And Here We Go Again

I know I’ve been away from blogging for quite a while now. It’s time I made my return.

A couple months into my occultation, my heart was warmed to see requests for a return, text messages and facebook exclamations from friends, family, and acquaintances expressing their longing for another post. As big a smile they brought to my face, in practice I ignored them, like an uppity snob. This morning, after sitting in quietly to a conversation of New Year resolutions and goals the night before, I’ve decided I must restart now, before my readers are bitter, and I let too many months pass by to be able to undo it all. The randomness of my stream of consciousness brings me to say, if Tupac ever wants to come out of his occultation too, he should do so, before seventeen more years have passed and he’s lost his fan base to the new generation of whatever is going on at the moment.

My blogging decreased when the guinea pig migrated West for the summer, taking my inspiration away with him. But, it was the TSA tragedy that put it to a halt; finding my camera lens shattered after a long Tehran –> Franfurt, Franfurt –> Boston flight followed by three hours aboard the Dartmouth Coach to Hanover. With my guinea pig back and my camera as good as new, I am left with no excuses, and much to say. My more recent holiday travels were a merrier experience; the guinea pig proposed on one knee, I said yes, and no cameras were broken, although U.S. Agriculture did throw away my two kilos of smoked Persian rice I attempted, and failed, to smuggle into the country. What a shame. I put my backpack down to relieve my shoulders from the heaviness, as I stood by the belt waiting for the guinea pig to catch up and our bags to come out. As soon as my back pack went on the floor, a little beagle as cute as any puppy sniffed out an innocent bag of dates, which in the end, sent me and all of my luggage for full inspection, and my rice dinners to cancellation. Damn dog.

It started in Italy; I visited the guinea pig and his family in a small town a forty five minute train ride from Venice. Their house was tucked in the countryside, warmed with a wood burning stove, with a sour pomegranate tree outside their kitchen window, used only to infuse grappa, the region’s nurtured liquor, adding a few drops of antioxidants to their post-dinner guilty pleasures. Speaking of dinner, every meal illustrated my imagination’s hope, multiple courses, brought out one by one, one after another. Never did I think I would enjoy a white slice of pure pig’s fat, but lardo on bread surprised my taste buds with gratification.

My day in Venice included heavy fog, sauteed onion slathered sardines (of course fresh from the water and not from the can like the American conception of the small fish), and a lot of white polenta, although I prefer mine yellow. I find white polenta to have no flavor, which is probably intended. I trust Venetians, if not all Italians, have their reasons for continuously pairing it with seafood.

We found a small place across the station for breakfast, petite simple sandwiches of crusty bread and luscious prosciuttto, speck, and salami and cheese. It was filled with locals happy to have somewhere hidden from and untouched by tourists, getting a cheap but tasty drink before work, what seems to be the Venetian way of life. We walked in and I let the guinea pig lead; I learned that not many speak English in Italy. The shopkeeper stood behind a counter, with a display of sandwiches exhibited beneath glass. He interrupted the guinea pig before he could utter his second word towards our request, claiming he’s on his break. He then put a short stemmed glass on the counter, filled it with wine, and tipped it over into his throat, and let out an exhale of satisfaction, then asked what we would like. We were tempted, and ordered Cabernets for breakfast, because when in Venice, do as the Venetians do.

Breakfast in Venice

I won’t go into detail but I will say that my guinea pig’s Venetian proposal was not the cliche champagne on a gondola. It was the dessert to a full day of our style of excursion; simple and sweet, in San Marco Square on a satisfied stomach and tired feet. My tongue may have been still black from the cuttle fish in ink sauce dinner; but my fingers and toes were warm after the delightful mug of hot chocolate, and my heart was smiling.

And there you go. We’re engaged. If anyone had any doubts about whether or not they were smelling a love story between the guinea pig and me, I’m sure they’ve now been cleared out a bit. Not too shabby of a comeback, no?


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.

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.

Love, Maine, and Lobstah

Last week, we drove up to Maine regardless of the disappointing forecast. It was midweek with June showers, but it needed to be done, and up here, you really never know with the weather anyway.

