Exploring Other Cultures Through Music and Food

Two of my favorite things in life, beside my family, are music and food. Music as a medium is a way to explore cultures. I have co-hosted a two-hour music show on public radio, with my dear friend, Lynn. Our theme was curating, broadcasting, and discussing music of the world in the folk tradition. What does that mean? I am quite sure there is a human group on this planet that does not have music. Music is the ultimate communication tool. We use some form of music, on instruments or voices, to express love, faith, happiness, sadness, and the whole range of human emotions. We explore political systems with music. We relate stories about birth, death, dying, murder, disaster, and other events in the human experience. We may sing about our dogs, cats, our cars, our bicycles, trains, and other forms of transportation.

Some of my favorite forms of musical explorations are those that related news of the day and other current events. The English and Scottish popular ballads collected by Francis James Child were broadsides, sort of news-carrying posters, that told stories of, for example, a man killing his mistress for becoming pregnant, or about a hanging on the “gallows pole”. Led Zeppelin once recorded that vary song, which was a “Child Ballad”. Folk Duo, Simon and Garfunkel recorded a song called “Scarborough Fair”, which was Child’s “Elfin Knight”. Child was Harvard’s first oratory and rhetoric professor at the end of the 19th Century when he collected more than 300 ballads of English and Scottish origins. He also noted that many of those ballads arrived on, what is now, United States soil largely intact and made their way into the Appalachian mountains, Arkansas, and Virginia. There are other stories of song collectors, like Ralph Van Williams, known for orchestrating the traditional “Greensleeves” as other orchestration of poetry, like George Meredith’s “A Lark Ascending”. We can look to music to give us a glimpse into the history of a people. That is why I love it.

For the past eight years I’ve played in a band. In my first band, I played with very good musicians. That helped me to be a better musician. In my most recent band, there did not seem to be a desire to practice, and we were not the best musically, but we had a great time, and the people who came to hear us had a good time. Now, I meet with a group of musicians weekly. They are very good, and I can see that I will have to step up my game. One thing for sure, each musician in these musical gatherings walks away feeling good about the two or more hours spent together in expressions about the fabric of humanity. In the picture above, a friend and I entered a “talent” contest, and we performed a song called, “Sweet Violets”, which is a rather goofy song once performed by Mitch Miller and his Orchestra. Look it up. It’s a fun song with unexpected poetic forms.

I have moved recently. I used to live in a small rural community that boasted 36 languages and dialects. My job (and passion) was researching the new communities to understand better their lives around health, well-being, and social connections. I ate many a wonderful meal around tables with families from 10 countries of Africa, eight Latin-American countries, 10 Asian countries, and many others. Now, I’m in a university town, and I still have the wonderful opportunities to share meals with international families. Until we get fully moved from our previous town to this new town, I live in temporary quarters with another person, Patty. A good fit for me, Patty connects with many people from different parts of the world. One evening I came “home” to find friends from China who had brought their “hot pot”. On the table were many-colored vegetables, raw meats, tofu, and noodles laying ready for us, gathered around a pot of exquisitely-flavored broths, to plunge our chosen food-stuffs in for a fragrantly-cooked meal. The pot held two types of boiling broths. One was mild, and one was hot. (I’m sorry that I can’t rotate this picture. Apparently, it has something to do with doing this from my iPad).

During our meal, we talked. We laughed. We ate, and we shared stories of our personal experiences. Once again, food was a vehicle for socializing, and transmitting of culture.

A few days later that week, it seems to go in cycles, we shared a lovely mean with one of our best-friend-couples, Bob and Adrian. They are sheep ranchers, and the source of my beloved lamb that graces my freezer. Adrian wanted to present a lovely meal around lamb, so her menu: Rack of Lamb, braised Brussels sprouts, tiny baked potatoes, and homemade bread. Sublime!

Adrian finished the meal with a densely-packed apple pie. Look at this:

I love to cook, and, somehow, I have close friends who love to cook, too. We eat. We laugh. We love, and we are happy to be alive!

Thank you for reading my blog!

Food in Social and Intercultural Interactions!

