Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Madeleines for Bâbâ Hassan

I sat at the end of the kitchen table, eating a late makeshift lunch. My grandfather stood by me, leaning on the table with one hand, on the counter with the other. He preferred to stand like that rather than sit sometimes, the effort of ensconcing himself in any chair, other than his beloved deep leather one in the living room, and then having to get out of it not much later a great strain on his now frail body. He seemed to be looking at his feet but I knew otherwise.
"What are you thinking about?"
Without looking up he said "your sister loves chocolate and I love your sister... therefore I love chocolate." He looked at me sideways and, with a twinkle in his light gray-green eyes and a little smile added, "that's a sophism."
It was the last time I would see that twinkle in his eye.
On My Grandfather and Madeleines
When A. mentioned a long time ago that he liked madeleines and would I make him some one day, I immediately thought of my paternal grandfather, Bâbâ Hassan. It probably sounds silly and Proustian, especially coming from a French girl, but it's really nothing like that at all.
Bâbâ, as we simply called him (and which means father in Farsi) was a man of simple pleasures. He didn't eat many sweets or fancy pastries -this was Paris after all- but he loved madeleines and crêpes. As far back as I can remember, when he would take us grocery shopping or send us out to get something around the corner, he would always buy some madeleines or ask us to get some crêpes; one ought to be sure one's stash wasn't going to run out you see.

I'm thinking of a picture I have of him (that is in storage unfortunately) which captured him in the prime of his life and embodies many of the things he was to me. It's black and white and shows him sitting at the Iranian delegation's desk at UNESCO; he looks quite dapper in a three-piece suit, wearing big headphones for simultaneous translation and leaning back in his chair, head cocked to the side and smoking a pipe.
In it I see the intent listener I knew, the scholar and professor of mathematics, the avid and erudite reader with an insatiable thirst for knowledge, the reciter of classical poems by Hafez, the author, the translator, the bookstore owner, and his myriad other personas. Above all, though, I see my adored grandfather who taught me to play backgammon, who would take me to the Albert Kahn Garden to feed the ducks, who would ask me when I was going to have children because, he said, "you were such a delightful child," who was the kindest and gentlest person I knew. Thinking of him and of the stories I can tell Baby Saffron of being a child with him makes me feel like a child again.
On My Grandfather and Madeleines
We walked together, my hand in his.
It was a Saturday afternoon and I'd been dropped off with my grandparents by myself. My grandmother was out and about so, left to our own devices, my grandfather and I chose our preferred activity together. We went out armed with a small bag of stale baguette bits. After passing a few people, he turned to me and asked the usual question:
"What will people think when they see us?"
I looked up at him, already smiling at what I knew would come next.
"Will they think I am your grandfather, and you are my granddaughter? Will they think I am your father and you are my daughter? Will they think that you are my mother and I am your son?" -at this point I invariably started giggling- "Will they think that you are my grandmother and I am your grandson?" and so on the possibilities were listed; I contributed the ones I could think of. We reached the gardens this way and spent the next hour walking around, tossing the bread to the ducks, taking a break on a bench and enjoying the afternoon sun.

He was born in 1916 on the shores of the Caspian sea. He remembered riding in a horse-drawn carriage at the age of three with his nanny for two days straight to Tehran as the White Army, hotly pursued by the Red Army, rode through Northern Iran destroying everything in its path. Through hard work and sheer determination, he moved his little family to France in the 50s and started all over again, learning French, teaching math, giving his children and later grandchildren a henceforth immutably multicultural, multilingual vision of the world. He witnessed technological changes in his lifetime that would be akin to an inhabitable city being built on the moon in mine. He refused to recall the girlfriends he'd had before meeting my grandmother at the tender age of 21. He loved his family above all other things. He saw war. occupation. revolution. By the end he was tired, his body betraying him slowly over the years, though his mind was sound and youthful to the last.
On My Grandfather and Madeleines
A man was browsing the vintage comics in the back of the store. There were few of them as this was primarily an antique bookstore, but my grandfather had a great eye for worthwhile printed material of any kind. The man was dressed in ripped, dirty jeans and an old, battered, white T-shirt. His ratty clothes and the unstudied stubble on his chin indicated not careful hipsterism but rather a complete lack of concern for his appearance.
My grandfather did not budge from the book he was reading behind his desk. In his experience you could tell absolutely nothing from a man's outward appearance. He spent most of his days reading while waiting for customers to choose and purchase books, as that is perhaps the most wonderful perk of having one's own bookstore, being able to read all day.
It was only when the man finally grabbed about half the stack of comics, valued at about $100 each (in old Francs), and walked toward him that my grandfather wondered if the man could actually afford them, still he said nothing. The man put the stack down in front of my grandfather and, reaching into his jean pocket, pulled out a wad of one thousand (old) Franc bills. He paid for the comic books, which my grandfather put into a bag for him, and walked out the door.
We watched him cross the narrow street, get into a white Maserati, and drive away.

