Had I thought of it years ago I would have focused my blog on the slow, often amusing introduction I had to Persian culture nearly 9 years ago. After all, I don't think my "universe" ever expanded in such a complete and foreign way as it did after falling in love with a Persian man. Most of the those first moments are now memories. Every now and then, however, something new and exciting happens. On Saturday, my mother-in-law handed me $20. The gesture meant more to me than any $20 ever did...
Its Norouz. Or Nowruz. Or Norooz. Or Nawroz. (When you convert alphabets you get a wide range of latitude in spelling!) Its the Persian New Year celebration based on the Zoroastrian calendar. The Zoroastrians used the astronomical vernal equinox to indicate when the year actually starts. Leave it to the Western world to mess up something so simple. Wouldn't you rather have your new year start on the day that everything changes and gets "reborn"? Regular readers of this blog could have probably guessed that celebrating anything "Persian style" isn't really so simple. The days prior to and after Norouz are very busy with various and sometimes complicated traditions.
The holiday is about rebirth and as such, everyone does an extensive spring cleaning. The kind of cleaning where you take just about everything out of the house and scrub down every corner before bringing it back in. This is actually a national event! There went the weekend. Depending on how many Persians you know you might be surprised to learn that purchasing a new set of clothes is integral to the celebration. It seems you must dress in them to kick off the 12 day celebration. (So all you Newport Beach ladies who thought St. John looked particularly picked over this month, now you know why.) In addition to new clothes the celebration involves everything from jumping over fire to visiting all of your family members, starting with the elders and handing out cash to kids. That is a gross oversimplification as tradition strictly outlines to ordering of all these visits, what you must serve to guests, etc. Anyway, you can imagine my surprise when my mother in law gave me $20 on Saturday when we went to visit! It was a very clear indication of her acceptance of me in her family. Wow. This was quite a milestone moment!And the Cardamom Cake? I almost forgot. I needed a dessert and while I LOVE Persian food, I'm not really fond of traditional Persian desserts. Most of them are either sticky sweet and/or flavored with rosewater. I can't help but think of my grandmother's cosmetics cabinet whenever I taste rosewater. Another prevailing flavor used in Persian sweets and baked goods is cardamom so when I saw this recipe over at The Food Librarian I put it away in the 'to do' file in my Evernote. I don't usually make for company anything I haven't tried out but there wasn't much time for a trial run and I actually had the blood oranges. It turned out ok. It tasted fantastic but with a few tweaks such as layering the fruit flush with the bottom of the pan (duh!) it would have looked more like the Mary the Librarian's.
Other learnings? Yes. If possible you will want to make this cake just before serving as it is best warm with ice cream or a dollop of sweetened whipped cream (WITHOUT rosewater!) I made this about 6 hours before it was to be eaten and not only did it come to room temperature but the blood oranges oxidized a bit and darkened a bit. Nobody but me really seemed to notice (or care) as even the non dessert eaters polished off a piece or two of this. The original recipe uses navels so that seems like a good idea to try next. Blood oranges, however, gave it the "exotic" feel I was after this time around. And yes, I will get all the seeds out next time too. All in all, not bad for a beta test cake.