Adama Foundation and the Lighthouse Peace Initiative

Below is a note from Mahasti’s friend and fellow baker, Jeffrey Hamelman, about his experience working with the Adama Foundation in Uganda. It is a beautiful and powerful telling of his experience teaching Ugandans to bake bread.

Dear Friends,

I recently returned from Uganda, where I spent two weeks with another American baker, Sara Molinaro, training about 20 members of the Oruchinga Refugee Settlement to become bakers. These people have next to nothing, except their hopes and their undiminished innate dignity, and have escaped unspeakable horrors in their native countries. The trainees began with absolutely no baking experience. Seeing their daily skills progress was an immense joy, and when they sold the first breads, on the ninth day of training, it was a time of rejoicing. The genesis for creating this bakery (this is the first of several that are projected to be set up in refugee settlements) came from Ayelet Berman-Cohen of Los Angeles, who established the Adama Foundation to fund them. On the ground in Uganda are two exceptional women who are part of the daily operation: Angella Kushemererwa who oversees the Vibrant Communities Initiative, and Sophie Karungi, who is a counselor to the most at-risk women in the settlement. All three of these women are absolute pillars of strength and commitment.

The trainees walk to and from the bakery, many of them for over an hour each way, several of them with a young child swaddled to her back (75% of the trainees are women). Several times each day, the mothers move away to sit and watch the work as they nurse their baby. There is an outside area adjacent to the mixing room and the room that houses the wood burning oven. This is the main production area, and it is covered by a pole structure with a wattle and tarp covering for the roof. The rainy season has begun, and we occasionally had to move the work benches to avoid the steady drips from the leaky tarp. We got very good at winding our way around children and chickens in this area as we went through the day!

The goals of the bakery are clear: to empower people, mostly women, with skills that will enable them to earn a livelihood; to become a focal point for the community; and to feed the most vulnerable refugees—the children. In all, we made four forays deep into the settlement, and ultimately handed out thousands of little buns to the children, providing a brief cessation to the anguish of their bellies. We also gave bread at the settlement hospital, to listless patients in the maternity ward and the malaria ward. Once the bakery is fully operational as a bread-selling enterprise, Sophie and Angella are committed to distributing 20% of the products for free to the neediest refugees.

The bakery had just been completed when we arrived. The $16,000 that was spent to build it was adequate to get it started, but there remain many items, large and small, that are required for it to become sustainable. To give one example (unfortunately there are many others), there were electricity blackouts on more than half the days we were there, and the need for a generator to power the mixer during blackout times is critical. Being a poor country besieged with poverty, there are very few resources available. If you can help with a donation, however small, it will be a great benefit to this worthy endeavor. For the record, the bakers will be paid about $2.85 per shift (10,000 Ugandan shillings). A gift of $100 pays more than one month of salary. One hundred percent of each donation will go directly to the bakery. The link to the donation page is found here:

The gratitude that I feel for your consideration will be amplified one hundred times by those who will directly benefit—the bakers, whose lives are being beautifully transformed, and those who receive their breads. Please feel free to forward this donation request to any of your friends and colleagues who may be interested in helping.

Where there is bread, there is hope. With deep thanks,



If you care to keep reading, below is some pre-dawn journal writing I did several days after the trainings began. Some of you may have seen it already.I write while it is early, still insect time, not yet bird time. I’m in the midst of the Uganda days, which have brought wave after wave of blunt profundity. I have never experienced anything close to this. Every aspect of life here is new to me, and fortunately I have been welcomed and accepted, I dare say even respected. That is, except for a small child now and again who is terrified at the sight of this white monster and turns away with piercing wails. This was most poignant on Saturday, the second day of the training. Sophie, who along with Angella, are the two saints who are the prime movers of this endeavor, and fellow trainer Sara, a baker/instructor from Michigan, and I, were driven by Kevin, who works from time to time as driver for Angella, to the Burundi community in the Oruchinga Refugee Settlement, close by the bakery. The bakery was conceived as a way of assisting this settlement, the oldest in Uganda, with a population of 7,000. There is a group of Burundi drummers who are somewhat supported by Angella and Sophie, and we were bringing loaves of freshly sliced bread to them, as well as hundreds of little buns in neat packages of six, for the few dozen Burundi children who are being trained by the drummers–this whole group will be at the bakery later in the week to perform for us, and I can only imagine what that will be like. It had rained hard for an hour or two during the day (fortunately not until production was done, since all the shaping is done under a pole structure with wattle roof and tarp, and the tarp leaked pretty badly), and there were puddles in the deep ruts and ravines we traveled on to get to the community–it would be quite a stretch to call this a road. On left and right were huts that were the human version of what mud daubers build. A dozen people living in three small rooms, one of which is for cooking, is not at all unusual. When the sun is up there is light; when the sun goes down it is dark–there is no electricity. Maybe there is a door.

