Monthly Archives: February 2019

Song of a Captive Bird


This book was also in the Random House email of books to look for in 2019, although it, too, was published in 2018. Though fiction, it is based on the life of Forugh Farrokhzad, the Iranian poet, who revolutionized Iranian poetry in both  form and subject. She wrote about her personal life which, was anything but traditional. She didn’t wear a head scarf, dressed in western-style clothing including tight skirts and heels, married her husband under “scandalous” circumstances, and ultimately left her young son and husband for several days to travel hundreds of miles to Tehran to try and get her poetry published. Her story is fascinating- like nothing I’ve ever read. She lived life on her own terms in a very restrictive patriarchal society, that sometimes was very punitive. She sacrificed a lot for the life she chose, yet, still was able to find moments of beauty that nourished her poetry.

THE BEAUTY: Losing her son, Kami, to her husband in their divorce was devastating to Forugh- a pain that she carried with her every day of her life. (In Iran, apparently, the father gets custody of the children.) This poem to him, in its simplicity, is achingly beautiful to me.

A Poem for You

I am composing this poem for you
on a parched summer dusk
halfway down this road of ominous beginning
In the old grave of this endless sorrow.

this is the final lullaby
at the foot of the cradle where you sleep.
may the wild sounds of my screaming
echo in the sky of your youth.

let the shadow of me the wanderer
be separate and far from your shadow.
when one day we reach one another,
standing between us will be none other than God.

against a dark door I have rested
my forehead tight with pain;
I rub my thin, cold fingers
against this door in hope.

that person branded with shame who used to laugh
at foolish taunts was I.
I said I would be the cry of my own existence;
but O, alas that I was a “woman”.

when your innocent eyes glance
at this confused, beginningless book,
you will see a deep-rooted, lasting rebellion
blooming in the heart of every song.

here the stars are all dim,
the angels here all weep.
the blooms of the tuberose here
have less value than desert thorns.

here, seated along every road
Is the demon of duplicity, disgrace and deceit.
In the dark sky I do not see
a light from the bright morning of wakefulness.

wait until once again my eyes
overflow with drops of dew.
I have taken it upon myself to unveil
the “pure” faces of the holy Marys.

I have cast away from the shore of good name;
In my heart lies a storm star.
the place of my anger’s flame,
alas, is the prison’s dark space.

against a dark door I have rested
my forehead tight with pain.
I rub my thin, cold fingers
against this door in hope.

against these ascetic hypocrites
I know this fight is not easy.
my city and yours, my sweet child,
has long been Satan’s nest.

a day will come when your eyes
will sadly quiver at this painful song.
you will search for me in my words
and tell yourself: My mother, that is who she was.


After Leila arranged for Forugh’s release from the Rezayan Clinic and brought her home to her mansion in Tehran, Forugh started writing poetry again. She was eating saffron pudding when she told Leila about having sent out some new poems for a book called, “The Wall.”

Saffron Rice Pudding
Serves : 8

1 C jasmine rice
6 C boiling water
¼ tsp crushed saffron threads
6 T boiling water
1½ C sugar
2 C boiling water
3 green cardamom pods, lightly cracked
2 T pure rosewater, preferably Sadaf brand (see Note)
Ground cinnamon and slivered almonds, for garnish

Rinse the rice  in cold water several times until the water runs clear. Drain completely. In a Dutch oven, combine the rice with 6 cups of boiling water and bring up to a boil. Simmer over low heat until the rice is softened, about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally so the rice doesn’t stick.

Using a mortar and pestle, grind the saffron threads into a fine powder. Add the boiling 6 tablespooons of water to the saffron and let cool. 

Stir the sugar, 2 cups of boiling water and  cardamom pods into the mixture and continue cooking on medium-low stirring frequently so the rice mixture doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pan, until the rice breaks down and the pudding thickens, 20-30 more minutes. Add the brewed saffron and rosewater*, stir to mix.

Discard the cardamom pods. Spoon the pudding into 8 glasses and let cool slightly. Cover the glasses with plastic and refrigerate until thickened, about 1 hour.

 Decorate the puddings with cinnamon, rose petals and slivered almonds. If refrigerated, let stand at room temperature for 25 minutes before serving. 

*Using a high-quality, pure rosewater is essential here. Look for Sadaf brand.

  • IMG_0386As it turned out, what I thought were almonds in my freezer were actually pecans- not a flavor that I thought would complement the pudding. So I dusted them with cinnamon, sprinkled on a few rose petals, and called it dessert. Over the course of two days, my husband has developed a taste for this. I however, could not get into the rosewater, even though I bought “the good stuff.”  The Sadaf rosewater tastes so much better than the supermarket brand I bought a while ago for another recipe, but, sadly, it was not a flavor I enjoyed.


Sadaf rosewater on the left, Market Basket on the right.





