Category Archives: food

Food = Family: Adventures in International Home Cooking

Many people think my husband and I are a bit weird to welcome into our home a succession of interns, research fellows and/or other young people who come to Washington, DC and need a cheap place to live.  (Well, that is not the only reason they think we are weird, but that’s another story!)

However, I must say, the benefit is huge, especially if these young people know how to cook.  Lately, we have been benefitting from one of our current housemates, Khamo, who has introduced us to Tibetan cuisine.  Not only have we enjoyed eating these spicy and noodley wonders, but we’ve have fun trying to master the art of making them.

Momos, a type of dumpling, are juicy packets of savory meat served with a fiery dipping sauce.  I almost got the hang of pinching them shut in a sort of pleating motion, but watching Khamo’s deft fingers at the job I knew I would never be able to match her years of growing up doing this.  It was like watching a ballet of the fingers.

Tibetan noodle soup is the perfect winter treat.  The dough is stretchy, and the technique of adding the noodles directly to the steaming pot of fragrant soup is to break off short squarish bits from a long thin rope of it with your fingers.  Again, a skill perfected in one’s family kitchen over years, though a little easier to get the hang of than pleating momos.  It took me five times longer than Khamo to break the pieces into the pot (and not drop them on the floor in the process).  

Our third adventure in Tibetan cooking was hot pot.  This required a trip to the Chinese grocery store, Good Fortune, to get ingredients that we had no idea existed.  Frozen meat and fish balls of various hues, special sauces, and a variety of vegetables including lotus root.  We needed to learn how to eat this dish as well – you don’t eat the soup, you just scoop the contents out and leave the broth for cooking more ingredients.

We’ve lost track of all of the interns and fellows we’ve hosted in the past six or seven years, but we tend to recall the ones who introduced us to new food adventures or how to cook homestyle versions of foods we only enjoyed previously at restaurants.  Pho from Vietnam, authentic Indian cuisine from several parts of the subcontinent, Danish open faced sandwiches, German pastries…a world of good food and new “family members” to enjoy it with.

 

Minneapolis, A Breath of Fresh Air

When folklorists go to our annual American Folklore Society meetings each autumn, most of us try to avoid that melancholy post-conference refrain, “I never got out of the hotel the whole time.”  Even in the midst of snow storms in Alaska or pouring rain in San Antonio, we find excuses to cut out of a conference session or two to experience some of whatever city we are meeting in.   It is our professional duty, after all, to get a taste (literally, since most of the excursions involve sampling the local cuisine) of the city we are visiting, to honor its history and ethnic make-up, and to then compare notes of our adventures.

This year, we met in Minneapolis.  Despite the fact that we had met there back in the mid-1980s, I had little memory or preconceived notion of the city.  Consequently, I built in a pre-meeting day to explore and embarked on other forays during stolen hours.

My old friend Jean and I made our way via public transportation to visit another friend and colleague, Macey, in her eclectic neighborhood of Powderhorn Park.   Why this neighborhood did not make it to the “local guide” that fellow folklorists had compiled for the meetings escapes me, because it was a fascinating mixture of ethnic businesses, a lovely park with a small lake or large pond which sparkled in the warm fall light, and rows of tidy houses and gardens.  We had a fine walk around, and ate lunch in a sort of Latino mall featuring taco, tamale, and torta stands and small stores with clothing, jewelry, teas and spices, and miscellaneous other items.

Just down the street was Ingebretsen’s Scandinavian store, actually three stores adjacent to one another, with housewares, foodstuffs (including as many different herring products as I had ever seen in one place before and a fine selection of cod roe), and other goods.  The same street had a Caribbean cafe, Halal meat markets, and other wonders. After some shopping, we bid Macey goodbye and returned to hotel life, which already seemed sterile and boring after our glimpse into Minneapolis Life Beyond.

Shorter jaunts outside the confines of the hotel included one afternoon exploring the waterfront along the river and canal with my friend Hanna. Features of this area include the bones of old mill machinery, grand views of St. Anthony Falls, which are featured in the photo at the header of this entry, as well as the  historic Pillsbury A Mill across the river in St. Paul, and some other splendid architecture, old and new.

