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!

IMG_2922[1]

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!

IMG_29321.jpgIMG_37871.jpg

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]

img_3746[1]

Love to Cook and Eat with Friends

It’s good to be back.  While away from my blog these past many days, my attentions focused on lots of writing for my job and preparing presentations around building relationships in multi-cultural, multi-lingual, multi-ethnic populations.  My “lessons” and publications target educators who work with multicultural populations.  So, I have not sat down to write in this blog, but I still have to eat, and I still have many friends who stop by for a meal.

My featured photo today is my jammy fruit compote that I call CAOS (sounds like chaos!)  I created this one Thanksgiving as my answer to cranberry sauce that we serve with turkey.  Making more than one jar at a time also assured that I will have fruit to serve during times of our Native ceremonies where we have some fruit of the bounty.

So, what is CAOS? Cranberry, apple, orange, spice.  I love the taste of Chinese 5-Spice, so I used it as my spice.  Here’s my recipe:

24 ounces (680.39 g) fresh cranberries

6 red (any kind) apples – cored and chopped (do not peel)

3 oranges – chopped (do not peel and remove seeds if applicable)

2 cups (453.59 g) apple cider

1/2 cup (113.40 g) honey

1 Tablespoon (140.18 g) Chinese 5 Spice (my version is a mixture of cinnamon, ginger, cardamom, cloves, and nutmeg). Sometimes I use fennel or anise seeds in place of cardamom.

Combine all ingredients, and bring slowly to a boil stirring to a simmer.  Simmer until nice and thick until to a gelling point.  You can test for gelling by checking your stirring spoon.  I like to put a small pat of butter in my jams to reduce foaming.  When the jam is thickened, ladle into hot canning jars leaving 1/4 inch head space, seal with new lids and rings.  Process in a boiling water bath “canner” for 15 minutes.  Remove from boiling water and place on a towel on the counter out of a breeze.  The jammy fruit is ready to store when you hear the little “pop” that tells you it’s sealed.  Let the jars cool completely before you store on the shelf in your pantry.

Now, dinner with friends, Mark and Kathy, which was sort of a potluck since Kathy brought one of her famous appetizers (“appies”), Vidalia Onion Dip.  Rather than serve with the, usual crackers, we ate the dip with pork rinds to make it a low “carb” snack. I can’t remember Kathy’s recipe for the dip other than 1 or 2 whole onions, Swiss cheese, and mayonnaise.  Then you bake it.  Kathy says it freezes well, too.  I think I prefer it with crackers over the pork rinds.

vidalia-onion-dip.jpg

For the main course, I served ground lamb kabobs, which are really ground lamb with a handful of chopped cilantro, garlic, and salt/pepper.  Form a log or a patty.  Grill the lamb and serve with tzaziki (yogurt, cucumber, and garlic powder).   Lately, we’ve been sauteing red cabbage in butter with a little pepper.  It’s delicious when you allow the butter to caramelize the cabbage a bit.  We served the ground lamb with a dollop of my cilantro pesto (made with walnuts, Parmesan, garlic,and olive oil) and grilled Halloumi cheese.

  ground lamb kabob tzaziki cabbage and grilled halloumi cheese

Delightful flavors await you when you experiment.  Luckily, I have friends who like my experiments.

Thank you for reading.

Conviviality and “Hygge”

The goal today is not to be another foodie blogger, though I love to cook, bake, and, often, I get to do those things in a social settings with family, friends, and acquaintances.  I do want to talk about an aspect of nourishing our bodies along with our spirits and our lives, as in “Joie de vivre” (joy of living).

As a word collector, one of my favorites is conviviality, the quality of being friendly and lively or friendliness. Merriam-Webster takes a different approach in its meaning by connecting conviviality, specifically, to food and feasting in “good company.”  Whatever the definition of conviviality, I love the concept, and I love engaging in the act of being convivial.

A few years ago, I went to a food science conference at the University of Arizona in Tucson.  The focus of the conference was the Mediterranean Diet: Eating fresh, non-processed, omega rich foods and having a small amount of red wine each day.  What I found to be the most intriguing was the emphasis on convivial eating: sharing food with family or friends and taking your dear, sweet time to allow slow, digestible consumption of food while enjoying each other’s company.  The food scientists at this conference emphasized that the food choices play an important role in healthful eating, but went on to say that the slow, deliberate sharing of food and conversation is equally as important.  It made me wonder if there is a word in the Italian vocabulary for “fast food”.  I hope not.  I can’t help but connote the notion of fast food with un-healthful eating.

