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.