As for the best food adventure, the prize goes to a homey Tibetan restaurant that my food-savvy friends Lucy and Sue and I discovered on a mission to “Eat Street” (a stretch of Nicollet Avenue not too far from the hotel).   The walk was a mile and half or more back, but we only briefly considered hailing a taxi.  Besides the dumplings, homemade noodles and steamed bread with spicy beef we had to work off, we were in no hurry to return to the confines of hotel life.  The fresh Minneapolis evening air, and the exhilarating feeling of discovery, buoyed us on.   Another city, another AFS conference, another set of adventures.  On to Buffalo next year!

 

Falling for Southern France, Part Four (final)

We returned from France over over a month ago, but still the memories linger and must have their due.  Here, the fourth and final installment finds us on our last full day of the trip in Sete, a small maritime city near Montpellier.

The first thing upon arriving is to find your way to the top – a challenging climb up steep streets and steps to the highest point, Mount St. Clair.  The elevation is a mere 574 feet, but the view is spectacular and lays Sete’s waterways out for you so that they make sense.  To the right, the Mediterranean.  To the left, Etang de Thau, a sort of large lake or lagoon.  And, in the middle, bisecting the town, a series of canals connecting the two.  Water, water, everywhere.

Because that climb up and back down will surely make you hungry, the next thing to do is to find a spot at one of the long string of canalside cafes.  If the weather is fine, as it was the day we were there, finding a seat around lunch time at one of the outdoor portions of the cafe may involve an awkward wait.  Seeing as most of these cafes seem chronically understaffed, also expect a leisurely experience once you are seated.

That said, the local seafood is worth it all no matter which cafe you end up at, and the menus are all very similar.  The most famous local dish is a sort of octopus pie which is called tielle setoise.  We got the last one in the cafe that day, and savored every bite of the salty crusty tomatoey minced octopusiness of it.   Mussels were also on offer, mine steamed and M.E.’s in a rich tomato sauce with sausage.   Water all around you, seafood inside your tummy…how much better does it get?

There is apparently a nice art museum in Sete, and a lighthouse which we saw from afar, but we didn’t make it to either.  We opted instead for wandering around the town, up and down the canals, poking into some shops and a modern art exhibition, snapping pictures of sites along the water.  Here, a pile of fishing nets.  There, a row of Crayola colored small boats for rent.  Trying to capture the essence of the last place, the last day, of our wondrous trip.

I boarded the train back to Montpellier that afternoon with mixed emotions.  Tomorrow we would be making the long trek back to our normal lives via train to Paris and flight home.  It would be good to be home, but I felt as though I was leaving a part of me behind somehow.  The intrepid traveler who “conquered” this portion of southern France.  The adoring Mom who got the rare gift of spending protracted time with her grown daughter and loving every minute of sharing this part of the world with her.


Adieu, France, and thanks for opening your welcoming southern arms to us.

 

 

 

Culture is Alive in Armenia

P1060046I have been in Armenia on a work trip for the past week.  (Yes, I am only planning to go places that begin with “A” from now on.)  It’s been an amazing experience.  Since one of the focuses (foci?) of the project we are working on is food, eating has been a big part of the trip.  Since I am planning to write a work blog about “Armenian Snickers,” I will not mention them here, you will just have to wait for that.  But, we have been eating a lot of delicious food.  Yoghurt (madzoon) is a whole new experience here.  Each morning at breakfast at our hotel, I try another combination of nuts, jams, and honey (and even corn flakes) with this thick drained version of yoghurt – think the best Greek yoghurt with no sour “bite” to it.  Also, it is made into soup called “spas” with grains and a particular type of herb (it looks like tarragon in the soup, though I am sure people use different types of herbs.  This recipe calls for cilantro.)  Imagine our group of researchers in Areni, in the Vayots Dzor province, at a bed and breakfast which also serves lunch on its patio, eating this refreshing soup for a second course.  First course consisted of a variety of salads (one with horse sorrel is particularly good in my opinion).   Main course was a sort of chicken and wheat stew called “harissa.”  P1060047Then tea or strong Armenian coffee and “gata” (cake).  This was after visiting one of the most spectacularly situated historic monasteries in the country, called Noravank.  Good food, beautiful scenery, kind people, interesting (though sometimes tragic) history… Armenian culture is alive and lively, like its yoghurt.  P1060025