The food writer, Michael Pollan said, “The shared meal elevates eating from a mechanical process of fueling our bodies to a ritual of family and community, from mere animal biology to an act of culture”.  To that I think of the holiday meal that takes a full day to prepare, and most eat it in a matter of moments.  Perhaps a healthier thing would be to take at least half of the preparation time for consuming the meal.  So, if it takes 8 hours to prepare the meal, take 3-4 hours to eat it.  Okay, that may be excessive!  What if we took 2 hours to consume our holiday meal?  It would certainly honor the hands that prepared it.  In addition, the slow consumption of the meal would keep us from overeating, because our brains would know when we’re full sooner.

Opposite of convivial meal times is observing our grandchildren eating in the school lunch room.  The students must consumer their meals in as few as 15 minutes. The lunchroom “monitors” highly discourage conversation as well.  I know children are highly adaptable, but I can’t help but think that the daily school lunches may add some unnecessary stress to the developing mind and body. From all appearances, the children don’t seem to enjoy the process.

The Danish have the word “Hygge” (pr. Ooga or hee-gah).  Likely the word from which we get “hug”, hygge is the feeling of coziness, fun, or contentment.  The intimate setting of a small dinner party or an impromptu gathering with family or friends makes me think of hygge.  One of my favorite places for that feeling of hygge is around the camp fire in the mountains or sitting with family or friends near a body of water.  The word, “delicious” comes to mind.

The featured photo in today’s blog is that of my sister’s in-laws in Italy.  My Sis is at the far end and cannot be seen from this vantage point.  Please notice that the family is gathered around a table that seats 18.  My sister tells me that the hostess prepares fresh mozzarella and bread every day.  When I gaze at this photo, I think I can smell the flavorful food, and I marvel at the wine being poured from pitchers.  Sis tells me that the meals there take two to three hours to consume; even when everyone at table does not speak the same languages.

Thank you for reading.

 

 

 

 

 

Making Your Own Fun

We just spent the past month with our grandchildren, which is the height of our summer months.  They like to eat different foods, so we focus a lot on the evening meal, and the eldest, KDW, has given himself the job of choosing the menus (grilled lamb, lasagne, fried chicken, shrimp fried rice, macaroni & cheese,  and spaghetti).  We try to have one meal with mussels, which is our only granddaughter’s favorite.  All meals end with some sort of ice cream or other frozen dairy product and games, such as Monopoly, bowling, swimming, and movies.  Never a dull moment!

The children have returned to their homes, and we are alone again, naturally.  So now,  we turn our focus to our friends.  My hubby is out of town, so I’ve been seeing our friends a lot this past week.   I just said goodbye, for the evening, to some ladies who came for dinner.  I’ve heard the phrase, “There’s nothing to do around here!”   Perhaps, it’s the non-creative mind that says such a thing.  There is always something to do.  When you’re used to making your own fun, it can be most stimulating.

This weekend has been especially busy for me, in terms of interacting with friends.  Friday, we had happy hour on the back porch.  There was lovely food, conversation, beverage, laughter, and getting to know some new friends.  On Saturday, I went to Lynn’s, house for some interesting fun.  We sat in a stock watering talk, filled with water, which was delicious on a hot, muggy day.

The point is that we can make our own fun.  I have wonderful friends, and all of us are easy “entertainers”.  That is, we fix some food, and have some friends, who usually bring more food, come to visit.  We share these evenings, evenly, among one another.  I suppose it helps that we all like to entertain, we love to cook, and we love discussing our lives with each other.  Half of our group is retired and some of us still work.  That’s another story, however.

The picture that I’m featuring here, is the Saturday afternoon on Lynn’s back porch with her “spa” made from a livestock tank.  We filled it with water, set out the spread of smoked salmon (caught in Alaska by Mark & Kathy), blue corn cakes, cavier, sour cream, hummus (made from scratch with my own cooked chick peas), caprese salad (fresh basil, fresh mozzarella, tomatoes, and pesto sauce), and some cut up veggies. Lynn made Moscow Mules, and we soaked in the water, and passed the time.  It was marvelous.  Water is such a healing element.  We put our lawn chairs in the water tank so that we could sit next to the food table and help ourselves.  The afternoon was lovely, and before we knew it, five hours had passed.

Tonight, we had a girls’ night the featured ground lamb kabobs, veggies with dip, Brussels sprouts sauteed with bacon, fresh corn on the cob, and watermelon.  The great thing about summer is that one has access to fresh fruits and vegetables.  Our conversation centered on music and the arts.

I’m not sure what motivates one to be around friends, or not to have those types of relationships.  I realize there are some people who simply do not entertain guests in their homes.  I’m sure it’s a preference that either we have or do not have.  I was raised by a mother and father who fed a lot of people when I was growing up.  Mostly, it was relatives who ate at our house, but I remember the interactions and conviviality with great affection.

What are your thoughts on entertaining people in your home?