Between perfectly constructed bites of rice, stew, yogurt, and fresh herbs, my parents decried the self-serving edicts of the new president-elect—a man they saw as a fumbling court jester or a wannabe king. But the cracked and weathered are also sometimes the wiser among us. By the end of the night, as we slowly sipped our tea, Baba and Maman reminded me that strongmen in all countries come and go. They shape-shift over time, oceans, and borders, trading in their gilded crowns for holy robes and golden suits and ties. They might annihilate much that is good and true, but hope is always within reach. Before leaving, Baba pulled me in close and urged me to be careful the next day at the airport. “Things are about to change,” he said. “You never know what can happen.”
Exactly one week after Baba’s words of caution, I woke to an even more anxious and confused world. The new gatekeepers had imposed a “travel ban” on seven countries, and Iran had made the cut. The next 24 hours were a blur of panic, protests, and efforts to figure out who exactly was affected. I learned that I was now classified as a kharegee solely because of my birthplace and would be unable to travel for the time being. Four days later, Maman went into surgery, and Baba was rushed to the E.R. in kidney failure. They were at the same hospital, four floors apart, with my brother surfing up and down flights of stairs and keeping me abreast of the situation.
Seasons come and go. Albaloo season, once again, came and went. Book deadlines were extended and met, extended and met. Travel bans were modified, challenged, and ultimately made the law of the land. Maman recovered; Baba’s health continued to decline.
One day this past April, Baba, with my stepmother at his side, walked himself into hospice. His room filled with family and friends bearing platters of baghali polo, okra simmered in a tangy, rich red sauce, and sticky sweet baghlava. He was only missing his favorite dish: khoresh fesenjan. I had promised that I would prepare it for him, but time had not been my ally. At the very last minute, we arranged for my husband, Drew, to fly out to see Baba. He would kiss my father goodbye, exchange a few inappropriate jokes, and come back and be with our girls so I could fly out myself. That night I grabbed a fresh bag of walnuts, cracked open a bottle of pomegranate molasses, and set about making Baba his fesenjan. As with the cherries, I was silencing the fear, pausing the inevitable, the unexpected, and the unfathomable.
Recipes, like memories, are fluid and ever-changing. At best, they can take you by the hand and be your guide, should you need one. I had tested my fesenjan so many times that I could have made it blindfolded in my sleep. But that night I needed a steady hand to take me by the arm. I reached for the galley of my book, a copy of which I had also left at Baba’s bedside. I skipped the headnote and went straight to the recipe. I couldn’t mess this one up.