7 Questions for Yogurtsoda

Yogurtsoda is the new online home of Iranian-American, Bay Area-based, Pars Arts contributor Mariam Hosseini’s excellent food and travel writing.

1. You’ve blogged regularly for quite a while on Distant Voices. Why did you decide to spin out food/travel posts to Yogurtsoda?
I’d been planning on blogging on my own domain for years, but had never really gotten around to it. www.distant-voices.com is actually my sister’s domain and she had hosted (re)definition for me there since the beginning.

Yogurtsoda is still in transition – not everything is properly formatted and archived yet. But hey, I love doogh, and www.yogurtsoda.com is a reflection of two things close to my heart: food and Iranian culture. For better or worse, I’m really shekamoo.

2. How did you become interested in cooking?
When I was five years old, my favorite television show was Yan Can Cook. I used to watch him and imitate what he did by “playing chef.” I had my own pretend live studio audience and everything in my head, embarassingly enough. He’s the original celebrity chef in my eyes.

I also grew up in a household where home cooking and healthy food was valued, so being exposed to that from a young age led to my curiosity in the kitchen. I still remember the first meal I cooked for my family as a kid: A huge pot of instant ramen noodles, refried beans, and some boiled peach atrocity of a “beverage.” Thankfully, I’ve come a long way since then.

3. You work quite a bit at your day job in the non-profit world; how do you make the time to cook?
I’ve definitely had to scale down in the past couple of years. I’m too busy to crank out my homemade pasta maker or to tackle multi-course meals, so I stick to simpler recipes that maintain the integrity of the ingredients but still work with a busy schedule. It also helps if I prep as much as I can ahead of time. My kitchen is pretty small too, so I’m limited not only by time but also space.

4. What’s the best Bay Area Persian food? What’s the best Persian restaurant you’ve been to anywhere?
My parents’ kitchen. I don’t know what it is, but I much prefer Iranian homecooking to the restaurant variety. That being said, Shalizaar in Belmont is probably the best Persian food in the Bay Area, but I haven’t tried them all to be able to give a fair assessment. Any of the Moby Dick restaurants in the Washington, D.C. area are the best I’ve had in the U.S – their kabab koobideh is really good.

5. Which food-related blogs do you read?
I read Serious Eats; it’s such a great resource and an entertaining read. I also love The Girl Who Ate Everything, Writing with My Mouth Full and Michael Ruhlman’s blog.

6. What do you always have on hand in the kitchen?
Equipment: A chef’s knife, a wok and a couple of thick-bottomed pans.

Ingredients: Garlic, olive oil, soy sauce, chili garlic sauce, Parmesan cheese, vinegar (balsamic and rice wine), eggs, dried mushrooms, chicken stock, rice and at least one kind of pasta.

7. Which recipe on Yogurtsoda is a good one for readers with beginner cooking skills to try?
Most of the recipes I post are pretty easy, but some of my favorites for beginner cooks are Lentil Salad with Browned Sausages, Hearts of Palm Salad with Shrimp and Avocado, and Pumpkin Spiced Muffins.

The PARSA Community Foundation

A few weeks ago, I found the PARSA Community Foundation’s website as I was scoping out the Iranian non-profit world online. Intrigued by the big names that started the foundation, and by its even bigger goals, I emailed them for more information and was pleasantly surprised when a Pars Arts contributor, Mariam Hosseini, responded. Mariam recently wrote the Pars Arts story Adventures in Online Iranian Food Shopping, and she answered my questions for this piece.

What is PARSA’s mission?
PARSA Community Foundation’s mission is to become the leading institution practicing strategic philanthropy and promoting social entrepreneurship towards a strong global Persian presence. PARSA invests in these common causes:
Preservation and advancement of Iranian arts and culture;
Development of leaders through education and awards systems; and
Encouragement of civic participation and non-profit capacity building.

