.

You quickly lay out fresh towels.  And she patiently scatters the herbs across it to dry.  A field of greens on your kitchen table.  A most familiar sight. 

Ammeh joon would do all her own Nowruz baking.  All the families did their own baking then.  Noon berenji (rice flour cookies) as thin as a piece of paper, noon nokhodchi (chickpea cookies) that would melt in your mouth.  All baked on the manghal (a charcoal grill).

You grab the 10 lb sack of rice and watch as each grain clink-clanks into the bowl.  A most familiar sound.  You rinse the rice a few times - just like she taught you.  Swirling it around and around with your finger.  Rinse, drain, repeat until the water runs clear.  Add fresh water and salt and set aside to soak for at least one hour.  Just as she taught you.

Of course, Ammeh joon and all the ladies would pamper themselves days before Nowruz. Hair would be done, new clothes purchased, make-up beautifully applied.    Everything and everyone should be fresh and new.  Ammeh joon - she had the most beautiful, almond shaped, kohl-rimmed eyes.  Those eyes.  Those eyes.

Once again you transfer the herbs from the kitchen table back to the counter, to the food processor.  Working in batches you pulse away until they are finely chopped.  But not too finely chopped.  It's always a balancing act.  

We used to do all this chopping by hand.  A bunch of herbs, a board, and a knife.

Pulse.  Pulse.  Pulse.

It's much easier and faster now with these machines. 

Pulse.  Pulse.  Pulse.

But what you gain in time, you lose in flavor.  There's something about the blade of the knife that retains the fragrance and flavor of these delicate greens.  But who has the time and patience now to chop all this by hand. 

You bring a pot of salted water to a boil.  You add the rice.

And there you pause.  

Simultaneously.  Both of you.  Mother and daughter.  At the rice pot.  

Tradition, culture and the meaning of life contained in this one critical moment.  Exactly when to drain the rice. 

Each grain of rice should soften on the inside but still have a bite to it.  Not too soon, not too late.

A balancing act. 

You gently nudge her out of the way and grab the rice pot.  Moving the pot from the stove to the sink is not an easy task for her anymore.

You drain the rice as now she gently nudges you out of the way to scatter some fresh water over the rice.

And then came Nowruz. The Sofreh Haft Seen would be set and we'd all gather around it.  Ammeh joon always took such care to set out the most beautiful Sofreh Haft Seen.  The same Zari (ornamental cloth) that you use now for your sofreh - she used then.  And Amoo joon who was the elder of the family always had a bowl full of gold coins ready to be handed out.  For prosperity, for luck in the new year.  

You watch the butter melt, as she sprinkles the saffron.  She scatters the rice over the bottom of the pot.  The tahdig layer.  She sets aside a cup full of freshly chopped herbs and scatters the rest - parsley, cilantro, fresh dill, chives, fenugreek - over the rice.  And then some dried dill. 

Back to the rice.  The herbs.  The dill.  Repeat.  Top off with a couple of fresh spring garlic.  For its flavor, for its aroma.  For spring.  

I can still smell and taste our Nowruz meal.  The koo koo sazi, aash-e reshteh, the smoked fish, the white fish.  

You wrap a fresh towel over the lid and cover the pot.  Let it steam and work its magic for an hour. 

And of course it wouldn't be Nowruz without Sabzi Polo - Green Herb Rice.  Ammeh joon would always first set aside the best part of the tahdig for me.  Just like I used to do for you and your brother.  Just like you do now for the girls.    

She lifts the lid off the pot and instantly the steam, and fragrant aromas of the herbs and rice echo through the kitchen, twisting and turning, bouncing off you, looking and yearning for a spot to land, eventually finding their way out - seduced by the wide open door and a gentle late winter breeze.

You set the platter right next to her.  She makes room for you.  But you ask her to serve the sabzi polo.  Somehow, it always tastes better if she serves it.  You watch as she delicately scatters the rice across the platter, followed by a layer of the fresh herbs she had set aside.  Scatter the rice, scatter the fresh herbs, repeat, and top with golden saffron rice.  

 I wish we could all be together for Nowruz.  Everyone.  Even those that are long gone. 

You take her hand and walk her to her spot at the kitchen table.  As unexpected drops of rain fall to the ground. Taking your breath away.

Scattered showers.

The promise of new life, new beginnings, togetherness, a brand new year, Spring. 



This year we celebrate Nowruz on Friday, March 20th, 2015 at precisley 3:45pm PDT.  Please take a moment to also enjoy the many tempting Nowruz dishes below from talented Persian food bloggers around the globe.  Happy Nowruz!