Dear Food Getaway: Iran

I wouldn’t call my visit to Iran a ‘getaway,’ but it was certainly a profound culinary experience that brought me a little closer to my culture and my upbringing. 

Growing up, food belonged in two categories: Home food and everything else. Home food was stuff we ate at home during breakfasts, dinners and family gatherings; the stuff that differentiated me from others; the stuff that I loved but didn’t know how to appreciate. The breakfasts were decadent breads like sangak with savory spreads like French goat cheese and walnuts, butter and honey, and tea. The gatherings were full feasts of saffron rice, rich and meaty stews and kabobs. Instead of taking coffee breaks, we took tea breaks. Often, mom would indulge us by making our favorites for dinner too, like ghormeh sabzi. I say ‘indulge’ because cooking Persian food is incredibly time-consuming, so it’s been years since I’ve had a home-cooked meal like that (of course, mom still indulges me when I visit).

Imagine my excitement to visit a country where I could have home food for every meal! Not only that, everyone else knew about it, restaurants served it and it wasn’t a specialty. This—usually unique—piece of me is the norm in this place. It was like I’d gone into my food past and relived it. So here’s a glimpse into a few of the favorite, food-fueled moments from my trip. Pardon the low quality of some of the photos, it’s hard to stand still when you’re about to eat this stuff!

My love for ghormeh sabzi spans oceans. My grandmother knew that’s what I needed for dinner my first night in Iran, complete with rice and tadig, and koo-koo (an herby quiche without cheese).

My first full dinner in Iran, courtesy of grandma. Photo/Alma Bahman

My first full dinner in Iran, courtesy of grandma. Photo/Alma Bahman

Dear National Meatball Day,

Meat. Balls. Balls of meat. Meatballs. Flickr/jeffreyw

Meat. Balls. Balls of meat. Meatballs. Flickr/jeffreyw

 Some may doubt that all these days in honor of food aren’t real holidays. I say, who cares? I say, there aren’t enough days to celebrate all the amazing foods that we have in the world. I stand firm before you, declaring my love for meatballs.


Honestly, the Italians nailed so many fantastical categories of foods that I’m not surprised that they invented the meatball (did they? I attribute it to them, regardless). Eat them simply, perfect bites of protein atop the best pastas or breads, dancing in a shower of cheese before you dig in.

Or chefs get creative and put them on pizza, stews, a sub, toothpicks for appetizers or anything. If meatballs are involved, I want in.

So even if you’re not eating meatballs today, take a moment to appreciate the brilliance of meatballs by looking at each of these pictures and recipes:

10 Old School Italian Joints You Need To Know About
10 Global Meatball Recipes for National Meatball Day
10 Recipes For National Meatball Day

Love,
A

Dear Saturday brunch at The Southern,

Short rib hash from The Southern. Pick the best pieces from every meal and you have this glorious concoction. Photo/Dear Food

Short rib hash from The Southern. Pick the best pieces from every meal and you have this glorious concoction. Photo/Dear Food

Brunch is my favorite activity. I have a developed skill set for brunching on the weekends. I’ve seen it all, I expect it all. But nothing could have prepared me for this.

Many Chicagoans know about you, The Southern. Nestled in the hip and trendy Bucktown, you do all the food things that food people love to see: Fresh and local ingredients, high-quality craft brews and cocktails. You combine the best of southern living with a big city twist. So, I was ready for the wait. I was ready for the one-page brunch menu (because why not make a few things really well instead of 100 things mediocre?), but I was not ready to want every single item on that one-page menu.

Dear pizza bagel lunch,

When pizza's on a bagel...

When pizza’s on a bagel… Photo/Alma Bahman

Pizza in the morning, pizza in the evening, pizza at supper time.

You make me want to sing the song all day long. I risk dating myself here, but nothing is more nostalgic than you, pizza bagels. You take me back, way back. I’m a kid again, and my most important job in life is running around as fast as I can, coming up with as many new games as I can, and of course, eating pizza bagels (better known as Bagel Bites).

Dear two-year-anniversary,

Break out the champagne, Dear Food is 2 years old! Flickr/dinnerseries

Break out the champagne, Dear Food is 2 years old! Flickr/dinnerseries

Let me tell you what’s amazing: this little bitty blog had its two year anniversary this month! I’m baffled that it’s been two whole years since we started professing our love for food in Lawrence, Kansas.

I don’t have much to say except that it’s been so exciting to watch the blog evolve, from short love letters to adding contributors to a podcast. As you may have noticed, we’re doing a little bit of work on the site itself (pardon our dust), but it’s just another milestone for us. I can’t wait to see where we go next.

Thank you to everyone who’s joined us on this journey! We love you almost as much as we love cake.

Love,
A

Dear 10 recipes for beginner cooks,

More American than apple pie. Flickr/caitlinator

More American than apple pie. Flickr/caitlinator

The other half of being an everyday gourmand is cooking. If you’re like me, cooking isn’t your strongest skill. So I found it a bit frightening as I was getting started on my food adventure.

