Fall Brings Love

Fig & olive oil challah

Fig & olive oil challah

I woke up this weekend and turned my face to look out my bedroom window.  It’s finally fall.

 

I love fall.  I love that I get to wear sweaters and jackets during fall.  I love that my hair whips around in the wind during fall.  I love that when I wrap a scarf around my neck, it keeps getting pushed farther by the fall wind, until my face is finally obscured and I can’t see where I’m going.  The fall chill has a vitality to it that isn’t the same in the winter.  It’s crisper - I feel like I can hear it and feel it around me.  Or is it just the crunching leaves that I can hear?  Fall is alive and it makes me feel alive too.

Bean soup, candles & wine. Pure romance.

Bean soup, candles & wine. Pure romance.

Of course I love fall food as well!  Braises come out of my kitchen whenever I have the time.  Bean stews are a regular player on my menu plans.  If I can stir roasted squash into it, thats even better (best bean soup recipe ever, coming soon!)  And the baking.  Apples, pumpkins and spices everywhere.  I picture an apple muffin, gently torn open, with steam rising from the tender crumb.  These foods make me feel warm.  These foods are the equivalent of sitting in a well-cushioned chair with a blanket wrapped around you and a purring cat in your lap.  Heaven.

 

And fall is a time to celebrate!  Fall is Halloween fun and Thanksgiving abundance.  Fall is family gathered around a table, laughing and eating for hours.  Fall is three sisters holding mittened hands while taking a walk by the river.  It’s a time for special occasions between special people.

Butternut squash, waiting to be roasted

Butternut squash, waiting to be roasted

I have even more to celebrate than usual this fall.  On a chilly evening, Daniel got down on one knee and told me he wanted to spend the rest of his life with me.  I agreed with this plan and now there’s a sparkly ring perched on my left hand.  I don’t know what to do with myself I’m so happy, but I’m pretty sure it’s going to involve a lifetime of baking this man pies.  

 

You guys, there’s going to be a really great party next year where you’ll see me wearing white.  And it’s going to be in the fall.

Love forever, in the fall

Love forever, in the fall

May Birthday Family Feast!

Summer vegetables ready to be grilled

Summer vegetables ready to be grilled

May is a big month in my family -- we have 3 birthdays to celebrate, plus mother’s day.  Since we all have busy schedules and I don’t live in the same city as everyone else, we have started celebrating all of the holidays during one big weekend bash.  And if you’ve learned anything about me by now you should know -- my family celebrates with food!

Grilled tomatoes

Grilled tomatoes

We gathered on the long Memorial Day weekend to put together a family feast.  It was the perfect day for a barbeque.  Temperatures in the mid-70’s, sunny with a breeze to keep us cool, I spent a lot of time on the porch in a swing with some pomegranate iced tea and a cat in my lap. 

Grilled marinated tri-tip

Grilled marinated tri-tip

The rest of the day was spent cooking.

Sabzi poloh with fried potatoes

Sabzi poloh with fried potatoes

My two sisters and I prepared the bulk of the meal and encouraged our parents to sit down and enjoy the sunshine.  We grilled almost everything -- a huge batch of summer vegetables from the farmer’s market, 2 marinated tri tips, and a fillet of salmon so big it must have been half of the fish.  We also had some Persian sabzi poloh, which is basmati rice cooked with fresh dill and Italian parsley, with fried potatoes cooked in.  For dessert we had homemade ice cream sandwiches in flavors like salted caramel and cinnamon horchata.  It was a very good day.

The full meal - grilling makes everything taste amazing

The full meal - grilling makes everything taste amazing

The best part of this feast was how simply and organically it all came together.  My sisters and I have been cooking together all of our lives, and we have a harmony in the kitchen together that is unlike anything else.  We anticipate each other’s moves and needs, lending a hand when necessary and stepping back when the other needs some space.  When we cook together, it is casual and fun -- the perfect way to celebrate as a family.H

My mom loved the ice cream sandwiches -- happy birthday everyone!

My mom loved the ice cream sandwiches -- happy birthday everyone!

When Failure Strikes

Sometimes, life just doesn’t work out the way you want it to. 

Lemon lime layer cake with whipped cream frosting

Lemon lime layer cake with whipped cream frosting

Take last weekend for instance.  It was Friday night and I was so excited for the weekend to come.  It was my sister’s birthday AND my grandfather’s birthday, so the whole family was getting together to celebrate and I was in charge of the cake. I found out I was in charge of the cake when my sister texted me a recipe link and the words “My Birthday”.  Nothing else.  We communicate so easily in my family.

 

So Friday night I girded my loins and gathered my baking implements.  I made a lovely lemonade layer cake with a lemon cream cheese frosting.  It was a thing of beauty - tall and fluffy and sweet smelling.  It seemed to be made of not just eggs and flour, but of laughter and joy.  I couldn’t wait to place it on the family table.  As I finished frosting the cake, I smiled and dreamed of the happiness this simple dessert would bring.

 

And then I dropped it in a sink full of dirty dish water.

 

Daniel has been telling people that all he heard from the kitchen was a strangled squeak of distress.  I couldn’t really tell you what I said in that moment, but I can tell you that my thoughts were no longer sugar and spice.  All of a sudden I felt a beast rise inside me and I snarled, “I at least need to know how it tastes!”  I stuck my hand -- my whole hand -- into the non-soggy side of the cake and pulled free a fist full of pastry.  I felt like I was pulling a beating heart from my enemy’s chest and devouring it whole.  I turned to Daniel with fire in my eyes.  “Taste this!  It’s really good!” 

 

After I finished threatening my partner with dessert, I got down to the business of finding a solution to my birthday cake pickle.  I had enough ingredients for a second cake (with some clever substitutions) but there was no way I could recreate the frosting.  I didn’t have the time, ingredients or patience for frosting.  I’d have to think creatively about what could be done to make this birthday cake. 

