September 16, 2011

Finding the familiar comforts of the kitchen

By Donia Bijan
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Struggling to cope with her mother’s sudden death, Donia Bijan finds a source of solace and inspiration (fittingly) in her mother’s kitchen. Packed in drawer is a stack of recipes, mostly handwritten, which provide the catalyst. In Bijan’s skillful hands, these recipes become a storytelling medium, and Maman’s Homesick Pie is at once a compelling portrait of her remarkable Iranian parents, a chronicle of her culinary career from a stagiaire (an unpaid apprenticeship) in France to award-winning chef and restaurateur in Palo Alto, and a lavish taste of Persian culture and cuisine.

As she takes us from the early years of her parents’ marriage, when they worked at the hospital her father built “brick by brick” in the outskirts of Tehran—he as a much-in-demand obstetrician and her mother as a registered nurse and midwife—to the family’s exile under Khomeini and ultimate immigration to America, she smoothly melds savory tidbits—“Feta cheese and shelled walnuts with piles of fresh mint, tarragon, and basil”—into her prose like egg whites being gently folded into a batter. New to America, her parents “quickly set about acquiring driver’s licenses and social security cards,” but also brought the comfort of familiar foods and aromas into their home: “Slowly we had been stocking our pantry with turmeric, cumin, saffron, cinnamon, allspice, dried fruit, lentils, fava beans, and basmati rice. In Iran, I had climbed onto the kitchen counter to look at my mother’s cooking spices, opening them one by one, taking in their prickly scent. Now, it reassured me to see them lined up again like stepping stones across a vast ocean.”

Through the legacy of her recipes, her mother again helps her bridge the “ocean” between past and present. Each chapter ends with anecdotes and a couple of mouthwatering recipes like Ratatouille with Black Olives and Fried Bread or Braised Chicken with Persian Plums. “In most Iranian homes,” she tells us, “there is no better way to begin a story than with a cup of tea, served hot, in a glass to better see its amber hue, with two lumps of sugar, and a dish of sweets.” Try it for yourself by making a pot of Persian Cardamom Tea and a Persimmon Parfait before curling up with this compelling, poignant and most delectable book.

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Maman’s Homesick Pie

Maman’s Homesick Pie

By Donia Bijan
ISBN 9781565129573

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