Many of the prolific home cooks I know spent years cooking with family or friends, picking up little tips and tricks to make each dish just a little more delicious, a little more special. Already, they have a leg up. Plus, I felt pressure to invest in the specialized tools to make the food look beautiful (cupcakes, looking at you!). I sometimes crack under the desire of beautiful presentation! Next thing you know, I’ve totally talked myself out of cooking something.

Dear all the Valentine’s Day candies (via podcast),

It’s time. It’s happened. We have our second episode of the Dear Foodcast up and ready for your ears! Valentine’s Day is this weekend, but take heed: Not all V-Day candies are made equally. So we did a taste test. And the results are… interesting.

We should be on iTunes soon! Fingers crossed. We’re on iTunes too! So hit subscribe!

On another note, as I’m writing this, I’m also listening to StartUp. And as I listen to this really cool, yet fledgling, podcast network get its bearings, I realize that we’re still learning about podcasting too. So tell us what you think about the Dear Foodcast. Send me an email, tweet at us or leave a comment below. It doesn’t have to be a constructive criticism, either! Have topics for us? Questions? Comments? What kind of segments would you like to hear?

You always hear from us, so we want to hear from you.

Love,
A

 

Dear Summer House,

For someone who loves to eat at restaurants, this was my first experience with Chicago Restaurant Week (which is two weeks but whatever, I like that).

Summer House has a location in Santa Monica, and despite the wintery, icy cold weather outside, the restaurant maintains its breezy West Coast vibe. And the food was just as breezy and light. The restaurant week menu had some specialties that aren’t on the regular menu, like my entree: baja shrimp tacos.

The shrimp, so crispy and perfectly spiced. The salsa and guacamole, so fresh. The bright sprig of cilantro and hearty rice and beans, so perfect. I cleaned that plate like it was my job. And the best part was that I wasn’t too full or weighed down (because, hi dessert).

The chocolate cake came with like, seven layers and lighter-than-a-cloud whipped cream. As if it couldn’t get any better, it has a teeny piece of peanut butter fudge and sea salt sprinkled on top. As someone who can each chocolate for breakfast, lunch and dinner, this cake was so rich and satisfying that I had to take half of it home.

Oh and do you see the little guest dessert in the background there? Summer House has a small market right up front, so if you just want to stop in for a GIANT, amazing cookie (or Dark Matter Coffee, an Oreo Rice Krispie treat, or fresh English muffins), you can. Let’s just say, I’m glad I don’t live any closer to this restaurant than I do, because they would be out of cookies every day. Because I’d buy them all.

Summer House, there may be 135 days left until summer, but a delicious meal like this is like a shot of friggin’ sunshine.

Love,
A

Dear new podcast,

I think it’s time to open up the curtains a wee bit.

Natalie and I have been working hard behind the scenes and we have some great ideas for this blog.

A sneak peek inside a taping of the upcoming, soon-to-be-award-winning, Dear Foodcast!

A sneak peek inside a taping of the upcoming, soon-to-be-award-winning, Dear Foodcast!

We’re excited to announce our newest little pet project: The Dear Foodcast, the audio component of Dear Food.

It’s an unpretentious podcast for amateur foodies, where we get together and discuss what makes us mad, what makes us laugh, what we like to eat (and we’ll taste test stuff, too) and discuss what food means to us.

It’s a little bit of comedy mixed with a little bit of food. It’s like hanging out with your best friends who crack you up around the dinner table (or coffee table by the couch) with a nice glass of wine. Sweatpants may or may not be involved.

Keep an eye out for the debut episodes in the coming weeks!

In the meantime, we’d love to hear any questions, comments or violent reactions you may have. Email us. Let’s be pen pals.

Love,
A

PS: Tomorrow is National Croissant Day. Make sure you get one (and maybe take an Instagram and hashtag it #dearfood. Sharing is caring, after all).

Dear National Chocolate Cake Day,

National Chocolate Cake Day, it's on. Flickr / gail_thepinkpeppercorn

National Chocolate Cake Day, it’s on. Flickr / gail_thepinkpeppercorn

There’s not much to love about January. There’s the occasional birthday celebration, but other than that there’s no fun excuse to eat and drink with reckless abandon. It’s cold and you find yourself recovering from Christmas and New Year’s—emotionally, physically and financially—at the gym with a million other sweaty people who are also pounding guiltily on the treadmills.

But just as you start to lose hope… there’s a flicker of light. January 27 is National Chocolate Cake Day! The origin of this glorious day seems to be a mystery (but if you know, tell us!). But even if you describe yourself as “not a chocolate person,” you still have an appreciation for this classic dessert.

From the delicate flourless chocolate cake, to Betty Crocker cake mix, to the rich, moist, buried-in-frosting monstrosities you find at chain restaurants, we honor this staple in dessert history with five lovely recipes. Pick one. Make it. And make it your own (and don’t forget to share the recipe).

Food Network: Flourless Chocolate Cake
Bon Appetit: Chocolate Cake with Caramel-Milk Frosting
Epicurious: Chocolate Stout Cake
Barefoot Contessa: Beatty’s Chocolate Cake
Food and Wine: Mom’s Chocolate Cake

Forever in cake,
A