Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Comfort Food Around the World

“Winter is the time for comfort, for good food and warmth, for the touch of a friendly hand and for a talk beside the fire. It is the time for home.” 
                                                       --Edith Sidwell

And because I like soup:

"Only the pure in heart can make a good soup."  --Ludwig Beethoven

"A first-rate soup is more creative than a second-rate painting." --Abraham Maslow          
   "This is my invariable advice to people: Learn how to cook--try new recipes, learn from your mistakes, be fearless, and above all have fun!"    --Julia Child  
Every fall I seek out comfort food--from my own heritage, friends from around the world, and the people I come across in food stalls and markets in my travels. I have learned a lot. Sometimes my family laughs because I speak to people when we both can barely communicate. But I genuinely want to learn from them.

My favorite incident was in an Italian market in Florence, Italy, buying some dried herbs. Honestly, an older gentleman and I were communicating, even though we spoke no common language. We were excitedly waving our hands around--understanding one another's enthusiasm and love for adding herbs. Hilarious, when I think of it. I walked away, having a whole new respect for the Italian way of enhancing dishes with herbs. Also, I learned how to make a good soup about an hour later  from another Italian cook who spoke no English.

It is the season for rustic, signature dishes that feed our soul. Autumn is a time to cook and collaborate with others to stir up some luscious tastes and smells. What are some of your comfort foods? Who are the people you will gather around you to share your table and stories? Bon Appetit!

Chinese Stir Fry and Dumplings

Elias and his art teacher, Anny (from Taiwan), making Chinese comfort food--fried rice. There are so many versions,--mostly what you have on hand

A meal or snack for all of Asia...

Making Chinese dumplings with Jason, from Taiwan

When I lived in Taiwan and China, dumplings were our favorite comfort food to make with friends and families--especially for Chinese New Year. They take a long time to make, but they are worth it.


In order to make all the tasty comfort foods, you need spices--one of my favorite places to go to in the Souq in Qatar. You can find saffron, and any herb or spice you wish. A haven for most any cook. You can find different mixtures of garam masala (a mixture of Indian spices that is particular to a family or region), za' atar (a Middle East dry mix of thyme, oregano, marjoram, toasted sesame seeds, and salt. Sometimes sumac and parsley are added to the mixture. It is used as a rub for meat or fish dishes. I love to experiment and try out new spices and herbs.

Some good friends in Voeux, France, in the Provence region. I didn't want to go home with all of Lilianne's homemade meals. Every night was a wonderful soup and salad. Here is one, but you can experiment. One of my very favorite flavorings is Herb de Provence--a mixture of rosemary thyme, oregano, and basil (the usual Italian mixture), but in Provence, they add lavender (of course), fennel, sage, tarragon, and savory. As Julia Child says, "In France, cooking is a serious art form and a national sport!"

My son-in-law has brought the crepe to our family in full force--making it a tradition. Before he married my daughter, he helped me choose a crepe pan that is now a staple in our home. I treasure it and even travel with it. Ha! Last Christmas he woke up early with our daughter to make us Christmas morning crepes with Guerre cheese and ham. The secret to making a good crepe is mixing the batter in a blender and refrigerating it overnight. Also, if you want to make a galette (with buckwheat flour), here is a recipe:  Personally, I like them even better than a crepe.

Some of my Swedish/Icelandic relatives. These two are triplets, but the other one is missing...  Making some Risgrynsgrot (Rice pudding)

Risgrynsgrot Recipe

A dessert or a porridge--depending on when you eat it--in the morning or evening. Tradition says the affinity of eating risgrynsgrot began in 1328 at a funeral wake. But now it is always included in the Julboord (Christmas buffet) and during the holidays. It is left out for the Christmas elf, and if not put on the porch, it is said the elf can become mischievous. One almond is put in the pudding and if anyone finds it, they will have a wonderful year ahead. 

