Rain Check

There has been changes here in my home this summer. My guinea pig has gone off to Seattle for a summer internship of code writing at Microsoft, and my mother and sister flew from Tehran, to Istanbul, to New York City, before taking the Dartmouth Coach finally here to Hanover. They came bearing treats: nuts and dates, white sheep’s cheese, and sangak bread, a flatbread baked in an oven on a surface coated with small stones. My mother was even able to smuggle in a few cucumbers into the country for me- the small, slim, and smooth fragrant fruit is well worth the risk. And I am a cucumber devotee; as an Iranian, I’ll grate them into plain strained yogurt with some dried mint and call it a side dish, or into a glass with some water, lime, and white vinegar based simple syrup and call it a refreshing drink on a hot summer day. Or, I’ll bite into it whole, adding a shake of salt between each bite. In the Persian culture, you’ll always see cucumbers integrated into the fruit bowl, right along with the apples, pears, oranges, nectarines, and bananas.

With my mother in and the guinea pig out, I haven’t been investing so many hours in the kitchen lately, which actually may not be a bad thing, considering the ten pounds of pork fat that have become my own. My mother has been making sure I get to catch up on everything I might have missed; the aromatic rices and hearty stews, the potato frittatas and shallot yogurt, the walnut stuffed dates covered in a dark halva of flour fried in butter then sweetened with sugar and water, and finished with rosewater and saffron.

When it is me in the kitchen, I’ve been going the more simple and light route, for the most part. Steaming, creamy, fat-filled, rich dishes are not craved as much during these warm summer months we’re having anyway, so I’ve been making a lot of salads: JC inspired salads of mixed greens, yellow peppers, cucumbers, white cheese, turkey breast, and more, or a room temperature bowl of couscous, salmon, dill, and scallions tossed in lemon juice and oil. I’ve prepared feasts of small sides, like a buffet of grilled artichoke hearts drizzled with olive oil, toasted bread smeared in smashed roasted garlic and parmesan, boiled blue hen eggs, a medley of olives, and walnuts and almonds that I keep in the fridge soaking in water. Reconstituting takes the nuts back closer to when they were fresh, but not quite. It does bring back memories. There were a couple of walnut trees in the garden of my grandparents’ home, before it was torn down and replaced with a five story apartment complex after his death. Late into the summer, we would pick its fruit, and crack open the shell that was veiled underneath its green skin, sometimes by giving it a stomp underneath our shoe when we didn’t have a hammer. We’d take out the nut-sometimes so professionally that it came out perfectly whole, peel the skins off and press it onto the small saucer of salt, before letting it crunch tenderly between our teeth. Picking, cracking, peeling, and eating walnuts straight from the source leaves you with blackened hands that are impossible to wash clean. We could not keep our nutty escapades a secret; our hands told it all.

As I was walking from the library to drop off a segment of my thesis in my professor’s box, clouds darkened and I faced a downpour. A break from the heat and humidity, today’s rain was welcomed in Hanover. The temperature dropped and the heaviness gave way to a pleasant breeze. And best of all, I had completed what was overdue. I sat in front of my laptop screen to go on to the next thing before I was interrupted by the excitement to go home and make dinner.

And so tonight, I made dinner, rendered bacon and onions deglazed with burbon and joined by potatoes, snow peas,and corn, before getting green onions, cream, and clams. It was my opus of a New England chowdah inspired stew, perfect for a rainy New England day, that was meant to be eaten with a fork and toasted cheddar cheese and garlic bread as a second utensil. The delicious broth left on my plate was soaked into my crusty bread; that could have been a meal on its own.

While I received compliments and thank you’s, there were no sounds of pleasure or cries of lovemaking during the meal, and that made me miss the guinea pig dearly. His absence was felt and I realized I have never in my life enjoyed feeding someone so much. Guinea pig, if you are reading this, I cannot wait for you to be back again in Hanover for me to feed you. I desire nothing more than to listen to you hum as you passionately make love to the plate I put before you.

