Posts Tagged ‘Family’

I’ve been so engrossed in job applications that I almost began this blog post with the words “dear hiring manager.” It’s nice to get a break from that parroting phrase, and instead to write about something more meaningful.

Growing up, I was lucky to be surrounded by strong female role models: My mom, whom I’ve already written a little bit about. My mom’s mom, who I wrote about at length and will continue to, for she is always a source of inspiration. And of course my aunt Cindy; an avid reader, writer, risk taker. I learn a lot just from speaking to her and observing who she is. And, in my mind, it’s always her opinion that matters most.

But lately, I’ve been thinking about my dad’s mom, Mama Noor, as we call her. In preschool, when all the kids were crying for their mothers, I was crying for my grandmother. We were the best of friends.

My grandmother, my mom and me

As a young girl, her apartment was a place I loved to frequent – and of course cause trouble, but I’m hoping the manager has forgotten about that already. After she and my grandfather left Iran, she dabbled in the fashion industry; opening stores in NY and The Beverly Center in LA. But what I remember best was the time after all of that, when she just sewed.

Her home was a small, tousled space with needles, thread, sequins and beads found in the most unlikely spots. I loved watching her clients come in and try on intricate gowns blanketed in shiny sequins. When I was in first grade, she made me a beautiful Queen Esther costume; I loved it because it reminded me of the embellished gowns she made for her clients.

I think what I love most about my grandmother is the sense of empowerment she gave me. Once when I was a difficult 10-year-old, I refused to go home and stayed with my grandmother for about two weeks. She taught me to sew, to bake and to play cards.

She always let me feel like I was doing a great job. Of course, she was the expert, but she never made a big deal of it. Mama Noor told me that the purse I sewed was beautiful, that the scarf she taught me to knit was nice, that the caacaah cookies I baked were delicious. Even if it wasn’t true, it was nice to hear. It’s so important to make young girls feel like they matter, like they can achieve the best of things. And that is what she always did.


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Much of the trouble that Jews in the Arab lands went through is unknown. Unlike many Eastern Europeans, the Jews in places like Iraq integrated somewhat normally into society. It’s true that they did not experience the horrors of the holocaust, but they did experience the pain of friends turning on them.

My grandfather has mentioned the good old days of inviting the shopkeepers over to his house, or playing tachteh (backgammon) with locals in cafes.

Me with my maternal grandparents in Vegas

After the creation of The State of Israel, Jews became the enemy. My paternal grandmother, who is younger than the maternal grandfather I mentioned, does not like to speak of her life in Iraq. The one time she did was when my cousin asked questions until she was blue in the face. Her memories are awful; of teachers hitting her just for being Jewish, of her sisters telling her to get married so that she could leave the country.

She was in Seattle for Passover the day they captured Saddam Hussein. I can honestly say that I had never seen her happier. I can’t imagine what it’s like to see those who made you suffer see justice.

Many Jews – including much of my grandmother’s family – escaped persecution to Israel, but others, like my grandparents moved to Iran. Here is a great article from Haaretz about the Jews who left the Arab lands.

In no way does this persecution compare to the genocide of the Holocaust, but these stories too should not be forgotten. Israel was a refuge for thousands of Jews thrown out of Arab lands. They lived in tents in the desert until they had the money and resources to build the country into the thriving democracy it is today.

In memory of the pain of the Iraqi Jews in a new monument in Israel. Read about it here.

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For a while now, my literary choices have been focused on the Middle East. I’ve read many books on many subjects relating to Iran, Iraq, Pakistan, and elsewhere. Recently, I concluded a book called Life As A Visitor by Angella Nazarian.

This book was not just read; it was experienced. Each page gave my eyes the chance to do more than absorb text. The story – of difficulty leaving Iran and acclimating to the U.S. – is told in layers. There is, of course, the story itself. But it’s surrounded by beautifully embellished borders, and interwoven between colorful pages of anecdotes and poems, and bright, telling photographs – many taken by the author herself.