4 eggs, 1 cup sugar, 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg, 1 cup cooked rice (do not use the minute rice), 1 12 oz can of evaporated milk, 1/2 to 3/4 cup low-fat milk, and cinnamon

In a medium-sized bowl, beat 4 eggs lightly, add 1 cup sugar and beat a little. Add the nutmeg.

Add one can of evaporated milk

Pour into a 2-quart dish and add the low-fat milk.

Sprinkle cinnamon on top. Dollop a few tsp of butter on top, if you want. 

Bake at 325 degrees for one and a half hours or until the top of the pudding moves a little in the center if you push it gently. 


If you ever go to Sierre, Switzerland, go to this small restaurant that mainly serves raclette. Basically, it is melted cheese over vegetables and a little meat. The most important ingredient besides the cheese are the small potatoes.

Every night they have five main kinds of cheese to serve you from around the region. Each town has its own cheese, depending on what they feed the cows on how it will taste. 

My good friend, Annagreth, from Interkerken, Switzerland, introduced us to raclette. A wonderful social meal that can last for hours, kind of like its cousin, fondue.


Always a tradition for our family every year--Vinarterta. Martha Stewart recently wrote about our family's long-standing tradition. But I prefer my stained and wrinkled recipe, written in my grandmother's beautiful handwriting. One of the best things about it is that this cake can last a long time on the shelf. Instead of prune filling like my grandma or Martha, our family has a raspberry jam filling. Basically, it is just a big sugar cookie cake with jam. I have carried it with me on many a trip so we keep up the tradition... And I love to think of my grandmother and ancestors making it too. 


Hungarian Goulash and crusty bread on a cold day

The traditional trdelnik or chimney cake, a hollow roll made on some coals, that is rolled in cinnamon and sugar, and all concoctions of deliciousness with ice cream inside--made in Hungary and the Czech Republic.

If you are walking around on a cold night, you can warm your hands by the coals and then eat some ice cream.

The art of making the trdelnik...

The finished product: awaiting the ice cream
Going to Hyderabad, India was a whole new awakening of the senses. Once you get off the plane, you start to smell the spices. My son's favorite is Chicken Biryani:

We went for a wedding to a small village about four hours outside of Hyderabad, a place where most everyone had never seen Westerners. I will never forget the skills I saw as the entire village prepared for the wedding feast--a meal that fed about 3,000 people.

Eating in shifts all night long...


Can't forget Lucy, my friend from Ukraine, who is now in a pastry school in Croatia. But my favorite thing she makes is her borscht. Trust me, the ultimate in comfort food


Introducing the tagine while in Morocco... I have tried to begin duplicating tangine dishes from North Africa, particularly Morocco, which is more seasoned with lemon. I even got my own tagine that is slow cooking, pairing flavors of sweet and savory, like quinces, honey, or dates with meat and/or vegetables. The couscous soaks up the flavor of the main dish. Wonderful on a cold night.

Couscous with steamed vegetables--made for vegetarians or with lamb, chicken, and fish.

Parisa, an Iranian restaurant here in Qatar, located in the Souq Waqif (market). The bread is made in the traditional way with rocks on top, It is long and flat and eaten with almost every meal.

South Africa

I think, perhaps, I was the most most surprised at South African cooking. I was not expecting the incredible originality, freshness, and exciting mixtures. All I can say is people know how to be creative with food in South Africa--my kind of place. Everywhere there was a garden people were cooking from.

I met Diana from Managu, South Africa at a Saturday town market. It is a town up in the mountains where creativity reigns and people live close to the earth. She persuaded me to taste her cashew and garbanzo quiche. She was very happy that I liked her creations so much. She says she is a vegan, except when she gets a Camembert cheese craving.

Ruskins are popular, a crusty bread, with lots of homemade jams and marmalade. One traditional pastry is the milk tart
There is even a National Melktert Day every February 27. The milk ration is higher milk than eggs in other custards. A must, really!