We arrived at the community (there are also Rwandan and Congolese communities within Oruchinga) ready to implement our neat plan of bread and bun distribution. This changed almost instantly, as Sophie surveyed the scene–people streaming towards us by the dozens. I knelt in the mud, Sara ripped open the bags of six buns and handed them to me one after another, as I handed one bun to each desperate outstretched hand. The bodies were encrusted with mud, there was not one shoe in sight, the look of desperation on the faces of the children pierced my soul like a burning rock. And then it happened–the buns were gone but by no means were the splayed little hands. Partway through the bun-handing time, Sophie knew it would not be possible to give entire sliced loaves to the drummers, so we briefly decided to hand out the sliced loaves in portions of one-third. This lasted just seconds, and we began handing out just one slice to each child. Now some adults got bread too. Of course, the slices too ran out, and you can imagine how wrenching it was to tell all those without that we had no more. Earlier, at the bakery, I had brushed the crumbs from the slicer and brought them out to where the chickens peck (they also freely roam around the outside covered production area under the tarp); I am sure one of the Burundis would have been grateful for those crumbs. One woman said to Sophie “Thank you for this bread. Because of the rain I could not collect firewood, and we have not eaten any food today.” It was partway through the handing out of the buns that one poor little child concluded that it was too fearful, in spite of his pounding empty echoing belly, to risk getting close to the white apparition–he fled as if from the devil, wailing inconsolably. Today we will increase the production so that when the drummers and children come, all will receive bread.

The definition of family here is quite different, fluid and amorphous. Here are some examples: Marion is not a child of Angella’s, but she and her daughter Bridget live safely with her. Marion is 20, and an ace–one of the most eager of the trainees for sure, she also makes beautiful traditional baskets, earrings from bone, pottery, and works tirelessly. Bridget is her only child; she had her when she was 12 years old. This was not a consensual sexual act.

Sophie is raising Sarah. She found her, nameless then, when the infant was two days old. Her birth mother had thrown her, face down, into a septic pit at a hospital where Sophie was visiting a sick niece. Fortunately, her little wails were heard by the night watchman, who rescued her from the pit, but not before she had spent enough time in it to become quite sick. UN personnel helped to tend to her along with Sophie, but they have a three-month rotation, so once that group left, Sophie took her in and adopted her. People told her that the baby was cursed and she should abandon her. Sophie said “this baby was abandoned once, and I will not let her be abandoned a second time.” Sarah is five now, and was at the bakery most of the days of the training. She is a beautiful and charming little girl, a true gift to Life.

On Sunday (our one day off) we spent the day in Mbarara, where Angella lives. Towards the end of the day, we drove to the home of Sophie’s mother. “How old is she?” asked Sara. “She doesn’t know. Maybe 58, maybe 61.” We arrived to be welcomed with the simple quiet hospitality that characterizes the best of the human character. Her mother looked to be in her mid-70s, but not surprisingly, when she smiled, which was frequently, a decade was removed. Four young boys were brought out to meet us as we drank tea, and they danced for us. Sophie’s mother is raising the oldest of them (he is maybe 12). He was abandoned by his mother at one month old. She wanted to make money, so left for the city to work in the sex trade. So Sophie’s mother took him in. Sophie grew up in that house, choking on kerosene fumes; now there is electricity. She described the time, when she was five years old, that there was a drought and famine in Uganda. Once each day her mother would prepare a thin porridge, carefully measure one cup of it into bowls for each family member, and serve it at 4:00 PM (so that there would be a vague sense of food in the belly by the time the children went to bed). This was the entire food intake for the day; it went on like this for five months.

