My mom always says even if I'd married an Armenian, she couldn't have had a more Armenian son-in-law than Jon.
As soon as we moved into our house, he became obsessed with the idea of having kef time. It's how Armenians describe fun gatherings that marry merriment (kef in Turkish), food, and music, and we had brief glimmers of it here and there that fueled the fire. I think back to a particularly electric dinner with Malvina and Crystal that turned into an Armenian/Arabic/Spanish dance party in our living room. This spring, we've finally had two evenings of pure kef time that were exactly what we want merriment under our roof (and our stars) to be like.
After getting together once before in our old apartment to try our hands at dolma (stuffed grape leaves), Malvina, Nairi, and I decided our next mission was baklava. We set a Cinco de Mayo baking date, got one of Nairi's family recipes, and were assured by at least three Armenian mothers that we could not possibly screw it up. We were proud to prove them right and produce a delicious (if not thematically appropriate) tray of baklava for dessert after a night celebrating Jon and Emily's birthdays with tacos, enchiladas, and salsa. I'll write all about my baklava love another day, but for now, I'll say that it was the perfect accompaniment to having friends and family around our backyard table for the first time, floating in and out of a house filled with music.
When Memorial Day came around and the weather started looking up, we knew it was finally time to host a barbecue--our way. We invited over a lovely group of friends for a feast of Middle Eastern mezze. Jon picked up a small charcoal grill from an Iranian shop on 108th Street in Forest Hills and set up shop with Tommy grilling skewers of baby bell peppers, tomatoes, and red onions. We covered our dinner table with old standbys like sujuk, Armenian string cheese, olives, pickles, and a greens plate piled high with scallions, parsley, mint, dill, and cilantro from the farm. The herbs also brightened up a big bowl of tabbouleh. We threw red cabbage on the grill, along with some Brooklyn Grange goodies like little gem lettuce and frisee.
There were pita and lavash and dips for days. Jon made two versions of his classic hummus. Inspired by a favorite Ina Garten bruschetta recipe, I whipped together a feta dip with garlicky cream cheese, dill, and lemon juice. Crystal mixed up a yogurt sauce reminiscent of a Greek tsatsiki that was perfect for our grilled meats and Jon's homemade falafel. I made two recipes I learned in the class I'd just taken the weekend before at the Institute of Culinary Education, muhammara (Spell Check: Did you mean Muhammad?) and baba ganoush (Spell Check: Did you mean diaphanous?). I'd never made baba ganoush myself before, but I fell in love with this especially herbaceous recipe flecked with parsley. My only adjustment was to blend the grilled eggplants whole instead of removing the skins, which are my absolute favorite part of any eggplant dish. The muhammara fire-roasted red pepper dip is one of my new favorites, blending sweet and hot peppers with walnuts, wheat crackers, and pomegranate molasses for a smokey flavor and rich texture. (Do I look like a proud student? Because I sure was!)
Binita and Jon got the tour of our tiny house, making some noise with Jon in his ashram-style music den. As the evening drew to a close and the music mellowed, we spent quality time reminiscing about each other's weddings. We ended on a sweet note with some halva, not homemade this time, although I did make a terrific batch in class that I'd love to try at home one day.
I hope this has inspired you to make room for merriment in your kitchen, your home, and your every day. What does kef time for two look like on a regular weeknight? Sound like? Taste like? This week, it's Jon making the most of the daylight, working on building, sanding, and painting beautifully adorned benches for our garden table. It's me coming home from work completely fried some days but finding thrills in throwing together simple but exciting meals with our CSA produce. There are honestly days when the last thing I want to do is cook, but sometimes that light bulb just goes on and it's about making merry by trying something a little new. I'll go out with a couple of standouts we've enjoyed recently.