let's catch up a bit


i'm heartbroken to see that news about iran has practically fallen off of the front page. it's really discouraging to see that the cruel and dirty tactics employed by those in power in iran are working, but in my heart, i know that my generation isn't going to back down.

so many times over the course of my life, i've looked at my brothers and realized that it was essentially the toss of a coin that brought us to the states and gave us this (relative) life of luxury and freedom here while our cousins were left in iran. i'm well aware that if just a few things had been different, i might have been protesting in the streets myself this month.

marjane satrapi, who wrote the persepolis books, had a sweet op-ed in the nyt yesterday.


lately i've mostly been canning just to save things that might be going bad, less so than with the intention of putting up food for later. apricot jam yesterday, red currant mostarda (an italian sweet-spicy-sour condiment for meats and cheeses) the day before, and red currant jam last week. we've also been experimenting with indian-style beet relish and turnip kimchee.

i'm still waiting for my beloved dirty girl early girls, so it looks like tomato sauce season will be late and long this year.

outstanding in the field:

this week we had a dinner at green string farm with outstanding in the field. though i was really nervous about being organized enough to serve 100 people a five-course dinner in the middle of a field, everything ended up working out beautifully. (i cannot thank ross cannard enough for everything that he did to make this possible.)

the fantastic baker mike zakowski made loaves upon loaves of special breads for the event, and then baked flatbreads for the first course in the wood oven that bob built in front of the barn.

one of the most special people i speak to on a weekly basis, cindy callahan of bellwether farms, came and spoke about her perfect cheeses, which we use day in and out at the restaurant.

we served:
sunny slopes farm figs with chris lee's prosciutto (complete with a berkel slicer)
vella cheese co.'s oro secco with red currant mostarda (made with gs farm red currants)
summer vegetable salad with fresh coriander vinaigrette and marinated sardine flatbread (veggies from gs farm, star route, and martin bournhonesque. fresh coriander from county line)
roasted zucchini lasagna with sheepsmilk ricotta (zukes from terra firma. basil from gsf)
gs farm goat (spit-roasted and braised) with green beans, cherry tomatoes and shell beans (from martin, gs farm and terra firma)
hand-cranked peach leaf ice cream with roasted apricots and fresh boysenberries (all fruit and leaves from gs farm. can i just say how delicious peach leaf ic is?!)

breads from mike z.
wines from cline

nearly every one of our cooks volunteered time to make this event a success. the generosity of spirit that these guys and girls have never ceases to amaze me. i am so proud of and have such great appreciation for my cooks. thank you so much.

unfortunately, i was running around like a crazy person trying to avoid disaster the entire day, so no photos. luckily, diana sanchez (our fantastic server and a terrific photographer) was there to capture the entire day. she said i could post some of her photos when she gets them to me. i can't wait.

coming up:

i'm going to be blogging and tweeting from the roots of change summit next week. super excited.

i'll be teaching a canning workshop at hoes down this year. i think we'll do tomato sauce and perhaps some sort of jam...we'll see what's in season come october.

a little birdie (hee hee) told me that soul food farm is planning to start a chicken & egg CSA. please email alexis to show her your support if you'd be interested in joining. her pastured eggs are like a dream, and the heirloom pastured chickens are really, really tasty. and since chicken and eggs are staples in most households, i think this is a fantastic idea! she wants to make her stuff available to everyone, instead of just restaurants and shops, so let her know that you want in. trust me, there is no better egg in california.
forgive me, but i need to take a little break from all of my iranicizing. not because i'm not aware of what's going on, but because i'm too aware. it's overwhelming.

i want to catch you all up on what's been going on here for the past couple of weeks:

there were 700 or so jars of apricot preserves at yes we can, which we made at la cocina, whilst ryan farr taught handfuls of laypeople how to make emulsified sausages.

there was the couscous royale at asiya's goodbye party, where i finally met jessica, the woman behind rabbits and wrinkles.

a week later, there was an educational day of canning cherries and cherry jam for green string farm, wherein i realized that cherry jam could never be a money-making enterprise. fifty pounds of pitted cherries yielded 46 8-oz jars of jam. i don't even want to think about the math involved in that.