Two hours into the road trip, we drove past a shack I had seen on the Food Network’s Diner’s, Drive Ins, and Dives, and after about getting 15 miles closer to where we were really headed, we made an illegal U-turn for the fried whole clams at Bob’s Clam Hut in Kittery,ME. Although we snacked on a basket of fried-ness, the batter was light and the fries flavorfully crackled when you bit through. The Food Network has yet to let us down. And Guy Fieri isn’t even one of my favorites.

We reached Portland in time for dinner. I don’t know if it was the misty air or the fact that it was just the guinea pig and I showing our true inner selves that our time spent was really solely invested in food adventures. We tried everything and nothing but creatures found in the ocean, the highlight of it all being lobstah. (That’s not me misspelling; that’s how New Englanders say it.) We saw the Portland headlight and walked its museum, enjoyed some fancy relaxing in a hot tub at a beautiful inn, and toured Boothbay Harbor on a two hour boat cruise, but the before, after, and in betweens all involved feeding our stomachs.

I proved my paranoia of raw oysters being slimy shellfish that slide displeasingly down your throat to be wrong; they are harmless and taste like nothing but an ocean breeze. Baked stuffed oysters on the half shell, however, are nothing to fuss about. In fact, I prefered them raw. How badass of me.

We followed the directions on our paper placemats on how to shell and eat a lobster, nutcracking the pink meat free and dipping it in butter. By the time we were headed back to Hanover, we had gotten quite good at it, ditching the directions and yet managing to unravel claw meat in one solid piece, and sucking the little legs to a complete void.

We had chowdah outside on the dock where it smells like the sea, sitting next to a heater, as we dried from the morning rain. The chowdah was hot and full of bits of clam swimming into our mouths and under our teeth in every spoon. Everything was fresh, dissolving on our tongues with the least bit of effort, simple, and delicious, washed down with Allagash White, a Maine made beer refreshingly light and crisp and summery.

The least of our favorites was the most pretentious. A restaurant off the docks too fancy for flipflops, with a nice ambience, an open kitchen, and higher prices. Yelp reviews raved about their “lobster diavolo”, and that was just what we ordered. The waiter said it was very spicy, something the guinea pig cannot enjoy, so we asked to tame the fire to a lighter spice. After a nano scale ten dollar salad, we were served with a copper pan housing  sauced spaghetti (or linguine- I don’t quite remember) with mussels and clams and scallops and calamari, on which a whole lobster cut in half down the middle was throned upon. The first forkful was not as exciting as the facade. We could not find the spice, or even the salt. It was under-seasoned and over pastaed. The ratio was not right, and it all lacked flavor. After we took our lobstah halves into our own individual plates, I tossed everything with the sea salt that sat on our table and moved the sauce around to coat everyone. It was an improvement, but it did not impress.

Surprisingly, (or not so surprisingly after all), our favorite turned out to be a cash only take out stand next to the high way, with a queu of people risking sunburn for a lobster roll that is well worth any aloe vera seeking pain. Red’s Eats is at the corner right before the road is morphed into a bridge, crossing the water onto the other side. The rolls themselves were buttered and toasted, and piled with lobster meat. Mine had two tails, convincing me that the rumors are true; more than one lobster is put into each roll. They were heavy to lift, leaving us with no choice but to pick from the top and dip pieces into our cup of drawn butter to ease the handling of picking it up and fitting a clean bite into our unlatched mouths. I drizzled the cold meat with the butter, and daubed mayo on the inside of my bun. The bite was perfect. The guinea pig hummed sounds of love in public, loud and without shame. Although I presume he was transported to another world, a world closer to the Muslim paradise of 72 promised virgins, and as far as away to the reality of plastic chairs around umbrellaed plastic tables by the street, and oblivious to the surrounding family with 3 children, the man on his lunch break, and an old couple slowly chewing at a neighboring table, I don’t blame him. It was like an orgy in my mouth- something I’d never experienced before, sweet and buttery that made my heart race and my back arch.

Our stomachs had a really good time, and after we snacked on steamer clams a town north and were driving back down home, we couldn’t fight the urge to stop one last time at Red’s Eats for two lobstah rolls to go, bringing a little bit of Maine to Hanover. And, sitting at my dining table, away from the water and far from the ocean’s gentle gust and saltwater scent,  it still tasted  damn good.

