I started writing this post over a month ago. I was having such a hard time writing and spent an hour in front of the computer and only managed to write the first three paragraphs. Then something too close to home happened. Sadly, a dear friend passed away suddenly and unexpectedly. After that I had no desire to sit and write this post because I knew my friend’s loss would find its way into my writing.
This whole post started with the passing of my dear friend Cathy’s mom. We attended the funeral, first going to the burial at the top of the hill in Green Hills Memorial Park. This is a beautiful cemetery and the location of the grave had a gorgeous view of Port of Los Angeles and the surrounding areas. After the burial we went to Cathy’s house where a delicious buffet of food awaited us. For the occasion I made Halvah.
I have always loved Halvah as it is such a delicate and delicious sweet. Unfortunately, for the most part you end up eating Halvah at funerals as this is the ceremony that this dish is mainly associated with. I suppose you could make it on your own if you wanted to but seriously, it has always bummed me out that such delicious dish is made and consumed under such unfortunate circumstances.
While in Iran I went to very few funerals, as I was very young. But I can tell you this, from a child’s prospective they were awfully traumatic. Everyone is dressed in black and the mourners are not shy about displaying their sorrow. What I mean is that there is a lot crying. The set up for each funeral usually was the same, chairs were placed around the circumference of the room. The guests quietly interacted with each other and kept their voices low. Family members or close friends of the family would walk around and offer guests tea and sweets, amongst which was Halvah. I was completely intimidated by the whole process. I think what made it so traumatic for me was the fact that there was such a public display of sorrow, which I am OK with, but it always felt like it was over the top, simply said it was very dramatic. I always wondered if they did that on purpose, just to show that they were really really really heart broken. There was such a immense sense of loss and agony expressed by the mourners. It felt as though any moment they were going to faint from the intensity with which they whipped and rocked back and fourth. Of course there would always be family members and friends who sat close by and comforted the mourners, nevertheless, it felt as though the oxygen would ever so slowly sucked out of the room. The whole room was filled with the very low whispers of those sitting around and the loud cries of those who were close to the deceased. Dra.Ma.Tic.
Years later I attended my very first “western” funeral here in LA. Wow, what a difference. The loss was under such a sad circumstance and I was expecting the worst. A family friend’s twenty something son had accidentally shot himself while playing “Russian Roulette” with his gun. People mourned during the burial and then during the post burial gathering people actually interacted with each other comfortably. Conversations varied from reminiscing about the person who had passed away to other non-related conversations. There was laughter when talking about some happy memories. And OH. MY. GOD, they played music. Let me repeat this: they played music. Not any type of music mind you, but the kind that the person who had passed on liked to listen to. Playing music at a Persian funeral is unheard of. I am mean if anything, it is such an insult to the dead and the family.
Upon my friend’s passing a memorial service was held for him. It was such a wonderful ceremony which truly celebrated him and his life, which anyone can attest that he lived to the fullest.
With this said, I would like to dedicated this post to my dear friend Russ who passed away on September 11, 2009 a few days shy of his 53rd birthday. His passing was a huge loss to those of us who knew him. He was a kind and generous soul. I met him on a camping trip in Catalina in September of 2005. Since then we shared many fun hiking, camping, and backpacking adventures together. He was the one who helped me purchase all of my gear, as he was the expert in the subject matter. We often carpooled together to the various hikes or camping trips that we went to. He always showed up to parties and never ran out of subjects to talk to people about, ranging from latest events, hole in the wall restaurants, sci fi, his travels, and his various hobbies. Those of us who knew him well, chuckled when he told the same stories to the new people that he met.
Russ had a heart attack earlier this year, which came as a surprise to us because he was very active. He has spent the recent months taking it easy and recuparating. I take much comfort in the fact that I saw him at a mutual friend’s gathering 5 days before he passed. He tried the couple of Persian dishes that I had made and liked them both! I also take much comfort in having gone to his memorial service where a 150 seat room was filled to capacity with people standing in the isles. For once the four groups in his life came together: his family, his work collegues and friends, his dancing friends, and us, his adventure group friends. It was a wonderful memorial highlighted with two slide shows and many wonderful speeches by those who knew him.
When they opened up the floor for anyone to come down and share a memory, I made my way to the mic and shared our favorite little story. We met in the showers. Precisely, in the men’s shower. It is a known fact that women take forever to shower. I had just gotten back from snorkeling and got tired of waiting for the person who was in the women’s shower. To make matters worst, there was another person ahead of me. The men’s shower was empty. It was a nice outdoors shower with three shower heads. I went in, figuring that I had my bathing suite on and if anyone came in I would announce the fact that I was in there. Sure enough in walks Russ. We ended up chatting away while showering (in our suits, let me be clear on that) and even shared shampoo and body soap. That was the beginning of our friendship and a story that we loved telling people because when they heard that I was in the men’s shower their minds immediately start wandering. So we always giggled when we told our “how we met story.”
Now, onwards with the Halva recipe!
3 cups flour
2 sticks butter
1 1/4 cup sugar
1 1/4 rose water
a pinch saffron, ground
1 1/3 cup water
Place sugar and water in a sauce pan and bring to a boil. Remove from heat and add rose water and ground saffron. Set aside to cool down
Melt butter in a non-stick pot.
Let the flour brown on low heat making sure that you constantly stir so that it won’t burn. Think of this part of this recipe as the first stage of making Bechamel sauce or better known as Roux. It is imperative that you stay on top of it. The color of the flour will gradually change to a light brown and also you will start smelling the cooked flour. This will take a while, so be patient.
Once the flour is ready pour the syrup over it.
Remove from hear and make sure that the roux and syrup are mixed well together. If it is too dry add 1/4 of cup of water to it.
You will notice that the mixture has the consistency of a paste. Place paste in a dish and flatten it out with the back of a spoon. Decorate the edges as shown above by pressing the back of the spoon onto the paste. With the edge of the spoon make gentle indentations and then sprinkle with slivered pistachios. It takes a little practice to make the shape look nice.
This recipe was enough for two platters: a big one as seen above, and a medium one seen in the first picture and the one above this one. Also the picture above was the first platter that I decorated. The second one definitely looks better.