I wish I could describe his smile, his laugh, in a way that would do them justice; the depths of his voice; the purr in the back of his throat when he spoke that may have been a result of his smoking for years (though I never even knew he was a smoker until, as a teenager, I discovered old pipes in one of his closets) or just a result of his being closely related to cats; his passion for felines, inherited from his grandfather and passed on to his children and grandchildren, resulted in his being called The Cat (Pishoo), and they too recognized one of their own in him, the most unfriendly of cats shunning all other humans but gladly jumping uninvited into his lap.

He passed away in 2002, soon after his 86th birthday.
I miss him every day.
My father ended his eulogy with this quote, which encapsulated him perfectly:
"Such was the end, Echecrates, of our friend; concerning whom I may truly say, that of all the men of his time whom I have known, he was the wisest and justest and best." - from Plato's Phaedo

Have some madeleines for him, preferably with a large cup of tea. He'd like that.  
من شما را دوست دارم بابا
On My Grandfather and Madeleines
Note: I wrote a post at Expat Harem which mentions my grandfather and is a more in-depth snapshot of who I am and what this gift of multiculturalism is that he gave us. It is linked above and here.

Madeleines 
adapted from David Lebovitz's recipe

Butter, melted for the madeleine mold
Flour to coat the mold
3 eggs, at room temperature
120g (2/3 cup - 2tsp) granulated sugar
1/8 tsp salt - I use Maldon salt which I grind
175g (1/4 cup) flour
1 tsp baking powder
125g (9 Tbsp) unsalted butter, melted and cooled to room temperature

- Brush the madeleine mold with melted butter. Then dust with flour, making sure to remove any excess by tapping the mold, and place in the freezer.
- Whisk the eggs, sugar and salt together until they've doubled in volume and the batter flows off the whisk like a ribbon. The simplest way to do this is with an electric hand or stand mixer.
- Mix the flour and baking powder together.
- Sift the flour and baking powder mixture into the egg, sugar and salt batter while you progressively fold it in with a spatula. Do not skip the sifting part or you will invariably end up with lumps of flour in your batter.
- Gently fold the butter into the batter a few spoonfuls at a time. Fold just until all the butter is incorporated.
- Cover the bowl and refrigerate the batter for at least 1 hour. (I prefer to chill mine overnight)

Once chilled:
- Heat the oven to 210˚C (425˚F).
- Using a small or large spoon (I used mini madeleine molds so a small spoon worked for me) put enough batter into each mold to fill it if the batter spreads out. Don't spend time shaping it or spreading it as you may warm the dough which would negatively affect the result.
- Bake for about 7-9mn or until the madeleines look done to your liking (I like them slightly brown on the bottom).
- As soon as you remove the pan from the oven, flip out the madeleines onto a wire rack to cool.
Madeleines are usually best the day they are made, but can be kept in an airtight container for up to three days, or frozen well-wrapped.

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39 comments:

Stacy said...

Such a lovely post, thank you for sharing. The madeleines look absolutely terrific.

Peter bagi said...

What a great story. I was listening to the end of coldplay's lovers in japan/reign of love and it helped support your story. I will re-read this on days I need to be reminded that magic, love and grandeur exist. Thank you

LetMeEatCake Eat With Me! said...

Thank you for sharing this lovely story! It was wonderful to read about your baba and your relationship with him. I will definitely try this madeleine recipe and think about him and your lovely blog!

Rosa's Yummy Yums said...

What gorgeous madeleines! So pretty!

Cheers,

Rosa

Rachel Rhodes said...

Choking up. Beautiful post. I definitely plan on madeleines and a big cup of tea in his honour as soon as possible.

South Campus Bakery said...

You've perfected the madeleine "hump" and thanks for sharing this story.

MeetaK said...

oh hilda this post has brought back memories of my (maternal) grandfather - he too was my idol and there are so many similarities (i am now fairly convinced we are twins) thanks for this. hugs!

Valentina Vitols said...

Family stories...how wonderful is that you have this one to tell. Thank you for sharing--beautiful! Love the photos as well.

Mowie @ Mowielicious said...

Such a lovely post Hilda, I got quite teary at the end... made me think of my grandfather too - really do miss him. Your madeleines look lovely xxx

diva said...

So beautiful and the words you've used. THanks for sharing Hilda. Sending you lots of hugs! x

Jamie said...

Ah, Hilda, don't ever tell me that you are not a writer. This is beautiful, moving, romantic and wonderful. And I think I will indeed bake madeleines and have one or two for him.

anastasiaashman said...

Yes lovely is the word. I don't have the Proustian connection with madeleines that many people do, but now I will have this. And I will remember the love of and for your Caspian gentleman of a grandfather, Hilda. Thank you.

Aparna said...

