Tapestry Suppers had our third event in as many months last weekend, this time featuring a spread of veritable Persian delights for almost 40 guests. We raised over $1,000 for the selected charity Moms Against Poverty (MAP), and everyone went home with full bellies and full hearts. Can’t wait to do this again for our next event, an Italian lunch benefiting Mercy Corps on Sunday June 25. Tickets go on sale June 12 and if you’re on our mailing list you’ll be the first to get access. In the meantime, enjoy the photos from Saturday!

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For our next Tapestry Suppers event I’m really excited to share the words and culinary talent of my friend and yoga teacher, Mojdeh Z. Coming from a family where the cooking and sharing of food was part of the fabric of daily life, she understands, intuitively, the power of the meal in forging connections with others, as you will see in her story below.

A few years ago she invited a small group of us for a simple Persian lunch. We were greeted with a spread enough to feed 10 or more hungry souls. There was rice prepared two ways, an assortment of salads, a range of stews, dips, herbs, bread and don’t forget the sweets! It was a homecooked Persian feast, which is always the best kind. I’m thrilled that more people will get to taste her delicious cooking on Saturday, May 20 with proceeds benefiting Moms Against Poverty (MAP). Join us by purchasing a ticket on Eventbrite.


Mojdeh, aged about 8-10 years old here enjoying the sun in her father’s citrus orchard.

Where did you grow up? Please describe what your hometown was like.

I grew up in Dezful, Iran, the oldest of four siblings. Dezful was then a small city in the state of Khuzestan. This region of Iran is famous for its vast oil reserves as well as agriculture. My father owned agricultural lands in the countryside. He had the vision of turning all his land into citrus orchards. I grew up seeing my father growing citrus trees from seeds and eventually planting them in the land. He built a house in the middle of his first orchard and when I was 5 years old we moved from the city into this house. I grew up loving this house, the land, the citrus orchards, and all that comes with living in the country: fresh air, water, fresh fruits and vegetables to name a few. This home and the orchard were a huge playground for my siblings and I. Our house was always filled with other family members and friends and the children always wanted to stay over because we would all have a blast running around in the orchards, climbing trees and playing.

From 1st through 6th grade my father drove me to and from the city daily for school. Once I reached 7th grade we moved back to the city. Again, my father built another house there in order for us to be close to middle and high school. Education was very important in my family and that was the reason that I came to the US: to pursue higher education. When I finished high school, I applied to several universities and the first acceptance letter came from Utah State University in Logan, UT in late February 1978. The letter stated that I had to report to the university office of foreign student advisor in Logan itself by late-March, leaving me three weeks to get a visa and leave Iran. I remember, my father and I drove to Shiraz (the land of Hafiz, the Persian Poet) to the nearest US Embassy, which was over 700 km (435 miles) away. We drove all night to get to our destination.  The next day I received my US student visa. We had nearly two weeks left to get all my affairs in order and say goodbye to family and friends, and go to Tehran to catch my flight. My memories of those days are still surreal, things happened really fast.

It was very hard to leave my family. It was also very scary. I had never travelled on my own within my home country let alone travelling abroad to a country on the other side of the world. As I recall on the plane from Tehran to London, I cried for about five hours. Once we got to London, I decided that I am going to be fine and I stopped crying and surrendered to the circumstances at hand. Initially, I had no intention to stay in the US. My goals were to complete my higher education and return to Iran.  However, once the political climate changed, my plans for the future changed as well.

When did you arrive in the US and what were the early months like?

I arrived in the US on March 20, 1978, in Salt Lake City, UT. I had just turned 18 and had a limited knowledge of the English language. Within a couple of days I was living in West High Rise dormitory at Utah State University in Logan, UT and started my English courses. I adjusted to life in Logan very quickly. I was fortunate enough to have cousins who lived there as well as in other parts of the US and made a lot of friends at the university. People in Logan were very friendly and very respectful. Most of my time in Logan was spent on-campus with other students as well as professors. Utah State University campus was beautiful.  I have very fond memories of my interactions with my colleagues.

For the most part I really never felt alone. During the first six months that I lived on-campus, I started making Persian food in the dormitory kitchen and invited the people that I had met to share the food with. I also started celebrating the Persian new year, NoRooz, and invited all my friends to come to my home for the celebration. I brought people together by making Persian dishes all the time. I would often cook at my friend’s houses just for the purpose of getting together and to share a meal.

Mojdeh (at left) with her younger siblings at home.