The emotions she expresses are so personal, so relatable, and so pure.It’s not often that I complete a book and think, “I would really like to get to know this author.”

Many stories of leaving Iran are heartbreaking. Abandoning a life that is rewarding and familiar, to find security in an unfamiliar culture is a huge risk. Thank G-d, my family left early enough to avoid the complications, but they still had to endure the challenges of re-acclimating. They still had to leave their home, their property, their comfortable life.

I’m reminded of a moment on my grandparents’ most recent visit to Seattle. My mom turned to my grandmother and told complimented her cooking. “I’m so proud of you,” she said. Proud, why? My grandmother came to America having never cooked before; the family always had full-time help. She had mastered the task of shopping, while Shahin took care of the cooking.

What keeps me coming back for more is the knowledge that after having to leave and readjust, many families did very well for themselves. The Iranian community in the U.S. is one of the most accomplished immigrant groups. They are well educated and influential; they work hard, and have given themselves a good name.

In my eyes, the challenge that lies ahead is for Iranian Jews to integrate better into the larger Jewish community. We are seeing second and third generations in the U.S.; no one should feel like an “other” any longer.

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I may have over estimated the authority of Daisy Iny. This Passover, my grandparents came up to Seattle for the Seders. In anticipation of their arrival, I whipped out my fake copy of The Best of Baghdad Cooking, With Treats from Tehran and baked a few batches of haji badah – a staple cookie at my grandmother’s house.

The cookies were a hit with my grandparents and the rest of the family. I was happy to see this, but also had a few questions about the recipe. It turns out, my grandmother’s recipe is slightly different than Daisy’s.

The cookies taste about the same, but my grandmother’s have a rounder shape. Daisy’s recipe is best for Passover, so on all other nights add half a cup of flour. Here is the recipe:

2 cups finely ground blanched almonds

1 cup granulated sugar

¼ teaspoon finely ground cardamom

1 tablespoon rosewater

2 egg whites

almonds halved lengthwise

Mix together the ground almonds, sugar, cardamom, and egg whites.

Knead well for about 10 minutes.

Put rosewater in a small saucer and wet the palms of your hands lightly.

Divide the dough in small pieces about the size of a walnut. With wet palms, roll each piece and arrange on a nonstick cookie sheet, spacing the pieces about 1½ inches apart.

Insert half an almond for decoration or top of each ball and press lightly.

Bake in a preheated 400º over for about 8 minutes on the bottom shelf and on the top shelf about 4 minutes, or until lightly golden.

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My mom was overwhelmed by her inbox of 197 messages. So her and I spent the past few hours sorting through her email. Some were important and some were junk, but among them were a few gems. This was a forward from one of my cousins. Some of you may have seen it before, but I have to share because it rings so true. Mom and I had a good laugh and we hope you enjoy:

This is the most Persian-looking picture I could find of my family. You can imagine that it's harder since we are not really Persians. It probably helps that there are a few real Persians mixed in as well.

My Big Fat Persian Family:

Today, I realized that every time my mom has a mehmoony, she has kamar dard for the proceeding two weeks, blames the family for never helping her, and proceeds to say its the last mehmoony”. 3 months later, same story.

Before going out, I have to give my dad my friend’s numbers and the address of where I’m going. I’m 20.

Today, I was listening to my fav song, and my dad said: ” een ahangaayeh tokhmi chiyeh goosh meedee?”

In my house we have special sandals for going to the backyard.

I asked my parents if I can get a dog and they said we already have 4 (referring to my siblings and I).

Whenever I have friends over on the weekend, my parents constantly come in my room and ask in Farsi, “when are they leaving?”

Every Christmas when my family goes to Vegas we take our own Samovar, cooler full of lavash, sabzi, eggs, kotlet, kookoo, etc. and my mom and aunts make a full on meal with chicken and rice and khoresht using portable stoves. We don’t eat one meal out. .

