Hot Chicks

Last night I fell asleep on the living room sofa, before ever getting into bed or showering the perfume of smoke and meat off my body. While April nears its end, traces of Spring are only sparsely being seen in Hanover still. Warmer temperatures will stop by, but seem too shy to stay. So yesterday, we were content with sixty-so-degrees of Fahrenheit, and made our way across the river to Norwich for a barbecue, with the guinea pig’s office mates and their families or +1s. The wind was trapped inside the shade of the gazebo that shelters the picnic tables from  the sun, where we sat to exchange conversation. It was a diverse bunch of picnickers,  from Pakistan, India, Vietnam, and Iran and Italy, making for a diverse outdoor meal: Vietnamese sweet barbecued drumsticks and wings, charred on the grill until their skin was crispy and their insides sensational and moist, leaving your fingers deliciously sticky enough to lick them clean, and an Indian wheat pudding with raisins for dessert, that was creamy and gritty simultaneously in each spoon.

My contribution is not one hard to guess. Yes, kabob of course, jujeh kabob, pieces of marinated chicken skewered and cooked over fire. Originally and in Iran, younger chicken are chosen, sacrificing their futures for a more delicate bite, hence the title “jujeh”, meaning chick. The night before, the guinea pig was given the more unpleasant task of skinning and de-boning chicken breasts before knifing them down into pieces while I prepared the marinade in the bottom of a bowl. He continued with the dirty work, moving on to slicing onions, and I undertook the more elegant step of the process, spooning out thick strained yogurt into my red glazed ceramic bowl. I boiled water, and when the kettle started to whistle, I switched it off and poured it over a generous pinch of pestled saffron. Everybody knows that saffron is the most expensive spice in the world, making it the most luxurious of seasonings, but not everybody utilizes it correctly, thus not getting its full potential. Throwing a saffron sprig straight into your pot of what is to become risotto Milanese is an example of incorrect utilization, at least in the eyes of the Persian. A Persian will take the time to pestle his/her saffron with a small chunk of broken off sugar cone, gently and patiently, then storing the powder in an airtight container, and every time, seeping a pinch or so in some hot water, letting it brew before adding it to rice or stew. The saffron flower blooms to expose its stigma, three orange strands of saffron that will add aroma and color to cuisine and beyond, but, use it sparingly; when I said generous, I meant a generously sparing helping– pinches, never a half-cup of the powder, as saffron can be poisonous if consumed in a large quantity. In fact, on the fields outside of Mashhad in Iran, where saffron is cultivated and cropped, the workers wear masks, and are the highest paid amongst the working-class. But back to my kitchen, I added the orange liquid of brewed saffron resting at the bottom of a glass to the yogurt, turmeric, salt and pepper, and stirred to see it turn an intense shade of yellow. The guinea pig’s labor was mixed in, and never did raw chicken look and smell so good to me. We plastic wrapped the top and put it in the fridge, and called it a night.

The fire needed work, and after yesterday, I will say that computer scientists don’t have the skill or muscles one can rely on for an outdoor barbecue. They do much better inside, with numbers on a screen, exercising their forefingers at a slow but steady pace against the left button of their mouse. It’s a shame that the girls had to take matters into their own hands, briskly fanning paper plates above the lit charcoal, spreading the heat and working their arms. Hence my stench of smoke and now defined shoulders. I come from a place where making kabob is a man’s job, but alas, times have changed.

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All’s well that ends well. The kabob was a beautiful yellow outside crusted with black char, and tender and juicy and despite it being breast, not the least bit dry. And, if I may say so, I have gained some defined, and quite sexy shoulders.

