until just a few years ago when my grandmother was hit by two cars outside her house by the caspian sea, my grandparents ran a huge citrus orchard with rice paddies in the back. i remember my grandmother coming to visit us when we were kids--she'd unload from her musty suitcases edible bits of nostalgia for my mom and dad: sour lavashak, or plum fruit rolls, ambrosial orange blossom, quince and carrot jams, and ghar o ghourout, a strange black concoction made of fermented yogurt.
the trip from iran being so long, she'd stay at least a month or two with us, and she'd spend the bulk of her time making things: sewing us clothes, curtains, halloween costumes, knitting blankets, scarves and sweaters, building and planting raised beds in the backyard, making torshi, incredible persian pickled vegetables that are traditionally cured for seven years, and of course, cooking us meals and sweets.
my mother, raised by this tour de force of a woman, is a champion of homemade goods in her own right. my father, too. i remember a lot of homemade hummus for breakfast years before my friends even knew what hummus was. my dad also had a special love of the kabob, and all of the ridiculous work that goes into building your own grill (now, that energy is aimed at pizza ovens).
in a lot of ways, i feel that my past ten years, the bulk of which i have spent in berkeley, cooking, have formed me and led me to value what i value--farms, crafts, friendship, a sense of community, knowledge, and generosity. but when i look to where and who i come from, it's clear that my family is an equal source of my self.
these days, the highest compliment i can often think of is that something is made from scratch, or handmade. the people i love to work with and be around share these values. i dream of a life where i can make everything i could want or need.
one of my favorite parts of my job is that we try to make everything for ourselves, from our pickles to our pasta. i even made mustard once last year. we make ice cream and creme fraiche, fry tomatoes and can tomato sauce, tomatillo salsa, jam and marmalade, ferment smen to rub our couscous with, candy nuts and citrus peels, and fry our own potato chips each morning. our boss spends countless hours making cured meats, and if we can make the time, we pull our own mozzarella (i spent a summer at cp obsessed with making mozzarella and ricotta from scratch. i mostly learned that you need a very accurate pH meter for cheesemaking, and that it's very difficult to use straus milk for such pursuits. it's a testament to the idealism of that place that they let me waste many, many gallons of straus milk in a fruitless effort to make mozzarella from scratch when you can just buy perfectly good curd in berkeley). i often tell the prep cooks to channel their inner nonna, and at times i feel like the farmwife, spending hours of each summer week canning, pickling, and drying.
and so, as i sit here on this night when so many people from my high school class are probably busy comparing themselves to see who is more on the map, i'm trying to come up with more and more ways to get off the grid.