Were any other family members able to visit you in the early years?

In September 1978, my younger brother joined me in Logan. This was part of my father’s bigger plan to send all his children to the US but things did not go as planned. By the end of 1979, the US embassies were closed in Iran and travelling to the US became very difficult. In addition, the nine-year war between Iran and Iraq began in September 1980, devastating the whole country. In September 1982 after I graduated from engineering school and before starting graduate studies,  my parents came to visit me in Logan after going to Germany and obtaining a visitor visa. We later found out that my father had been diagnosed with Pancreatic cancer. From September 1982 through January 1983 my father received treatment for his cancer in Ogden, UT. We drove the 50 miles between Logan and Ogden for his treatment on a daily basis. He and my mother returned to Iran in February 1983 where he was taken directly to the hospital and passed away on February 26, 1983. My brother and I were not able to attend his funeral.

Do you still have family in Iran and do you go back to visit them?

One of my sisters still lives in Iran as well as extended family. I have been fortunate enough to be able to go back on a regular basis. The last time I was in Iran, was in 2011 when the four of us, (siblings) and our children were together for my Niece’s wedding.

When did you move to the Bay Area?

After finishing graduate studies I moved to the Bay Area in May 1985 and have been here since. It is very different from Logan and it became my second home right away. I worked for several environmental consulting firms and my last corporate job was with FMC Corporation in San Jose, where I worked as an environmental remediation manager for nearly 16 years. I left FMC in 2007 and after a year of consulting in the environmental field I decided to fully dedicate myself to the healing arts that I had been studying on the side for many years.

Since leaving Iran in 1978, you’re now approaching 40 years of living in the US, how do you feel about that?

I have a lot of family and friends here and have assimilated really well. I am very grateful for my life here in the US. We are blessed with so much. The opportunities are endless. For the most part I have always felt that life in the US has been very supportive of all my aspirations. I am so grateful for the communities that I belong to. Yet, Iran will always be my first home. The energy I feel when I step into Tehran International Airport is beyond explanation. You just cannot help but notice it. I will always miss the sights, the smells, the noise, the conversations in the background, and a lot more. Going to Iran takes me back to my happy childhood memories.

Will you be cooking any family recipes for the event?

Cooking was a big part of our family life. We always had people over for lunch and dinner. My parents threw huge dinner parties and my mother’s cooking was talk of the town. My mother cooked with a lot love.

My family also prepared food for philanthropic purposes. On special occasions, my mother would cook for over 150 people for this purpose. I wish I took pictures of those meals. I have always wanted to do what my parents did, cooking for a good cause. When Danielle asked me to do this, I did not hesitate.

I learned to cook by watching my mother cook. I was 14 years old when I made my first meal for my family.  I really do not have any Persian food recipes written down. I cook from memory. For our May 20th gathering, I will be making Herb Rice (Sabzi Polo), Jeweled Rice (Shirin Polo), Eggplant Stew (Khoresh e Bademjan), Eggplant Dip (Kashk e Bademjan), Herb Stew (Khoresh e Ghormeh Sabzi), and more, all of which are traditional Persian dishes that I learned from my mother.  Persian food is really about pouring your love into your food so that the people you share it with feel that love.

Are there any other anecdotes about your immigrant experience in America that you would like to share?

Being an immigrant is hard for everyone, especially at first when one moves to a strange land. It takes time to grow roots and find a sense of identity. It takes time to find a sense of belonging. It becomes even harder when geopolitical circumstances interfere and affect the lives of ordinary people.  It is not easy to hear the name of the region or an ethnicity that you belong to being mentioned on the news with negative propaganda.

The cardinal rule for an immigrant is working hard. I studied all the time in school. I worked long hours at my jobs. The hardest part was losing my loved ones. Within a span of ten years I lost my father, my grandmother, and my mother and I was not able to attend their funerals. At times I felt a rug has been pulled under my feet.  But focusing on collateral beauty rather than collateral damage is what has allowed me to be hopeful, to look to the future and heal. At the end of the day, we all are the same.

I have seen so much kindness and generosity from American people in my darkest moments. I will never forget my father’s oncologist in Ogden. After my father died, I informed him about my father’s passing. This amazing doctor said that we no longer needed to pay him the remaining medical bills that were owed. There are many more anecdotes like this one.  It would take hours and hours to write about it. This act of kindness from that doctor changed my entire perspective about how generous we can be with whatever we have to offer each other.

