Once a year, like clockwork, my mother embarks on an adventure to indulge a savage yearning, a selfish desire. She crosses the Atlantic Ocean to see her babies. First stop: (affectionately called) Timbuktu, U.S.A., my adopted hometown. And every year, right there and then, in the middle of the airport, in front of the outlandish stares of onlookers, I turn into her baby girl, rotten to the core.
I watch the crowd, searching for a scarf headed woman whose fashionably dyed crimson hair is peaking through the silk covering. After a couple of days of living in the land of the Great Satan, the scarf will come off, but for now, she just can’t quite bring herself to part with it. Here she is! I see her!
“Did you bring me Faloodeh?” I demand, skipping all the common pleasantries and zealous Iranian courtesies. Enjoyably exasperated, she plays along and hands me a bag of Ajil to shut me up. And while I am stuffing my face, with me in tow, she concentrates on maneuvering through the crowd to reach the baggage claim and fetch her luggage. As long as my mouth is full, she sets a new record every year!
The long ride home takes us through America’s fertile plateau and farm land. Once the Ajil is finished, she offers me a bag of dried Tut and Nochod, and then comes out a piece of Lavashak, followed by Tokhmeh, and finally a hardened Gaz. Meanwhile, she keeps talking, bringing me up-to-date with new births and recent deaths:
I have lost another aunt, my last uncle, and a distant cousin. Our family farm has been divided; the biggest piece bears my name. Two new faces have been added, one through marriage and the other by birth. The old Imamzadeh has been renovated…
I keep eating so that I can’t shout “what for? It should have been demolished!” My mother wouldn’t appreciate the bad omen such a wish could bring to her trip! Once we arrive at the house, my sons surround her and lay their claim on her. Green with envy, I stand back and make room for them. The house is momentarily in an absolute state of chaos. Everyone is running around to haul her luggage to the guest room. My sons are talking nonstop in unison, reporting the latest events in our lives:
“I have a new pet salamander! Would you like to pet it? You could sleep with it!”
“I went camping all by myself in the spring! Look! I gashed my knee!”
“The mare had a baby! She doesn’t let anyone near the colt!”
“I pinched a girl in school and got into loads of trouble. I hate my teacher! I am never going back to school! Ever!”
Keeping up with the boys, my mother cringes at every bit of information thrown at her but acts interested. I am still waiting at the fringes. When all is said and done, she will be mine again. Soon my sons scatter to their rooms or the yard and leave my mother to unpack. By this time, I have lost all self control and want nothing but a bowl of Faloodeh. For nearly twenty years, I have refused to accept my mother’s excuses explaining away why she can’t bring me Faloodeh. She enlightens me with her wisdom at every opportunity: “It is just impossible! It will melt. Faloodeh is prepared on the spot and must be eaten right away!” A few years ago, I even bought a special cooler equipped with dry ice to send to Iran. She was determined to bring it back full of Faloodeh, but evidently, a family friend who runs a restaurant talked her out of it. I am still hunting him down to give him a piece of my mind.
So with my sons out of the picture, I barge into the guest room to search for Faloodeh, but before I can rip through her luggage, she surprises me with the coveted news:
“I have brought you Faloodeh!” she announces proudly.
“Try looking in that one,” she adds, pointing to one of the suitcases. Staying calm and collected, I search the black bag but don’t find my prize.
“Maybe the other one!” she directs me towards the brown suitcase. I search again! Still nothing! By this time, I am at the verge of throwing the biggest tantrum a little girl has ever had but decide to hold back a little longer.
“Search this one,” my mother mumbles. “I hope I didn’t leave it behind.”
I dive into the last suitcase and pull everything out without a care for any of her valuables. I can’t help it; I am on a mission!
“I found it!” I howl with joy. At the bottom of the last suitcase, wrapped inside a thick pink plastic bag, I find a bag of “Batons de Riz Secs Chewy.” Translation: Chewy Dried Rice Sticks, Made in China.
“What is this?” I cry with rage.
“It is the main ingredient to make Faloodeh,” my mother explains. “Look! I have even brought you a bottle of Sharbat!”
“How can you make Faloodeh with Chinese chewy dried rice sticks?” I ask sarcastically but don’t wait for the answer. I leave the room, stumping my feet and grumbling some inaudible insult. My mother follows me to recite the recipe:
آب و شکر و گلاب را با هم مخلوط می کنیم تا شکر کاملا حل بشه و محلول تقریبا حالت اشباع پیدا می کنه و کمی کشدار میشه. اگر می خواهید مثل من ظرف را در فریزر بگذارید بهتره از یک ظرف فلزی برای این کار استفاده کنید تا زودتر نتیجه بگیرید. صد البته میشه با دستگاه بستنی ساز هم این کار را کرد ولی من خودم این طریق را ترجیح می دهم.
رشته های چینی را توی آب جوش می ریزیم و به مدت ۱۰ دقیقه تا یک ربع روی حرارت ملایم می پزیم. وقتی رشته ها کاملا نرم شد و کمی هم لعاب دار آنها را داخل آبکش ریخته و آب سرد زیاد روش می ریزیم و میگذاریم تا آب اضافی اش برود.
