Tag Archives: Background

We’re back, and headed to Korea!

Just a quick post to let you know that I’m updating the blog and will be starting to investigate Korean food in the next month or two. Last year, I was busy with finalizing, editing, and publishing the new International Festival cookbook, “Flavors of the Triangle”, which was unveiled at the 2012 Festival in September. Between that crazy project, a lot of travel and some health issues in 2012, I was sadly lacking in my posts for the year.

But I’m back in 2013, and excited to be looking into Korean food in the next month or two. The only Korean dish I’ve previously made, and a recipe that I’ll be sharing with you later this week, is Japchae. I’m also hoping to re-create some dishes I’ve enjoyed at Korean restaurants in the past, including bibimbap and Korean BBQ. Korean cuisine is similar to Japanese, and I’m curious to learn about the similarities and differences and how those may have evolved with the cultures of the neighboring countries.

I won’t be holding myself to a strict schedule for posting, and I may intersperse some non-Korean recipes in between. This modification to my original plan will help keep it fun for me and maintain my sanity… I will also try to cook with a bias towards the more healthy foods of the world, which may mean that they’re not always completely authentic/traditional recipes. With those caveats stated (those were limitations I was putting on myself anyway!), I hope that I and my readers will enjoy the return of Savor the World.Flavors-of-the-Triangle-cover

Oh – and as for the cookbook, we’ve mostly sold out of our printed copies from the first printing!  The cookbook is an updated version of one that was published in 1994. It was compiled from submissions of the cultural groups that participate in the Festival each year, and the new edition was expanded to include recipes from over 50 different cultures! I have a few more available if anyone local is interested, just let me know.  Haven’t decided yet about when to print the next batch, and we will also be coming out with an e-book version sometime this year – I’ll let you know about any updates.

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International Festival, Friday

Just a short posting of the food I ate at the International Festival this evening (Friday). Come on out this weekend and try some for yourself!!

Yakisoba noodles from the Japanese food booth, garnished with pickled ginger and fish flakes (optional).

Sour Cherry Juice from the Turkish booth, reminds me of the sour cherry trees in my dad’s orchard when we were growing up.

Coconut Custard (left) and Cheese Roll stuffed with cream cheese (right), from the Brazilian food booth. Double-yum!

Huachinango a la Veracruzana or Red Snapper, Veracruz-style (made at the Cooking Demo booth by a chef from Mexico City, arranged by the Mexican consulate). This was delicious! Definitely making this one at home.

Cookbook and blog plans

Because of the tight timeline and some temporary (we hope!) issues with our publisher, we are unfortunately not going to be able to publish the International Festival cookbook in time for this year’s festival :(  The good news is that we should now have plenty of time to test recipes, take photos and layout a really nice cookbook for next year’s festival.  That will make it a 20th anniversary edition, since the first edition was published in 1992. It also means that I’ll still be back to bug some of you who promised me recipes but haven’t delivered yet! :)

So I won’t be needing to try a bunch of recipes submitted for the cookbook, at least not all by the end of August. But I will be pretty busy between now and the end of September with getting everything set up for our cooking demonstration booth. I’ll also be planning for a week’s trip to Denver to visit, help out around the house and feed my 2 and 4-year old nephews (and their parents).  My current plan is to cook from Moroccan cuisine as I have time through the end of September.  But because I’ll probably need some quicker items and variety too, I’ll alternate Moroccan with other recipes from the International Festival cookbook submissions. And on the side I’ll be testing a few “kid-friendly” and freezer-ready foods for my trip to Denver.

This variety will be a good transition into the second year of my blog, because I don’t think I’ll be able to keep up the pace I’ve set for myself this past year!  It has been a blast to cook from a different country each month, but it’s also very time-consuming to try and learn the history, sift through cookbooks, and find obscure ingredients. Very fun time spent, but I need to slow it down a bit. I’m not sure exactly where it’ll end up, but I always love cooking internationally so I’m sure I’ll still have some great recipes, festivals, restaurants, cooking lessons and meals to share on the blog. The difference being that blog posts will be at a lesser frequency (probably just once or twice a week), and not on a concurrent theme.