I know that what I am doing is immensely insignificant relative to the needs here, and at the same it may well be the most significant event of my life.

Now it is bird time . . .

Happy New Year


In the south, we have a superstition that eating Black-eyed peas on New Year’s Day brings good luck. Some even believe that you need to eat 365 to bring luck to every day of the new year.

My black-eyed pea recipe isn’t quite southern – it is missing hog jowl – however, with the addition of soy sauce, I more than make up for the flavor, while keeping the beans vegetarian.

Make a big pot of rice and chop up some tomatoes, onions, and parsley. Top the rice with the beans and veggies to ward off evil for the upcoming year. Add some sautéed collards on the side for some extra wealth.

Happy 2021.


Tomato Head’s Hoppin John

1 lb black eyed peas

8 cups water

½ cup soy sauce

½ cup parsley, chopped

Look black-eyed peas for rocks and place in medium pot.  Add water and bring to boil over high heat – reduce heat to low and cook partially covered for 45 minutes, check the peas if they’re not soft, remove the lids and cook another 15 minutes or until peas are soft. 

When the peas are soft, add soy sauce and parsley.  Simmer for 10 minutes.

Serve over steamed white or brown rice top with chopped tomatoes and onions  with  a  side of collards if desired.

Serves 4 – 6


Featured Artist David King

H. David King was born and raised in Knoxville.  David graduated from UT with a degree in Anthropology and a minor in art. He is a U.S. Army veteran and is now retired after 36 years with the Federal government. He has 4 children. He and his wife Jennifer live in Strawberry Plains.  His preferred mediums are oil on canvas or panel and pencil. 


To Our Customers

With the real threat of COVID-19 to our loved ones and its increased impact on all of our lives, we believe connection and communication are essential. The wellbeing of our customers, staff, and community is always of utmost importance to us. As a restaurant we have a strong practice of sanitation embedded in our daily work routines. This month we have stepped up our efforts to regularly sanitize more parts of our restaurants, including high-touch surfaces in both public spaces and in our kitchens. 

Our regular practices:

  • Train all new staff on proper sanitary procedures
  • Require staff to wash hands regularly
  • Use gloves for all food contact in both kitchen and prep areas
  • Wash and sanitize all dishes with a high-temperature dishwasher and/or sanitizer solution
  • Clean all surfaces between each use with sanitizer solution
  • Equip bathroom doors with hands free openers
  • Require staff with symptoms of any illness to remain at home

In addition, we will be:

  • Doing all of the above with a heightened attention to detail for the safety of both our customers and staff
  • Sanitizing door handles, to-go counters, condiment containers, and other high touch-areas more frequently
  • Requiring staff to wash hands more frequently

We will stay open to serve you in our restaurants for both dine-in and take-out orders, and our staff will continue to be equipped with the proper training, tools, and supplies to keep our communities safe. 

We appreciate your business and continued support. 






Richard Hood – featured artist

Truth is stranger than fiction.

Live life long enough and the truth of that old saw may smack you about the head more than once.  But what’s also often the case that truth and reality don’t need much embellishment to cross from the mundane to the glorious; in fact, sometimes, all it takes is a change in the point of view.

Human perception is an easily exhausted tool.  Consider nasal fatigue whereby even the most exotic aromas will fade into the unexceptional after only few minutes of constant exposure.  Likewise, cloud crowned mountain majesties become just another feature of the landscape after only days of being in regular sight.

We get used to the magic around us.  And sometimes, we want to improve it, to refigure the enchantment.  How we do that is part of what gets artist Richard Hood fired up.

Hood, photographer, scholar, writer, and musician, isn’t exactly on a mission to reintroduce the magic of the everyday into our lives.  At least, he hasn’t proclaimed any such crusade, but his photography and, arguably, other aspects of his work manage to hint at a passion that’s rooted in the authentic, things free of too much interference but full of the natural wonder about us.