A River of Stars


20d7ecdcb6799c27991f4e45f43d83acc59d5b0fI learned about this book from an email Random House sent regarding books to look for in early 2019. It must be coming out in paperback, because the library book I read was published in 2018. I love books that plop me right down in a culture that is foreign to me, and this one delivered on that count in spades. Scarlett’s confinement during her pregnancy brought her to Las Vegas, about as far from her native China as she could get. Never one to fit in, even in China, Scarlett was an iconoclast among the other wealthy Chinese women at Perfume Bay, the resort for pregnant women who want their child to have American citizenship. When things took an unexpected turn, Scarlett had to think fast to forge a way forward for herself, and to keep her baby safe. She was joined in her adventures by Daisy, another outcast from Perfume Bay, and a very young one at that. The two wound up in San Francisco, where Scarlett discovered that she could make a living selling Chinese pork sliders on the street. Another entertaining immigrant story, I’m struck by how many women subsist by selling street food.

THE BEAUTY: “She (Scarlett) felt bound to this place and these people. To the gusts off the bay that swirled dead leaves into a cyclone, mesmerizing Liberty (her baby). To the scent of the meltingly soft egg tarts from the corner bakery that Didi would eat by the fistful if allowed.  The groan of the cars laboring up Chinatown’s steep hills. To the early morning sunlight, golden on the eaves and against Liberty’s cheek. The sweet naps and happy squeals in the apartment, the babies tugging toys back and forth, in a family that fit no definition but their own.” Sometimes family is the one that you make.

THE FOOD: Duh. Chinese barbecued pork sliders on steamed buns with plum sauce.

Plum Sauce

This version of plum sauce can also be used as a replacement for Hoisin sauce. Yield: 3 half-pint jars, 24 oz.

1½ C prunes
½ to 1 C water
⅓ C red onion (chopped)
¼ C soy sauce
¼ C honey
3 T rice vinegar (or apple cider vinegar)
3 cloves garlic (chopped)
1 T white wine
1 T ginger (fresh grated)
1 small pinch star anise (or cloves; less than ⅛ teaspoon)
Optional: 1 tsp finely chopped fresh chile pepper

Combine all of the ingredients in a medium sized pot. Start out with the smaller (½ cup) amount of water. Bring the ingredients to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, for 20 minutes.

Add additional water only if the sauce starts to stick to the bottom of the pot. Home dried plums tend to be drier than store bought and may require the extra water.

Turn off the heat and let the ingredients cool for 10 minutes. Transfer them to a blender or food processor and puree the sauce until smooth. (Alternatively, leave the sauce in the pot and, after the cooling off period, puree it with an immersion blender.)

At this stage you have a choice: you can store the plum sauce in the refrigerator for up to three weeks, or you can process it in a boiling water bath so that you can store it in sealed jars at room temperature for a year or more.

To can the plum sauce, return it to the pot over medium heat and bring to a boil. Immediately turn off the heat and spoon the sauce into clean half-pint canning jars. It is not necessary to sterilize the jars for this recipe. Leave ½-inch of headspace between the surface of the food and the rims of the jars.

Press down on the center of the sauce with the back of a spoon to release any air bubbles. Wipe the rims of the jars clean with a moist paper or cloth towel (any sauce stuck there could prevent the lids from sealing.) Process the jars of plum sauce in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes.

Chinese Slow-Cooked Pork Shoulder
Yield: 4 servings

3 pounds trimmed pork shoulder
1 tsp Chinese five-spice powder
1 tsp kosher salt
3 C chicken broth
1 C dark soy sauce
¼ C packed dark brown sugar
2 T toasted sesame oil
½ tsp crushed red pepper
4 scallions, cut into 2-inch pieces
1 garlic head, halved
1 (2-inch) knob unpeeled fresh ginger, thinly sliced

Rub the pork all over with the five-spice powder and salt. Cover with plastic wrap and marinate overnight. In a crockpot, add the chicken broth, soy sauce, brown sugar, sesame oil, and red pepper to the slow cooker. Stir to dissolve the sugar. Add the scallions, garlic, ginger, and the meat, turning it a few times to coat. Cover the cooker, set it on HIGH, and cook for 4 hours. Set the cooker on LOW and cook until the meat is very tender, at least another 2 hours (6 hours total).

Transfer the pork to a platter, cover lightly, and let rest 15 minutes. Meanwhile, pour the cooking liquid into a measuring cup, skim off and discard the vegetables and fat that rise to the surface. When cooled, shred the pork using two forks.

Chinese Steamed Buns
2 C all-purpose flour + more for dusting
1½ tsp instant yeast
a tiny pinch of salt
1 T sugar, optional
5 fluid ounces of milk, more if needed
1T cooking oil

In the bowl of a stand mixer, add flour, yeast, salt and sugar, if using. Add milk and oil. Use the dough hook to blend ingredients. Once blended, knead the dough for 6 minutes on medium. Remove hook, cover the bowl and let the dough rest for around 1 hour or until the ball doubles in size. If you have a proofing option on your oven, use that.

When the dough is double in size, dust the operating board and knead the dough for 3-4 minutes until the dough becomes almost smooth again. Divide the dough into two parts, keep kneading and shape each part into 1 inch thick long log. Cut each log into 6 equal pieces. Shape each piece into a round ball, place on a small piece of parchment paper on a baking sheet, and allow to rest in your proofing oven for about 10 minutes. I used a double boiler, but you can use a bamboo steamer if you have one.