 

Though I wouldn’t want to lose another cake to the sink, this situation ended up being for the best.  In my fit of rage, I got to taste the first cake and analyze what was missing.  When I made my second cake, I rectified the problems and ended up making my own recipe - and it was vastly superior to the original.  Instead of a lemonade layer cake with lemon cream cheese frosting, I made a lemon lime layer cake with raspberry filling and a lemon whipped cream frosting.

 

It was a thing of beauty.  And I got to tell this story and make everyone smile.  Maybe in the end, it wasn’t such a failure after all.

Happy birthday!

Happy birthday!

Dried Fruit Haroseth

Dried Fruit Haroseth

Dried Fruit Haroseth

Last week wasn’t just Persian New Year, it was also the beginning of Passover.  Since Daniel is Jewish, I wanted to mark the occasion somehow.  I almost always mark occasions with food!  This year I tried my hand at making haroseth, a spiced fruit and nut concoction that was completely new to me and will henceforth be in my refrigerator often!

 

This recipe is so easy it’s embarrassing.  You really just chop a bunch of dried fruit up (and to be honest, you can use whatever dried fruit you like) and mix it with some flavorful juice and spices. That’s it.  I am told the traditional way to serve haroseth is on matzo at your Passover seder.  However, I had two other favorite ways of serving it that were by no means traditional.  One: early in the morning when no one is looking, take that matzo, crumble some feta on it and scoop up the haroseth.  Salty and sweet were meant to be!.  Two: try it on your breakfast yogurt -- it was a revelation as a condiment. 

 

My last non-traditional secret -- next time I'm trying this with coconut!

 

DRIED FRUIT HAROSETH

adapted from Bon Appetit

INGREDIENTS

1 1/2 cups chopped pistachio meats

1/2 cup chopped pitted dates

1/2 cup dried cherries

1/2 cup chopped dried apricots

1 chopped apple

1/4 cup port wine

1/4 cup pomegranate juice

1 tablespoon honey

1 1/2 tablespoons lemon juice

1 teaspoon orange zest

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg

 

Heat a heavy pan over medium heat and toast the pistachios until fragrant, around 4-5 minutes.  Let cool while chopping your fruit.

 

Combine all of the fruit with the wine and juice; drizzle in the honey, zest, spices and lemon.  Let stand at least 15 minutes.  If you are serving immediately, stir in the pistachios.  If you are serving the next day, hold off on that until the last minute - they get a little mushy.  

The New Year, Persian Style

Norouz dinner

Norouz dinner

My family’s Persian new year celebrations are some of my favorite memories from childhood (besides Thanksgiving -- nothing trumps Thanksgiving).  Honestly, I love any holiday that is drawn out for days on end, and Norouz always seems like it lasts for weeks, probably because of the surrounding holidays.

 

Right before the new year, Iranians celebrate Chaharshanbe Suri, which Wikipedia is telling me literally translates to Wednesday Red.  Chaharshanbe Suri is a fire festival -- on the evening of the last Tuesday before the new year, Iranians light bonfires and jump over them.  This is supposed to be a purification rite.  The fire is meant to burn away all of your sickness and problems, leaving only warmth in its wake.  My family would always have a huge party, the kind of party that everyone in our lives was invited to (including teachers and principals - seeing them out of context was always equal parts fascinating and horrifying to me, but it did give me some bragging rights on the playground).  My mother would go all out cooking for these parties.  I remember standing in the kitchen with her for hours, rolling dolmas and frying zulbia (syrupy Persian fritters) together.  I loved the ritual and care appetizers took, it was so different from the rote cooking of our daily lives.  It felt special.  My favorite part of the night was always when we would jump over the fire.  When I was very young, my father always helped swing me over the fire mid-jump, to make sure I didn’t fall in - I was a very cautious child.  My parents must have snapped dozens of photos of those jumps, and every year my sisters and I have such a look of excitement on our faces - how daring we felt!

Sabzi poloh

Sabzi poloh

Norouz itself, the actual New Year, is always about the food.  Every Iranian holiday is (to me anyway).   My aunt always throws this party -- if you want Iranian food done right you go to my aunt.  She is the one who perfected my rice cooking technique and she always makes outstanding food for Norouz.  The traditional meal is sabzi poloh mahi, which translates to green rice with fish.  The rice is cooked with green herbs, mostly parsley, dill, chives and fenugreek, and is served alongside a beautiful piece of fish.  What a wonderful way to welcome spring into your home! 

Fish for new year's

Fish for new year's

The decor of the new year is also key.  Iranians create a haft sin for Norouz, a table display that contains 7 (or more) items that start with the letter “s” (in Farsi).  These include green sprouts (sabzi), garlic (seer), apples (sib), vinegar (serkeh), hyacinth (sombol), sumac berries (sumaq), and coins (sekkeh).  Other items are frequently present, such as goldfish, mirrors, candles or books of poetry.

Haft sin display, photo by GlendaH

Haft sin display, photo by GlendaH

Finally, thirteen days into the new year Iranians celebrate Sizdeh Bedar, an outdoor day of celebration.  I’ve never been to Iran during the spring, but apparently on Sizdeh Bedar the cities empty, with all of the people going outside to enjoy the forests and lakes in the countryside -- Iranians love a good picnic.  The green sprouts that have been grown for the haft sin table are thrown away at the end of this day’s festivities, and with it a family’s pain and ill-fates from the coming year are supposedly thrown out as well.

 

2013’s Chaharshanbe Suri and Norouz have already come and gone, but you can join in on the festivities by celebrating Sizdeh Bedar this Sunday, March 31st.  Go outside, breathe in some fresh air and welcome the coming year - Persian style!