Hood’s photographic style is natural and deliberate.  He eschews that idea of taking hundreds of photos in hopes of capturing the right image. Most days, he says, “I just take 6 or seven pictures.”  He also abjures the tendency to manipulate images.  In fact, Hood’s ethos is rooted in in a kind of authenticism that not only honors the place, time, and context of his work but also seeks to keep focus on the true, perhaps unaltered nature of his subject.

“We’re in this postmodern world where the truth has gone to hell.  It’s lies in the name of establishing some reality that people are going to abide by – just like photography in which people are suffusing photos with color and now that’s becoming a standard.  Nothing makes me crazier than these photos that look like they’re from another planet because they load them up with colors that have never existed on Earth.”

It may be easy to equate Hood’s passion for the authentic with Luddism, but that would be a mistake.  It’s not technology that concerns him – it’s more akin to a disdain for over-manipulation of a subject.  “These are definitive acts that you’re doing: photography, writing, playing.  But if they’re not true to the place or the times, what’s the point?”

If you search YouTube hard enough, you can find footage of Hood playing a fretless banjo which he plays in a 2 finger style.  He owns other instruments and, as far as I can tell, has nothing against the typical fretted banjo.  But his passion for music is also rooted in a quest for the authentic.  When he talks about Bluegrass, he refers more than once to the tension between tradition and improvisation: “There’s a passionate insistence on getting it right and yet the music is improvisational so to do it the right way, you have to do it wrong.”

For Hood, it doesn’t come down to what’s right or wrong or whether or not progress is bad.  For him the “inventiveness as to be true to what’s in the music itself.  In interviews when he was asked how he knew what to play, Bill Monroe said, ’You play what’s in the tune.’”

In his photography Hood seeks to echo that sentiment with images that are often magical without much manipulation.  But you can see for yourself.  “East Tennessee Images by Richard Hood: Limited Edition Photographs” will be on view at the downtown Knoxville Tomato Head on Market Square from June 3rd thru July 7th.  The exhibit will then display at the West Knoxville Tomato Head from July 9th thru August 5th.

David Luttrell – Featured Artist

You’ve likely seen more of David Luttrell’s work than you realize.  For years David was one of the staff photographers for Knoxville’s late and lamented weekly alternative Metro Pulse and its successor the Knoxville Mercury.  He’s shot lots of commercial work and was a photographer for TVA in the 80’s.  So he’s seen a lot, and, if you’ve been around Knoxville for a while, you’ve probably seen some of what he’s seen, too.

This month you can see a choice selection of Luttrell’s work, old and new, hanging on Tomato Head walls; and while it’s a fascinating set of images, portraits and inventive collage-like work, the collection itself is a portrait of creativity and perspective that tells a fascinating story of the artist himself.

There’s a photo of our founder, Mahasti, that Luttrell took for the cover of “Yummm” a regular restaurant guide published by the Metro Pulse.  “A lot of these go back, but they range from stuff that I shot in the 70s and 80s and there are some from Big Ears when I was shooting for the Mercury.”

Luttrell’s portraiture always seems particularly thoughtful- the subjects are engaged, often intensely, with their own work or thoughts; some even seem surprised that he’s there, almost like they’ve just noticed the quiet guy in the corner who finally speaks up.

But David isn’t a particularly quiet guy – he laughs freely, he’s conversant and he’s interested.  Often at a shoot it seems he’s there not merely to capture but to participate.  Perhaps it’s that quality, seasoned with his intense curiosity that adds allure to his work.

There’s a portrait of Ashley Capps that David took with a 5×7 Viewfinder.  The camera itself is the very image of old-fashioned – think a large wooden tripod and a cloth draped over the photographers head.  And yet he says, “I will admit that I was very reluctant to even come to this conclusion but my favorite camera now is the one that also makes phone calls.”

The advantage, he explains, is that the phone is famously omnipresent: “There are billions and billions of images being produced by people all over the world.  A lot of them aren’t particularly good, but a lot of people get some wonderful things just because they were there with a camera.”