there was the day we went over to veller's house to kill four rabbits for our dinner celebrating the release of her book. this is the least graphic photo i had. notice the fraying nylon string veller saved from her hay bales and rigged up to the tree for hanging the rabbits to skin.

but as one might imagine, the cage the rabbits were in wasn't the most secure apparatus, so one bunny had escaped two nights before the big day. he was last seen at the liquor store down the street. we searched for him for 20 minutes to no avail, so we made do with three bunnies. as soon as we left, veller said, the smart guy showed up but she couldn't catch him.

there was my lunatic idea to cook a dinner using as many backyard and urban farmed and foraged ingredients as possible to celebrate the release of novella's book, which meant that i somehow had to find dozens of backyard farmers, figure out what and how much they'd have available the week of the dinner, set up drop-off times and make time to forage and harvest, and somehow write a coherent menu around it all. it was the most involved, challenging, invigorating and fruitful experience of my cooking career.

the dinner couldn't have been more lovely:

chris cutting into the prosciutto made with novella's pigs

novella's olives (which we served with the prosciutto)

cucu sabzi, a persian frittata (my mom's is better) i made with all of the leftover foraged herbs and greens

the second prosciutto (CL got a little carried away)

CL slicing prosciutto on the beautiful berkel slicer emilio lent us for the night

the experience of seeing those rabbits on the farm over the past several months, killing, skinning and cleaning them up, then cooking with them was something i hope all cooks have at some point in their lives. chris and cedric did a fantastic job with them. we dried sunny slopes farm apricots and made a moroccan-inspired stuffing. those are little heirloom carrots from novella's farm on the outside, with fresh chickpeas from catalan farm.

all in all, it was a fantastic night, with so many of our friends and neighbors present. the sense of community was so strong that night, with nearly every table scouring the menu for the ingredients that had come from their own yards. perhaps the most special contribution was the incredible sack of mulberries from suzanne's neighbor's yard in south berkeley. thank you, everyone, for filling that night with such authenticity and love.

and finally, yesterday there was the discovery of lola's ice creams & sundaes (via aaron), a sort of beautiful ice cream version of the moro books (not much of a surprise since they come from the same publisher). i might just have to get that for myself.

an email from iran

this email was sent by a family friend in iran. i apologize for the strong language.

quick email about the situation here....vaaaaghean disaster....in a good way though.....never has iran experienced such chaos since the revolution more than 30 years ago....people have SO much anger towards the government...what they published is:

ahmadinejad ~24 million
mousavi ~13 million
karoobi < 1 million
rezai < 1 million

what seems to be true is:

mousavi 19 million
karoobi 13 million
ahmadinejad 6 million
rezai ~3

Poeple go about their day as normal but come around 4, 5 pm....taxis stop going to famous public squares, stores close, the streets become full of people....pictures that you see on line tell the story....these mother fuckers beat women, girls,...with sticks...2 nights ago they stormed in to the students dormatory and tore down everything they could....students blocked their dorm room with closets but they broke in and beat the shit out of the poor students...videos are on line....but the ironic thing is that this time people aren't backing down....young people keep going on the streets fighting with these animals...every once in a while they get a hold of some of them and beat the hell out of them.

the government tries to portray this as "200, 400 people that are making disturbance in our city".....but yesterdays rally at azadi square showed it was more than 200...in fact a 6 lane street for a stretch of 5 miles was FULL of people !!!!!! i could barely breath! probably over 2 million people showed up and this was when mousavi could only communicate through people and not through text and TV....I cant iimagine if he gets a hold of the TV, radio, newspaper....wow! revolution baby! ;) but of course they have more security around "seda sima" than ahmadinejad himself!

Everything the government says is a lie....ahamdinejad was at a news conference telling christian amanpour that "shahre ma kheily amne" and then BBCPersian showed a clip where the gaurds are beating people....this man has no idea what these people are capable of...he thouhgt he could get away with it and only in the past 2 days has the whole government realized the depth of shit they've been under...Guys im telling you if this thing turns around in our favor I see Iran changing for the first time in 30 years! Everynight the streets are full of cars with people showing peace signs and supporting each other...the chaos has started in small cities as well and over there not only are people more fearless but they have less gaurds there to control people....