Today, I went to a mehmooni and it basically consisted of: men arguing about politics and women talking about their hair…then came time to eat. After the food, the men sit down and wait for their chayee while the women are fighting in the kitchen over who gets to wash the dishes.

When I was younger, our neighbors had just sold their house and the new family was moving in. I was watching them unload and my dad walked out, looked at them, and says “Ayyy voyyy Indian hastan”. Then angrily walked back inside.

Last night my cousin and I were hanging out in my room, and my mom came in the room saying “bodo ghazah hazereh.” We said okay we’ll be there in 5 mins. Exactly 10 seconds later they called out, ” Honey, Reneh kojoied?” We responded back ” OKAY give us 2 mins!! 5 seconds later… “HONEYYYYY, RENEHHH kojoied degeh, gazah sardshod!!”

Today my mum left me 3 voicemail messages. The first one; “salam ghorboone oon shekl o ghad o baalaat beram. fadat besham. zang zadam bebinam halet chetore, golam. hala bahat harf mizanam”. A few hours later; “salam azizam. kojai? yeh zangi bezan delvapas shodam”. And the last message; “aslan maloom hast to kojaee?! takhseere mane khare, gozashtam beri kharej dars bekhooni! Pedarsag.”

Today, I was sitting and talking to my mom on the couch over some chai and CNN was on in the background. As soon as the word ” Iran” was mentioned my mom cut me off mid sentence and shouted, “Oh! Shh!! zeeyadesh kon!” .

Whenever I turn on too many lights in the house my mom comes and asks, “Aroosie nanate?”

Today, My Mom was chatting on Facebook, when she told me to come help her spell Olympic, when I got to her I saw that she had spelt it “Olampik”.

When I was little my mothers excuse for not letting me go to sleepovers was because I was too young and now that I’m 18 her excuse is “Naahhh kudum kherseh gondeh mireh esleepover, 18 saleteh boro yek dars bekhun yechizi beshi”.

Today, I was downstairs while my mom was upstairs. I called for her “MOMON!” and her response… “MARAZ!” without missing a beat.

Today, I asked my dad why Persians always rhyme words like “sexy mexy.” He replied “because ow-ver language is poetery, very beeuteefel.”

My sister was sick and was coughing really hard and throwing up, so I was just sitting on the couch on my computer looking at pictures because there wasn’t anything I could do. So my mom comes to me and says, “instead of sitting here and staring at this ‘koofti’ come do something”, so I say, “mom, what do you want me to do?” and she says, “khob yekkam ghosse bokhor yekkam gerye kon”.

I love being Persian when your madar sits with you and watches TV and every time the actors on the TV kiss each other, your mother always goes “in filmayeh mozaghraf chera mibini?”.

I got accepted to a University 1 hour away from home and when I told my dad he said “eee cheghad khub, man toro mibaram bad 2bareh shab toro miram khuneh”

Today, whenever someone calls my house from Iran, my parents say “Salam azizam, etefaghan hameen emrooz mikhastam behet zang bezanam” even though they clearly were not thinking of doing any such thing.

Whenever my parents see someone who looks persian on television, they pronounce the last name to somehow try and make it sound like the person’s from Iran.

Every time I want to make Pasta my mom yells at me that out refrigerator is filled with polo and khoresht and that in khoraka chagh (fatting) mikoneh o ashkhaleh.

Today it is my 20th birthday and the only thing I request is “lotfan cake rollette nagir” and sure enough my grandma goes out and buys the biggest rollette she could find.

Today one of my sefeed friends came over. She went to the bathroom and asked why there was a watering can next to the toilet. I awkwardly explained to her that Persians use them to clean there selves. Her response? “Um, that’s just a little weird…” Yeah. That’s just how we Persians roll.

Today I got accepted to Harvard. My mom told my grandmother the news and she replied, “I’m sorry, but it’s okay he can still go to community college and transfer to UCLA.”