For David, that ease yields some powerful results because his curiosity leads him to look at lots of things.  There’s a fascinating photo of Eddie’s Auto Shop.  The establishment, made a little famous by way of Johnny Knoxville’s attentions, is closed but, David says, “When Eddie died they just locked the doors.  I pulled in there one day, and walked up and peered in through the door.  It was like a neutron bomb had gone off – everything was still in place but there were no people.  I put my i-phone right up against the window and took this pic.  It’s crazy. “

It’s a beautiful shot, and all the more alluring because of its simplicity.

There are also some beautifully complex images in David’s exhibit including some, he admits, “that I’ve taken without even using a camera.”  These pieces, created by way of a scanner, are thoughtful and some are haunting especially one called “Cat Bird”.  It’s a composition that the artist assembled and captured on a flatbed scanner using a bird that his cat brought into the house and a collection of old letter stamps that David’s wife owned.

“It’s interesting because different scanners, do different things, but some have depth of field without having an aperture.”  But all of them require David to create backwards as the final layer of the composition on the scanner is the furthest away from the lens in the resulting image.

David’s journey through technology is a story many of us share in different ways, but what makes his journey and this exhibit fascinating is the way that he’s embraced change in the world and his field and continued to express himself beautifully.

“As you get older things change.  The internet and things have changed the way things work.  It is what it is.  You can turn into a crotchety old man and go ‘harrumph, harrumph,’ or you can decide to roll with this and see where it takes you.  That’s what I’ve decided to do.”

David Luttrell’s work will be on view at the Downtown Tomato Head Restaurant on Market Square from May 6th thru June 2nd.  He will then be on view at the West Knoxville Gallery Tomato Head from June 4th thru July 8th.

Cynthia Markert – Featured Artist

Cynthia Markert’s work may be among the most currently recognizable art created in Knoxville.  Her most identifiable paintings feature variations of women, all flapper-esque with distinctive page-boy coifs.  It’s a theme she pursues religiously and has for many years.  And although she was raised in Oak Ridge and traveled and lived elsewhere, notably in DC, at various points in her life, one might safely opine that this artist is almost pure Knoxville in the best possible way.

To talk with Markert is to take a take a stroll through some defining moments leading up to Knoxville as we know it today.  Her work found its way into the Fine Arts pavilion during the 1982 World’s Fair.  Later she took up residence in the 11th Street Artist’s Colony.  She sipped coffee at Java from the beginning, in its Old City pioneer days. And through it all she lived in Maplehurst, a nearly fabled community full of creative spirit and, some might say, spirits of the long gone but lingering.

“Knoxville and Maplehurst have a spiritual hold on me.“

It’s no wonder, and really no mistake that Markert found her way into all these moments.  She lives, much in the same way she paints, with openness and presence, and because of that, is drawn to the positive rhythm of life.   “When I had a studio above the 11th Street coffee house, I would walk all along the water by UT and just sort of empty my mind out.  And that would give me this space to create.”    It a space without cellphones and distraction where she is able to get lost, to be open, and let things happen.

That doesn’t mean that she doesn’t attract negative energy and criticism from time to time, she says, “Some say ‘she just paints the same thing over and over’ – it’s so untrue.“

While it may be true that her work is distinctive and thematic with recurring elements of form and content, the genesis of the work is unique and contributes to an almost ineffable and certainly individual mood in each piece.

Markert began our conversation with a complaint about the quality of wood she’s been getting.  It’s her defining medium, and lately she’s noticed more issues with warping and other flaws that “make it harder for me to hallucinate.”  Of course, she laughs, “I’m not hallucinating.  It’s almost like in Charlotte Perkins Gillman’s ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’ I’ve always associated my work with that, with trying to set the woman free.”  Markert smiles in a way that makes me wonder if she’s pulling my leg and adds, “I have to have motion in the grain of the wood – that’s where I see my women.”

Artists often speak of being in the zone, but for Markert that moment of utter concentration is akin to a trance-like state of complete presence and receptivity in which she waits for something, some potential and latent quality in the wood to reveal itself.  It’s not too far removed from seeing shapes in the clouds or finding religious imagery in everyday objects, but when Markert paints she is waiting to see if her women appear in the wood.  But in some ways, it’s less important for Markert – and perhaps for us, too – to see the women as it is for her to discover what they’re seeing.