In the past three months, I’ve attended a Diwali (The Hindi celebration of Light in the Darkness) in my rural Kansas town, thanks for my friends and colleagues from India.  Two days later, I had a wonderful Filipino meal, which included Pancit, stews, and bread.  There I watched as my friends, Karen and Jonathan, parents witnessed their first snowfall, back in November.  All this while, I had the honor of interacting with a wide range of folks.  I learned a little more about them by sharing in their cultural celebrations and the foods of their regions and countries.  It’s my favorite thing to do!  I walk away, a little fuller in my stomach, heart, and mind.  I will chronicle some of the events, here.  The food from the Diwali included curry spices, chick peas, basmati rice, potatoes, chicken, and, in the white bowl, Gulab Jamun, these wonderful little pastry-like rounds soaked in syrup.  This food fed my soul!

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Eating with my friends, who hail from the Philippines, we were treated to pancit, a clear noodle and vegetables dish with lovely flavors of garlic and savory flavors of pork (the preference of our host).  We were also treated to a stew with beef and Lumpia, a spring roll of vegetables and meat.  Yes!  Also the first snow for Karen’s parents!

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Well, it’s been a few weeks since this pleasant evening out on the porch, but I’ve wanted to tell you about it for a while.  We call it, “Happy Hour”.  We each bring food and drink to share.  In addition to the homemade pizzas, cheese, and dessert that I offered, my friends brought cooked carrots, the best Leche de flan from my friend, Karen, who apparently learned to bake this velvety, smooth custard in her home country of the Philippines.  She’s pictured above with her parents’ first snow fall while on a visit to the U.S.  Another friend offered her sweet carrots, and another brought apple cobbler, and we had chicken pot pie.  In such “happy hours”, I’d say the conversation stands as the most important aspect with food bringing up a close second.  I found it interesting that, on this particular occasion, the men sat outside, and the women sat inside.  Hmmmm….I wonder why this happened. more-party-goers.jpg

For an appetizer, I made my own type of Bourisin cheese by draining whole-milk, Greek style yogurt in a hanging cheese cloth.  I added my own blend of dehydrated vegetables for a tangy cheese spread.  One of my favorite things to do is make pizza dough and have all the trimmings of vegetables, meats, cheeses, sauces (marinara and pesto are my favorite sauces to have available), and attendees make their own pizzas.  We have a great time.  Here are some of the offerings for this lovely October evening: 1) My “Boursin” cheese nestled in a clay pot, 2) Baked pizza with pesto, and 3) Leche de Flanimg_3742[1]img_3744[1]

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Holidays are for Family and Friends

I am writing this from my ipad instead of my computer. The site looks different, and it seems more difficult to navigate, but here it goes.

I am now working 4.5 hours away from my home, which is for sale at the moment, and we’re hoping to find a home in the town where I work.

While home this past weekend, we were visited by friends and invited to eat at other friends’ house. I get such a warm feeling when I’m with my friends. They offer such unconditional love and support.

So, Kathy, (i’ll use first names only)made a delightful tortilla soup chalked full of chicken, tomato, and a lovely broth. I failed to take pictures of the food. I did photograph the lovely center piece on the table, however.

Mark and Kathy have been married for 40 years, and they’d just discovered their wedding candle among stored boxes. That’s the big white candle in the middle.

Our meal consider of the Tortilla Soup. I brought some of my Grandmother’s dried corn, beans and venison stew with corn bread. There were lovely appetizers, too!

Kathy made some yummy cocktails:

At the bottom of a champagne flute, place 3 or 4 raspberries. Cover the raspberries with about 2 Tablespoons (28.3g) of Chambord raspberry liqueur. Complete the drink with chilled champagne or sweet, sparkling wine.

For dessert, we had pecan pie made by Kathy, and Phil made pumpkin pie. We ended the evening by watching “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” with Boris Karloff in the lead role.

More later…

It’s Time to Return to Blogging

Too much time has passed since my recent blog dating back to September when I paid tribute to our deceased daughter.  Since that time, I visited by home town, as the featured photo shows, and I’v had a life-changing event: a new job!