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Another Saturday

Friday night I got a booty call from my good friend and schoolmate- saucy and smart from Arab descent with an attitude, we’ll call her Harissa. I was just about to start my very late dinner of wild sockeye salmon baked oil-free with dill and sumac in a pocket of parchment paper along with a scallion and a clove of garlic. The guinea pig and I were in the library earlier that night, the guinea pig studying, me pretending to, and schoolwork, a late lunch, and a lot of fruit had led up to this 11:00 o’clock dinner. We had just managed to hush the smoke alarm; I had skillfully set the parchment paper on rapid fire when attempting to open the folds and after turning the dial from bake to broil to give the skin an extra crisp, when a corner of the paper hit the broiler and went up in flames. Now generally, I prefer the stovetop; I am no good with the oven- maybe one of the reasons I barely ever bake, but this wild fire was a work of art. After choking the flames with a silicone turner, the pan now in the hands of the guinea pig hovered over the kitchen sink, the smoke alarm started screeching. I waved a dishcloth as I stood underneath it, and he ran to open the window completely to let in the 26 degree New England air in. Eventually, the smoke detecter went silent, before the apartment building had to be evacuated and firetrucks showed up. Just a month ago they had come in and changed the detectors, replacing the old ones that never said a word with the apartment full of hooka smoke, with these fancy oversensitive ones, that beeped even though the apartment wasn’t smoked. Yes, there was a fire, but it wasn’t smokey. I’m still not sure if the spatula killed the fire, or it let out by itself after the entire sheet of parchment paper was burned through; the good thing was that I hadn’t used a drop of oil and the fish were unharmed.

I wrap up my wildfire detour to walk back to the booty call.

“What are you doing tomorrow?”

“Hmm. I’m not sure. Like when tomorrow?”

“There’s a protest in Boston. Against the war against Iran. Do you want to go?”

“Oh is there? Do you want to go?”

“I mean, I don’t know.”

“You just want to protest, don’t you? OK. Let’s do it.”

“OK.”

“Can you check the buses? But can I call you back? I was just about to have dinner.”

“Yeah OK. Oh wait. Can we get kabob when we’re in Boston?”

So we ended up busing down to Boston, leaving Hanover on the Dartmouth Coach at 9 am, to get there in time for the protests. When we got to South Station 3 hours later, we stopped at the lady’s room before anything else. I tend to skim through the notes markered in the stall as I squat to pee- I like having things to read in the bathroom, but this stall was surprisingly clean from graffiti except for: (peace sign) w Iran. How randomly compelling, I thought. It must be a sign!- maybe not a sign, but it was an amusing coincidence.

Lav Note

We joined the protesters, mostly anti-war hippies and occupy supporters, marching to the Israeli embassy, (when no one but Harissa had the realization that Jews probably don’t work on Saturdays), then to a square with a name I don’t remember.

After listening to veterans, students, and school bus drivers, the protest ended and the crowd broke off. I approached a young group- they appeared to be around our age, probably grad students as well. I thought I heard them speaking Farsi, so inappropriate taking into account the circumstances or not, I sprung my desperation on them, do they recommend a Persian restaurant with a good Kabob Koobideh. Koobideh is the kabob of seasoned ground beef- usually a 50/50 mix of ground beef and ground sheep or lamb if your in Iran- cooked on metal skewers over open fire. “Sabzi,” he answered. I could see the reminder start to give him cravings.

So Harissa and I took the subway out to Harvard Square in Cambridge, and then the bus out to Arlington, what looked to be a suburb outside of Boston. We were standing in the window when the restaurant door unlocked as soon as the clock struck 5, and the restaurant opened for dinner.

We started with Kashk-e-Bademjan to share, eggplant and fried garlic onions mashed with whey, but the real love came with the two plates of Chelo-Kabob, rice and kabob. The rice they used was basmati, but a basmati that didn’t expand as much when cooked, keeping a slim grain- not my favorite. The meat was good- I’ve had better- but it was good. My stomach expanded from the moist meat and rice I had sprinkled with sumac and chased with mast-o-musir, thick shalloty yogurt, and Harissa wanted to get in bed and cuddle with her plate of food. We were already high on kabob when the waitress suggested just what I needed: baklava and chai, tea.

kashk-e-bademjan

chelo kabob-e-koobideh

chai and baklava

Protests and food made for a good Saturday.

But of course the day doesn’t end here. The story started with the guinea pig staring at the flaming pan of fish, contemplating whether or not to run it under water, putting out the fire and destroying the perfectly pink fleshed aquatic vertebrate, before calling for the orange Kitchenaid turner resting on the counter, raising his voice over my amused laughter. The story will end with me asking the waitress one last request before she brings out the check: two skewers of kabob to go, that would fill the bus ride home with its meaty aroma and treat the guinea pig over a bed of rice I quickly prepared, its grains plump and tasty.