I got chased by fucking "basiji" on bikes a couple of times...missed me by 20 meters otherwise they have butans (dont know if i spelled it right but I'm talking about the fucking hard sticks) and i'm guessing i would have had a few bruises;) they have paint balls and shoot them at people.....people have their doors open so those on the streets can come and hide but they bust in if they can and break doors down and beat whomever is in the appartment irrelevant of age, sex, ....

Unfortunately we are losing a lot of young people, students but if they keep this movement another few days longer this regime , the whole ahamadinjeda group will fall down...and maybe the supreme leader....

sorry for the long email...now tell me...HA-U-doowen?

a typical spice and snacks shop in tehran. i love how ornate it all is. you never see that here.

there's a sweet article on iranian food in the dining out section of the nyt. in part, i find it sweet because something so commonplace as a mother cooking for her kids was deemed interesting enough to write about in the times. i don't think i've ever met one iranian mother who wouldn't do the same.

i was indescribably lucky to be born to a woman who cooked every single day for me and my brothers. my grandmother once told me, exasperated, that ours is the only cuisine that requires the cook to be in the kitchen all day long. that may not be completely true, but i'm willing to bet that only a few other ancient cultures manage to draw out making dinner into a day-long (or sometimes multiple-day-long) ordeal. on top of cooking time, my mom, displaced like so many others, searched high and low around town (or even as far away as l.a.) for the perfect ingredients, ones that could reawaken dormant taste buds that had given up hope of ever meeting with the flavors of the past--of the old world.

i remember feeling an incomparable inferiority to my cousins the first time i went to iran and met them, because there was no way i'd ever be as iranian as they were. and later, i realized that the food i grew up eating wasn't actually the "real thing," but my mother's closest approximation of it--the yogurt my mom made wasn't as sour as the yogurt i tasted at my grandparent's home on the shore of the caspian, and pita bread, the bread i'd eaten for breakfast nearly every day of my life, was nowhere to be found in iran. i also realized that the culture of convenience hasn't spared iran, either, and pre-prepared foods are just as common in kitchens there as they are here. no matter where she was, i saw, the care and time my mom put into making everything for us from scratch was the most authentic part of our meals, something even many iranians didn't have anymore.

i thought of all of the homes of the diaspora i visited during my childhood, with each family's own version of the past set at the table, all slightly different than what we had at home. my mother's obsession with organic produce that led us to hippie coops and natural food stores wasn't caused by any trends or quest for health-foods as much as it was a search for the flavors of her childhood, passed sitting in plum and walnut trees at dusk. for me, my mother's food was always the best (who doesn't feel that way?).

my grandparents have a citrus orchard on the coast of the caspian sea in iran, and the last time i was there it was late spring, so my grandmother sent me and my aunt out to collect bitter orange blossoms for jam and orange blossom water.

we were out there all day, picking the sticky little flowers one by one. being a cook, i kept trying to come up with more efficient ways to pick the flowers, but nothing i tried worked. i even dug up a tarp out of some shed and tried to shake the flowers off the branches, but that was disastrous because it shook everything else off the tree too, and ended up creating more work.

after two days of picking blossoms, we brought them back to my grandmother. she saved about a quarter of the blossoms for jam, and distilled the rest. words cannot describe the perfume the blossoms released--the house smelled so sweet and citrusy i had to leave several times throughout the day.

the next day, i had to return to tehran, but my grandmother wanted to make me lunch first. the water in town is very hard, and unpotable, so everyone uses bottled water for everything. five years ago, my grandmother was hit by two cars, and though she's had an incredible recovery, she hasn't quite been the same since. there's a lot of forgetfulness and repetition of stories on her part--more than i remember, anyway.

as my friend arash might say, to make the story short, my grandma used the two liters of orange blossom water to rinse the rice. two days of work literally down the drain. i was so sad i had to leave before lunch was made. later, my grandma said that the rice was delicious. all i have to show for the work is this photo of my aunt with a rabbit she befriended beneath the orange trees.