I was so thrilled with this vegetarian dish at Karibou Restaurant in Cape Town that the chef gave me the recipe. I am very excited to try it. 
Czech Republic

The traditional Sauerkraut Soup in Prague--one of the most memorable and best soups of my life. Still trying to duplicate it... Believe me, it is incredible--tangy and savory all at the same time. 

Sometimes my Jordanian neighbors cook double portions and give us part of their dinners. My personal favorite is the lentil soup--my new comfort food--a favorite all over the Middle East. 

Loved this picture in the Rio History/Art Museum of a family enjoying making food and singing together.

The national dish of Brazil called Feijao we had in Rio de Janiero. Bean soups are always a comfort food for me.

But I have to say the Brazilian fruit cannot be beaten ANYWHERE--mangos, apple custard, dragon fruit, and all other sorts of fruit I had never tasted. They like to pair strawberries and dates, a new combination I did not know. This is a picture of a fruit stand looking down from a balcony. 

Shrimp risotto. My son-in-law loves to make paella. It takes a while, but it is worth it.

I found this sign in a restaurant in Magala, Spain that I could not resist posting. One of my favorite signs I have seen... No apologies...

A book I picked up here in Doha... The author shares my adventurous palette and to bring the world into our homes.
If we begin to understand people's food more, maybe we can begin to understand who they are, what is important to them, and heritages vastly different than our own. 

Elias, my son with autism, loves to bake and cook. To him, it is creating, enjoying all the senses, and that keeps me trying to satisfy that yearning for him to learn about other cultures and bake/cook healthy (Well, most of the time) food. Since we have to eat every day, we might as well make it fun, fresh, interesting, and creative. Plus we are learning to expand our box...

Monday, November 19, 2018

World Children's Day

There can be no keener revelation of a nation's soul than the way it treats its children. --Nelson Mandela

I said to the audience that perhaps the world’s troubles could be solved if we could turn over the leadership of nations to the children for a few days. Through love, they would find solutions to the misunderstandings, mistrust, and misconduct of adults in the world. 
                                                       --M. Russell Ballard

Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.           --Mother Teresa

I love this picture of my husband, a perinatologist, who has delivered over 20,000 babies. His professional life has been defined by helping to safely bring children to their families.

Sometimes it is astonishing to think that all of us adults once were children. We too were small and dependent on "the big people" to take care of our needs--to affirm who we were becoming. November 20 is World Children's Day--a day to remember that ALL children have the right to be heard--no matter how faint the voice and where it comes from. Each and every child deserves health, safety, and education. In my daily life and travel, I am most touched by the children I see, some so very helpless. There are those who have an over abundance to eat or use what they are given. Others have a life of abuse and neglect--never being allowed to reach their God-given potential. William Carlos Williams, the doctor and poet said, "Catch an eyeful, catch an earful, and don't drop what you've caught." Every day we hear and see such stories, but what do we do with them? What are we teaching the children we know in our earshot?

For many years, I have enjoyed reading Dr. Robert Coles' work, a Harvard child psychiatrist who spent decades of his life all over the world interviewing children in places of upheaval and struggle. Often times he would have them sketch their stories into artwork. His definition of stories broadens the usual definition:

"Storytelling, in the form of both personal narratives and the established literary tradition, gives us a fuller understanding of ourselves and the experience of others. "The whole point of stories is not 'solutions' or 'resolutions' but a broadening and even heightening of our struggles. They remind us of what is important in life, admonish us, point us in new directions, engage us in self-reflection, and sometimes inspire us to lead lives of moral integrity. The beauty of a story is in its openness--the way you or I can take it in, and use it for ourselves."

So what do we do with the stories we hear and see? For Coles, and for myself too (the reason I have liked his books for so many years) is that "there is a distinct connection between stories and voluntary service. Narratives are a means of glimpsing and comprehending the world, while service is a means of putting to use what has been learned." I have relearned this many times in my life. Once I saw or heard some stories, I could not reconcile or connect the inconsistencies in life until I entered others' worlds. Talking about theories or distancing myself from the story never worked for me. It was only in the doing, the teaching, or as Coles articulates, "Service is not a hierarchy but a reciprocity in which the distinctions between teacher and pupil, giver and receiver, helper and helped constantly dissolve."

