Rarely do I take advice from my sister. Maybe it’s because she’s younger and I assume as the older sibling I should have all the answers. She’s supposed to be looking to me for guidance, right? Though I’m better about it now, as kids I simply dismissed her contributions as rants of an off-kilter, and certainly dangerous, daredevil. Laura’s ideas just always seemed like bad ones. Her suggestions of playing outside, climbing trees and scaling backyard fences were immediately deemed NOT FUN. ”Only a lunatic would find this stuff entertaining,” I decided as I watched Laura jump like a spider monkey from our neighbor’s giant oak tree to the inadequate and tenuously-threaded rope tied to its biggest branch. As she swung back and forth, golden brown hair swinging in the breeze, it was all too clear that this wild child had little to offer in the way of sound advice.
I let my belief in Laura’s poor judgment seep into other areas of our lives. ”You should really try the rainbow sherbet,” she offered while standing at the Baskin-Robbins counter. ”No thanks, I’ll stick with mint chip,” I quickly said, knowing full well any flavor she enjoyed was likely unpalatable. Laura was also a voracious reader, tearing through a book a night on her most homework-avoiding evenings. Whatever she read I was sure to avoid. The Babysitter Club series was out, as was anything written by Beverly Cleary. Thankfully we discovered Roald Dahl and Judy Blume simultaneously, so I could easily read their books in good conscious. And so in high school, when she offered me her copy of Tender at the Bone by Ruth Reichl, I sharply declined. ”Jamie, you are really going to love it,” she coaxed. ”Nah, it’s OK. I’ve got other things on my reading radar,” I lied. Not one to push (unlike me), Laura dropped it, and for 10 years the book stayed on my parents book shelf, uncracked by yours truly. It taunted me though, that worn paperback with a small girl on its cover. Every now and then, while visiting from college or home for Thanksgiving, I would catch a glimpse of the book and consider reading it. Finally about two years ago while home for my mother’s birthday, I picked it up. Three hours came and went and I still wasn’t ready to put it down when my mother finally called, “Jamie, what are you doing up there?” “Uh, just reading one of Laura’s books,” I replied, listening in shock to the unfamiliar jumble of words that fell from my mouth. Yes, I was actually taking advice from my sister and damn it, she was right. This book was fabulous!
Since this reading revelation two years ago, I’ve been on a food memoir rampage and a few months back stumbled upon Diana Abu-Jaber’s The Language of Baklava. Abu-Jaber is a brilliant writer and weaves her story with such detail you can practically smell the sizzling lamb kabobs on the grill. I suppose that is the sign of a good food memoir, when you can taste the food through their words. Every recipe in The Language of Baklava tempts the taste-buds (except for the velveeta sandwiches) and I have yet to make a recipe of Abu-Jaber’s that wasn’t fantastic. My current favorite is her Muhammara, a delicious (and spicy!) red pepper and walnut dip perfect for a summer grilling party. I made it for our July 4th BBQ alongside beef kofta and was asked 4 times for the recipe. It’s creamy and rich with a touch of sweet heat. Love it!
Since discovering my sister’s excellent taste in books, I’ve loosened up on my blockade against her advice. I now ask her opinion on what to wear, on my blog posts and have even made her my Editor-In-Chief. And though I don’t plan on following her to an all-night dance party (the adult equivalent of jumping from trees), she is certainly my first choice any time I need something to read. Love you sis!
Adapted from The Language of Baklava by Diana Abu-Jaber
2 roasted red bell peppers (I used ones from a jar but you can roast them yourself if you like)
1 1/2 cups walnuts
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon cumin powder
1/2 cup almond flour (or you can use bread crumbs)
1/4 cup olive oil
2 tablespoons unsweetened pomegranate juice
pinch of salt
1/2 teaspoon honey
1/4 cup tomato puree
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon cloves
small handful of parsley, chopped
Combine the peppers, walnuts, and all the other ingredients except the parsley in a food processor or blender. Process until smooth. Add extra olive oil if necessary to achieve a thick but fluid consistency. Top with the parsley and enjoy!