Marrow Me

With pictures and blog entries posted, I have been getting a lot of dinner requests, more than before. Sometimes it will be an implicit “all we get is to see the pictures and have to sit with our mouths watering” hope for an invitation, and at times it will be a more explicit, “so when will you have me over for dinner?”

I had promised an invitation to a friend, a fellow Hanover-residing Iranian, with a double chin and a certain quirkiness, that I believe has derived from his high-capacity brain overloaded with quantum physics, too much for any human to handle.

I had been wanting to make ossobuco for a while, and decided it was the perfect experiment to coincide with his first theintuitiveeater dinner immersion. Little did I know, while ossobuco is what it is because it is supposed to be a relatively cheap and available cut of meat, in this small town of mine, it was neither. Ossobuco literally means “bone with a hole”, and is a cross-cut veal shank, so the marrow-filled bone falls in the middle of the round cut of meat, giving everyone a few teaspoonfuls of marrow to enjoy. It’s a tough cut, supposing why it should be cheap (but nothing in Hanover comes cheap), and tenders with snail paced braising.

I butcher-hopped until I found a young, cute butcher at one of the Co-Ops, avoiding eye-contact with the older, menopausal butcher woman with a frowning crease in her brow and bloodstains on her apron, to fall into the hands of the tall, blue eyed, short but spiky haired butcher boy, that couldn’t help but smile. It isn’t a breeze to find veal, and specially cuts of veal that aren’t clean, boneless cutlets. Americans are spoiled; everything is cleaned and filleted and portioned, and still have I never seen a nation with so many microwavable options in their supermarkets’ freezer aisle. To get a piece of a labor-intensive cut of meat actually requires flirting. At least up here it does.

My sweet tone, innocent smile, and subtly showing crease finding its way upward out from the front of my white racerback top on a remarkably hot day, sent the butcher boy back and forth from the counter to the freezer, until he found a shank, and promised it was all he had. I asked him to cut it into three evenly thick pieces, and took the frozen parcel home to defrost.

Veal shanks need time, and having to defrost them with only a few hours before sunset, was not an assuring feeling but, I can say it was a panic worthwhile. While they defrosted in a bowl of water, I tended to the sauce; carrot, celery, onion, fennel, rosemary and thyme, browning and simmering in splash after splash of white wine, until the bottle was almost empty (1/4 of the lost wine may have been because I had a glass or two myself, but no more; I never cook under the influence). I tied the meat with smoked bacon strips and string, browned it on both sides, then put it in the pureed vegetable bath and covered it with more wine.

The meat was served on guinea pig made cheesy polenta, and sprinkled with parsley and lemon zest. It could have used another hour of solid braising, but would have made the sensation too good to swallow. We used our small spoons to scoop out the marrow from the center bone, a delicate but fatty treat, condensed with rich notes of heartiness. I was swept away. A wonderful last supper option, with those flavors left napping in my mouth I could have died from satisfaction, or a heart attack.

Nothing was left of our plates except for the bone and string, and we were meat-high, all three of us stoned on succulent veal shanks. I did not hear back from my dinner-guest-of-honor until the following Friday, when he texted me, “I finally recovered. Thank you so much for dinner on Sunday. You guys rock!” That was quite a recovery period. We eat like this all the time- well, not all the time.

An Indoor Picnic

JC confessed jealousy. Having an entire post dedicated to her was not enough; she wanted pizza. I explained how pizza was a collaboration- I did not know, and never attempted to try to roll out the dough- that was the guinea pig’s job- I’m in charge of the toppers, and caramelizing the onions in bacon fat, and sneaking on more cheese when the guinea pig isn’t looking. And his schedule is not one you can rely on during the week, keeping behind computer screens, working late. So, she settled for bolognese. That I could do, all on my own, because of course, mine was better than the Italian guinea pig’s, and in fact, one of the best he’s ever had. (The guinea pig also did recently confess his resentment and underlying hate he felt for that post).

