Leave Strawberries Alone

Salt-and-Pepper Strawberries

Processed with VSCO with c1 preset

I ate my first real strawberry at 19.

I’d eaten red fruits, covered with crunchy minuscule seeds and topped with a green leaf collar my whole life. Big and firm, their flavor ranged from mild and watery to puckeringly tart, any time of the year. They had white cores and fuzzy hollow centers. They came in plastic containers labeled “strawberries,” and I thought they were my favorite fruit. “S, my name is Sacha; I’m going on a picnic, and I’m bringing Strawberries.”

But those fruits were not strawberries. I had my first of the real thing on the side of the road in Sonoma Valley, California. It was petite, plump, and deep red, and its soft flesh squished easily between my fingers. The small plot of land wasn’t one of the vast strawberry wastelands of Salinas, where workers toil with no reward. There was just a hard-working family, a field, and well-treated workers. Sun-tanned hands passed the quart of California berries toward me, and I bashfully traded the hand’s owner some rumpled bills out of my own pale, smooth hands for the sweet bounty. She very much was her hands—those hands told a story of hard work and hot sun, and mine had nothing to show but sloth and my cold-weather roots.

I ate the berries, all the berries, right there in minutes. Ruby-red from edge to center, their juices ran down my mouth, staining my lips, my chin, my hands, my clothes. Nope; if this was a Strawberry, I had never previously had one.  Continue reading

Dad’s Tea and Cookies

Tahini Cookies with Apricot Compote and Sumac

Processed with VSCO with c1 preset

My dad hates getting up early in the morning. If left alone, he’d probably sleep until 11am every day. But he did it. He did it every damn morning of my childhood, weekends too. Rising to darkness, he’d shower, iron his shirt and slacks (my father can press clothes with a tailor’s precision) dress himself, eat, and get out the door to bake the bread that fed our family—all in a half hour.

I’d rise about an hour later, but I felt his presence every morning in the steamy bathroom that trapped the smell of the cologne he’s worn for 30 years, the light hum of the voices on the morning news he’d left on in the other room, and, without fail, from the sight of the crumb-filled, half-finished Tetley tea that sat on his side of the kitchen table.

It’s curious that my dad drank Tetley in the morning (and still does). Persian, he comes from a tea culture. Tea is the national drink for a reason: Iran’s coastal climate and topography are perfect for tea cultivation, and Iranians drink tea after every meal. The tea is often brewed in glass pots with a cylindrical infuser and poured into small, slender, filigreed glasses. An Iranian tea set is quite the vision, the ceremony of drinking from it an aesthetician’s wet dream. The glasses seem to deliver a cautionary message: The hot glass will scorch your fingertips if you drink the tea when it is too hot for its flavor to be appreciated. The aroma of Iranian black tea is nothing like stateside tea, and the ritual surrounding drinking it brings together families, friends, and strangers. When there is tea, there are no divides; Iranian Muslims and Jews sip together in the tea houses that are found on every corner (though any divides are sensationalized anyway). Place a lump of pure cane sugar on your tongue, sip, close your eyes, breathe, let the marijuana-like high roll over you, and repeat—this is how Persian tea should be enjoyed. Drink it in the summer, no matter the temperature; drink it in the winter to thaw chilled bones. Drink it with rock candy (the confection originated in Iran, not at seaside American candy shops); swirl your crystal-laden stick in the warm amber liquid and let it melt. Drink it with rose-scented pistachio nougat.
Continue reading

A Recipe

Rose-Scented Rhubarb with Caramelized White Chocolate Yogurt

Processed with VSCO with c1 preset

I’m falling asleep as I type this. I’m looking at words appear on the screen and feeling fingers tapping but not quite understanding the force that moves them. At the end of the day, my fingers are bloated so they fall with more weight than normal on the keys. I’m blasting wordless electronic music; it’s raucous enough to keep me from taking a nosedive into the keyboard but it doesn’t distract me.