Who’s behind PARSA? Why did they start the organization?
Inspired by the work of passionate social entrepreneurs and the impact of strategic philanthropy, The H.A.N.D. Foundation organized a summit in Fall 2005 and invited generous members of the Persian community to share their philanthropic experiences and brainstorm on how successful efforts of the community could be taken to the next level. The participants, facing similar opportunities and constraints, and believing that the social impact of collaborative work can be just as important as producing the public good itself, agreed to pool their resources to create a platform to facilitate large-scale philanthropy for Persians worldwide. This infrastructure would enable the free flow of information, training and funds necessary to address the needs of the community. To create an enduring institution, the founders committed to hands-on involvement, professional management and the establishment of an endowment fund.

PARSA’s board consists of the following members:
Anousheh Ansari: Treasurer, PARSA Community Foundation; Co-founder and Chairman, Prodea Systems, Inc.

Noosheen Hashemi: Chairman, PARSA Community Foundation; Co-founder and President, The H.A.N.D. Foundation

Salar Kamangar: Secretary, PARSA Community Foundation; Vice President, Product Management, Google, Inc.

Omid Kordestani: Co-Founder, PARSA Community Foundation; Senior Vice President, Global Sales and Business Development, Google, Inc.

Hamid Moghadam: Co-Founder, PARSA Community Foundation; Chairman and CEO, AMB Property Corporation

Camran Nezhat: Co-Founder, PARSA Community Foundation; M.D., F.A.C.O.G., F.A.C.S., Stanford University Medical Center

You can read more about the board here: http://parsacf.org/about/board.

What are some beneficiary projects of PARSA’s efforts? What kinds of organizations or projects should know about PARSA’s work?
In 2006, PARSA made its inaugural grant of up to $210,000 to Ashoka: Innovators for the Public as part of the Ashoka PARSA Initiative to support an Ashoka fellow of Iranian origin from anywhere in the world where Ashoka operates.

Currently, we are processing grant applications from our first grant cycle, which just ended on February 15, and are excited to be announcing grantees around the Norouz timeframe. In addition to our semi-annual grant cycles where we encourage non-profits that fit our guiding principles to apply, PARSA also supports strategic grantmaking in projects such as the Cyrus Cylinder North American Tour, initiating a census campaign, and supporting voter registration. PARSA also reaches out to Persian diaspora philanthropy through its philanthropy workshops and planned NGO summits, aimed at promoting networking and collaboration among nonprofits.

How can young Iranians, like Pars Arts readers, get involved either as volunteers or as young philanthropists?
There are many ways for young Iranians to get involved, such as: Hosting a philanthropy work shop at your home, school, or any other appropriate place; facilitating a philanthropy workshop; writing articles for our newsletter; and volunteering pro bono professional services such as legal, financial, accounting services to support NGOs that don’t have the resources to purchase them.

Christmas Mobarak!

Merry Christmas! I’m in a food coma today so here are some links:

1. I just had my first taste of turducken and actually thought of (re)definition, one of my favorite blogs which is written by Mariam, a woman in San Francisco who is a fantastic cook and takes good pictures. The photos on her blog make my mouth water, and I’d trade 20 turduckens for whatever she’s cooking. Plus, she lives in San Francisco, which is sort of the city of my dreams.

2. Browsing around on Asad’s blog, I clicked over to this blog, which had a cool link to the text of Iranian school books. I’m working on improving my Persian, so this should be a big help.

3. Iranian.com has polls for the best and worst Iranians of the year. It’s not working right now but looks like they’re on it. Sacha Baron Cohen (aka Ali G, aka Borat) is one of the choices for best, and so is Akbar Ganji, and so is the kid that got tasered at UCLA. The worsts include a guy who drove his car through a group of students, the president of Iran, and the boyfriend of an Iranian actress who put their sex tape on the Internet.

4. One last one, sorry to be depressing: UN Resolution 1737, from a couple of days ago. Sanctions, etc. Here is the press release from the UN Security Council. Let’s see what happens.