I started a day ahead, with carrots, celery, and onions, salted. I used my hand immersion blender to paste them when tender, then continued to let them brown. I will take the time to quote Chef Anne Burrell and say, “because brown food tastes good”. She’s right; the browner the better. Then I mashed some Italian sweet sausage with a nicely diced onion half, and let that brown too. The fat from the sausage meat melts away, and the sausage and onions start to cook in its own fat, which is a beautiful, beautiful thing. There was a time when I despised fat, but I have come to realize, butter and bacon fat are capable of so much more than a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil can be. Of course, the right amount of it used in the right place at the right time.

The sausage joined the vegetable paste in my red enameled cast iron pot along with plum tomatoes kept in tomato juice, and cooked together for the rest of the evening. Time makes for a wonderfully developed and mature sauce. I put it in the fridge, wrapped in a dishcloth, before going to bed, and did not put it back on the stove until I got back home from school the following night, giving it another hour or two for the flavors to penetrate.

Although I mixed a fair amount of sauce with a few splashes of reserved pasta water and the spaghetti, I heaped our plates of saucy spaghetti with extra bolognese before grating the wedge of parmigiano reggiano JC had brought over. She almost topped her soup theories by stating that she didn’t know one could actually make sauce- that it was physically possible. “I mean, I knew you could add meat to the sauce, but I thought the sauce always comes from a can.” And, there are sauces that already have meat in them, or at least they promote meat, whatever that might mean- having meat product, meat by-product, or meat flavor. Then, JC stepped up her game, “Sometimes I’ll buy the ones that come in glass jars. Yeah, I get fancy, I’ll buy sauce in glass.” She can be quite charming.

The next day the guinea pig and I were left with barely any leftover sauce and two stomachs to feed. I took out the grill, his grill that I’ve borrowed and never returned, a cast iron beau that creates handsome grill marks and an exquisite char, and  I lined up asparagus and slices of a yellow bell pepper, all the fresh that was left in the refrigerator.

I called out that the pasta is almost ready, which turned out to be rigatoni tossed with asparagus, peppers, the remaining bolognese, and grated pecorino romano. The guinea pig stood pensively in front of the window before suggesting to sit on the carpet beneath it. The table was covered in mail and laptops, and I have just the equipment for eating on the floor. I directed him to it, the sheet that goes down first, then the smaller vinyl tablecloth that lies on top in the middle. Come Friday, the weekend, we would gather at my grandparent’s house in Northern Tehran for lunch, and being so many of us, the 8 person table would not suffice. So, we all would sit cross legged on the floor around a long vinyl cloth, elaborated with lace design, our plates in front of us of rice and kabob with sides of yogurt and slices of raw onion. Then, a common practice, is to just slowly plummet onto the floor for a light nap, right at the spread.

Saturday lunch, in my Hanover, NH apartment we had a two person indoor picnic, protected from the cold but, glancing out the window to the forest coated mountains and green fields below, still enjoying the blessings of nature. Hearing the guinea pig make love to every bite he took, the recycled leftovers seemed a success. I saved a shaving of cheese saucy from bolognese as my last bite before slowly descending onto the sheet beneath.

Mahi Mahi Monday

Recent climate changes have given us false hope and caused confusion. We were gifted with warm temperatures last weekend, screaming for sleeveless tops and short bottoms, then stabbed with an entire week of nonstop rain-pour, and strong winds, something rare up here even during the 30 degrees below zero winters. We woke up to a Sunday that showcased the sun, thinking it was the perfect opportunity to step outside of Hanover and drive up to Woodstock for brunch. (I say “up” because I mean Woodstock, Vermont, not three days of peace and music summer of 1969 Woodstock.) But, stepping outside into the cold winds, we decided this Sunday wasn’t the best choice to enjoy an outer-Hanover experience, specially if it’s going to be another 30 minute drive farther North.

Put an Iranian and an Italian together and you have two people who are always late. We did not step outside until the afternoon, when our stomachs could no longer take the pain of fasting. We ran some errands, and both on the fence of lunching in Woodstock, sniffling as we held our collars tightly closed, the guinea pig proposed we just go back to my apartment for a quick fix. I objected- I looked too nice to end the day with merely a run to the ATM and the air station at the gas pump.