Add cold water to steamer, cover with the lid and bring to a boil. When your pot is ready, cover the lid on the inside with a dish towel so water drops don’t fall on the buns, and place each bun on its parchment in the steamer  Cover with the covered lid and cook the buns in batches, leaving space between them in the steamer for them to rise a bit.

Steam the buns on high heat for around 20 to 25 minutes (depending on the size of your buns).

Remove from the fire and wait for 5 minutes before opening the lid. Serve warm. You can store them over night or freeze them. To freeze, cool them completely, place in an air-tight bag and put in the freezer for no more than a month. Re-steam to soften them before serving.


To assemble the sliders, cut the steamed bun in half, fill one side with shredded pork, cover with plum sauce to taste, use the other bun half to cover, and enjoy.



Kind of messy, but really good. The plum sauce was very different- in a good way, and I’d never had steamed buns before that I can recall, although I’ll bet I’ve had them at Dim Sum. Delicious meal, but a fair amount of work.









From the Corner of the Oval


UnknownBeck Dorey-Stein’s path to the White House was pretty arbitrary. She answered an ad for a stenographer on Craigslist, never dreaming that she’d actually get a return call. When she did, she  blew off her interview, because after so much rejection, she figured, what the heck. Finally, Bernice, the interviewer, emailed her to say that the job was at the White House. Well, that changed things! As a stenographer, Beck’s job was to follow the president around the country recording all of his public comments, and later transcribing them for the historic record. While this sounds pretty exciting, there was a lot of tedium involved and Beck kept focusing on the fact that she was essentially, just a typist, not anyone important. This is representative of her view of herself at that time in her life. In her mid-twenties, she had had a series of jobs, but not a career. In fact, what she really wanted to do was write, but she lacked confidence. The book gives a snapshot of what the president’s schedule was like, the hierarchy of staff, and a bit of insider gossip. Beck was so in awe of Obama that she became mute whenever he spoke directly to her. But during all her travels, she continued to record her thoughts and impressions, because that’s what she’d done all her life.

We also get a glimpse of Beck’s personal life, as she attempted to balance a boyfriend who was frequently absent from DC on the campaign trail, and her job, which put her on the road. The author really lets the reader in on her weaknesses, including her long term relationship with someone who clearly did not see her as a life’s mate, and who repeatedly hurt her, because she was unable to say no to him, even when yes allowed him to use her. I thought  it was brave to expose so much of her persoanl life in the interest of telling her story. Dorey-Stein has a unique voice that is consistent through the narrative, and in the end, I genuinely liked her.


When Obama traveled to particularly exotic locations like Jordan, Myanmar, or India his staff would arrange a visit to a culturally significant spot that was not on the itinerary. One such jaunt was to the Shwedagon Pagoda in Myanmar. The 2,500 year old pagoda which enshrines strands of Buddha’s hair and other holy relics is located west of the Royal Lake on 114 acres of Singuttara Hill in Yangon. It stands close to 110 meters tall, is covered with hundreds of gold plates and the top of the stupa is encrusted with 4531 diamonds. The Shwedagon Pagoda consists of hundreds of colorful temples, stupas, and statues.


Barack Obama pours water over the left shoulder of the Friday Buddha during a tour of the Shwedagon Pagoda in Rangoon on November 19, 2012. Photo by Pete Souza.


One of POTUS’s staff drove an ’89 Jeep Grand Wagoneer, which was the car Beck’s family vacationed in. When she first rode in it, she was overcome with nostalgia and she and Jason shared stories of their youth: Jason growing up in Wisconsin, rolling buckeyes and guarding them from squirrels as he watched the balls of chocolate and peanut butter freeze in the snow. Perhaps because I so recently created a snickers drink, the idea of making peanut butter and chocolate candies resonated with me.

Easy Buckeye Recipe

2 C creamy peanut butter (not “natural” peanut butter)
½ C salted butter softened
2 T brown sugar, packed
1¼ tsp vanilla extract
3¼ C powdered sugar
12 oz dark chocolate melting wafers

Combine peanut butter and butter in the bowl of a stand mixer and beat until well-combined.  
Add brown sugar and vanilla extract.  Stir well.

Gradually add powdered sugar until completely combined.  Scoop into tablespoon-sized balls and roll with the palms of your hand until smooth and round. If the dough is too sticky to roll, add more powdered sugar, a tablespoon at a time.

Place on wax-paper lined cookie sheet and freeze for 15-20 minutes. While peanut butter balls are chilling, prepare your chocolate according to package instructions.  Pour into a deep dish. Remove peanut butter balls from freezer, spear the top of each peanut butter ball with a toothpick and, holding the toothpick, dip each buckeye ball into the melted chocolate.
Return to cookie sheet and remove toothpick.  Use the pads of your fingers to smooth over the toothpick mark. Allow the chocolate to harden in the fridge before eating and enjoying. 
Buckeye balls are best kept refrigerated.

*Some people have commented that the addition of brown sugar makes the cookies taste a bit gritty, I have not personally found this to be the case but if you are worried about this you can leave the brown sugar out without adjusting any of the other ingredients