Background, pt.2 (love of cooking)

I grew up around my dad’s family, where food was definitely in the center of things.  My great-aunt Mary Emma Showalter was a home economics professor, she collected and edited over 1000 recipes for the Mennonite Community Cookbook, which can still be found in many Mennonite kitchens.  My dad’s sister Nancy also taught home economics and was skilled in the kitchen – I fondly remember her delicious German Chocolate Cake, Raisin-Filled Cookies and Shrimp Creole.  At our many holiday dinners, the ratio of pies to the number of dinner guests was often nearly 1:1, plus ice cream!

My Grandaddy was a country boy raised in rural Virginia who didn’t cook in the kitchen, but grilled the best steaks I have ever eaten or probably ever will again.  Not just steaks, but also salmon, potatoes, corn grilled in the husk, and Vidalia onions with olive oil wrapped in foil and cooked down on the coals.  When he was more than 80 years old, Grandaddy saw an advertisement for a panini press in one of his farming magazines, and promptly ordered himself a new cooking toy.  Memie (our nickname for my grandma) was a farm wife who grew a big garden with her very green thumb, canning and freezing through the harvest season, and cooking full meals, all meals, every day for her family.  I’ve already touched on my parents’ cooking skills and interests in the previous post, and you should know that they also own a bakery in Virginia.

Needless to say, surrounded by all these expert cooks I started in the kitchen at a young age. One early memory involves baking snickerdoodle cookies with our babysitter.  If you have ever made snickerdoodles, you’ll know they’re a perfect kids’ project, you roll the dough into balls and then roll them around in cinnamon sugar before baking (see recipe below).  When we were older, my brother Perry and I would often make crepes together on Saturday mornings, filling them with sugar and jam and drizzling syrup over the top.

The constant supply of fresh fruits and vegetables from our home garden and local environment no doubt also contributed to my love for food.  We had a small orchard of fruit trees and a large vegetable garden. We gathered wild asparagus growing beside country roads and watercress from the creek.  We harvested black raspberries, blackberries, black walnuts and persimmons from the surrounding woods.  I have to laugh today when people talk about edamame (soybeans) as a new thing, because we had heirloom edible soybeans that we grew every year in the garden and ate like lima beans.  I’m also remembering a picture of my brother as a toddler, his face covered with red beet juice from the fresh beets he had been enjoying.  The canned beets they served at school were disgusting, but we absolutely adored fresh beets, coarsely grated and steamed until tender but still just a bit crunchy – cooked this way they are amazingly sweet and flavorful (plus they still have most of their nutrients!).

The family vegetable garden turned into a 30+ acre truck farm where I worked every summer during high school and college, selling vegetables along the side of the road.  Besides the main crop of sweet corn, we grew more than 25 varieties of tomatoes, 15 kinds of sweet and hot peppers, melons, squash, okra, beans, the list goes on and on. My dad liked to grow unusual vegetables such as striped chioga beets, lebanese squash and purple beans.  One of the crops that grew really well was eggplant, but we had some trouble selling it all.  We would hear many customers say something like this, “I enjoy eating eggplant when I’ve tried it in restaurants – but I don’t know how to cook it.”  So one summer when we had a particularly booming crop to sell, I found some simple recipes to share and we started providing vegetable cooking and grilling advice to our customers too.

Before I paint too rosy a picture, all of my cooking experiences have not been positive.  For example, I can remember an attempt to make blackberry jelly where I ended up in tears after a series of frustrating events.  But food was important enough to keep trying, even when it didn’t always turn out perfectly. That was an important lesson once I was out on my own – I have made many mistakes, though the results are usually still edible.  But I learn something from each mistake and then it works better the next time.  I probably take more cooking risks as a single person, because I know that I’m the only one who has to eat it in the end.  And occasionally, a mistake turns into serendipitous discovery and the risk pays off, leading to a new favorite!

