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Food & Co.
To my parents, on Mother’s Day

By Parissa Sohie
May 11, 2003
The Iranian

Last night, my husband and I played host to some friends. Most were just co-workers, but it was still a nice dinner party. I had a great time -- in an Iranian hostess kind of way. I spent the entire day in the kitchen cooking and prepping food; occasionally singing, sometimes fully concentrated and focused on the new recipes I was trying and occasionally trying to ignore the stabbing pain in my back.

I continued this process for hours. I started some time around 10am and maintained my connection to the outside world by listening to NPR and sending my husband out on my errands: some bread from here, cheese from there, a bag of forgotten ice from another place. Had my mother had a helper like this, I think her parties would have been less stressful to her -- I’ll get back to that later.

Around 6:30 pm I was pretty much done with the food stuff. Thanks to M’s help the house was clean and presentable. I showered, I primped and waited. The great thing is that all of guests arrived about an hour late. We had a little time to crash and relax, making predictions of what people would say and what they would do...

And then everyone came in a slow trickle. The first guests had a hard time finding our apartment, later guests could find us from the sound of laughter and talking. There was lots of food -- really. Even though people were constantly eating, my kitchen is overflowing with food right now.

Eventually people started leaving. Around 1 am, the only people left were the few we do things with more regularly. They claimed to be tired from eating, and too comfortable on the floor to get up and leave. One guest kept saying, if you want me to leave just kick me out, otherwise I’ll just lay here and nibble on food.

Of course, I was fine with this because people constantly eating food meant the food had to be good and if the food was good, that meant that I was a good cook and a good hostess. Yes, it is all about me. I was happy with people lying on my floor, stuffed to the gills and content. Of course, since my guests insisted I tell them when we wanted them to leave, I remembered an old story my grandfather used to tell:

A man is staying at a friend’s house. A month goes by and there is no indication that he will be leaving. Another month goes by and the host and hostess are beginning to miss their normal lives.

So one night the husband comes up with a scheme with his wife: We pretend to have a really big fight and make him judge to see who is right. He will feel so awkward that he will offer to leave and let us resolve our problem...

So the next day, the husband and wife wake up and the husband picks a fight with her. The name calling and abuse keeps escalating and the guest keeps minding his own business and eating as if nothing is happening.

Finally, the husband looks to his guest and says, “You’ve been here for two months and know us pretty well -- who’s right?”

The guest looks at both of them and says, “Friend, I’ve been here for two months and if I stay here for two more, I don’t think I will see a bad act from either one of you.”

That of course didn’t get rid of our friends; we still talked and ate for a couple of hours. I was too tired to think at the time, but in the morning, I called my parents to wish my mom a happy Mother’s Day. I told her about the party and I told her about the food; I told my dad about my storytelling and party-throwing... They both laughed and seemed to share the experience as if they had been there. And then it occurred to me, they were there.

My mother was there not just because of the many platters she has contributed to my house, but because she is the one who has taught me to throw parties with too much food. She is the one who taught me to spend hours in the kitchen perfecting recipes to impress and feed guests.

I remember her rifling through cookbooks for hours to find the perfect combination of familiar Persian foods and “new” non-Persian recipes for her parties. People would come and pretty much eat until they could move anymore -- God knows we NEVER even got close to finishing the food on the night of the parties. There were always leftovers for breakfast.

My mom and I would wake up kind of early and start cleaning up and washing dishes and eating cold leftovers, giggling in the kitchen at things we did or someone had said. The real party started the morning after the dress rehearsal was over. The food was the focal point of our parties, the laughter and happiness came later when we knew we had pulled it off -- again. And my dad, God bless him, would always remember that he had invited a few more people (usually between 5 and 15) at the last minute. He loved a full house.

Looking back, I don’t know what he enjoyed more than people in his home, laughing and eating; with him warming up the stage with a story he would make up and tell with a perfectly straight face. It was at those moments that he was happy. He could bring doctors and laborers; old and young; rich and poor all to his house and they would have fun. The venue and occasion were of absolutely no importance to him: he loved the company.

Once, I remember we were still living in our little two bedroom apartment in Tehran -- my parents first home -- which was kind of small for the five of us. It was a hot summer and we were throwing a party for some friends. People who were big-wigs at some point and people who were just ordinary folk trying to get by were going to come and break bread at our home.

We had no electricity all morning and no water in the afternoon. My mother insisted on making sticky potato perashkis, and God probably couldn’t stop her much less a water shortage. So there we were, prepared for about 16ish people. My dad came home, “By the way, I ran into X, he may be coming as well.” My mother nodded, she was prepared. “He may come with his sister-in-law’s family”. My mom nodded again, after 15 years of marriage to this man, she knew the routine well.

Finally the party started. There were people everywhere. At some point, our neighbor volunteered to sit on the bottom of the stairwell and let our guests in so they wouldn’t have to ring. At some point, a young group of well dress people came (I think there were about seven of them) and smiled, saying they were invited to sing at the party -- Ali had invited them. As we all know there are at least 2 or three Alis in every Iranian party. They came, ate and eventually the leader of the group started singing and taking requests.

Really, there were people everywhere. Some people were sitting outside on the ledge in our yard, because there was no more sitting room in the house. My dad went to thank the singer for his efforts and asked him who he was with. The man pointed in my uncle D’s general direction. Considering how D has always liked a good time and knew quite a few closet musicians, my dad believed this.

The party went on and everyone eventually went home. There was still a lot of food left, everyone expressed awe at the fact that we had done so much on such short notice with such limited resources... My dad went to D when it was all over, and said, “Thanks for inviting the singer. He was pretty good.” D was completely confused, “I didn’t invite him, he told me he was invited by Ali.” Yes, that was how we threw parties: everyone welcome, plenty of food, eventually laughter and entertainment coming together spontaneously.

Now the tradition continues. The good news is M likes this whole idea as much as I do. We think there is nothing that good food and good company can’t fix.

My parents are with me, even if they are a world way.

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