Sunday, April 15, 2012

From One Stove to the Next

April is a month of significance for me, for many reasons  one of which is the commemoration of the Armenian Genocide.  As one cousin said, " we are coming up to the 100th anniversary of a genocide that nobody remembers. Everyone remembers the Titanic perhaps because of the wealthy individuals on board? doesn't pay to be poor."   

It's not only that the Armenians were a poor people, they also came from a land that the rest of the world didn't and still doesn't need or want.  They are resource-poor. This first genocide of the 20th century has been swept out of the halls of history like so much unnecessary sawdust.  

Adding salt to this staggering wound, not only did the world stand by and allow this massacre, it is still unacknowledged in a universal way because it would offend those of greater geographic importance.  You know how it is these days in human rights, countries only get outraged and act when there's a risk to something or someone they value as important.  

But at least the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum underscores the genocide's importance by including the following on an opening wall of its exhibit:

"...I have placed my death-head formations in readiness -- for the present only in the East -- with orders to them to send to death mercilessly and without compassion, men, women, and children of Polish derivation and language. Only thus shall we gain the living space (Lebensraum) which we need. Who, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?" [Source: Adolf Hitler, Obersalzberg, August 22, 1939, speech delivered by Hitler to the Supreme Commanders and Commanding Generals; as stated by Former Bureau Chief of the Associated Press in Berlin, Louis Lochner in his book, What About Germany?]

So to underscore the importance of the Day of Remembrance or Genocide Memorial Day  [From Wikipedia: The Date commemorates the Armenian notables deported from the Ottoman capital in 1915, of hundreds of Armenian intellectuals and community leaders, most of whom would be executed, which was a precursor to the ensuing events.] leading up to April 24, I'll post three pieces that connect to my heritage.  I hope you enjoy them and the importance of "Armenianism" in my life. 
While single in New York, I lived three blocks from an Armenian grocer, Karnig Tashjian's. There, a short walk up Third Avenue, I could purchase any ingredients I needed and peruse a refrigerator case filled with ready-made goodies. True, it wasn't exactly like what I got at home, but the little old ladies were in the back of shop chopping and mixing and filling, and whatever I bought was enough to satisfy my taste buds until I'd made it home.

It was then while I was single that I started to cook some Armenian things because I just wante
d to have them more often. I can remember having a terrible craving for luleh kebab (LOO-leh-ka­BOB — a torpedo-shaped ground lamb hamburger). I checked through the only Armenian cookbook I had from an aunt who'd given it to me as a Christmas present in 1977; it was even signed by the author, Alice Antreassian. I looked up the recipe for luleh kebab, went to the store for the ingredients, and dove right in.

I followed that recipe religiously and made 40 lulehs! I hadn’t realized I needed to cut back on the quantities because I wasn't cooking for a family of four. Still, I was happy  lulehs for now, lulehs for later!  I hovered over my wall oven (an oddity in-and-of-itself in a New York studio apartment) anxiously awaiting the buzz of the timer with salivating mouth. 

Finally it went off, I pulled the rack out of the oven and before they could even cool, bit in to taste my first attempt  to savor the delicious mouthful and...and....and...they were...AWFUL!!  Unbelievably awful!  So awful that I spit that mouthful out! They did not taste a thing like anything I'd ever had, and in fact, they tasted so distasteful that I threw them away, all 40 of them. (Throw food out?  People who know me will be shocked.)

Dumbfounded, disappointed, devastated, I called home. I got my dad. He interrogated me.

"Did you use a recipe?" he barked.

"Of course, I did Daddy!" I said incensed.

"Did you get the meat ground twice and have the fat trimmed?" he queried.

"Yes, I did," I answered smugly, thankful I hadn't skipped over THAT part of the recipe.

"Whose recipe did you use?" he finally asked puzzled and running out of mistakes I could make.
"I used the one from the AGBU cookbook, the one... "

He interrupted mid-sentence, "You can't use THAT cookbook!" he snorted.

"What do you mean? It's an Armenian cookbook... I

He cut me off, "THAT'S not OUR kind of Armenian cooking! You have to use something with Dickranagertzie cooking!  No wonder it doesn't taste right!" he yelled in satisfaction at having discovered the fatal flaw in my attempt.

I burst into tears sobbing that it was the only Armenian cookbook I had. It was given to me by his niece!  How was I to know? 

Disgusted, my father told me he'd have my mother call me when she got in and hung up. I pitched the luleh kebobs (sacrilege in an Armenian household) and gave up trying for years.

Then when I (finally) got engaged to an "odar," (aw-DARHD = outsider or non-Armenian), my Aunt Vic (sister-in-law of my mother's sister) gave me an Assyrian cookbook that had been compiled by the ladies of an Assyrian church. My father nodded approvingly, "Now that's a cookbook."

"But Daddy, this isn't even Armenian," I protested.

"Never mind; never mind...that's what you need. The Assyrian way is the closest to our way of cooking."

Sure enough when I checked the index, there were three versions of luleh kebob, none of which resembled the one in my Armenian cookbook, so I was prepared to give them another try. Now, many triumphant batches later, I've got luleh-kebab under control.

This past Christmas I was looking for something unique and lasting to give our now 22-year-old twins and I thought about a family recipe book. They were living away from home and had been calling frequently with,, “Mom?  How do you make...?” or “Mom, if I’m making ___ what do I do first?”  I’d compile the recipes that they loved and save them from the mistakes I’d made.  

It seemed a good idea but I never thought through how much time it would take.  Retyping, reformatting the recipes, printing them and then organizing them in scrapbook-type albums with 8 ½ x 11 sleeves I could insert the pages in, making a table of contents, etc, etc.  It was hours and hours and hours of work.  Christmas was looming closer and our son was due home the next night, so I worked late to finish, get them wrapped and hidden at the back of the tree.  These presents were my pièce de résistance gifts.  They would be given out last.

When they opened them, their faces showed that they did realize what I had done, but they just stashed the albums and went on to the next thing.  I tried not to show my disappointment at their not making the connection that this was my heritage that I was passing on something important and meaningful.

But the other night, while wandering through a museum exhibit, when I least expected it, I received the following text message:
callout rounded rectangle center


  1. Clinging to my religion and guns........... BobApril 16, 2012 at 1:16 PM


  2. Passing down our heritage in many different venues is important to the future generations! I wholeheartedly agree with this. That is why I loved it the Christmas my youngest daughter, Hannah designed a family cookbook of treasured recipes for each of her siblings and myself. It was a creative gift of love, food and tradition passed forward. She is now 24, married and blogging her recipes for the fun of it!

  3. How wonderful a thing for your daughter to do! Say hello to the sister blogger!

  4. Oh Denise, I love this story. My mouth is watering