Now, I have been on my new job, which was a move from one department to another at the university where I work for nearly one month.  I have gone from social researcher and community educator to another exciting job that works to ensure the success of multicultural students.  Now remember, “multicultural” means all cultures!  One thing that I’ve realized in my work with the many cultures, ethnicities, and dominant populations these past 25 years is that many think the word, “multicultural” means anyone who is not White and middle-class (in the United States).  That means finding common definition or understanding to assure that 1) Every human is from a culture, 2) Everyone has an ethnicity (belonging to a social group that has a common national or cultural traditions), and 3) Every human can find common ground from which to build a relationship.  As you can see, I have my work cut out for me.

One thing I didn’t report, here, is that my former work was at an agricultural experiment station in SW Kansas.  Now I am on the campus, which is 4.5 hours away.  That means sell a house and buy a house.  Wish me luck.

So, in terms of friendships that change because they have become long-distance, I have wonderfully close friends in my former town.  I will see them often, for now, because I go “home” on the weekends. I am making new friends, too.  I will return to my soon-to-be former home this weekend to eat, drink, and be merry with my friends.  I love them dearly.  I have gone to a few dinner gatherings since being in the town of my new position.  Since many of our readers like food, I will share a newly-created appetizer that I took to one of the gatherings.

It’s a fruit, cheese, and nut medley, and I’ve named it, “Fall Colors”.

1 bag of fresh cranberries

2 oranges

1/2 cup (64g) coconut sugar

2 teaspoons (8.5g) Chinese 5 spice

One “log” of goat cheese

1 cup (28g) shelled walnuts

Brandy or vanilla is optional (brandy would be added during cooking and vanilla added when removed from the heat)

To make the compote, chop the oranges (peeling and all) and combine with the other ingredients in a saucepan to cook gently until the liquid comes out of the cranberries and oranges and the compote is thickened.  Remove from the heat.  If you use vanilla, add it now.

After the compote has cooled, place the goat cheese on a plate, and arrange the compote around the cheese, and top with the walnuts.

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When you scoop it up, make sure you have a nice distribution of the cheese, compote and the nuts so that you have the advantage of all the flavors.  It goes well with nut crackers, and enhances the taste of red wine.  I call it “Fall Colors”, because cranberries and oranges are fresh at this time in the Northern Hemisphere.

Enjoy, and thank you for reading.

A Beautiful Young Lady

On September 27, 1981, a lovely little girl came into this world in last hour of the day.  We called her Riki Lee.  She was extraordinary in so many ways.  A natural leader, Riki was often called, “bossy”, because the world isn’t used to girls who lead naturally.  She went through school as a popular girl who gathered her peers at the house, or where ever young people gathered.

Riki tried everything, once.  She played bass guitar in a band and tried her hand at skating boarding.  She competed on the swim team, and did well.  She played basketball, and was the high score-maker that year.  What ever she tried, she did well.  Riki worked as a waitress during high school, and came to love food and cooking.

At the age of 22, Riki married her childhood sweetheart, Jonathan.  They had been best friends since the age of 12!  In their 14 years of marriage, they had three lovely children.  Riki worked as the director of nutrition for a school where she and her family live.  Riki made friends quickly, and she was known as “Mama Bear” to her large group of friends she lovingly called, “The Village”.   The Village gathered every Wednesday for Riki’s famous “taco bar”.  She was known as a bread-maker and a cook of extraordinary talent.  She was known for her homemade noodles, too.  Her sons said they’d never find someone who cooks better that “Mom”.

It would take pages and pages to talk about Riki’s extraordinary life, and it was cut too short.  On December 18, 2015 at 10:05 p.m., our son-in-law called to tell us Riki had a heart attack (She was 34), we jumped in the car and drove 9 hours through the night to get to her.  She was on life supports.  When we arrived at the hospital the next morning, The Village was in the waiting room of the intensive/critical care unit of the hospital.  There were about 8 couples waiting.  The men were openly weeping, and the women had the most frightened looks on their faces.  “What was happening to their beloved ‘Mamma Bear’?  I could feel such great love for our daughter in that room.