It’s this quality that gives Markert women their magic – it’s the feeling that we’re being observed, that someone is asking, “Is that really what you’re going to do?”

Thumbing through her journal, Cynthia Markert, finds the passage she’s looking for.  It’s a quote she’s written on the left hand side of her journal (all her literary references are on that side):

“Scott Fitzgerald observed that the flapper had been created by a spirit of emancipation that had been fermenting since the beginning of the century.”

Reading this quote aloud lights a flame in the artist, her eyes flash because, she says, she’s “excited by any emancipation of women from extremely rigid roles – so I became obsessed by marriage in England in the 1890s, how the women were stuck and subject to outrageous things: if she was divorced the man got her money, well he already had all her money, her children.  And then the obsession grew to every little patch of the earth which still has so much of that [female subjugation].”

This obsession she describes began with seeing how male-dominated her college art text, “They didn’t mention any women except for Georgia O’Keefe.  All the paintings were by men with the male gaze.”  Markert’s paintings explore the female gaze, and that, she thinks, is what draws women in particular to her work, “that, and the attitude – they are not there for men’s desire, they are their own women.”

“Forty Years of Painting” by Cynthia Markert will be on view at the downtown Knoxville Tomato Head on Market Square thru May 5th.  She will then exhibit at the West Knoxville Gallery Tomato Head from May 7th thru June 3rd.

Centro Hispano de East Tennessee – Student Art

For the second time this year, the walls of Tomato Head are covered with the art work of the young.

It’s easy to consign children’s art only to that frequent gallery called the fridge, where bright splashes of color and abstract figures are hung with magnets and soon overlooked in the daily quest for snacks.

And it’s true that the work may not be sophisticated in the way adults often understand that word. But all art, whether it’s created by smooth little fingers or creased larger ones, has some representational value.  Sometimes it’s symbolism, sometimes it’s a value like beauty or virtue, and sometimes, it’s nothing less than joy: the artwork created by students in Centro Hispano’s after-school program is chock full of just that.

Megan Barolet-Fogarty is the director of Youth and Family Engagement for Centro de

Hispano de East Tennessee, a non-profit organization “for education and social services to improve the quality of life and the successful integration of these families into the community.”  And one of Barolet-Fogarty’s particular missions is to help children of these families through after school tutoring – which is what led her and her charges to the walls of our restaurant.

“We run tutoring usually 2 days a week after school. I was looking for ways not just to extend the school day by two hours and have them sitting in their seats for that whole time,” and she says she was looking for a way, “to have an educationally enriching that was also fun.”

But when Barolet-Fogarty uses the word fun in this context, it carries a lot more meaning than that word might normally signify because, “A lot of them,” she says, “are newcomers to our area and to the United States and are struggling with the language.  So I wanted something other than to have them fill out worksheets or look at sight words when they’ve already been struggling to do that all day.”

The result is a program that not only fills the extra hours but offers students a hands-on introduction to the artistic heritage of Hispanic and native cultures.  She notes that “for each project they get a worksheet that tells them about the cultural history of where art came from, we show them some examples, look at pictures, and talk about vocabulary related to that.  And then they create their interpretation of what that art might look like.”

For the first project Barolet-Fogarty turned to  Amate Bark, a native Mexican art form using bright colors painted on natural paper produced from bark for which she used crinkled paper bags and tempura paint because, she explains, ”Our after school programs are funded by the United Way and a number of other smaller grants, but at this point  I  really didn’t have any funding. So it was me coming up with the cheapest materials possible – but that’s also exciting because it’s something the kids can replicate at home which is always something that you hope for.  They learn that you can create art not just from a fancy kit.”

Now through assistance from East Tennessee’s Chairman’s Club and a small foundation from New York, the Centro is able to engage an artist to help the children to learn and to develop their skills.  The projects are varied and have included “Alibreje, a form of art created by Pedro Linares, who had a dream he was sick – of wild animals that were combinations like a coyote with a peacock tail or a dragon with am elephants snout – all sorts of mystical creatures.  This is something that we did with papier-mache that was created in collaboration with Cattywampus Puppet Council.”

