As we all sit at home contemplating how to make good use of our free time during quarantine, it dawned on me that this was an opportunity to hone my Armenian cooking skills, as they were greatly lacking in my “Dandeegeen” repertoire. Married, working and raising four daughters in the greater Watertown Armenian community was a full-time job, plus volunteering for over 30 years with the Armenian Youth Federation (AYF), Armenian Relief Society (ARS), Camp Haiastan, St. Stephen’s Armenian Armenian Elementary School and Church. There wasn’t much time left to develop my Armenian cuisine craft.
Many would say how lucky I was to live near the Armenian grocery stores, and I was. But in all honesty, it became my crutch. Who needed to make anything when I could just drive 10 minutes to buy anything I desired from Arax, Eastern, Massis and Sevan Markets and not need to spend valuable hours preparing? It was a blessing and a curse.
I was young, juggling a large young family and community obligations, so this was a great resource and ultimately my go-to. There was always a church bazaar or picnic to get a hot kebab. The ACEC Café Anoush was all summer long, while Camp Haiastan regularly hosted summer picnics. And there are the family/friend gatherings at the “Papken Suni” Agoump, where Kevork and Mania could whip up a five-course Armenian kebab delicacy with no effort on my part but a phone call. It all became too easy and therein lies my weakness; my “Dandeegeen” cooking craft had been sorely neglected and never really nurtured due to time. Well there is never a better time than the present, especially when you are in the midst of a pandemic, “che?”
Opportunity was knocking. COVID-19 quarantine provided the time necessary, and I just needed the will. I had just watched “Julie & Julia” and was inspired by the true story of New Yorker Julie Powell, who embarked on a project to prepare 524 recipes in Julia Childs’ landmark cookbook, “Mastering the Art of French Cooking”—a true tale of how Julia Child herself conquered French cuisine with passion, fearlessness and plenty of butter.
So I am not committing to 524 recipes from the St. Stephen’s Armenian Church Ladies Guild Cookbook, but I thought I would embark on a weekly cooking adventure. I started posting on Facebook this weekend as I ventured into the world of “choreg” baking, a “Dandeegeen” essential. I have made it several times at church in a group setting, mentored by the best Ladies Guild teachers and my beloved late mother-in law too, but never at home on my own, really on my own. I posted my endeavor to be held accountable by my community, but more importantly for their support and encouragement and to learn from others. It was a success. The choreg looked and smelled great. The consistency wasn’t perfect (B+), and it could be improved from all the online advice. And with more practice and time, and a little more butter, it will be great. I know it will. But the tips and comments were the best tutorial. It does take a village, and my Armenian village came through. Next week, manti!! And the tips have already rolled in. Stay tuned for more from me and hopefully others in this new series…