I had transferred two cuts of Mahi Mahi loins from the freezer to the fridge before leaving. The plan that we never followed through was to have a sandwich, a revision from brunch, at Woodstock, and come home for a Mahi Mahi dinner. But that didn’t happen.

Brunch was delayed to lunch, and lunch ended up being “linner” (if I can call a meal in between lunch and dinner that), all because we decided to try out the new place in town, and everything on their menu. We went to 3 Guys BBQ Basement,(who didn’t open until 4:30, having us kill time in a dress boutique, me trying on dresses and the guinea pig being an awfully good wingman) and first ordered the brisket and the ribs, with sides of fries and baked bean, and of course beer from the draft. Halfway through, we reasked for the menu, and put in an order of pulled pork and fried pickles. The waiter, probably disgusted by the surprise of just how much two normal sized people can put into their stomachs, brought us the check, not even asking if we would like to try the big ass red velvet cupcake with cream cheese frosting and candied pecans for dessert, although, he did ask for our assessment on the various menu items we had sampled.

We left the place smelling like smoked pigs, and ended up replacing a dinner of fish with fruit- a salad of straw and blue berries, bananas, cantaloupe, an orange, and pink crisp apples tossed with Marsala.

And so, Monday night became Mahi Mahi night. Mahi Mahi is firm yet moist. The name is Hawaiian for “very strong”, but it’s funny because “mahi” is the Farsi name for fish. I grilled it with some salt and pepper, and served it with some rice that was cooked in tomato juice with peppers and black beans, and topped it with a wonderful salsa. I put a few tomatillos with some scallions, a bit of olive oil, and a chile pepper, seeds removed, into the blender. I finely chopped cilantro, and diced two avocados. I grilled the corn, getting a nice black char on the kernels. Come corn season, on the streets of Tehran, vendors will be sitting behind a rectangular tin pit in a sidewalk corner, with heads of corn shimmering directly on burning charcoal. They sit on an upside-down turned fruit crate, fanning the fire and turning the corn. Once the corn is cooked, charred and smokey, it’s taken off the fire and dumped into a bucket of salt water, and from the bucket, it’s shaken, then handed to the customer. After fiercely teething every kernel off the bone, I always suck the very tip, drawing in the salty, smokey, sweet.

The corn danced on the grill vigorously, almost in a salsa. Their kernels popped every once in a while, snapping out loud, like popping corn. I used my knife to slice them off the bone. I tasted the tomatillo mixture before adding the cilantro, avocado, and now grilled corn, and it was spicy. I had removed the seeds from the pepper, where most of the heat lies, and even tried a bite of its red flesh, and found it mild. But, soaking in the green tomato juices, it had released spice, and too much of it for the guinea pig to handle. So, I improvised, and counter-balanced it with a squeeze of honey. I waited, but, there was no complaining, no sniffling, and no eyes watering.

Put an Iranian and an Italian together and we’re always late, but, our stomachs are always happy, and full.

Burrata Me Up and Call Me Creamy

Standing with a 16oz box of arugula in hand for $4.99 in front of a window of mozzarella cheeses,  an impulsive pizza dinner was decided upon. When I proposed the idea to my friend, a Sicilian girl working for the Italian department here at the college, she replied, “With wine?”

And so I was introduced to burrata, mozzarella balls stuffed with mozzarella bits and cream. Cheese stuffed with cheese. The idea had me curiously drooling, so along with a ball of mozzarella, I bought a bucket of burrata. We checked out and stopped to the Co-Op on the way home, a market similar to Whole Foods but native to the Upper Valley distributing mostly local goods, for some dough and imported proscuitto di Parma, thinly sliced off the leg, bagged, weighed, and stickered. Wine was purchased, and a couple of bottles of it.

I called the guinea pig and explained the situation. He moaned a bit, just having gone through a box of pizza for lunch, and having had a frozen store-bought pizza the day before- of course thawed and cooked in the oven. He agreed in the end, as if doing me a favor. “Or, I can just make you an arugula salad of some sort.” He objected. Pizza for the third time in two days started to sound not too shabby.