The value of the project is manifold.  Of course the students learn more, but they also come away with a better sense of themselves.  As Barolet-Fogarty puts it, “For us it’s really fun to see what they produce, so it’s not about the quality of the art.  It’s helping kids who are struggling in their classes because they don’t really understand the language to find joy in learning something and have confidence in something they produce.  That’s pretty great.”

We agree.

Centro Hispano de East Tennessee students will exhibit at the West Knoxville Gallery Tomato Head thru May 6th.








Thumbprint Cookies – Nowruz Recipe

I‘m at an age when I may be guilty of idealizing my youth in a kind of “the good old days” filter that blocks out any unpleasant memories of political or cultural unease.  Of course, I wasn’t aware of any such issues, at least not in a way that was meaningful: I had a privileged upbringing.  We weren’t rich by the American standard – not by any stretch of the imagination- but I didn’t worry about when and if my next meal would arrive.  We ate a lot of soup beans and cornbread, but we ate.  And life got better, and there were more cookies and cakes, and always love.

So whenever I’m asked to write about cookies I find that I often write the same kind of column.  Cookies make me think of my grandmother and the smells of her kitchen and all the love and good stuff that goes along with those memories.  As I write, I can almost always count on a few tears, too– some coming of good memory, others of remorse and loss.

But these cookies are not like other cookies.  Sure, they are – I mean they smell good and I know that they evoke potent memories for Mahasti, memories of her mother’s frantic holiday baking which always included special thumbprint cookies made with homemade jam.  But these sweets are treats made for the Iranian New Year – a spectacular celebration called Nowruz: literally translated as “a new day”.

It’s a holiday that begins at the exact moment that the vernal equinox begins, precisely when the sun crosses the equator.  So it varies in terms of calendar time, but it’s a major celebration that’s about 3000 years old.

Like many nations of ancient pedigree, Persian culture is spread across the globe, and despite what you may think you know about Iran and Iranians, the people and culture are diverse especially among the millions living outside the border of Iran.  But in the midst of theses differences, Nowruz, a secular holiday, is a common denominator among people of varied world views.  It’s a symbol of the one great truth that binds all people on earth: we are on earth, we live under the sun, and we are all subject to its rise and fall.  And whether great or small, each of us lives within the cycles of birth and death.

Like all celebrations of the new year, spring festivals, and even harvest rites, Nowruz is optimistic:  This year will be a good year, this sowing will yield a good crop, this child will live in peace.

Hope is the root of so many treats: we bake to celebrate, and cookies are as much a celebration of the goodness and sweetness of the earth as they are an indulgence shared by our mothers (and fathers, too).  So perhaps your mother didn’t bake like mad for Nowruz, but someone in your past, even if it was just you, hoped that life would get better, that you would live without worry and discord.  Finding a time to forget what divides you from your neighbor and, instead, celebrating what you share, what is common to you and them, whoever “them” may be, is a valuable part of countless celebrations around the world.  It’s also a good way to live with less worry and discord.

A good start is to bake some cookies, and share them.  With everyone.


My Mom’s Thumbprint Cookies


1/2 Cup Butter, softened

1/4 Cup Light Brown Sugar

1 Egg, separated

1 Cup All Purpose Flour

½ – 2 cups Nuts, chopped

Jelly or Jam.

Cream the butter and sugar, until light and fluffy.   Add egg yolk and mix until smooth and creamy.  Add flour and mix until all the flour is mixed in.  Scoop 1 Tablespoon portions and roll into balls.  Dip the cookie balls into the egg white then roll them in the chopped nuts.

Place the cookies on a cookie sheet 1 inch apart.  Make an indent with your thumb in the center of the cookie.  Bake in 350-degree oven for 5 minutes remove from oven and re-indent the centers again if necessary.  Bake for 10 -12 minutes more.  Allow cookies to cool then fill the center with your favorite Jam or Jelly.

Makes 11 cookies.

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