Sunday, January 11, 2015

I want to be Vampire Weekend Mom

We had a few friends over for dinner on New Year's Day, and I made Persian New Year Soup. I'm aware that Persian New Year is near the end of March, not at the beginning of January, but the symbolism still seemed appropriate, both in general and for a kind of hidden, idiosyncratic reason that I'm about to explain.

The recipe I used came from Silk Road Cooking, a collection of vegetarian recipes that spans Italy to China. The author is Iranian-American culinary scholar Najmieh Batmanglij, also known in our house as Vampire Weekend Mom.

The moniker comes from a brief New Yorker article of the same title, in which Margaret Talbot recounts meeting Batmanglij at a Washington, D.C. party in 2010. The women get to chatting and Talbot soon learns that one of Najmieh's sons, Rostam, is a songwriter and multi-instrumentalist for the indie rock band Vampire Weekend; her other son, Zal, is a filmmaker.

The rest of the article shapes interviews with Najmieh and the two Batmanglij boys into a kind of testament about raising creative children and living a creative life as a parent. I'd read the article when it was first published in 2013, but I admit it didn't make a terribly strong impression on me at the time. Then, a few months ago, a rousing family dance party featuring "Diane Young" prompted me to recall the quirky title and reread it.

I have read the essay about a dozen times since then and never fail to get choked up, so perfectly does it seem to encapsulate my deepest desires for motherhood, family life, and my own creative pursuits, as well as my deepest convictions about how these things can be combined and even feed each other.

Of course, I had to buy a copy of my new role model's cookbook. Everything I have made from it has been excellent (although, it must be admitted, profoundly unphotogenic in the way that the plant-based peasant dishes I love most usually are). And, as part of my effort to channel Vampire Weekend Mom, it seemed right to start off the new year by cooking one of her recipes.

Relatedly, also on New Year's Day a friend dared me to join a 32-day writing challenge, and write for an hour each day from January 1 through February 1. Most days I've been splitting my hour in half, with one writing session during that gloriously productive no-one-else-is-up-yet hour of the early morning, and the other sandwiched in between homework, dinner, and my girl's bedtime.

Each night I announce, "I'm going to do my writing now, I'll be back in a half hour and please don't disturb me," and I don't feel the least bit guilty about hiding myself away from my family to write. On the contrary, I think I'm showing my daughter an important lesson. After all, that's the first commandment of Vampire Weekend Mom, as Talbot puts it: "Model creativity by being creative yourself, and in so doing, give your kids a realistic sense of how much work is involved." For a whole host of reasons, I wish I'd done this years ago. But I'm glad I'm doing it now, and I'll tell myself it's baby, baby, baby, baby right on time.

Ash-e Reshteh (Persian New Year Soup)
Adapted from Silk Road Cooking: A vegetarian journey, by Najmieh Batmanglij

For the soup:
1/2 cup vegetable oil
4 large onions, peeled and thinly sliced lengthwise
10 cloves garlic, peeled
2 tsp salt
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp turmeric
1/2 cup brown lentils
1/2 cup beluga lentils
10-12 cups water
1/2 pound linguine, broken in half
1 Tbsp unbleached flour, diluted in 2 cups water
1 bunch scallions, white and green parts, coarsely chopped (about 1/2 cups)
1/2 cup chopped fresh dill
1 cup coarsely chopped fresh parsley
1 lb. package frozen chopped spinach
1 (15-oz) can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1/4 cup rice vinegar

For the garnish (nana daq):
2 Tbsp vegetable oil
2 cloves garlic, peeled
2 Tbsp dried mint flakes (the contents of two mint herbal tea bags will do here, in a pinch)
1/2 tsp turmeric

Heat the oil in a large soup pot over medium heat. Add the onion and stir-fry for 10 minutes until translucent. Crush the garlic through a garlic press into the pot and add the salt, pepper, and turmeric. Stir-fry for another minute or so to blend the flavors. Add both types of lentils and stir to coat them with the oil. Pour in 10 cups of water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover and simmer for 20 minutes.

Add the noodles and flour, and cook for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Add the scallions, dill, parsley, spinach, and chickpeas and cook a few minutes longer to heat through. Test the lentils to make sure they are done.

Meanwhile, make the nana daq garnish. Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a small skillet over low-medium heat, add the garlic and stir-fry gently for a minute or two. Don't let it get too brown or it will be bitter. Remove from heat, add the mint and turmeric, and stir well. Set aside.

Just before serving, remove the soup from the heat, add the vinegar, and stir thoroughly with a wooden spoon. Adjust seasoning to taste. Stir the nana daq into the soup or garnish each bowl with a spoonful.

Serves 12.


  1. I'm not usually a "sign" kind of person, but I'm going to take your post, together with a stern, no holds-barred, kick-in-the-pants email I received from a friend last night, as a sign.

    First off, the idea that creativity in kids can stem from creativity modelled by parents is really interesting to me. My parents were always busy creating something or another; I, in turn, feel like there's something essential missing if I don't have at least one project on the go. I have yet to see if this is going to be the case with my three children - for the longest time I despaired (I know, strong word, but there it is!) that I hadn't been able to cultivate a craft in my daughter. And then last year, at the age of 17, she asked me to - once again - teach her how to crochet, and she hasn't stopped since! This makes me happier than perhaps it should! (And I still have hopes for the boys...maybe woodworking?)

    As to the writing: what you wrote about taking time for writing is exactly the kick in the pants I've needed for a long time. Writing is something I've aspired to ever since I was a child, but it's also something I find incredibly difficult. Unlike other creative pursuits, there's often no tangible outcome at the end. Or if there is, there's the rather discouraging thought that even though it's a wonderful piece of writing, no one will ever read it. Contrast that with knitting mittens: I can see the rows coming along, there's the wow-factor of "my hands created this!", and my daughter is thrilled when she gets them! And as a SAHM, there's always something! Something tangible to do for which there's immediate results! Several years ago I managed to carve out time - excusing myself from my family - in order to write. And it was really productive time, and I loved that I was finally doing what I always wanted to do. Enter our move back to Canada and our house-from-hell, and my life has unfortunately become one excuse after another. And even though my 2015 resolution was to once again carve out time to write, I wasn't doing it! So although I'm sure you didn't mean for your post to be a general kick-in-the-pants to your readers, I'm going to take it that way. Many Thanks!

  2. That's fabulous, Marian, I'm glad to have played a part in the kick-in-the-pants you needed. Did you manage any writing this past week? I hope so! Would love to know what you are working on when you get started. I know what you mean about the immediate practical utility of knitting and other directly domestic-related forms of creativity. That can be really rewarding, when someone uses what you make. But I hope you are able to make time for other forms of creativity that might take longer to reach an "audience," since that seems to be calling to you too.

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