Dear Norooz,

This time of year means a lot of things: the first day of spring, warm weather. But for me, and all other Persians, it means the new year has arrived. Persian New Year, Norooz (or ‘Nowruz’ meaning “new day”) is a celebration of spring, with food to match. In particular, the sofreh haft-seen (translated to a table spread of “Seven S’s) and each item is a different food that represents a hope, a pleasantry, a good-will for the coming year. Just like the earth is reborn after a cold, cold winter, we too can start anew.

The traditional haft-seen includes:

  • Sabzeh, wheat, barley or lentil sprouts growing in a dish, for rebirth
  • Samanu, a sweet, wheat germ pudding, for affluence
  • Senjed, the dried fruit of the oleaster tree, symbolizing love
  • Sir, garlic, for medicine
  • Sib, apples, for beauty and health
  • Somaq, or sumac, berries which are the color of the sunrise
  • Serkeh, vinegar, for age and patience

More haft-seen items:

  • Sekkeh, or coins, for wealth and prosperity
  • Sonbol, a beautiful spring flower
  • Mahi, goldfish, for life
  • Tokhmeh morgh, or eggs which symbolize fertility
  • Sham, candles, for enlightenment
  • Pomegranate, an Iranian staple
  • Shahnameh, a book of Persian poetry

Persians like to celebrate in style. All cultural celebrations are fanciful and ornate, as is a traditional haft-seen (like the above pictured, from one of my favorite Persian food blogs, Bottom of the Pot) and they leave these table settings up for weeks at a time. Do a Google image search on “haft-seen” and spend hours scrolling through the bright, gorgeous colors.

This time of year is bittersweet for me: Since I moved out of my parents’ house (and out of my home state of California), I haven’t had a traditional haft-seen, I haven’t taken the sabzeh to throw into the river, I haven’t gorged on the feast of food like chelo kabob and ghormeh sabzi that my enormous family makes. The food is just as important to the celebration, but it’s an art: It takes time to prepare and it’s very easy to get lost in the day-to-day. I feel sad at these times, disconnected from my heritage, so I’ve sustained on happy memories and quiet reflection on my own.

But this year I decided to set up a haft-seen the day before Norooz (which is like trying to buy tickets to a New Year’s party on Dec. 30). Living in Kansas, I couldn’t find everything because it wasn’t in season (like pomegranate) or it takes weeks to prepare (like samanu) so I made do with what I had. The result is kind of hilarious.

Alma's slapdash haft-seen isn't all that fancy, but it's better than nothing.

Alma’s slapdash haft-seen isn’t all that fancy, but it’s better than nothing.

It may not be perfect but it’s the first year of many spring equinox celebrations. The spirit of Norooz still matters and with the arrival of spring, I feel fresh and new, ready to start the new year.

Love,
A

Dear stuffed French toast,

Maple syrup French toast stuffed with bacon.

Maple syrup French toast stuffed with bacon.

In culinary jungle known as breakfast, French toast is one of the kings. And the only way to make something delicious like that better is to stuff it with more delicious things. On New Year’s Day, I grabbed a couple slices of bread, this recipe and made incredible French toast drenched in maple syrup, filled with apples and covered in bacon.

Pair it with a cozy cup of coffee and you have yourself a wintery morning breakfast.

Love,
A

Dear pan-seared sausages,

A little twist on Bon Appetit's recipe: pan-seared sausage with lady apples and spinach

A little twist on Bon Appetit’s recipe: pan-seared sausage with lady apples and spinach

I had sausages. I had apples. Bon Appetit has a recipe that puts them both together. This recipe called for watercress but I couldn’t find any at the store. Luckily, any hearty green could fill in, so I used spinach. What a pretty green color.

In addition to a fairly simple and fancy-looking meal, recipes like this make me think of how underrated apples can be. Also, how you can swap out potatoes for these delicious treats in a dish like this.

Apples and meat.

Love,
A

Dear cornbread with apples and onions,

Cornbread with caramelized apples and onions from Bon Appetit

Cornbread with caramelized apples and onions from Bon Appetit

I like cornbread. Who doesn’t? I decided to make some. On the same day as Brussels sprout pizza? Preposterous! But no, it can be done.

I’m new to cooking so I was happily surprised that cornbread is really easy. And I felt extra fancy dropping in a couple extras like apples and onions, both of which I enjoy heartily.

Thank you, Bon Appetit for presenting this joyous opportunity to make a warm and flavorful side dish.

Love,
Alma