Valentine’s Day can be the most exciting day of the year for you, or the most miserable, depending on your situation. But Valentine’s Day that happens to also be a Fiesta Friday day should never be a miserable day for anyone. Whether you receive a valentine or not today, you should see to it that you celebrate the day with us.
Look what I made for you:
If neither of them makes you happy, how about a story? That’s what I’m bringing to the party. I hope you’ll like it.
This happened when I was in college. Remember those happy, carefree days, when you didn’t have to do anything? No waking up early to go to school, no homework to turn in the next day, and no studying required? Sigh… college was heaven.
On Valentine’s day one year, my roommate and I decided to have a contest on who would receive the most roses. The winner got to wear a tiara for a week. It was her idea. Trust me, I was not into that sort of thing.
Well, she won. She received more roses than I did. I think she sent some of them to herself. Really, how many secret admirers can you have? Besides, while I received less roses, I had a poem written for me. So, in my mind, I won.
Okay, it was a lame poem. Short four-liner that went kinda like this:
I see you!
With all those exclamation points! But it came from this really sweet guy. He enjoyed making my day by giving me surprises like showing up in front of my apartment door unannounced and uninvited. I had no idea how he gained access. He didn’t live there so he didn’t have a key and I never buzzed him in.
But still, it was so nice of him to go through the trouble of waiting for someone to let him in.
Sometimes he even showed up with flowers. Flowers that he stole for me. Yes, how sweet was that? He went on his bicycle in the middle of the night and cut tulips from campus gardens to present to me. So considerate.
And one time, he took a picture of me while I was throwing away my trash. I found out about it when the photo showed up in my mailbox. Accompanied with a four-liner poem, of course.
He must have used his tele lens to take the photo. That I could figure out. What I couldn’t figure out was how he was able to be in position to take my picture exactly when I was there. It must have been such a coincidence or he must have been waiting all day. Wasn’t that so sweet?
See, with an admirer like that, who wouldn’t feel like a winner? So, I didn’t feel jealous at all that my roommate bested me in the most roses received (some of which she sent to herself, I’m certain of it) and ended up with the tiara. Pfft…who cares about a tiara? I bought myself one and wore it whenever she wasn’t around, anyway.
Still have it, and still wear it (when no one is around). So there, Cherie!
Once upon a time, in a land far, far away (my kitchen), there lived a hungry girl (me) who yearned for a platter of saffron rice on which a stewed lamb shank was perched in its juicy drippiness. Like the one she once devoured in the outdoor kitchen of her grandmamma’s, where just right outside palm tress swayed gently in the breeze and the sound of a phoenix singing could be heard from a distance. (Actually it was a Persian restaurant in Washington DC, my grandmother was vegan and would have never cooked lamb, and phoenixes are not even real, let alone sing.)
In this state of yearning, the girl wandered aimlessly so and was soon transported into a magical place, where anything and everything you could ever want, you can have with just a snap of your fingers (in real life, this place is called the internet, and you click your mouse to command things to come forward.)
She came across a tavern, where outside there was an enticing display of le plat du jour, featuring lamb shank curry, the very thing she was yearning for. Alas, the tavern was abandoned, and there was not a single soul around to help her procure the curry. (I follow Lucy on her blog, Feast Without Regret, where I found her excellent lamb shank curry recipe. Unfortunately, it seems she’s no longer active on that blog. She does, however, have another blog.)
This is Lucy’s curry
It soon dawned on the girl that the idea of a magical land seemed to be but a big, cruel joke. (No matter how hard I clicked my mouse, I could not command that curry to come forward. This internet thing is the biggest tease there is.)
So the girl swore right there and then, a la Scarlett O’Hara,”As God is my witness, they’re not going to beat me. I’m going to live through this and when it’s all over, I’ll never be hungry again. No, nor any of my folk, if I have to lie, steal, cheat or kill. As God is my witness, I’ll never be hungry again, for lamb shank curry!”
When I was a child, I had a nanny who told me that if I ever swallowed fruit seeds, I would sprout trees out of my belly button. She showed me proof. She had a huge scar on her belly button, she said was from the surgery to uproot her tree.
This was a scary thought for a little girl, of course. But even as I was entering adulthood, I always made sure I never accidentally swallowed any seed of any kind. Not because I still believed in my nanny’s tall tale, but because I didn’t want to have a surgery. Needles scared me to death.
So, I never swallowed pomegranate seeds. I always sucked on the arils and spat out the seeds. Which made the eating of fresh pomegranates a chore. Which resulted in the annual piling up of dried-up pomegranates in the fruit bowl, because invariably I got tired of the sucking and the spitting. But I could never resist buying these pomegranates every time I saw them.
Like today at the market. I went there to get other things, but who can pass piles of pomegranates without a second look, and without picking them up? These are the fruits of the ancient gods and goddesses, after all. Why, Persephone survived just by eating several pomegranate seeds while being captive in the underworld.
The question now is what to do with them? I can always suck and spit, as usual. But I should do better than that. These pomegranates deserve a significant spot on the dinner table. They’ve earned it, having been around since ancient times.
Did you know they’re mentioned in the Bible, the Qur’an, and the Talmud? The ancient civilizations of China and Egypt revered them. I’m finally catching on. Here’s dinner tonight; it’s all about pomegranates.
Roasted Cornish Hens in Pomegranate Sauce
2 Cornish Hens
Pomegranate Sauce (Recipe follows)
Pomegranate seeds (arils) for garnish
For the marinade:
3 tbsp pomegranate juice
2 tbsp olive oil
Zest of 1 lemon, grated finely (a microplane is the best tool for this)
Juice of 1/2 lemon (about 2 tbsp.)
