Posts Tagged ‘Grandmother’

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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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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As my uncle (who married into the family) likes to say, Iraqis have trouble with technology. If that’s true, I’m definitely the anomaly. The trouble many Iraqis do have is with that particularly elusive gadget we call the clock. This is an essay I wrote for one of my Communication classes last year, I’m choosing to share it because of the story it tells about my family.

With the Huskies losing out of the NCAA tournament last night, I’ll also mention that I let Venoy Overton read my essay to help him write his own. Not that I consider him a literary expert, but he liked it a lot.

A worldview, according to Bradford Hall, is an abstract notion about the way the world is. This view is based on personal experiences. It also helps construct our expectations for the future. Hall asks the question, “how does time function?” as a way of defining one aspect of one’s worldview. My worldview in relation to time falls on the polychronic side of the continuum.

My grandmother, family matriarch, and a woman very much unaware of her hilarious behavior, has no concept of the clock. She is notorious for her lateness. Her lateness is such a defining characteristic that even her good friends have learned to invite her an hour early in the hope that she will show up fashionably late instead of missing a party entirely. Her hairdresser knows that when she makes an appointment to blowout her hair at 3 p.m., she will only begin to wash her hair at 2:50. Her aversion to punctuality is so well known that others have learned to schedule around her continual schedule mishaps.

The famous story told about my grandmother is the one of my parents’ wedding. The wedding ceremony was to be held in my grandmother’s garden. The guests had arrived, the food was beginning to wane and the rabbi was keeping a close eye on the clock. Everyone had taken their seats and the ceremony was about to begin, when the mother of the bride was nowhere to be found. My grandmother was upstairs getting ready. She was late to her own daughter’s wedding – in her own house!

The wedding took place after all.

My grandmother is just one in a long line of women who constantly run behind schedule. Many other women in my family have learned to be similarly unaware of time, thankfully not to the same degree. I, however, have been scarred by this practice and continually overcompensate.

For fear of being late, I will give myself an extra two hours to get ready for anything I deem important. I don’t actually need this time so the result is often me, with my hair, makeup, and heels, changing a light bulb or rearranging furniture.

This fear is also manifest in my communication. If I am invited to a bridal shower I’ll ask a friend the day before about what time she is planning to leave. I’ll also ask her the morning of. And again at exactly the time she told me, just to make sure she is true to her word. I live in constant paranoia of arriving at the wrong time. I know that if I go on my own time I will be too early, but I also cannot stand being late. This uncomfortable balance leaves me in a constant struggle to arrive at the same time as everyone else.

When working on something like a group project in class I’m often eager to begin working right away. Even if there is plenty of time to complete the project, I will express to my group mates my fear of scrambling at the last second. I will usually create a timeline of when pieces of the project need to be done and am often looked at as too controlling.

It’s strange that the worldview that I grew up with, a family of polychronic women, has resulted in me constantly striving to be on time. I view the world as monochronic, with my polychronic family as an anomaly. I feel like lateness is something inherent in me as well. Therefore, I am constantly struggling to keep it under control. It is as if I have it written on my forehead and am self-consciously covering it up the best way I can.

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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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