Riki had been on heart medication for the past 11 years.  Because of a switch in insurance, she had to change cardiologists.  The new doctor said, “You’re on strong medicine.  Let’s take you off of it and see how you do.”  Needless to say, that was a reckless call on the doc’s part.

Riki took her last breath New Year’s morning.  So many things run through one’s mind as one witnesses the last breath of a child in a similar setting as the first breath is taken…in a hospital.  The next dreadful step was to tell the children, ages 7, 11, and 12, that their mother was gone.  Watching their little hearts break was excruciating!

Riki loved life, and she loved people.  She was a wonderful mother, and a loving daughter to her parents and to her brother, Stevie.  When we think of her, we think of this smile:

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And this ornery streak:

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When my sister passed at the age of 60, I read the words of Lebanese-American poet, Khalil Gibran, “On Children” to give my mother some comfort.  Now, I read the words and find some comfort in them, too.   If you ever get the chance, listen to the poem as brought to music by a Capella group, Sweet Honey in the Rock.  They bring an exquisite meaning to the words.

On Children by Khalil Gibran

Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you, yet they belong not to you.
You may give them your love but not your thoughts.
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.
You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite, and He bends you with His might that His arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness;
For even as he loves the arrow that flies, so He loves also the bow that is stable.

We keep the memory of Riki in our hearts.  We can hear her voice.  We can hear her laughter.  May she watch over her children, and may she rest in peace.  Here is love to your, our beautiful daughter.

 

The Love Language of Food

Remember Gary Chapman’s book about the love languages?  I see truths in it.  Chapman’s premise centers on ways a couple demonstrate love to one another: words of affirmation, quality time, gift-giving, acts of service, and physical touch.  Actually, this communication and service go beyond couples in a committed relationship.  I think one can demonstrate loving language to any one.  Of course, there may be parts that are off limits.  For example, I have a co-worker that gives me vegetables from his garden, but I can’t imagine that we’ll ever exchange hugs!

So why is my featured photo a cauliflower steak?  I think I share the love language of cooking with my spouse.  We certainly share the desire to eat tasty and creative foods.  Cooking together, I suppose, falls into the love languages of “quality time” and “acts of service”.  Our meals together seem to be an affectionate time of the day, so I share our delicious meal tonight: grilled salmon, cauliflower steak, and rice with my ginger-soy-shallots-quince sauce.

First, I made a marinade for the salmon.  In the bottom of a rectangle glass cake pan, I added:

2 tablespoons (28g) sesame oil, 1 tablespoon (14g) grated ginger, 1 teaspoon (4g) garlic powder, grated pepper, 3 Tablespoons (42g) soy sauce, and a splash of teriyaki sauce to assure browning.  Mix it in the glass cake pan.  Then add salmon skin side up.  Smear the salmon in the marinade, and then repeat on the skin side.  Grill on the skin side down, with the grill lid closed, until  it reaches an internal temperature of 145 degrees F. (63 C) taken on the thickest part of the flesh.

I cook my rice in a rice cooker, and we usually put start it in the morning, and it stays warm until we’re ready to use it.  For the rice, I made a sauce.  We have a quince tree in the front yard.  It produces about six pieces of fruit on a good year.  Quince, related to apples, adorns a yard quite beautifully.  It blooms a lovely pink blossom in the spring, and turns a pale yellow in the fall.  The quince tree protects itself from predators with long thorns, which make harvesting the fruit a bit perilous.  My harvest take today was one piece of fruit.  Here’s the tree in the spring.

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The fruit packs a wallop in pectin, so it’s prized for thickening jams.  The one tiny, little fruit added pectin to thicken my sauce, and a sort of glutamate  flavor enhancer.  Here’s my recipe for the rice sauce.  I’m not going to call it a gravy, because it’s not heavy.  It’s a light sauce.

2 cloves garlic, 2 TBS (28g) sesame oil, 2 chopped green onions (set one chopped green onion aside for the final garnish), 2 TBS (28g) chopped ginger, 1 peeled and grated quince. (If you don’t have a quince, grate a half small apple), and 3 TBS (42g) soy sauce .  Cook all ingredients until it begins to thicken.  Add 1 cup (.23 kg) water.  Continue to simmer until thickened.