بعد از حدود ۲-۳ ساعت ظرف را از داخل فریزر در میاریم و با قاشق بهم می زنیم و رشته های چینی را داخلش ریخته و خیلی آروم طوری که رشته ها از هم نپاشه شروع به هم زدن می کنیم.
فالوده شما حاضر است.
اگر رشته ها را زود از روی آتش بردارید ممکن است در آخر کار که رشته ها را توی یخ می ریزید اون حالت سفتی که برای فالوده لازمه را نداشته باشه. پس حتما بگذارید خوب بپزه.
At the end, the truth comes out: A friend of a friend of a friend, living somewhere in England, comes up with the recipe to quench his thirst for Faloodeh. The infamous recipe is passed on from hand to hand until it lands on my mother’s doorstep. Regardless of my objections, she is determined to prepare it for the first time!
“You mean, you haven’t even tried the darn thing once?” I shout from behind my bedroom door. (By now, I have locked myself in there and refuse to come out.)
Needless to say, she prepares the God-awful thing several times during her stay. Oblivious to the passage of time, I continue eating the concoction grudgingly and complain. But soon reality hits me: it is time for her to leave… All of a sudden, panic sets in; overwhelming grief showers over me: I miss my Maman!
My youngest son is now sitting on her lap, cradling his curls on her chest. She caresses his hair and remembers my father with a sigh: “You have your grandpa’s curls. But, thank God, not his nose!” she murmurs jokingly. Then my mother bursts into singing a Gillani folksong filled with heart ranching lyrics. The nostalgia is the story of a wondering peddler overwhelmed by the love of his homeland:
Can you hear
my howl to the crescent moon?
In the valley
where the blood of innocent bloom?
I am the peddler with the cart full of gloom.
Before the wild tulip fades,
before the grandmother dies,
before the baby lies,
I am coming home!
Look for me in the valley.
I am the peddler
with a bucket full of raindrops
to wash away the teardrops
of every Pari.
A few days before leaving, my mother dresses up in her cowgirls outfit and declares her intentions to my sons: “I am going to go out there into the pasture and have a look at that colt of yours!” The boys jump off their seats and rush to follow her. My pleas of caution are lost in the wind: The mare is going to kill them all!
“Why don’t you join us, Cowboy?” my mother invites her son-in-law who sheepishly follows the procession but gains his confidence once he is armed with a cowboy hat and a shotgun. Before stepping out the door, my husband says to his mother-in-law, “I think I ought to bring a gun. Just in case!” In response, she beams with an approving smile. My mother loves nothing in this life more than the company of an armed cowboy!
Since ten years ago, when I called home to announce my engagement to an American rancher, my mother has been smitten with the “cowboy.”
“A genuine cowboy? An honest to goodness cowboy? Just like the movies?” she shouted into the phone.
“No Maman. He is not a cowboy. Not even close. You have been watching too much TV,” I replied.
“My goodness! What am I going to wear for the wedding? Where am I going to find a cowboy outfit in Tehran?” she pleads with grief.
“You don’t need a cowboy outfit. Just an elegant, simple dress will do,” I reassured her.
“I am not going to any cowboy wedding in a regular dress. At least, I need a cowgirl scarf. Do you know what I am talking about?” she asks.
“I don’t know what you are talking about, Maman. American women wore bonnets in the Wild West. Are you telling me that you want to wear a bonnet to my wedding?”
The rest of the conversation was a lost cause. She kept yelling over her shoulder to let everyone in the neighborhood know that I was about to marry a cowboy. Since then she has called my husband the “cowboy,” and my husband has enjoyed the title despite my annoyance. As a matter of fact, the two of them have conspired to utter the term “cowboy” in front me as often as possible!
So, now that you are aware of my mother’s obsession with the Wild West, let’s get back to her adventure with the mare and the colt. Once in the pasture, my mother orders everyone to stand back and nonchalantly attempts to approach the colt. Sensing danger, the mother horse dashes forward to intimidate the intruder, but my mother snaps at her in Gillani dialect: “Back off!” The mare obeys and lowers her head in submission! None of us can believe what is happening in front of our eyes: My mother is petting the colt and serenading her in Gillani language.
“Have you been talking to the horses in Gillani?” my husband wants to know.
“No. They have been taking night classes in the nearby community college,” I reply.
Ignoring my sarcasm and amidst the bursts of laughter from every corner of the barn and the meadow, he asks his beloved mother-in-law to teach him the command and other potentially useful words. From then on, my mother devotes whatever time she has left with us to train the mare…
Finally the time comes for the dreaded departure. I am a wreck; I scold the kids, kick the dog, shoo the cat, and snap at my husband. No one, nothing can console me… I can’t even drive my mother to the airport. So the cowboy loads up the pick up truck to take her away.
In Timbuktu, U.S.A, I am left behind with a bowl of Faloodeh… Chinese style.
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