I’m hosting this month’s Let’s Lunch, a virtual monthly potluck on Twitter, on the theme of Tributes/Memorials. This post is my tribute to my very dear friend, Andy Parsa, who passed away less than a month ago.
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One of the joys of friends who are so close they are like family is that you can be yourself. When you spend time together, you can talk about anything, nothing, or not talk at all. The weekend before Andy died, we did a lot of the usual nothing, but for some reason, we also touched upon all of the important updates in our lives. As if we knew we wouldn’t have another chance. He rarely shared the minutiae of infinite stress that surrounded his job, the dream job he had worked his entire life to obtain. But he mentioned a few things briefly. I acknowledged them but didn’t press for details. He asked what was new with me. I mentioned some of my own work stress, the changes in family life as my daughters enter the teen years, and a worry about a family member’s potential health concern. He listened, more attentively than he had been able to for some time. But he looked tired and ended the evening somewhat abruptly.
We saw Andy and his family again the next evening, and he was looking more rested, relaxed and peaceful than he had the night before. That night, which was to be the last meal we enjoyed together, he sat next to my husband. My husband’s relationship with Andy was different from mine. In typical male fashion, they didn’t necessarily talk about “stuff” that much, but they had a bond and a love they freely expressed for each other. Andy called my husband “Hermano,” stubbornly mispronounced with a hard “H”. That night, Andy told his Hermano of a concern about his own health, uncharacteristically significant for their conversations and also uncharacteristic because he hadn’t shared that information with me, his usual confidante. The next morning, Andy and his family stopped by to say goodbye on their way to the airport. When we hugged goodbye, I whispered to him, annoyed: “You didn’t tell me.” He promised to keep me posted.
I could have checked in later that night to make sure their flight was OK and thank them again for a great weekend. But I didn’t. The next morning, on what was otherwise the usual Monday morning at work, I received the chilling text from Andy’s wife, Charlotte, that he had died. My heart has been heavy since.
I have been trying to think about what Andy’s relationship was to me. The medical community will remember him as a prominent neurosurgeon and brain tumor researcher. His devastated family lost a loving and steadfast husband, father and big brother. I knew him as a fun, irreverent (and sometimes inappropriate), generous, kind and loyal friend. We knew each other through our daughters, who have been best friends since preschool. The simplest way to think of him is family.
And family is how he thought of us– me, my husband, our kids. That meant our two families hanging out together every weekend possible, and going on trips together. It meant that Andy felt comfortable enough to boss me around sometimes, and eat leftovers off our plates. Being family also meant that we could have the same expectations we might have of our blood relatives, or even more. No holds barred. When I had my first art opening a few years ago, Andy said he would come to the reception. Because of his work schedule, he just missed it, but still took me and my daughters to dinner afterwards. I should have been grateful for his generosity, since even my husband couldn’t make it, but I was mad, and he was annoyed right back at me. That’s how you are with family. Andy also almost missed my 40th birthday celebration, which was around the time he was applying for high-level positions around the country. But he rearranged his flight schedule to make my party, probably because he didn’t want to deal with my wrath again.
Because of his achievements, Andy had the resources to dine in the finest restaurants every evening if he wanted. But what he wanted was comfort food, to be eaten surrounded by family and friends. Andy didn’t cook that often, but when he did, he did it the way he did everything else– only the best, executed effortlessly with precision and perfection. He was a master at the grill.
This reminds me of one story, which became a favorite inside joke. One time when our families spent the weekend at his brother’s ranch, he was up early, as usual, cooking breakfast. There was leftover steak from the previous night’s meal, so he decided to make us his “dirty eggs,” which was supposed to be steak with soft cooked scrambled eggs. Just as he began cooking, he got a page regarding one of his patients. So he asked me, whom he assumed he could trust to man the stove, to keep an eye on the cast iron pot, which was set over a low flame. “Sure, of course,” I assured him, and he went outside to take his call. Minutes, maybe 10, 15 minutes later, he returned, and asked how the eggs were. The eggs. Oops. I had gotten distracted by one (or more) of the children, and had completely forgotten my task. I quickly uncovered the pot, and there sat a beautiful frittata. He looked at me, with a combination of amusement and annoyance. That was years ago, but every so often, he would look at me and say, “frittata.”
Aside from that one mishap, over the years, Andy was both a muse and happy recipient of many home-cooked meals from my kitchen. I loved cooking for him and his family. Being half-Persian, Persian food was one of his favorites, and I became interested in learning how to cook this complex, spice-filled cuisine. When he was in a vegan phase, I made him a vegan version of fesenjan, the sweet-tart walnut based Persian stew. I had been meaning for years to also learn to make him one of his other favorite Persian stews, khoresht-e bademjan, or bademjan for short (eggplant with lamb). It’s too late now. I am grateful for many happy memories with Andy and have few regrets. Except this one: I wish, more than anything, I could cook for him one last time. Cheers, Andy. This one’s for you.
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Khoresht-E Bademjan (Persian Eggplant and Lamb Stew)
Time: 60-90 minutes
1 lb stew meat — lamb or beef
6 small and narrow eggplants or 2 medium/large eggplants, peeled
3 – 4 tablespoons chopped onions
1 tablespoon tomato paste
2-3 tablespoons lemon juice
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
1/2 tsp turmeric
1/4 tsp cinnamon
Accompaniment: steamed basmati rice
Garnish: sumac (adds a delightful citrusy, tart taste)
- Cut the meat up into 2-inch chunks. Heat a Dutch oven or large pot and add a small amount of oil. Add the onions and saute until golden.
- Once the onions begin to brown, add the meat to it and stir for a bit. Add salt, pepper, turmeric and cinnamon to the meat and stir. Add 3 cups of water to the pot, tomato paste and lemon juice and stir well to combine. Cover pot and set flame to medium
- While the stew is cooking you can prepare the eggplants. Cut eggplants lengthwise into 2 inch thick pieces. Sprinkle sliced eggplant with salt and set in a colander for about 20 minutes, then rinse off with water and dry.
- Heat up a few tablespoons of oil in a frying pan and pan-fry the eggplants until browned on both sides. Set browned eggplant aside until you’re ready to add it to the stew.
- When the stew has thickened and the liquid has reduced by at least half (with about 1 cup of water remaining), place the browned eggplant on top of the stew. Gently ladle some of the cooking liquid over the top of the eggplant. Allow the Khoresht-e Bademjan to cook an additional 15 – 20 minutes until the eggplant is tender and saturated with the sauce. Stir gently so the eggplant is coated with the sauce, but doesn’t fall apart.
- Serve with basmati rice. Garnish with sumac, to taste.
Thank you for reading. Please return later to see what recipes and tributes the other members of #LetsLunch are bringing to the potluck:
Betty Ann’s Chocolate Cupcakes with Roses for Mama at Asian in America
Cheryl’s Mum’s Pork & Chinese Yam Soup at Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan
Demetra’s Stone Soup and South Carolina on Sweet Savant
Linda’s Lemon Pie Ice Cream at Free Range Cookies
Linda’s Persian Eggplant Stew and Friendship at Spiceboxtravels
Lisa’s Yolan Frank’s Legendary Chiffon Cake at Monday Morning Cooking Club