Leave Strawberries Alone

Salt-and-Pepper Strawberries

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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

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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.
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A Recipe

Rose-Scented Rhubarb with Caramelized White Chocolate Yogurt

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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. Continue reading