Snickerdoodles
1 ½ c. sugar
½ c. margarine, softened
½ c. vegetable shortening
2 eggs
2 ¾ c. flour
2 tsp. cream of tartar
1 tsp. baking soda
¼ tsp. salt

Mix together sugar, margarine and shortening until smooth. Mix in eggs. Sift together the flour, cream of tartar, baking soda and eggs and mix into the wet ingredients. Refrigerate for at least an hour to firm up the dough.

Shape into 1 ¼-inch balls. Mix together ¼ c. sugar and 2 tsp. ground cinnamon. Roll balls in the mixture and place 2 inches apart on an ungreased cookie sheet. Bake 8-10 minutes in a 400 degree F oven, or until slightly golden and set. Makes about 4 dozen cookies.

Background, pt.1 (love of cultures)

From an early point in my life, I have been fascinated by two things – cultures and cooking.  And I guess both of those loves came quite naturally, now that I think about it.

Let’s begin with cultures.  My mom’s parents were missionaries who relocated their family to Montevideo, Uruguay when she was 4 years old. They embraced that culture in order to share their love of God with their neighbors in South America, remaining there for over 30 years until my grandfather’s death.  My mom moved back to the states when she was 16 to attend college in Virginia.  That’s where she met my dad, who also had some interest in latino cultures after a college semester abroad in El Salvador.

In the early 70’s my parents took a trip to Japan where they sampled many different foods.  One favorite was a spicy katsu curry dish – which my dad has been trying to replicate ever since.  He always says he knows it’s getting close to the original if our eyelids are sweating from the heat of the curry.  I ordered the dish in a Japanese restaurant in DC last summer to see what the original might have tasted like (pictured above).  My parents would throw Japan-themed dinner parties for their friends when I was a kid, my dad would put on his kimono and cook up tempura and other dishes they had learned to make.  On rainy days, my mom would fry up sopaipillas – puffy diamond-shaped doughnuts, and we’d bite off the corners to drizzle clover honey inside the hollow spaces.  On special occasions she would boil a can of sweetened condensed milk to make dulce de leche, which we devoured on saltine crackers.

Forgive me, I’m already digressing into my love of food – let’s get back to my history with cultures.  When I was in first or second grade, my teacher buddied me up with a girl whose family had just immigrated to the U.S. from Vietnam. Tran barely knew any English and it was my first real experience with someone very different from myself, and yet somehow we managed to communicate and discovered that we were very much the same. Later in elementary school, I discovered that you could write to embassies in DC (this was before the internet, so think snail-mail) and they would send you stuff — glossy brochures with lots of pictures of people and places, alphabets of written foreign languages, recipes, and small souvenirs.  My brother and I spent one summer writing to at least 20 different embassies and waiting for those large manila envelopes to arrive in the mail.  In high school, one of my close friends was a refugee from Laos, and in college I had a Chinese roommate and a good friend/study partner from Ethiopia. Through these friendships I continued to soak up cultural learning, a welcome thing in that rural Virginia community which has only in recent years begun to boom with great ethnic diversity.

My undergraduate college required a cross-cultural experience, and I chose to take a semester abroad in Guatemala.  We spent the first two months living individually with families in the poorer neighborhoods of Guatemala City, studying language together in the mornings and history/culture in the afternoons.  On weekends we traveled around Guatemala and Belize, and the final month was spent traveling briefly through Honduras, Nicaragua and El Salvador.

Some of my favorite memories from that trip are food-related; cooking with my host family (we’re making sugar cookies in this photo), frozen choco-bananas, markets full of new fruits that I’d never seen before, visiting a banana farm, etc.  Even a visit to McDonald’s in Guatemala City (to which I had to be dragged kicking and screaming!) resulted in a culinary journey back to a simpler time… when apple pies were actually fried in lovely trans fats :)

Well, I’d better save some memories to share with you later.  Suffice it to say that as an adult I have continued to enjoy and learn from many cross-cultural friendships in my jobs, graduate schools and church.