Rice topping

As featured in the header, the cauliflower was cooked in butter with some added salt and pepper.  Now it’s time to eat!

Salmon and the C steak

We usually eat our Asian-inspired rice dishes with chop sticks.  Here’s the rice.  To finish it, I sprinkled it with the chopped green onion and toasted sesame seeds.  We added a nice white wine, and watched Robin Hood with Russell Crowe (old movie).  Voilà!

Rice with my topping

Thank you for reading!

Loss and Grieving

Loss of a loved one garners emotions that hurt to the very core of who you are.  Humans experience such emotions, because we have the power to love.  We lost our lovely daughter nearly three years ago, and the deep pain never goes away.  We just learn to live with it.  Our daughter, Riki, married her childhood sweetheart.  They had been together since they were 12, and it was a life long love story until her death at the age of 34.  She left behind three bright and lovely children, and the love of her life, Jonathan, and her brother, Stevie, and her parents.

My observation is that people don’t always know what to say when a friend, co-worker, or acquaintance are grieving.  My suggestion is that you ask about it.  Ask about the well-being of the one who is grieving.  Give a loving pat, hug, touch, or anything that establishes a physical presence.  I cannot imagine anyone, in the throes of grief, who would not appreciate such a gesture.  It is a most generous gesture, and it takes nothing from you.

Also, I can tell you what not to say: “Life goes on.”  Not sure why anyone would say such a non-affectionate, heartless thing.  As the news got around about our daughter, several people said that to me.  Okay, I get it.  They simply did not know what to say.  Then, I think, say nothing at all.  Other phrases that I’ve heard, “Aren’t you over it yet?”It boggles my mind.

I can say, here, that grief is not a linear process.  One simply learns a new way of life with its emotional ups and downs while missing the loved one.  Our daughter was extraordinary, and we see it in her children.  She was on this earth, as their mother, just enough to instill her joy for life, her curiosity, and her acerbic wit!  We miss you so very much, Riki.  I’m not posting pictures of her family since the children are young, and Jonathan needs his privacy.

Now, are you wondering why there is a dog in my featured photo.  That’s our Scottish Terrier, Fiona.  She’s in our back yard, and please notice, she is under the watchful eye of St. Francis, patron saint of animals.

Fiona came to us 13 1/2 years ago.  Her parents, Skye and Shamus, and her brother, Tavish, lived with their humans, Jeff and Jo.  We shared furbaby sitting with Jeff and Jo.  We lost daddy, Shamus, in April 2017, mom, Skye, April 2018, and two days ago, Tavish went over the “Rainbow Bridge”.  Loss is never easy, even when it’s our family “pets”.  Our furkids are such a deep part of our lives, especially when those animals belonged to our children.  Here’s Tavish, Fiona’s brother:

Upclose Tavvie

Most people who have dogs or cats know that they are important members of the family.  I have read that children who are experiencing hardship, in any form, are better able to cope if they have a close relationship to a family pet.  I tend to think that dogs are the better choice.  I find that cats are a little too independent to be affectionate when there are high emotions in the home.

Our love of Scottish Terriers began when we bought one for Stevie when he was in 7th grade.  Beth, was affectionate and sweet.  We lost her to heart failure when she was eight.  We had found an abandoned cat, Skippy, who was two weeks old.  Bethy raised that cat with all the parental chores of the “whelping nest”. Here they are:

beth and skippy They were inseparable, and when Bethy died, Skippy screamed while looking for her, for weeks.  Their favorite past time was watching the world go by at the front window when they were not outside.  I have several pictures of the two, and the only thing that changed was the weather!

Skip and Beth at window

Sometimes, Skippy and Bethy even allowed the tabby, Clovis, to share their window-watching space.  Notice the snow.

three at window

We still have Fiona.  Skippy, Beth, and Fiona’s family are gone now.  We know that 13 1/2 is old for a canine, so we dread the day.  Our furkids continue to help us through our grieving for Riki, for which we are grateful.  Here’s Fiona and our sheep dog, Jitsu.  They’re watching it rain from the deck, Fiona looking woolly and in need of a Scottie trim.

J and F

Thank you for reading.