Monday, March 21, 2011

Norooz Pirooz

Spring is here with promises of longer days, an awakening of the earth from its winter slumber, and with it another “Norooz” (Persian New Year). Norooz is celebrated among people of Persian descent on the first day of Spring and is a tradition that dates back three thousand years.

On this day, Persian families gather around their ‘Haftseen’ (Table of Seven S’s), embrace the New Year together, while the children await the crisp money bills they will receive from the elders in the family. (I have to admit, I still await that last part just as impatiently as when I was 7!!!)

Each item that is placed on the Haftseen table has symbolic significance, and embodies all things good and pure.  This year I chose the following Seven S’s for my table;

1.       Sonbol – Hyacinth flower – Symbolizing the coming of spring
2.       Sabzeh – Wheat Grass – Symbolizing affluence
3.       Somaq – Sumac – Symbolizing sunrise
4.       Seer- Garlic – Symbolizing medicine and health
5.       Seeb- Apple – Symbolizing beauty 
6.       Sekke – Coins – Symbolizing prosperity
 7.       Serkeh – Vinegar – Symbolizing old age and patience
Other items that are placed on the table include:
·         Painted eggs – symbolizing fertility 
·         Lit Candles – symbolizing enlightenment and happiness
·         A mirror – symbolizing truth and the reflection of the real world
·         A book of poetry such as Rumi or Hafez, or a religious text such as the Qoran or Avesta 
·         A bowl of gold fish (no, not the crackers) – symbolizing life and the constellation of Pisces which the sun is leaving while making its way into the constellation of Aries.(I didn't have the goldfish on my table this year, since I'm not so great at taking care of pets ;) )
This year, I decided to create a mini Hyancinth and Wheat Grass garden as my Haftseen focal point.  I placed my flower pots and wheat grass pots inside a mirrored tray, and packed it in with Spanish moss to help cover the plastic pots. Afterwards, it was time to adorn the tray with some white pearl strands to give it a little extra umph. 
After the Hyacinth garden was placed on my mirrored coffee table, the rest of the Haftseen items found their place. With a little re-adjusting here and there, the table was set and ready to receive friends and family. 
I hope that this new year fills your homes with laughter, your bodies with health, and your hearts with love! Have a glorious new year! Norooz Pirooz!

Sunday, March 6, 2011


I've been on a baking binge lately. Italian Chocolate Almond cake, Berry Cobbler, Pear Tart, and Red Velvet Cupcakes have been regulars. I take pleasure in reading recipes and figuring out what I can do to change them… Yes, I have bastardized Paula Deen’s Red Velvet Cupcake recipe to perfection, and I’m damn proud of it!

This weekend was a gloomy one here in San Francisco. With the rain coming down steadily the cold stalls at the flower market weren’t exactly calling, especially since my cupboards were chock full of all the necessary ingredients to make a batch of Red Velvet Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Icing. Mmmmm… So, I got to baking, and about an hour and a half later I had two dozen cupcakes staring up at me in all their caloric glory going: “EAT ME, EAT ME!!!!”  Well, I am happy to say that I beat the urge to gorge on all of them simultaneously, so I decided to play with the cupcakes as a centerpiece.
Main platter full of cupcakes
use different glasses/candle holders at varying
heights as bases to add interest to the setup
“Sweet-tooth tables” are all the rage recently. Most weddings these days will have a candy station, while some will even have cupcakes instead of wedding cake. If you have an upcoming afternoon tea party, a book club gathering, bridal shower, or even a baby shower consider setting up a cupcake-scape of your own. It’s a less expensive alternative to flowers, and everyone will enjoy eating a cupcake or two (maybe three…ok, Four!)  

Since I can’t send each one of you lovely readers a cupcake, I’ve decided to share the recipe in hopes that you too will have as much fun baking and decorating as I do.

Chemical Make-up:
Cupcake Ingredients (all organic):                                                 
2 ½ cups all-purpose flour                                           
1 ½ cups sugar                                                            
1 tsp baking soda                                                        
1 tsp salt                                                                    
2-3 tsp cocoa powder
1 ½ cups vegetable oil
1 cup buttermilk, room temperature
2 large eggs
2 tbsps red food coloring
1 tsp white distilled vinegar
2 tsp vanilla extract

Cream Cheese Frosting Ingredients (all organic):
8 oz cream cheese
1 stick unsalted butter
2 cups sifted confectioners’ sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract

Lab Process:
  1.  Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2.  Line 2 (12-cup) muffin pans with cupcake papers.
  3.  In a medium mixing bowl, sift together the flour, sugar, baking soda, salt, and cocoa powder. In a separate large bowl gently beat together the oil, buttermilk, eggs, food coloring, vinegar, and vanilla with a handheld electric mixer.
  4.  Add the sifted dry ingredients to the wet and mix until smooth and thoroughly combined.
  5. Divide the batter evenly among the cupcake papers (about 2/3 filled)
  6. Bake in oven for about 25 minutes. Test the cupcakes for “doneness” with a toothpick. If the toothpick comes out of the cupcake clean, it’s ready!
  7.  Remove from oven and cool completely before frosting.
Frosting Mix:
a.     In a medium mixing bowl, beat the cream cheese, butter, and vanilla together until smooth. Add the sugar and on low speed, beat until incorporated. Increase the speed to high and mix until very light and fluff
b.    If you don’t actually have a frosting cone, use a Ziploc bag that has been pierced on one corner as a frosting cone and apply your desired frosting designs
c.     Sprinkle on some chopped pecans and BON APPETIT!