Beautiful, Hilda. You bring back memories (and tears to my eyes) of my maternal grandfather.

Barbara said...

What a lovely, lovely memories to have Hilda. You are so blessed to have had such a wise man as your grandfather.

shaz said...

A moving and powerful post, thank you for sharing these heartfelt words Hilda. I shared a similar bond with my paternal grandfather too and like everyone else, teared up at the end.

Pam said...

What a great post! The madeleines look delicious and the cat is darling!

bazaarbayar said...

What a loving tribute and vivid recollection of your childhood world you've written, Hilda - thank you for giving us a glimpse. And for reminding us to cherish those important people who helped show us our own way.

April Alvarez said...

Beautiful stories, thank you for sharing. We made David's recipe, at your suggestion, for my daughter a couple of weeks ago - the day before her birthday. What a joy.

Rambling Tart said...

Hilda, I'm all teary after reading this gorgeous post. I love your grandfather, so much, love the constancy of affection and trustworthiness he brought into your life. You are richly blessed. Thank you for sharing a bit of him with us. :-)

Bethany (Dirty Kitchen Secrets) said...

What an eloquently written commemoration of a grand man! He reminds me very much of my own paternal grand father who I shared a very special bond with! I pretty much got goosebumps from the start of the post but by the end I was tearing! So many stories I want to share with you! One day hopefully we will have a chat! xx

Bethany (Dirty Kitchen Secrets) said...

Oh and i wanted to say that I particularly loooved the picture of papoose little hand and the madeleines on the books...Loved it!

Maria said...

Lovely post. Thank you for sharing!

Heidi Leon Monges said...

Beautifully written.I love every single word on this piece.

From now on, when I'll have my Madeleines I will think on your Baba.

and you, my dear Hilda.

muchos abrazos

h

Cherine said...

Gorgeous madeleines!!

Y said...

Beautiful beautiful post, Hilda! x

Judith van Praag said...

Hi Hilda,
The image of your grandfather developed almost faster in my mind then I could read your lovely post. It's often said that what appeals to us in the other's story is what we recognize as our own. I never knew my grandfathers, but growing up in the Netherlands children often took my father to be my "opa". If you and I have anything in common, it's having known an older man who showed us by example how to enjoy simple things, how to be open to the surprises that life can offer us. Thank you for your memories, and thank you for triggering mine. And now I'm off to expat+HAREM to read your post there. Warmly, from Judith

Sarah, Maison Cupcake said...

Beautifully written post and lovely composition of photos. I've never made madeleines, I need to find a tin for them.

Maryam in Marrakesh said...

baah, baah, cheghat gashangeh.

so so lovely.

Rowaida said...

Hi Hilda,
What a beautiful post and story about your grandfather. The photos are amazing and madeleine looks delicious.

Kerrin @ MyKugelhopf.ch said...

it was certainly worth the time it took for you to put these thoughts down in writing - what a beautiful piece. i was able to share in your emotions and imagine each and every scene like snap shots from black & white movies. i almost feel like i know him, and know you better too.

impossible not to think of my own grandfather, who also taught me to play backgammon, and has now taught olivier too. i am thankful every day that he is still a part of my life now.

again, this was a pleasure to read, and i am so glad i waited until i had just the right tranquil moment to really savor each word. thank you for sharing your personal stories and gorgeous pictures.

shayma said...

Hilda, as you know, I loved reading this post. youre a lucky girl to have had a wonderful grandfather like him. a beautifully written story.

Deeba PAB said...

Evocative and ever so beautiful Hilda. I hung on to every word you wrote. Very touching & a great tribute to Baba Hassan! You really are special! HUGS!!

hannah | honey & jam said...

Such a lovely story. These photos are so beautiful, and the Madeleine look perfect.

thecookieshop said...

Hilda, my dear. This beautiful post of yours made me think of my mom, who loved madeleines, and of my Spanish grandpa, her father, who used to amuse me so much when I was a little girls - just like your Baba Hassan!
XO

La Tartine Gourmande said...

Lovely beautiful post Hilda. Your grand-papa would have been so proud....

Shaheen said...

Such lovely memories of your grandfather.. and you've put them together so eloquently. I was reminded of my maternal grandfaher who passed away last year. He taught me so much! Drawing, maths, appreciating good food (And slamming the bad!). I miss him.

WizzyTheStick said...

Beautiful memoir of your grandfather. Makes rememebr my grandmother right now and the food and love we shared together.

Chez Us said...

What a beautiful & touching story of your grandfather - brought a tear of happiness and love to my eyes as I recounted my journey with my grandfather! Thank you for sharing such an intimate moment with us all.

sasasunakku said...

I can barely see through my tears to type, sentimental thing that I am. Beautiful writing, beautiful pictures and my own east west connection really made this speak to my heart, I'm glad I cam across your blog and look forward to perusing the archives.

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