Cook the Books is a bimonthly book club that explores foodie motifs in everything from novels to histories to nonfiction. Members (and this group is open to anyone who wants to read and create) then post their inspirations taken from the current selection. Rachel from The Crispy Cook is one of the hosts along with Deb from Kahakai Kitchen and Simona from briciole.
Special Announcement: I am the newest member of this hosting group!
(Rachel chastised me during the last round for not announcing that I am the newest cohost. I am super excited to be a part of this esteemed group of literary bloggers!)
Rachel is also the host for this round and chose Funny in Farsi: A Memoir of Growing up Iranian in America by Firoozeh Dumas. I love reading memoirs. Dumas’ book is funny, but it is also bittersweet as she and her family try to continue their life in America during the fall of the Shah and the Iran hostage situation. She found humor in what I imagine were some dark days for her family.
But, if you can’t laugh at yourself (and your family), who can you laugh at? (I will refer to the author by her last name throughout this post, partially because it is easier to spell. Her first name caused her many problems in America and she was even once referred to as “Fritzy DumbAss.”)
As you can imagine, some of the humor comes from language and cultural challenges. This is especially true with her father, who prides himself on being an American expert but sometimes has some issues with the language.
Asking my father to ask the waitress the definition of “sloppy Joe” or Tater Tots” was no problem. His translations, however were highly suspect. Waitresses would spend several minutes responding to my father’s questions, and these responses, in turn, would be translated as “She doesn’t know.” Thanks to my father’s translations, we stayed away from hot dogs, catfish, and hush puppies, and no amount of caviar in the sea would have convinced us to try mud pie. (8)
Even though dad’s translations might have kept them from eating some truly delicious Yankee food, the family was adventurous when it came to experiencing the flavors of their new home by attending many different California festivals: “We tasted garlic ice cream, date shakes, and cherry slushies” (17). She writes that for her family, “America was to be experienced through the taste buds” (24) despite her father’s conversations with waitresses.
You cannot fault this immigrant family’s willingness to immerse in American culture.
As they trudge through lots of “Americanized” food, the family never forgot their Persian roots. There are many references to traditional food. When I first picked up this book, I predisposed myself to making a Persian dish and I was struck by many delicious ideas from the book: okra stew, shrimp curry, lima-bean rice with lamb shanks, baklava, lentil saffron rice, eggplant stew, etc.
Then I saw the Persian ice cream mentioned with rose water and pistachio. I would make that.
I was also inspired by the kindness of strangers during the San Francisco earthquake of 1989. Dumas and her new husband, Francois, were living in an apartment and she was home alone during the quake. Shaken up, she tries to call her parents and her estranged in-laws and carefully makes her way downstairs to a neighbor to use the phone. Her parents were blissfully unaware of the danger she was in. Her mother-in-law only asked if her Limoges china was safe.
The elderly neighbor who lets Dumas use her phone credits her for saving her life. She thanks her with chocolate bundt cakes.
Cake and ice cream……that is the perfect combo for this post to pay homage to a book that truly celebrates family, humor, and fortitude.
I found a couple of authentic ice cream recipes to combine and I relied on my old chocolate cake standby only replacing the almonds with pistachios.
Persian Ice Cream
based on Bastani (Persian Rose Water, Saffron and Pistachio Ice Cream) and Persian Ice Cream w/Saffron and Rosewater
1 1/2 c. 2 % milk
1/2 t. pure vanilla extract
1/4 t. saffron, ground and dissolved in a ½ T. of hot milk
3 egg yolks
1/2 c. sugar
1 c. whipping cream
1/2 T. rosewater
1/4 c. shelled pistachios, chopped
In a medium thick-bottomed sauce pan, slowly heat the milk to a simmer while stirring constantly. Add the vanilla extract and saffron. Reduce heat to low and continue to cook, stirring occasionally.
While milk is cooking, beat the egg yolks with the sugar until smooth and foamy. Temper the egg mixture with a bit of the hot milk mixture. (Take hot milk mixture about 1/8 cup at a time and drizzle in mixing bowl while mixer is running. Repeat until the bottom of the mixing bowl is no longer cold and is slightly warm to the touch.) Then, very carefully and slowly, pour the egg/sugar mixture into the milk. Make sure to stir it rapidly with a whisk while pouring. Continue heating the mixture on low heat while stirring constantly with a wooden spoon until thickened (it should be foamy and coat the spoon).
Pour the custard mixture into a bowl, and refrigerate until well chilled.
Once cold, stir in the cream, rose water, and chopped pistachios.
Churn in an ice cream maker until finished.
Note: The original recipe called for 3 tablespoons of rosewater. I thought that amount would make the ice cream taste like my grandmother’s perfume. I have never had authentic Persian ice cream so maybe the original does taste that floral. We thought the 1/2 tablespoon amount was perfect.
Tip: Let the saffron threads soak in the hot milk while the egg yolks are being beaten. Then, pour the saffron mixture through a small sieve into the hot milk. Using the back of a table spoon, force the saffron through the sieve.
As stated above, the only change I made to my Amaretto Chocolate Bundt Cake was to add pistachios and some nutty liquor like Dumante Verdenoce (if you can find it) or Frangelico or Amaretto. (Just a note here—my bundt cake recipe calls for self-rising flour. I will never buy the stuff again. You can make it yourself easily; just click here to see.)
I was stuck on the family china mentioned before and even presented my dish on my only family china. Mine is obviously not Limoges but it is some prized (at least to me) Noritake that my aunt brought back from Japan in the 70s. Dumas’ antique Limoges set had been given as a wedding gift by her estranged in-laws. After the earthquake, she and her husband donated it to a museum charity auction (thus becoming “major” donors).
The Limoges set has brought us more joy in its absence than it ever did in our cupboards. Of course, we no longer own a set of china to pass down to our kids, but that’s okay. Francois and I plan on giving our children something more valuable, the simple truth that the best way to go through life is to be a major donor of kindness. We’ll tell them that it’s possible to own a whole bunch of beautiful, valuable things and still be miserable. But sometimes just having a recipe for chocolate Bundt cake can make a person far, far happier. (160)
I cannot think of more precious or more valuable advice from a parent to a child.
Join us for the next round when Deb of Kahakai Kitchen hosts The Apprentice: My Life in the Kitchen a Memoir by Jacques Pépin. Please grab what I am sure is another excellent memoir and play along. (Deadline for submissions will be July 31.)