I’m up early this morning. Piper is asleep and Will is out on a walk enjoying some fresh air before it gets too hot. I haven’t written lately, though I’m eager to get back into a routine. Inspiration is coming from a lot of different places lately. A couple of weeks ago we baked two loaves of Challah, which I served with a spread of homemade dips like hummus, spicy Yemenite Schug, a Moroccan inspired roasted eggplant salad, and slow cooker red lentil soup with a parsley flecked Tahini drizzle. It was too much and I didn’t want to cook again for a few days. Since then I have been enjoying clips of Nigel Slater’s show Eating Together on YouTube, where Slater reflects on some of his favorite foods, and then travels across Britain to find cooks from various other cultures who then share their way of cooking said food (take for example custard, noodles, hot pots, or soup). Well, during one clip a woman prepared Fesenjan, which is a traditional chicken stew in Iran. I’ve heard of it before when I read Rose Water and Soda Bread by Marsha Mehran, and so wanted to try and find a vegan version to make at home. Will performed in Tampa the other weekend, and fortunately for me the place was right nearby a Persian grocery store. It was pouring down rain when I hopped out of the car and came home with a bunch of goodies, including dried limes, orange blossom water, rose water, and pomegranate molasses. I used the pomegranate molasses for the stew, which is probably the most exotic dish I’ve ever cooked yet. I found a recipe that replaced the chicken with chunks of butternut squash and eggplant–but I’m getting ahead of myself. One of the other quintessential ingredients for Fesenjan is walnuts. You have to toast them so they begin to release their flavor and aroma, and then grind them before adding them back to the pot. The stew is quite simple other than that, with the recipe I followed calling for some diced onion, turmeric (I’m sure in Iran they use the real deal–Saffron), and cinnamon. Then you cook it all up–including the squash and eggplant–with some broth and a lot of pomegranate molasses. Again, this is not the most traditional version of the stew–in fact on Eating Together the woman even used powdered Angelica, and probably no broth as she just used chicken (which would lend its own juices), but it was really delicious regardless. The finished dish is served up with chopped parsley and little ruby pomegranate arils scattered across the top. I did stop to ask myself, why am I making this dish in the blaring heat of August? Though, to my defense, we have been hit with days and days of thunderstorms, which makes this kind of cooking excusable.
So then, even after that, I’m still craving these exotic dishes. I wake up and want to make Gyoza (fried Japanese dumplings) and fresh tortillas. I guess part of it has to do with the fact that I think Piper will like to eat dumplings, and warm corn tortillas. After the Fesenjan night, which was a success with us but understandably not with a toddler, I felt I needed to think about what kinds of foods kids like to eat. I always liked dumplings when I was little, and I thought she could have some fun making them with us, so I decided to give it a try. Yesterday I spent the evening making homemade wrappers, which was a really cool experience because it was so easy–but a lot of work (easy–just time consuming). I’m hoping tortillas will be just as easy, as I haven’t made those yet. Today we’re going to make the Gyoza filling–again in our own meatless fashion–using Tempeh along with the usual ingredients–cabbage, ginger, green onions etc.
Then, also yesterday, I brought home two pie books from the library, and they brought me to my knees. European style butter, whipping cream, sour cream, whole milk. I was drooling over pages of picture perfect pies, yearning to bake one myself with real deal ingredients. Let’s be honest, are pie crusts made with Earth Balance buttery spread the same as ones made with bits of cold, cubed, full fat European style butter worked in? Probably not. I’m willing to try, though. At least they do sell sticks of the stuff, and vegetable shortening, too, which I may have to use–but I just don’t know what I’m getting into here. Maybe I shouldn’t make the pies at all? Maybe I should just get some fresh cream and butter from people who love their cows and treat them with respect, at a small scale local farm? I don’t want to support the horrors of industrial agriculture, or the dairy or veal industry–which are linked–but I do daydream about yogurts, and cream, and cheese. I know they aren’t the healthiest, but who can pretend that the analogue stuff is? Cashew cream and coconut cream are healthier than the salty, artificial alternatives, but I find they aren’t good substitutes for all my cooking needs–let’s be honest. I guess I will have to admit that I just want to be able to make a good pie, or a cheese tart, once every now and then, for the decadence of it. I know that we shouldn’t eat food as our only comfort to mask other deeper issues, but food is comforting in its very nature, and I see myself somewhere in between–where I do generally crave healthy foods, but every so often want something different. I don’t know what I’ll do right now, but it seems as though I’m becoming less ascetic in my views as I get older.
Well, that’s it for now–breakfast is served! I do intend to write again soon. I’m reading As Always, Julia (the letters of Julia Childs & Avis DeVoto) in the meantime, which has been such an interesting look back into the culture and food of the time… but that is a story for another day!