A Survey to Savor

Until my book arrives, for reasons withheld, I am semi-retiring from the kitchen. But I will not leave you with nothing to savor.

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Sweet Maple Sausage, French Toast, and an Egg, Easy Over, Nice and Runny:

Yes, I cook breakfast too. However, as much as my guinea pig enjoys a good burger or a hot dog with all the works, I cannot get him to relish a big American style breakfast. He prefers simple butter and jam, but to get him go ooh and aah you have to feed him breakfast Persian style: good white cheese, walnuts, cucumbers, and bread cooked in an oven of pebbles.


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Tortellini in an Earthy Mushroom Broth:

No, I did not make the tortellini from scratch. It was store bought, found in the refrigerated aisle, stuffed with cheeses, and not so amazing. But it’s really all about the broth. I rendered down diced onions with fresh baby bella mushrooms, and dried porcinis, reconstituted in a bowl with hot water, drained, and nicely chopped. I kept the reconstituting water; it holds that porcini aroma and essence, and later added it to the rest of the liquid, my homemade chicken broth. My secret might just be that bowl of dirty water most throw away, but I like to call it porcini broth, and it makes the flavor as fancy as the name.

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Parsley Drenched, Paper Towel Dried, Fried Shrimp:

I don’t deep fry. For one, I really only have olive oil on hand: a nice, dark, extra virgin, pungent bottle reserved for salads and such, and a five-liter jug of lighter olive oil for cooking. I don’t own a kitchen thermometer either, although I should buy one next time I find myself browsing the cluttered backside of the nearby TJ Maxx. For these I used fresh parsley in my beaten egg mixture and my homemade bread crumbs, of which I ran out of halfway through the breading process, leaving me with no choice but to make do with just flour on my last batch, which became flour, egg, flour, instead of what it should have been: flour, egg, breadcrumb.

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I like dunking shrimp into a mayo/yogurt sauce spiked with grated pickles, a bit of either grainy brown mustard or even less of dijon, chives, and dill.

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Oven Baked Red Snapper:

While we’re on seafood, let me tell you about our arbitrary snapper encounter. The guinea pig and I were shopping at a grocery store other than our usual, and decided to browse for some fresh seafood for a quick dinner. The seafood lady the exceedingly chatty but nice type who means well so you find yourself answering her every remark with an endearing smile rather than being infuriated. They didn’t have what I was looking for, whatever I wanted at the time, and their salmon was only farm raised. The guinea pig asked what was fresh, and she pointed to the snapper, saying it came in this morning. And so, we said we would give it a go. As she wrapped them in paper, she gave us her serving suggestions, “They’re really good with ranch dressing.” Sure, that’s the next thing we’ll pick up from the store, ranch dressing. I may not have taken her word of advice, and instead, baked them in the oven with green onions, capers, and sun dried tomatoes. But, outside of the Hidden Valley, she was right, it’s a delicious fish with a sweet flavor profile, and I’d do another red snapper any day.

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Overpriced Lamb with Portobella Red Wine Tomato Sauce and Rosemary Butter Orzo:

Sounds fancy? It was. But the lamb was mostly bone with an exaggerated price tag. But that’s the Co-Op for you, everything is exaggerated. We stood in front of the butcher originally looking for rabbit; I have never had rabbit, and the guinea pig’s plan was to make rabbit in tomato sauce, but when the store failed to deliver, I had to take matters in my own hands. The Co-Op always seems to carry everything but what I’m looking for. This time, they had plenty of veal shanks, but I didn’t have six hours for osso buco. I’m sure, next time I walk in with the objective of osso buco, again, they will have everything, sheep organs and whole rabbit, everything but veal shanks.

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I seared the lamb then made the sauce, and returned the meat back with the tomatoes and mushrooms.  I heated a joyous amount of butter with chopped, fresh rosemary, and tossed the orzo. This was a rare occasion where I treated my orzo like a pasta; I normally tackle it like a wild, brown, arborio, non-basmati, non-Iranian rice, sautéing it with onions, letting it brown and toast, then adding stock and stirring, in layers, almost as if I were creating a risotto. I’ll then add vegetables or seafood, and cheeses. It may be a crime to do this to a pasta shape, but even the guinea pig has fallen for it, and he’s Italian, so I think I’m off the hook.

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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.

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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.