To end, I would like to finish with a line from the Rumi poem, “Moses and The Shepherd“:

We are here to bring each other together
We are not here to create means of separation

The story behind this poem is that Moses gets angry when he sees a shepherd talking to God in a very earthly fashion as though he is talking to a person. He starts to berate the shepherd when Moses hears a revelation from God: “You are here to bring people closer to me not to separate them from me…….everyone speaks to me in their own way…… I Pay attention to the intention behind the word…..”. The message of this poem is one of universality and acceptance. That we are all unique and we have our unique ways about us. Ultimately we are on the same path and we are here to enhance each other’s lives .

Next steps:

  • To attend Mojdeh’s Persian Feast on Saturday the 20th, head over to Eventbrite to purchase tickets and register.
  • Sign up for our newsletter to be the first to know about upcoming events.
  • Send me an email if you’d like to host and/or cook a meal, or if you know of someone who would be a good fit.
  • Follow us on Instagram.
  • Donate: this is very much a labor of love so any support for operating expenses are always welcome.
 I hope you will join us on the 20th or at one of our other events!
FL:R

And just like that,  Tapestry Suppers held its second, sold-out event yesterday, in as many months as we’ve been around. Over 30 guests gamely played along with our randomized ‘seating lottery’ system, sparking new connections and conversations over a spread of Burmese hors d’oeuvres, curries and tea leaf salad. As a lovely bonus, one of our guests contributed an entire dessert table of homemade desserts – from a gorgeous tarte tatin to an almond tart and tasty palmiers. It’s safe to say that no one left hungry! And we raised $750 for the Catholic Charities of Fort Wayne-South Bend – double the amount from our last event.

Massive thanks to our host April, and her partner Stu, who’ve worked tirelessly the past week to get the home and kitchen ready for a sit-down meal of this scale. To Han Win and Pow Ching for help with the curries, and the friends and invisible kitchen elves who helped with the prep, set-up and unglamorous tasks of cleaning up. It truly takes a village to eat well!

Our next event will be a Persian feast, again in another Sunnyvale home on Saturday, May 20. Tickets will be available for purchase starting Monday May 8 at 9am PT. The next host is well-regarded within the local yoga community for her culinary prowess, so her event is likely to sell out. To be among the first to know about ticket sales, I highly recommend signing up for our newsletter. Until then, enjoy the photos from yesterday and I do hope you’ll join us next month!

FL:R

AC MontageAfter last month’s  Vietnamese lunch for The IRC, we head West across the Chinese subcontinent to Burma/Myanmar, also known as The Golden Land for the sheer numbers of golden pagodas around the country. I met April Chou, our next host, two years ago through our common interest in Ashtanga Yoga. A side effect of knowing April is discovering the world of Burmese cuisine. Coming from another Southeast Asian country, I found the salty, sour, bitter and spicy notes comfortingly familiar, even if they were presented differently. My favorite aspect of the Burmese way of eating is how each person is encouraged to make each dish truly their own by using the condiments at their disposal: limes, dried chilies, fresh chilies, peanuts, seeds, etc, to season each dish to one’s taste. This is how one develops an intuition for flavors and how a food culture renews and sustains itself.

Read on for April’s story or head over to Eventbrite to peruse the menu and purchase tickets.


April Chou was born in Mandalay, Burma’s second largest city, a month after the coup d’etat of 1962 ushered in the military junta. The youngest of 10 children, her family lived in the middle of the city, next to Zegyo Market, Mandalay’s most famous and largest market.

She recounts, “I used to go to the market as a child with our cook every morning.  At night, the market and 84th Road in front of us turned into the night market so it was just as busy, crowded and colorful as it was in the day.  We would either go for an evening stroll or watch the scene from our balcony.”

The absence of TVs or phones in the home meant that the family entertained many friends who dropped by to visit and lingered for a meal. “My mom always ensured that we have enough food for any visitors who might join us for lunch or dinner,” she said. “The Burma that I remember was full of celebrations and festivals and food was always involved.  My family is Catholic so we celebrated Christmas with Mohinga (Catfish Chowder) or Ohno Khoi Soy (Coconut Chicken noodle soup) every year.  Most of my friends are Buddhists so I attended many religious ceremonies.  My childhood friend Marlar is Muslim so I used to go to her house for Eid and Ramadan.”

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April (first row, first from the right) with her parents and some siblings, around 1968-69. Her three eldest siblings were already in the US at the time this portrait was made.

