One of the perks of writing a blog is that occasionally, you get offers to receive review copies of books. Generally these books have topics related to those of the blog, and writing a review is optional, but considering that a) free book! and b) free post topic!, it’s really a win-win situation.
Out this month, Maman’s Homesick Pie: A Persian Heart in an American Kitchen, is a delightful read. The author, Donia Bijan, was chef at Palo Alto’s L’Amie Donia for ten years. Before that, she studied at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris (under the same directrice as Julia Child!), gaining an internship at Fauchon and stagiare work at several of France’s starred restaurants.
The book outlines her journey from childhood in pre-revolutionary Iran to exile in the United States to France and finally making a home in the Bay Area. Bijan’s mother, who sounds like an incredible woman, supports her daughter through the trials and tribulations of leaving loved ones, moving to new countries, and learning to cook. The storytelling is warm and sympathetic. Best of all, the recipes sprinkled throughout – two per chapter – are mouthwatering and make sense in the context of the story. One of my pet peeves with these food memoirs that seem to be popping up everywhere these days is that the recipes feel like they’re just plopped in there with no rhyme or reason. That is not the case with Maman’s Homesick Pie. Each one belongs, from the simple childhood memories of Cardamom Tea, Pomegranate Granita, and Saffron Yogurt Rice with Chicken and eggplant to dutifully practiced French classics such as Duck à l’Orange, Ratatouille, and Rabbit with Mustard.
Several of the recipes tempted me, but the one that ended up getting made first was the Roast Duck Legs with Dates and warm Lentil Salad. Sweet, savory, and rich, the crisp-skinned duck was complimented beautifully by roasted dates and toothsome lentils in a pomegranate sauce. I had leftover lentils and sauce, so I cooked a duck breast to serve with them, which was maybe even better than the legs. (I admit I am not very good at carving meat off of bones at the table, which diminishes my enjoyment of such dishes. I had been hoping for a more confit-like texture on the legs.) But I just bought some quinces so I can try the Roasted Stuffed Quince with Fennel Sausage and Currants, and the Braised Chicken with Persian Plums sounds like it will be just perfect on cold winter nights. The sweets sound good, too – Rose Petal Ice Cream, Cardamom Honey Madeleines, and Pistachio Brittle all sound like lovely excuses to explore the Persian shops that proliferate on my street.
If the story is missing anything, it’s just a few juicy details – how did Donia manage to meet her husband when she was spending all her time in kitchens? Whatever happened to her college friend, who may or may not have been a boyfriend, with whom she keeps in touch but never gets mentioned again? Why do her sisters not play a more prominent role? I just feel like there’s so much I still don’t know. But I guess the fact that I want to know more is testament to the interest of the story, and how by the end, you consider Donia Bijan a friend.
On this day in 2010: Boca Mexa - Paris’ answer to Chipotle… until Chipotle opens, one of these days.
Originally published on Croque-Camille.