The doughs were rolled out, this time with an actual rolling pin- the Sicilian brought her’s over, so we no longer had to cling saran wrap to an empty wine bottle. We lathered them with sauce and put them in the oven and raised our glasses while we waited. One was to become a vegetarian friendly raddichio and acorn squash, although we all hold meat dear to our hearts, and the other would be topped with arugula and proscuitto, after the cheeses promiscuously gave in and deliquesced, and put in the oven just for a minute to warm things through and barely melt the cured fat- keeping the proscuitto crudo and not cotto.

When I was cutting the burrata, the guinea pig stood over my shoulder and said, “Disaster. You can throw it away.” I ignored the comment at the time, but it wasn’t until yesterday when I realized he thought the outpouring of creamy mozzarella bits was an illicit mistake of what a mozzarella should be; stringy and compact and consolidated. The Italian guinea pig too was experiencing burrata for the first time, and well, his first time, I guess you can say was a roofied one- it wasn’t until two days later when he actually understood what had happened.

Pizza was on Friday, the guinea pig’s amnesiac experience of melted burrata, and his first conscious understanding of the cheese was to come on Sunday. I whisked coarse mustard, balsamic, honey and olive oil with salt and pepper, and tossed in arugula and grated carrots. The arugula is a peppery green, and carrots add a subtle sweetness. On top I sliced a burrata ball down the middle. A rush of white oozing from the first puncture, I tried to keep things in tact with the blade of my knife, giving him his half with sliced tomatoes, and mine with none- I do not care for tomatoes in the raw.

“Ahhh, burrata! I’ve heard about that!” He pronounces “heard” like “hear” with a “d” sound at the end.

I guess I took his burrata virginity this weekend. And mine too.

Thank you Sicilian to have set us up.

Now if we can only find a way to somehow partially cook, grill, char, or crisp the crust, keeping it intact, and having the insides ooze like hot lava with the poke of a fork, that would be raunchy.

Soup and Salad Bar

My friend JC is a loyal customer of canned soup. Before meeting her, I didn’t know you could actually stomach canned soup, and before meeting me, she didn’t know there was a possibility that soup could come from places other than a red and white labeled tin can.

Our friendship grew when she came over one winter’s day with boy complaints, and I offered her a cup of the cream of broccoli I had simmering on the stove. She asked what it was, and I repeated, “cream of broccoli.” She repeated her question, making clear that it was leaning towards the brand, rather than the kind.  It was then when the truth was revealed; that was her first bowl of homemade soup- you could say she lost her “real soup” virginity that day. I, however, still am, and probably will die, a canned soup virgin.

I will, however, when I’m pressed for time, open a can of two things, tomato products (crushed, sauce, etc.) and less frequently, black beans (which is completely against my father’s will. Every time it slips, he rambles about the harms of canned goods, and how simple it is to soak the dried beans then boil them for hours of time). On a streak of cold weather, I’ll make a pot of “everything soup”, starting with diced carrots, celery, and onions, then a can of crushed tomatoes, scallions, herbs, sometimes squash, and beans. If the soup is up to my father’s standards and I am cooking the beans that have been soaking in water since the morning with some salt, I’ll cook them separately first, before adding them to the soup- they’ll dull the color otherwise. I give my soup a little bit of spice and a lot of time, sometimes stirring in some freshly chopped parsley towards the end and a squeeze of lemon.

Now, JC, is my number one fan of any soup I make. She is so devoted, she has it in her head to start a business, ironically but sweetly proposing to can my soups and marketing them, not realizing that is going completely against my food philosophy. There is a reason I’m a 25 year old canned soup virgin.

And, while she may be queen of the microwave, with her Lean Cuisine freezer foods and Campbell soups, she is also a beautiful salad empress. My first experience of her “everything salad” left me impressed and inspired. A bed of green leaves hovered in baby carrots, sliced red bell peppers, cucumbers, and what I believe to be what sets it apart, chopped turkey breast slices and feta cheese crumbles- salad soul mates.