Salt & pepper
1. Mix all the marinade ingredients in a large ziploc bag, and marinate hens in it for at least 2 hours.
2. Drain hens, discard marinade.
3. In a large skillet, brown hens with a little bit of olive oil. Transfer to a roasting pan.
4. Roast in a 350° F oven, for about 45-60 minutes, depending on the size of the hens. Mine were small; they needed only 45 minutes.
5. Baste with Pomegranate Sauce that has been mixed with olive oil, during the last 15 minutes of roasting time.
6. Drizzle sauce over hens before serving. Sprinkle pomegranate seeds for garnish.
1 cup pomegranate juice (fresh is best, otherwise use unsweetened bottled juice)
Juice from half a lemon
1 tbsp olive oil
1 small onion, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 cardamom pods, smashed
1 cinnamon stick or 1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tbsp sugar
1. Sauté onion and garlic in olive oil until completely soft.
2. Add cardamom and cinnamon, stir to distribute.
3. Add lemon juice, pomegranate juice, and sugar. Bring to a boil.
4. Reduce heat to simmer, and cook until sauce is thickened and is reduced to about 1/2 cup.
– Use about 1 tbsp of this sauce, mixed with 1 tbsp of olive oil, to baste Cornish hens during the last 15 minutes of roasting.
– Save 2 tbsp of this sauce for the salad.
– To the rest of the sauce, add 1/2 cup of pomegranate seeds. Add 1 or 2 tbsp of pan drippings to this, mix, heat briefly, then drizzle over hens before serving.
Pomegranate Tomato Salad
2 cups of a mix of red & yellow cherry tomatoes, sliced in half
1/2 red onion, diced
1 small bell/sweet pepper, diced
1 small cucumber, diced
Some parsley & mint, finely chopped
For the dressing:
2 tbsp pomegranate sauce
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp lemon juice
1/4 tsp ground cumin
Salt & pepper
Toss everything together.
Pomegranate Carrot Rice
I followed Fae’s recipe for Carrot Rice to make this. The only thing I did differently was to add toasted pistachios and pomegranate seeds. I also used pomegranate juice-infused dried cranberries.
There is not going to be any sucking and spitting at the dinner table tonight. These pomegranate seeds are meant to be crunched and eaten entire.
This will be the first time I’ll swallow a pomegranate seed. Hard to tell if I will ever sprout a tree. I’m a gardener, so I know generally how long these seeds take to germinate. A pomegranate seed can very well start sprouting in my tummy right after dinner tonight. Check up on me in a week or two, to see if it’ll make its way into my belly button.
“Get rid of it!” He said gruffly, looking at her growing waistline. He meant the baby, he didn’t want it. He already had 5 children, from 2 previous marriages. Ni was half his age when she married him, barely out of her teenage years. Her father had arranged the marriage before he died, a common practice in the village she came from. Atim had worked with her father as farm hands.
“He is a good man, Ni,” her father had told her. “Just unlucky, both wives died so young. He’ll treat you well. I’ve seen him around his mother; he treats her with respect. That’s how a man should regard his mother.”
She had nothing to say. It wasn’t her place to disobey. Besides, Atim had paid for her hand. There was a sum of money and a heifer that a mutual friend had delivered to her parents’ home. The groom-to-be should never have to do the delivery on his own, if he were to follow proper etiquette. Her father was pleased. Her mother had looked at her with tears in her eyes. Ni knew it wasn’t out of happiness, but of sorrow. Her only daughter was going to be a stepmother to 5 children.
The baby was going to be a strong boy, Ni could feel in her heart. How she longed to have someone she could love as her own, someone who would love her back unconditionally. The baby was going to be that someone. The baby who was now lost, because Atim had not wanted to have him. He had gone to the village medicine woman and came back with a bottle of rejuvenating water.
Ni woke up in the small village hospital thinking she was in her principal’s office. Then he saw Atim’s face. He looked concerned, but she wasn’t moved. Her heart had turned cold, forever. No man would ever touch it again. She refused to look at her tummy and apply the ointment the nurse had told her to do twice a day to reduce swelling and possible scarring.
Then one day, on the way to the market to buy the family’s daily food, Ni’s feet decided to keep going, past the market, past the old temple, and into the main street. She stopped only once, right in front of the post office, to catch her breath.
She settled down briefly on an iron bench, and with her mouth open, inhaled the air deeply. I can breathe, she thought, I can breathe. For the first time in 4 years, I can breathe!
She arrived at the big house where her cousin was employed as a domestic helper looking quite radiant. She simply told her cousin she needed employment to help out with the family’s financial situation. No question was asked; everybody knew life in the village was hard and often daughters and wives looked for employment away from home. She was allowed to stay for a few days, until the lady of the house asked if she would take a job in the big city.
“My sister just had a baby. She has her hands full, she could use your help.” The farther, the better, Ni thought. She was driven to the train station. A letter was written on her behalf. 5 hours later, she arrived at the yellow house with the maroon door, in the big city.
A beautiful lady peered through the window, then smiled and let her in. She read the letter while patting her baby to sleep, and started explaining what Ni’s duties were. Ni only listened partially and refused the offer for a glass of water. She couldn’t take her eyes off the baby, a boy the age of her own had he survived the rejuvenating water.
A shy little girl came and sat next to the pretty lady, and another girl, not as shy, started asking Ni to play with her. Ni had found her home. She was meant to be with these children, she was meant to care for this baby. She breathed again, this time not as deep as her first in front of that post office, this time she breathed like any normal person, like any living person. Ni started to live again.
Is the above the true story of how my nanny got her belly button scar? Of course not. It’s totally fictional, completely out of my imagination. My nanny probably did have some kind of surgery, most likely not from a tree removal.