Monthly Archives: August 2019

The Stationery Shop


shopping 2I love the cover! What the picture doesn’t show is the shininess of the copper-colored outlines of the flowers and the words, and that it is embossed. I love the color palette. I first heard about this book in an email from Simon and Schuster, and it sounded like something I’d enjoy. I absolutely loved the first chapter, how it drew me in so powerfully. It is the story of 17 year-olds Roya and Bahman in semi-democratic Iran in 1953. Roya is a bookish girl, whose father supports her desire to get an education. He sees great things in the future for both Roya and her younger sister, Zari. Zari is outgoing and outspoken, and sometimes, I just wanted her to be quiet! So much so that I wrote in my notes. “Zari, please, just shut your mouth.” Bahman is politically active in his support of Prime Minister Mossaddegh, but still had to be careful about concealing his political orientation, as there were always rumors about government overthrow, and people of many factions quite willing to give up a neighbor to the authorities. The stationery store is where they first met, and it, too, has a story.

I learned a bit about Persian culture, as when Roya’s mother told her that “our fate is written on our forehead when we are born.” It can’t be seen, can’t be read, but it’s there in invisible ink, and your life follows that fate. I don’t know if generalities can be made about Iranians in general, but the characters in this book were superstitious, especially about “chesm,” the evil eye. Roya’s mother performed a cleansing of their house with incense after a negative encounter with a guest, and asked for the jealous eye to be blinded. In a touching moment between Roya and her sister-in-law, Patricia, there was also a reference to the Haft Seen seven s’s table, with items that all began with the letter ‘s’ in Farsi, a traditional practice during Nowruz, the Persian New Year celebrated on the vernal equinox. Kind of like the Italian tradition of the seven fishes at Christmas to celebrate the bounty of the seven oceans.

I can’t conclude my discussion without a caveat, dear reader: this is a sad, sad, book, and when I was done reading, I, like Roya, was wrecked, and needed several hours to recover. In spite of the sadness, it was a beautiful story. And now is the perfect time in my life to be reminded of the healing power of love, and that love still exists in an otherwise cruel world.


The poetry of Rumi was important to both Roya and Bahman. The following poem appears several times in the book:

Look at love
How it tangles
With the one fallen in love

Look at spirit
How it fuses with earth
Giving it new life

When I googled “Persian art colors,” trying to figure out if the colors on the cover had any meaning, these images, among others, came up:

beautiful-watercolor-paisley-seamless-pattern-background-cold-colors-indian-persian-turkish-art-vector-handdrawn-damask-55918886        Unknown images



A special occasion dish called Jeweled Rice was mentioned several times in the story. I did buy the barberries online, but I did not opt to purchase really good Persian Basmati rice because you had to buy it in ten pound bags, and there’s no way my husband and I would ever go through that much in a year, so I used a supermarket Carolina Basmati instead, which was very good. If I’m ever in a Middle Eastern market, I’ll look for more authentic rice in a smaller quantity to see if it really makes a difference.

Persian Jeweled Rice

2 C best-quality Basmati rice
2 T Kosher salt
Unsalted butter, 6 tablespoons in total
1 large onion, diced small
¼ tsp saffron threads, crumbled and soaked in 1/4 cup hot water
Large pinch ground cinnamon
Large pinch ground cardamom
Large pinch ground allspice
Large pinch ground black pepper
Large pinch ground cumin
⅓  C chopped dried apricots
⅓ C golden raisins or currants
⅓ C dried imported barberries, goji berries, dried cherries or dried cranberries soaked in warm water for 5 minutes and drained
⅓ C blanched slivered almonds
⅓ C roughly chopped pistachios

Rinse the rice several times in cold water until the water runs clear. Drain. Bring 3 quarts water to a boil in a large pot with 2 tablespoons kosher salt. Add the rinsed rice and boil, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes, then drain well in a colander.

Heat 1 tablespoon butter in a small skillet over medium heat. Add the onion, season lightly with salt and cook until softened and lightly colored, 4 to 5 minutes. Moisten with 1 tablespoon saffron water and stir in the cinnamon, cardamom, allspice, black pepper and cumin. Cook for 1 minute more. Stir in the apricots, raisins, and barberries (or goji berries, cherries or cranberries).