The youngest of 10 children, she arrived in the US at the age of 15 along with two of her sisters. All of them were sponsored by her eldest sister Peggy, a doctor in Chicago. At that time, just travelling to another town within Burma required government approval so a trip to America was a big deal. Though excited about taking a plane for the first time and travelling halfway across the globe, she left unsure if she would see her parents or her childhood friends again (her parents eventually moved to the US in 1984), or if she would ever return to Burma.

“In 1962, the junta took over all private enterprises when they came into power, including my father’s bar and liquor import business,” she reflected. “To make ends meet, my mother worked as a tailor and my parents had to sell their jewelry (my father was born in Mogok, a town renowned for its rubies and sapphires). Food was often rationed so we had to get creative with our cooking. Our education was constantly disrupted because of school closures and student uprisings.”

The sisters first landed in Honolulu, where one of her older siblings worked as a Pathologist. The island’s tropical climate and laid back vibe was too similar to their home country that it contradicted the impressions they formed from pictures and letters of an America that was covered in snow with a skyline of tall skyscrapers. They eventually settled in Chicago, joining Peggy and her husband and their older siblings. For April, the early years were a challenging adjustment to American life and mastering English was not easy. She spent her high school years working 15-20 hours/week at different jobs after school, motivated by a desire for financial independence.

“When I arrived here, I was told, if you work hard, you will succeed,” she shared. “My first job was flipping hamburgers at Burger King.  I then worked as a sales clerk at a dime store called Woolworth’s on Michigan Avenue, and after that, spent many years working at Marshall Field’s, the largest department store at the Water Tower. I saved hard and was able to afford a trip to Spain with my high-school classmates in junior year.”

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April (first from left) in 1977 with her best friends just before leaving for the US .

April obtained her degree in Computer Engineering from the University of Illinois (Urbana-Champaign) and moved to the Bay Area in 1995 to work for Cisco Systems. After a long career in tech, she now pursues her interests in Ashtanga yoga, Vipassana meditation and plant-based food and nutrition. She’s received certificates from Cornell University’s Plant-Based Nutrition program and an Ayurvedic food and nutrition program from Mysore, India. In 2016, she enrolled in Bauman College’s Natural Chef training program that included an internship at The Ravens, a prominent vegan restaurant in Mendocino. These food-centric pursuits echo the role that food has played in her life and the communal family gatherings of her childhood. This Tapestry Suppers meal features one of her family’s recipes, “I am making Kyauk Kyaw (Coconut Agar Jelly) for dessert. My mother used to make this for community gatherings in the ’70s but over time it’s disappeared from our family meals as more American and French desserts took their place,” said April.

The proceeds from this lunch will benefit the Catholic Charities of Fort Wayne-South Bend, an organization in Indiana that works to support and resettle newly-arrived refugees and asylees in the US. Fort Wayne, IN is home to the largest Burmese community in America (estimated at over 6,000), most of them refugees fleeing ethnic and civil war in Burma. Check out their site for more information about what they do and the services they provide.

AC-Montage-2_webNext steps to consider…

  • To attend April’s Burmese lunch on Sunday the 23rd, head over to Eventbrite to purchase tickets and register.
  • Sign up for our newsletter to be the first to know about upcoming events.
  • Send me an email if you’d like to host and/or cook a meal, or if you know of someone who would be a good fit.
  • Sign up for our newsletter to be the first to know about upcoming events.
  • Follow us on Instagram.
  • Donate: this is very much a labor of love so any support for operating expenses are always welcome.
 I hope to see you on the 23rd or at one of our other events!
FL:R

TS-March2017_1We held Tapestry Suppers‘ inaugural event in Palo Alto yesterday and if empty plates and happy faces are any indication, I suppose you could say that this gathering was a success. AND we raised $350 for the International Rescue Committee (IRC)!

I owe a major debt of thanks to the friends and family who showed up early to help, ran errands, kept our glasses full and cleared the dishes after. Most of all, a huge thank you to Thoa for opening your home and sharing your incredibly moving story with us.

We’ve started to plan for our next event which will be a Burmese luncheon in Sunnyvale on Sunday, April 23. Tickets will be available for purchase starting Monday April 10 at 9am PT. I’ll link to the event registration page in a post here or you can sign up for our newsletter to get notified. Our first event sold out in a matter of days so if you’d like to join us in April I’d suggest signing up sooner rather than later. Until then – enjoy the photos and I hope to see you next month!

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FL:R
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