I’m trying to challenge myself with this thing here. I hesitate to call it a blog because it’s typically just this whitespace that I fill with vomit—whatever alphabet soup of thoughts and tastes that I’m holding at the depths of my bowels that week. (I also just hate the word “blog,” but I’m apparently unbothered by the words “vomit” and “bowels.”) But I need to create. It’s practically summer now, and the produce is becoming abundant. I have years worth of notebooks filled with recipe ideas for that produce because my physical output never matches the speed at which I dream up these things (one blog post takes me two full weeks of work—writing recipes, buying ingredients, testing, retesting, reretesting, transcribing, photographing, writing, editing—despite the low-budget quality you see). So I’m trying to stick to a recipe every-other week regimen even though in the past I’ve said, “F— it, I ain’t gonna post anything if I don’t wanna, because that’s not authentic and the content will suck if I’m not feeling it.” I become anxious when I don’t create, so I’ll need to abandon that philosophy slightly without compromising my ideals. I need to make things or my mind wanders; I feel useless. This space is a distraction from that feeling.

In embracing this idea, I admit that not every recipe needs to have a story. And the written content doesn’t have to be that good because it serves no real purpose for anyone other than myself. A story-less recipe can taste good. And I really like testing these. It would be a shame not to share them somewhere. Or at least put them out there as a sort of kitchen portfolio, in the way that artists do so for their canvases. So tonight I’ll stay awake. I’ll transcribe this recipe. I’ll create.

Processed with VSCO with c1 preset

Don’t roll your eyes: This recipe sounds fancy. And I plated it fancy-like because I didn’t know how to do it without it looking like shit, and while I like the parfaits, they’re very rich—a fine portion for a normal person, but a bit large for me, someone who really doesn’t like dessert. But that’s not to say that the dish is too sweet—far from it. The rhubarb is floral, scented with rosewater; but sprinkled with just a bit of sugar, it stays acerbic. (I prefer to embrace rhubarb’s tartness rather than mask it; that’s why I use it in so many savory dishes.) And the recipe is frightfully easy and has a shorter ingredient list than most here.

To balance that pleasantly bitter rhubarb is creamy white chocolate, though its sweetness is tamed and deepened because I caramelized it. I was on a caramelized white chocolate kick when the technique first became trendy—one of my favorite recipes on this blog involves it). (I’ve caramelized milk chocolate too—also lovely.) And then I took a break because everyone else was doing it (call me the chocolate hipster). I’m glad I’ve circled back, because this nutty, toasty-tasting confection has a variety of uses. Here, folded into thick Greek yogurt, it makes a faux crémeux (a thick, lush French pudding) with a tang that tastes perfect with the tart rhubarb. Some buttery and salty toasted pistachios give the dish texture and prevent it from being retirement home food.

plated quenelle

Recipe posted. Anxiety quelled. Check that off the list, and I hope to have another one in two weeks, whether there’s a story or not. For now, I sleep.

Processed with VSCO with c1 preset

Rose-Scented Rhubarb with Caramelized White Chocolate Yogurt

Serves 4 to 6

Do not get a speck of water near the chocolate or it will seize. Be sure to use a white chocolate with a minimum of 30% cocoa butter. Guittard and Valrhona work best. Green and Black works but takes an unusually long time to caramelize. If you use another chocolate such as Ghiradelli or Callebaut with a lower cocoa butter content, toss the chocolate with 1 tablespoons canola oil before baking. You can make quenelles of the yogurt to top the rhubarb (see pic 3), grease a cookie cutter and use it as a mold (see pic 2), or make a parfait (see pic 1).

Yogurt
9 ounces high-quality white chocolate
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
400 grams (1 3/4 cups) plain whole-milk Greek yogurt

Pistachios
1/4 teaspoon butter
60 grams (1/2 cup) shelled pistachios, chopped
Kosher salt

Rhubarb
1 pound rhubarb, trimmed and cut into 21/2-inch planks
1/2 tablespoon unsalted butter
2 1/2 tablespoons sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 tablespoons rosewater

1. For the yogurt: Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 265 degrees F (if your oven does not heat to this temperature, set it to 250 degrees).

2. Spread white chocolate evenly over rimmed baking sheet. Bake in oven for 10 minutes until melted. Scrape chocolate from pan with spatula and spread into an even layer. Repeat this process, scraping and spreading every 10 minutes until deep peanut butter color (the darker the better, but it cannot get to the point of drying out), about 1 hour. (Don’t worry if it looks lumpy and unpleasant midway through the process; it will smooth out.) Strain white chocolate through fine-mesh strainer to remove any remaining little lumps. Stir in salt. Let caramelized chocolate sit for 10 minutes, then fold in yogurt until combined. Press plastic wrap against surface of yogurt and refrigerate for at least 3 hours.

3. For the pistachios: Melt butter in small skillet over medium heat. Add pistachios and salt and cook, stirring, until toasted.