We made a tradition of it, girl’s nights with my soups, her salads, a bottle of wine, and a bit of gossip. Some weeks, there was a movie involved. But, when JC left Hanover for a two month adventure in New Zealand, I had to start making my own salads that were meal-replaceable worthy and able to hold me over.

The thing with salads and an appetite like mine is, my jaw usually tires of chewing before my stomach feels the slightest bit full. But, that doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy a good salad. And so, I’ll make my version of an “everything salad” of spring or 50/50 mix (sometimes JC would use exclusively baby spinach but I find too much of it in the raw leaves you with a dry, uncomfortable feeling mouth), grated carrots, celery, cucumbers, yellow peppers (my favorite of the bells), olives, a chopped up hard boiled egg (for added protein in hopes of holding me over an extra thirty minutes- plus I like how the velvety yolk adds body to the vinaigrette when mingled with oil and vinegar), dried cranberries, an avocado, and of course, sliced turkey breast and feta (or sometimes, for the Iranian in me, when I can get my hands on some, white sheep’s cheese instead.) And, every time, my last fork-full will be a single leaf, cucumber wedge, a bit of olive, and turkey and feta, because the last bite has to be perfect.

Vernal Equinox

I live in Hanover, New Hampshire, a small college town up the east coast that welcomed me with winter nights of 30 degrees below. I come from Tehran, a populous metropolitan encircled by mountains, polluted with honking horns, inspection failed minibus exhausts, cigarette stubs, and empty cheese puff bags. I’m used to expecting a temperature increase even before the spring commencement, the mark of the Persian New Year, an ancient holiday that survived the post-Islam occupation. However, my first first-day-of-spring in Hanover was avalanched with snow, so when this year the sun came out to shine down an 82 degrees, I found it a pleasant surprise. Hello Spring; Happy New Year to me.


The Hyacinth: symbolizing the coming of Spring.

My sister flew in from Tehran for the event, bearing treats, many of which, she was oblivious of smuggling into the country, until attempting to put on her boots and finding bags of sumac drupes shoved into the toes, and fresh narenj, sour oranges grown in the Caspien Sea region, in her jacket sleeves- my mother is quite the criminal.

The narenj was sent for squeezing over the traditional New Year meal, herb rice and saffron coated fish, that we ate with sides of pickled garlic and an olive medley marinated in ground walnuts, garlic, and pomegranate mollasses.

We stayed up, the Vernal Equinox striking 1:14 am, which was an easy task. Of the many edible offerings my mother sent over via my younger sister, I had saved the box of chickpea flour sweets for the occasion, which we ended up getting through with a bottle of Parampampoli the guinea pig, the sustained victim of all my kitchen creations,  brought over (all the way from Italy), boiled, and flambeed.

I dipped the delicate bite sized sweets into the warm, sweet, coffee liqueur, a successful recipe of cultural mixology. We went through two saucepans of the Parampampoli, a honeyed product of Grappa rarely found outside the guinea pig’s native region (he’s a small town boy from Bassano del Grappa), found in Trentino and the north of Veneto and nowhere else, let alone outside of Italy, and half of the box of melt in your mouth sweets, native to Qazvin, a province located northwest of Tehran.

Like every holiday, Norouz (No meaning new, rouz translating to day) is about family and food. We sat by the “haft-sin”, the table setting of Seven S’s, and took photographs to be sent to my parents, and of the dinner table at the end of the night to be kept for our eyes only, which hosted empty ice cream cartons, uninhabited bottles of pinot grigio, grappa, parampampoli, pistachio shells, and a plate which once held chickpea flour sweets which now barely contained even crumbs.

Elements of the Haft-Sin; the table setting of Seven S's and beyond, that is out for the first 13 days of the new year

Vinegar: symbolizing patience and old age
Samanou: wheat germ pudding, symbolizing affluence
Sumac: symbolizing the sunrise
Senjed: dried oleaster fruit, symbolizing love

Ferdowsi's "Shahnameh", "The Book of Kings", a Persian epic poem of over 50,000 couplets, written a thousand years ago, rhyming historical and mythical tales of Persia

Happy Norouz to all Iranians, Afghans, Kurds, and everyone else who celebrates the vernal equinox as the beginning of the new year, and Happy Spring to all.