Every time my mom has a mehmooni, the guests tell her “khasteh naboshi, khaylee zamat kesheedeeh”. And she says “nahh kohreey nakardam”. Once all the guests leave, she begins to complain about how tired she is and how she’s been working the past month for this one night.

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I can’t say that I’ve never been envious of Iranian Jews. They know who they are. I, on the other hand, while my parents grew up in Iran, am only sort of Persian.

The only time of year I actually dwell on this identity crisis is when it comes time for Passover. Persian Jews have defined traditions. Traditions they’ve been practicing for years.

I have never beaten anyone with a green onion. I’ve even witnessed a green onion fight.

Anyone who has ever heard of this custom has made a point of asking me about this. But I just sigh and pretend Iraqis have more interesting Seders.

It’s a lie. We don’t. We have very ordinary Seders.

Unless of course the “I just came out of Egypt” reenactment sparks your interest. When the children walk around the table with matzah tied in scarves around their shoulders, and the adults ask them where they came from and where they’re going.

Every time this goes on, I want to duck and hide out of sheer embarrassment. It’s just so silly.

Anyway, props to the Iranian Jews for their strength in numbers and traditions. I came across this article in the New York Times last week. It’s a lovely story of a Persian family (who happen to be distant relatives through marriage) celebrating Passover.

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I returned home to Seattle from Israel about a month ago. There, I would cook in my nightmare-of-a-kitchen and dream lofty Julie & Julia fantasies. I even had grandiose ideas of cooking and blogging my way through an Iraqi cookbook when I got home.

My family, the Iraqi, and the Persian Jews have been through a lot. They have a rich history, a rich culture, and rich food. I figured the best way to know where I’m going is to find out where I’ve come from. I have never been to the motherlands, but loosely replicating a Hollywood plot was a practical substitution for me.

I wanted to take on this lofty task to better understand who I am. A child of immigrants; a first generation American. All my life I’ve been sort of Persian, sort of Iraqi, sort of Sephardic. I owed it to myself to find out what all of that means.

Other than the fact that I can shimmy when I hear Googoosh, there’s nothing really Persian about me. Likewise, my Arabic is mediocre enough to understand my family and Palestinians, but I’m not an Arab.

It’s too bad I’m on a diet that involves little rice, oil and red meat. So there won’t be any culinary soul searching in this blog. I will, however, still tell you about said cookbook.

Daisy Iny’s book, The Best of Baghdad Cooking, With Treats from Tehran is the first book I can recall from my childhood. As a young girl, one of my favorite activities was crafting snowflakes. I remember rummaging through my grandmother’s kitchen drawer looking for her orange scissors. The orange cover of Iny’s book often tricked me; it was always a disappointment.

I didn’t realize what this book was until later on. In fact, I had never even bothered to actually read the title. The cover has an Asian theme, which led me to assume it was some sort of cryptic astrological forecaster. About five years ago, I realized this was not the case. Daisy Iny’s book was probably the only cookbook my grandmother owned. And, the Iraqi cooking bible.

I’m not joking. On multiple occasions I have witnessed both my mother and my grandmother consult the book mid- khoresht, tebeet, or kibbeh. It still lives in the same drawer, but is no longer the only cookbook in my grandmother’s kitchen. It has a comrade that lives in the drawer to its right, a Mediterranean cookbook that is read like coffee table book; skimmed for beautiful pictures but is never taken seriously.

I haven’t seen her consult Daisy Iny in a while, but when I’m in my grandmother’s kitchen I take it out, scan the names of familiar foods, and smile.

The book went out of print several years ago. My mother doesn’t even own a proper copy, she had my grandmother’s photocopied and bound. The fake book now has traces of baklava on various pages.

Here is one of my favorite pictures of my grandmother and her sister-in-law making kibbeh b’semak early one morning. The entire process took about two days. I’ll be sharing my unique worldview with you here, so I’m hoping this blog will keep your attention for longer than two days. Thanks for reading. And, enjoy.

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