4. For the rhubarb: Heat butter in large sauté pan or skillet with lid of medium-high heat. Add rhubarb, flat side down, sprinkle rhubarb with sugar and salt and cook until browned, about 3 minutes. With a thin metal spatula, carefully flip rhubarb and sprinkle with rosewater; cover and cook until rhubarb is tender, 1 to 3 minutes. Carefully transfer rhubarb to plate and let cool. Serve rhubarb with yogurt and pistachios.

The Dancer Lady

Peanut Butter-Honey Ice Cream with Sriracha Candied Peanuts

Processed with VSCO with c1 preset

I stared at her as she stood in the locker room and moved her hands slowly up and down her perfectly flat, milky-white abdomen from under her black camisole. The top’s low back showed off strong back muscles and its spaghetti straps sat snuggly on pulled-back shoulders that extended into skinny, lean arms. Tight, flared, floor-length spandex covered endless legs. She had finished working out, but you wouldn’t know. There was no rose to her cheeks or shine to her skin, and her blonde pixie cut—soft not blunt—sat untossled on her head, framing her heart-shaped face with perfect waves. She’s a dancer. I don’t know her beyond the blonde and the pale and the black. But I know her.

I know her because I was her. Well, a brunette her. Though likely six to seven years my senior, she is my younger self before illness, fatigue, and injury diminished the place of the art and the sport in my life, aged my limbs and heart, bloated my face. I’m not sure if the trance she put me in was heartbreaking or uplifting. I’m still the bendy-twisty creature with decent balance and an ear for a beat. But I can no longer call myself a dancer—I’m just one who dances. Dancer Lady’s too old to be in a company. She may be a teacher. I don’t know. But she’s a studio rat of some kind. She scurries to the gym on her rare days off to crosstrain, to maintain her strength and stamina. She straddles the equipment with such grace, staring dead-faced ahead and never tiring.
Continue reading

More Vegetables

Three Ways to Use Miso, Cauliflower, and Pickled Peanuts

Processed with VSCOcam with c1 preset

I love plants.

My hair is healthy enough, but it doesn’t shine. My skin doesn’t glow; in fact, it’s craterous in places, like my mother’s. I lack energy, and my relatively small frame always feels heavy, weighed down by something intangible. I fall asleep at inappropriate times, and yet I don’t sleep at all. I feel ill more days than I feel OK, and I cannot count my doctors on two hands. I don’t absorb nutrients.

So, like bad lovers from my younger years, plants have given me nothing, but I’m still attracted to them. Vegetables—when thoughtfully prepared—are my favorite food group. Did you just unsubscribe?

I spend a lot of time thinking about what Americans eat—how our incomes force us to eat, where our food comes from and who gets it from field to plate, how folks shame fat but not sugar, how society demonizes and diminishes intolerances, how food can heal. I choose not to tackle those questions here, because my central agenda is to have no agenda. But these are the issues that sometimes cross my mind when my fork hits the plate. (Sometimes I’m too busy stuffing my big, hungry face.) And I’m certainly opinionated about them. Lucky for me, vegetable-forward cuisine is hot right now, and restaurant chefs are using vegetables in bold new ways and putting them in the center of the plate.

Continue reading

No BS

Pistachio Baci Di Dama Cookies

Processed with VSCOcam with c1 preset

I have writer’s block. I have too much on my mind to be creative, so whatever I write here to take up space would be a bunch of feathery BS. No one likes feathery BS.

I don’t think writer’s block is all bad—it gives me the headspace to create other things—but I’m not going to go too far into it since I’m not really a Writer writer.

I do still want to share this recipe for Pistachio Baci di Dama, though, for three reasons: 1. I’m sick of waiting for the words to come back. 2. I saw a two-pack of them being sold at Hell on Earth (Trader Joe’s, for the uninitiated), so I feel a trend coming on and I want to beat it. 3. Baci di Dama means “lady’s kisses” in Italian, and posting the recipe any closer to Valentine’s Day would be way too cute. 729 Layers, Inc. doesn’t tolerate treacle.

Continue reading

Bretagne Is for (Caramel) Lovers

Duck Fat Caramels


I was in Brittany once, but I can’t tell you too much about it. My French host family took me to Vannes, a commune in the Morbihan department, after a very early sweat-and-alcohol-soaked morning with my “sister” Aurélie and her friends at the discothèque. I was 16 years old.