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An Offal Story

I have a weakness for food. It has been probably made obvious that I have a thing for all things delicious, but I actually lack any will power when it comes to a tasty morsel. My mother justifies her anxiety for every time I miss her call, saying she has every right to be worried, as kidnapping me could be the easiest thing if the kidnappers do as little as wave a sandwich at me. I will then voluntarily get into the back of the van and let them drive me off and sell my kidneys on the black market. At least I was decapitated full and satisfied.

I am a fan of offal myself; of course not human offal- why that would be all wrong. Sheep organs are my favorite, and the livers are my most preferred of all vital body parts.

I’m always raving about my love for sheep livers back in Tehran, sliced and pierced by thin metal skewers, much thinner than the ones typically used for kabob koobideh and such. I’ll usually ask for a few skewers of liver, and sometimes a couple of heart, and watch him kabob them over charcoal to order, before serving them on lavaash bread (that I’ll use to slide off the meat from the hot skewers) with lemon and a salt shaker on the side.

So, in the rare case when the guinea pig spotted a bag of fresh chicken livers in the butcher’s fridge at the supermarket, our original meal plans were altered. Chicken livers don’t come close to sheep’s, but they are something to settle for, as the latter has been a challenge to score. I did research online, looking into farms in the rural New Hampshire/Vermont area that raise sheep, sending out emails and inquiries. Nothing. They were either slaughtered once a year and frozen, or too far a drive. I asked the butcher at the Co-Op, and he said they get a whole sheep every once in a while, but the livers are always missing. I asked about the heart and got a funny look combined with confusion and concern. I guess they don’t get 26 year old grad students asking for one organ or another very often in this New England town. He said I may though have luck with kidneys.I don’t know of any other way besides kabobing over an open fire to cook kidneys delectably. I need to put the thin skewers on my list of things to buy the next time I fly to Iran. Until then, the guinea pig and I would be having sauteed chicken livers and onions for dinner.

I trimmed the livers, delicate and bloody, and sliced them into a more stir-fry friendly size. I seasoned and floured them, crisping them with sliced onions before deglazing my pan with  some wine from the bottle I had just opened. We devoured them with bread and wine, completing the Eucharist to its true potential.

I was not always a venturesome eater. As a child, I was quite picky when it came to certain things, but mainly meat-wise. Now, pretty much the only thing I do not like are tomatoes, and my intolerance for them comes mostly just in their raw form.

My first liver experience occurred when I was in high school. It was early summer in Tehran and I was at the amusement park with my close friend and her family. My friend is small, even smaller than I am, with olive skin and a likable smile. She’s been named after the morning dew.  It was at the end of the night and we were satisfied with the rides and almost ready to go back home. Not wanting to take me home without having had dinner, my friend’s father came back from the liver man in the corner who had a small glass fridge, an aluminum fire pit, and a woven fan. Her father held up a plastic bag. Inside were kabobbed slivers of heart, kidney, and liver, wrapped and insulated in lavaash bread. Everyone seemed eager and hungry. My friend, her sister, and her parents started ripping off bread and using it to grab the meat, insisting that I join. Her mother took a tear of bread to pick up a couple of offal pieces and handed it to me. I was fifteen and skeptical. I hesitated, but I accepted the offer, and surprisingly appreciated it. The meat was soft, smooth, and fluffy rather than stringy, and it smelled smokey and charred. And that’s how I was introduced.

The day after the guinea pig and I had chicken livers and onions, JC came over to watch an episode of Friends. If it’s not a meal, she’ll want a snack any time she’s in my apartment for more than twenty minutes. I asked if she were willing to try some leftover chicken livers, and she said yes. So I warmed the livers and made her a wrap and stared at her face waiting to see her reaction as she took a bite. To my surprise, and hers, not only did she not dislike it, she liked it. Campbell-soup-and-Lean-Cuisine-JC finished her chicken liver wrap with gratification. And that’s the story of how JC was introduced to chicken livers. She made me proud.