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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A Meal for a Special Friend

In another life, I worked in Adult Education.  I worked with a fine group of women with whom I have occasional contact.  I was able to see a friend this past weekend.  Her name is Cheryl, and her expertise was early literacy for children and their, mostly, under-educated parents.  Working in adult education afforded my colleagues and me a chance to interact and work with people from around the world who came to our part of the state as political and economic refugees.  They came to our part of the state, because there are plentiful job opportunities in the agricultural sector.

Well Cheryl came for a town visit, and I was to be out of town when the old group planned a gathering – a homecoming, of sorts.   That meant I would invite Cheryl to dine with us Sunday evening.  “I will come if you don’t go through any trouble.”  Okay.  Keep in mind what is “trouble” to some is therapy for me – cooking.  So, here was my menu:

  • Grilled leg of lamb – slathered in a fresh pesto sauce before grilling
  • Caprese Salad – you may remember that I have a basil “tree” that won’t stop producing!
  • Freshly baked bread with OGB as a dip (olive oil, garlic, and basil) – featured photo!
  • Baked and whipped sweet potatoes
  • Crème de banane for dessert (an original recipe!)
  • Wine

How do you grill a leg of lamb?  We have a large kettle-style Weber barbecue.  Dale uses an “indirect” method of grilling large items such as turkey and leg of lamb.  Our friends, Bob and Adrian have a sheep farm about 13 miles away, so we always have lamb and venison, from the same county as the lamb, when I’m a fortunate hunter.  We’ll talk about venison another time.

Back to grilling the lamb.  I prepare the lamb by rubbing it with the pesto (which is well-seasoned) and black pepper.  The charcoals are prepared in a charcoal starter, which is a cylinder, which is about 2 feet tall (0.6096 meters), that has a wooden handle.  A small basket inside the cylinder holds the charcoal briquettes, which are ignited on an open fire.  Once the briquettes are glowing, they are ready to be place in the grill.  I neglected to take a picture of indirect grilling, so I borrowed an illustration from the Weber website.  Keep in mind that we roasted leg of lamb, NOT ribs.  The meat is never directly over the hot charcoals, but rather sits above a drip pan.

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So, you put about 25 coals on each side of the meat.  You must add newly heated coals about every 30 minutes. Once the meat reaches 130° F (54.44 C), take if off the grill and let it sit until it reaches 140° F (60 C).

Of course, I’ve written about my caprese salad, so that recipe can be found on one of my past blog posts, but here’s a picture of it.

Caprese and Pesto

Also, since I’m still working on using up basil, I decided to blend three large hands full of basil with 8 cloves of garlic and enough olive oil to make a nice liquid concentrate of OGB for later use.  I put the plenty in the freezer for later use.  Since it’s so very concentrated, I put a large spoon full on a bread plate to which I added a little more olive oil and a spoonful of  balsamic vinegar for a nice bread dip.

The sweet potatoes were baked, mashed with butter, salt, and a spoonful of pure maple syrup.  You may notice the color of the sweet potatoes are more like Yukon Golds.  Their dullness of yellow instead of orange is off-putting, but they are delicious!

Lamb and mashed sweet potatoes

I prepare banana cream for dessert.  To make it sound fancy, I used the French, crème de banane.  I found some very nice ripe bananas at the market, so I put three in a glass bowl to which I added 8 ounces (226.80 grams) of mascarpone cheese and four ounces (113.40 grams) cream cheese, one half cup of pure maple syrup, one spoonful of dehydrated orange rind (something I produce to flavor biscotti).  I whipped it all with a hand mixer until all was creamy.  I chilled the banana cream in individual “berry bowls”.  I was an interesting texture, which surprised the guests!  “Interesting!”  “Thank you!”  I think.

Banana Cream

Perhaps not as pleasing to the eye, I found it tasty and not too filling as a dessert.  We drank a rosé and a zinfindel with the meal.

Mostly, it was about reminiscing with Cheryl and getting to know her friends, Darryl and Ann.  At the end of the day, the food becomes a companion for conversation, which contributes to those convivial moments.

Thank you for reading.

Traveling Alaska with Friends and Granddaughter!

About four years ago, we set out on an adventure to travel Alaska in recreational vehicles with a total of 16 travelers, one of whom was our, then, 6 year old granddaughter.  I will call her “Ditto”, since she will play an important role in this story.

Well, we have some close friends with whom we have traveled to Mexico, the Texas Gulf Coast, and other place not-so-far-away.  The trip to Alaska was about a year in the planning.  My friend, Kathy, has a knack for organizing trips, for which I”m grateful since I don’t like that kind of detail.

All but four of the travelers flew to Alaska.  The other four drove to do some sight-seeing along the way.  Our flights and car trip converged in Anchorage, where we rented the recreational vehicles and began the drive across the state, as best can be done in two weeks.

This story focuses on our first stop, from Alaska, was the Kenai Peninsula and Resurrection Bay.  It was overcast and cool, which was a nice welcome coming from July the Midwest.  July in southern Alaska was wonderfully wet, and the air smelled fresh and moist!  Part of the group went fishing for halibut and salmon, which was prepared in the smoker that Mark brought from the “Lower 48” in their SUV.  We enjoyed the freshness of the fish prepared other ways, too!

One of the most exciting activities we shared was that of teaching “Ditto” how to harvest mussels during low tide.  After gathering the bi-valve moluscs, we cleaned and “de-bearded” them.  Inspecting the mussels before cooking is important.  Any that are open already, should be discarded.  That indicates a dead organism.  When your mussels are cleaned and inspected, set those aside.  I like to soak them in fresh, cool water as I’m preparing the “soup” in which I cook them.

Put a pot on the stove, saute four cloves of garlic in 3/4 stick of butter.  When the garlic is soft, add two cups of white wine.  Once the wine, butter, and garlic are simmering, add the cleaned mussels to the broth.  Put a tight fitting lid on the pot, and let the mussels simmer for 10 – 15 minutes.  Remove the lid, and you should see that all the mussels are opened to reveal the steamed moluscs.  Discard any that did not open.  That means they are not edible.

Eat the mussels with crusty French bread, which sops up the broth!  Our granddaughter is now 10, and still loves having mussels as a treat when she’s with us.  “Ditto” is seen in the feature photo enjoying her third bowl of mussels of the trip.  I love cooking and camping, especially when I get to do those with the people I love.

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?