Melt 4 tablespoons butter in a heavy-bottomed enamel or nonstick Dutch oven over medium heat. Spread half the par-cooked rice over the bottom of the pot. Spoon over the onion-fruit mixture, then the remaining rice. Leave the pot on the flame, uncovered, for 5 to 8 minutes to gently brown the rice. (Do not stir or move the rice — you will need to rely on your nose to tell if the rice has browned.)

Drizzle the remaining saffron water over the rice and put on the lid. Adjust the heat to very low and leave undisturbed for 30 minutes. Turn off the heat and let rest at least 10 minutes.

Heat the remaining 1 tablespoon butter in a small skillet over medium-low heat and gently toast the almonds and pistachios for a minute or so, taking care not to get them too brown. Set aside for garnish.

To serve, spoon the rice into a wide bowl or platter. With a spatula, carefully lift the bottom crust, placing the crisp side up. Sprinkle with the toasted nuts.



I’m so proud of the crust! When made correctly, the tahdig (crust) can be detached from the Dutch oven and served whole, which is what I attempted to do. I forgot to let it sit after I turned off the heat on the stove, so the first piece I tried to extract was a mess. But this one is a beautiful golden brown, and was crunchy and delicious.



An American Marriage


book_aamBIG02Celestial and Roy are newlyweds with a promising future ahead of them. Enjoying each other’s company, working hard at jobs they love, they’re convinced that life will always be wonderful. Then something happens that only a black man in America can remotely understand, and the strength of their relationship is tested.

What impressed me the most is how deftly the story was crafted, bringing me to such a strong, emotional response at the very end. People are so complex, that it’s possible to not even truly know yourself, let alone someone you love. What a complex story, with characters I cared about so much that I wanted to intervene to help them through their difficulties.

THE BEAUTY: Roy mused on the first page of the book, that some people stay in the place where they were born for their whole lives. Although I did not take that path myself, there are many places that have been home to me, and evoke a strong emotional response when I revisit those places. This is one of them.



The first meal Big Roy cooked for his son when he got out of prison was salmon croquettes. Roy (the son) was surprised because he had never seen his father cook before. He teased him, saying, “Now you putter around the kitchen like Martha Stewart.” Later, when Andre visits and realizes he’ll have to spend the night, Big Roy cooks salmon croquettes for him as well.

Salmon Croquettes
yield: 13 pieces

1 14.75 ounce can salmon, drained and flaked
2 eggs, lightly beaten, extra egg if desired (for extra crunchiness)
½ C onion, diced
½ tsp minced garlic
1 C panko (divided)
1 tsp white pepper
1-2 green onions diced (about ¼ cup)
½ -1 tsp hot sauce
¼ tsp salt, adjust to taste
1 tsp cajun seasoning
oil for frying

Drain the liquid from the canned salmon into a measuring cup. Flake the salmon into a large bowl. Set aside.

In a large bowl, gently mix together the canned salmon, eggs, onion, garlic, ¼ cup panko, white pepper, green onions, hot sauce, cajun seasoning and salt. Refrigerate for 15 minutes before forming croquettes. Take 2-3 tablespoons of the salmon mixture, shape croquettes into an oval shape like an egg. Lightly dip the croquettes into the extra egg mixture, if using, until it is completely coated, then dip in panko.

Heat a small non-stick frying pan on a medium-high heat, then add oil about ½ cup. Let oil heat until it reaches about 350º. Gently place croquette in oil using a frying spoon, then fry about 2 minutes per side or until golden brown. Do in batches to prevent croquettes from being soggy. Transfer to a plate with paper towels and serve warm with remoulade sauce.

Remoulade Sauce

¾ C mayonnaise
¼ C Dijon mustard
1 shallot, minced
1-2 T Creole seasoning
2 T white wine vinegar
1½ T prepared horseradish
1 tsp fresh lemon juice
½ tsp minced garlic
½ tsp paprika
1 tsp Tabasco
¼ tsp celery salt

Mix all the ingredients together in a medium bowl. The remoulade is better if left for a few hours to let the flavors meld. Keep refrigerated.



I know, I should have garnished with parsley and lemon. Clearly, I’m no food photographer. But the good news is, if you want something that is pantry-ready, this is a great recipe to have on file. I’m a fan of croquettes, having first learned to make them in 8th grade Home Economics as a way to use Thanksgiving turkey leftovers. The canned salmon works just fine, no need to use leftover cooked salmon. Another keeper recipe for me.