The family must have told me where we were going, but even though the Visine made me look awake, I most certainly was not. And so, I didn’t know where we were until I saw the region’s reed-roofed houses out the car window. I failed to take in the scenery; my main focus was trying not to vom all over the back seat. That would have been just too horrifically American. The drive wasn’t long—I’d say about an hour and a half from the family’s home in the Haye-Fouassière commune of the Loire-Atlantique. (In fact, the Loire-Atlantique was a Breton territory pre-Vichy France.) But it was very uncomfortable, as I undoubtably smelled like a combination of some Jacques-ass’s armpits and the inside of the thong that I found stuck to my shoe as I walked out of the club hours earlier.

Brittany was so wonderfully Brittany that it was almost a parody of itself. We walked down Vannes center’s cobblestone streets, which were lined with medieval, wood-paneled buildings and dotted with vendors skillfully flipping lacy buckwheat crêpes. When we’d arrived, like clockwork, the bagadoù, a traditional Breton band of bagpipers, marched through the square, and children, playing tag or swinging wooden yo-yos, squealed and ran to the side to allow for their procession. It felt a lot like that scene from my favorite of the 1970s Rankin-Bass stop-motion TV Christmas movies, Santa Claus Is Comin’ to Town, in which the children playing in the streets scurry away to allow for the Burgermeister’s passing, except the scene in Brittany was much happier and less German.

Continue reading

Areligious Christmas

Sweet Potato Roast with Lemon, Pomegranate, Feta, and Herbs

Processed with VSCOcam with c1 preset

My relationship with religion is complicated because it’s so simple. I have none. My mother is “Catholic”; my father is “Muslim.” Both believe in god. They both prey to him nightly for my health and well being, though they likely do it in two different languages. They don’t do anything else for him/her/it, so I’m not sure he/she/it will answer. I don’t think I believe in god, but I keep myself in the agnostic category, because I can’t know everything. I can know, however, that I believe in science and that people are picking up guns to maim on the regular. My mother doesn’t seem bothered by my disbelief; my father does, but it’s fine.

My parents come from a generation when it was common to self-identify as the faith you were born into, so just as my mother is French-Canadian, she is Catholic; just as my father is Iranian, he is Muslim. My maternal grandparents are staunch Catholics; they haven’t been to church in 30 years. Still, they probably resent that I wasn’t stripped and dunked in water by an old dude in front of an audience, though I suppose I could do that any night of the week if I choose to. I respect the practice, but it certainly doesn’t feel right to do it for the sake of doing it.

Continue reading

My Brain On Vertigo

Flourless Peanut Butter Blossoms
with Dark Chocolate and Torched Marshmallow
(Or, Stoner’s Delight III*)


When I was 12 years old, I became convinced I was going to die before I reached college. The idea presented itself in a dream and that was all the prophecy I needed. Thinking that it was my truth, I held my secret close; no one would understand. I reached driving age and still hadn’t died, so I delayed getting my license for a year; a car accident seemed like a reasonable way for a 16-year-old to go. That’s why I still hate driving.

Years later, I now fear the opposite—I fear that I’m cursed with never-ending life. I’ve had too many scares to still be here and my body constantly surprises me with how strong it is, so I must be immortal. This is a much scarier truth.

These irrational thoughts on my own mortality were going through my head as I sat on the floor of my cubicle at work on a Saturday, Halloween, two weeks ago, my knees clutched tightly against my chest, the pulsating beats of my music reverberating violently against my tympanic membrane; like when I have migraines, I was trying to drown out the hollow white noise of my own between-the-ear nausea. I didn’t know what was wrong, but I kept the trash near me in case of emergency, and I just sat there, alone, turning up the volume every so often until I feared my eardrums would burst.

Continue reading

Cover-up

Wine-Baked Apples with Fennel, Peanut, and Pecorino Filling


While summer is about shedding layers, uncovering patios, and pointing our faces toward the sun, fall, this devastatingly short transition period, is about covering things up in preparation for the hell that’s to come.

We cover things up, literally, by adding layers and sealing windows. Multicolored leaves litter the streets and walkways, obscuring the cold concrete beneath. We paint walls and exteriors now that summer’s dewy humidity is largely broken and we can air out our homes; whatever drab color that was previously there is just a memory. We burrow ourselves in fleece blankets and fluffy comforters since we resist turning on the heat. “It’s only October,” we say. “We have a long winter ahead of us.” And at the end of October, costumed trick-or-treaters come knocking, their true character hidden behind constructed whimsy.

Continue reading

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 262 other followers