I just returned from being in favelas in Brazil and seeing many miles of townships in South Africa. Poverty is not immune to me. I have seen it all my life--looking out, but never inside my circumstances. I have lived and worked in refugee camps, but I was not ever the one without the home. I have seen stories I cannot solve or fix--that have given me painful sorrow. Yet, I know that reaching into someone else's story connects us. Boundaries disappear and we can be one together.  I have known that bond. As Cole observes, "There is no teacher and pupil or giver and receiver or helper and helped." Both need one another.

I know with everyone trying to do "small things" it all adds up. But as in everything in life, we have to plan some balance into the equation. Another favorite writer, Neal Maxwell, had a quote on his desk by Anne Morrow Lindberg to remind him he could not do everything, "My life cannot implement in action the demands of all the people to whom my heart responds." Two of some of my favorite quotes to remember when trying to connect the stories I see and the call to action. They are diametrically opposed, but each beg reflection in the world of reaching out to others.

Now go light the world.

#Loveachild #GiveHopeToChildren #LightTheWorld

Young boys at a Buddhist orphanage in Vietnam

One of my most joyful moments--dancing with children from Jordan.

In an Indian village with some schoolboys. They had never seen a foreigner and followed me around for about four days. 

Karolina, my Icelandic cousin, with her super athletic triplets--climbing a mountain at about midnight in June.

Being with some Indian kids on a field trip in Hyderabad

At a village school in India

Chinese kids learning English. 

Children at a Brazilian favela school

Qatari children in Doha learning the traditional sword dance

Children in Rio de Janiero, Brail practicing for a Primary program

Love Ivy's face as she and Elias work on a Halloween project together. 

Hanna, an artist we met in Monteque, South Africa, with Elias. She told me that in her troubled childhood, there was one place she felt safe: an art class with a very special teacher. Although she lived with some fear and anxiety in her home, art was where she flourished. And now she brings that same joy to children in a little mountain town in South Africa. I was inspired to meet her in her studio with colorful children's art all around her.

Children all dressed up for National Day in Qatar

In front of a slave museum in Cape Town, a reminder of children and slavery

Holding a brand new baby from the Philippines, just two days old. 

Elias learning how to play chess (You would be surprised how good he is now) from his master teacher.

A French boy on the street in Montague, France

Elias in the compound learning to play cricket with his Indian friends

Children in Lake Cuomo, Italy getting ready for a soccer match

Children in Budapest skating at a Christmas market

Children in Magdala, Spain last Christmas talking to the Three Wisemen

A young boy in Morocco using leaves as toys.

Elias, with Dick, a man who has taken an interest in helping my son, and hundreds of other youth. He has made a great difference to so many--one of my heroes.

My mom watching her granddaughter's artwork.

My mom dancing with one of her 54 grandkids.

At a wedding this summer with a new joy

A German family in our home, along with Aaron on the violin, participating in a musical soiree. I love the mother's joyful face as she encourages her children.

Michelle, making her own valentine.

My mom, who has taught me more than anybody else, about loving children. She is listening to Daniel from Ukraine read.

A picture taken a few years back, with three of "our triplets" who we have adopted as family. See if you can pick them out. One has glasses. 

Mariam al Rashdie, another hero, who began and directs the Ontario School for Disabilities here in Doha.

Love this picture of a teacher and Mathi. 

Love Miriam's face as she learns to bring color to the paper

Love these faces, our neighbors, along with Elias, who bring joy to my life every day.

As I like to say, these teachers and kids are my people--helping to bring joy to children with disabilities in Doha

My daughter, Sarah, in rural Ethiopia last spring, helping to bring education initiatives to children. Her joy was over brimming when she returned.