|A new photojournalistic low, but I don't like to post pictures of people without asking. That would have meant explaining what a blog is. Maybe even the internet. Maybe even computers.|
Picture a group of (mostly) senior citizens just about evenly divided between sophisticated Iranians and working class Latin Americans. There’s so little cultural overlap between the two groups, it’s not even like apples and oranges. It’s like apples and shiitake mushrooms. A couple of the Iranian women dress like movie stars from the 1960s. A couple of the Latin American men are illiterate. One woman has Alzheimer’s. Another hobbles along with a cane. A few students are very earnest and motivated and a few of them come only to socialize. But everyone likes Wenceslao, a cheerful Salvadoran who wears a hat, plays the accordion, and has something like 57 grandchildren. Personal charisma transcends culture.
The end-of-term party on Wednesday was sweet and, well, a little funky. Mohammed brought Iranian CDs and played them very loud. He and Fatemeh danced for a while. Mohammed was an accountant in Iran and now breaks down boxes on the nightshift at Safeway. “But I’m happy!” he said, happily. I talked to Orfelina and Isila about the difficulties of making pupusas and Orfelina said she doesn’t stuff them, just mixes all the filling ingredients with the masa and fries ‘em up. Adolfo gave me a can of Coca-Cola for Mother’s Day.
I'd brought in my two Persian cookbooks for vetting by the Iranian ladies, who dismissed The New Persian Kitchen, winner of the 2014 Piglet, but approved of the stout, encyclopedic New Food of Life by Najimieh Batmanglij. (I think New Persian Kitchen is too slim and contemporary for old-timers.) Najar had cooked a lentil dish for the party and Fatemeh had prepared a platter of really tasty baqala polow (rice with dill and fresh fava beans), a recipe for which I found on page 162 of Food of Life. Rosario, who is Mexican and whose front teeth are capped in gold, contributed a big foil container of very soft spaghetti.
Boy, did I eat. I ate like someone who'd spent the morning baking and hadn’t consumed anything except coffee, brownie scraps, and blueberries as of 2 p.m. and now had a splitting headache. I ate and ate and soon the headache was gone.
I ended up bringing a bunch of old favorites: these Essential New York Times Cookbook brownies, the Flour banana bread, Marcella Hazan’s (gluten-free) almond macaroons, and some cut butter cookies from Alice Waters’Art of Simple Food.
All winners, except the butter cookies. I’d always frosted them before and learned that without frosting they’re not sweet enough.
Sometimes I wonder how I ever found myself in this strange, delightful group of people for whom I feel so much affection, but the answer is simple: I answered a Craiglist ad back in December. One of my best decisions of 2013.