Eating like an Immigrant, Part VI: Education and Culture

August 31, 2009 by joannabug  
Filed under Grace for Life, Loving

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Participating in the My Kitchen, My World challenge has reinforced to me how much foods preserve and pass on cultural identity. You can learn so much about a culture by the foods they eat and how they eat their meals. I’m thinking at the moment of the communal nature of Ethiopian food, sitting together at a small table together, with a large round of injera flatbread spread across it, and stews for all to share as everyone tears off pieces of the bread to scoop it up.

The resonance between food and identity is so powerful. The PBS documentary I mentioned earlier, The Meaning of Food, discussed a recent cookbook, In Memory’s Kitchen: A Legacy from the Women of Terezin. It consists of recipes passed around by Jewish women at a concentration camp. Separated from family, home, and sustenance, they wrote down their recipes as a way of preserving and passing on their culture. I haven’t read it yet, but I find the concept incredibly moving.

As my kids grow, I imagine many interdisciplinary teaching moments coming out of cooking foods of different countries. I really want to (eventually) design a course for the home-school co-op that I’ll be teaching at on food and music of different cultures. As you cook, you can bring in ideas about another country’s situation or needs, as well as people you might know who serve in that country.

Or–closer to home–cooking immigrant foods could be paired with hospitality. Many of you have immigrants in your community–one way to reach out to them could be to cook them a meal, perhaps one from their country. Or ask them to teach you how to cook one of their traditional meals.

Also, for us, a meal from another country has become a cheap substitute for travel. Or anticipation of future travels, if we’re in an optimistic mood. We’ll make a meal from a particular country or region, and then watch a film from that country, or watch a Rick Steves lecture. Or try other pairings–a meal and a book (I just finished reading Under the Tuscan Sun: At Home in Italy and am indulging in its sequel, Bella Tuscany: The Sweet Life in Italy, and find myself wanting to cook Italian food many nights, especially since she stops the narration occasionally to give a few seasonal recipes), a meal and music (Shepherd’s pie and some Irish folk music?), or a meal and an art exhibit.


Here are a couple of fun food and culture pairings we’ve done–of course (a recipe I mentioned in the last post) there’s pairing the Pixar film Ratatouille with ratatouille.
The Godfather movies with antipasti.
Tapas with Rick Steves’ travels to Spain

Cross-posted from In Search of Lost Time.

Christ+Plus Parenting

August 30, 2009 by MommyGirl  
Filed under Grace for Life, Mothering, Theology for Moms

Last spring, I attended a women’s conference with a really great speaker, Tara Klena Barthel. I was so encouraged how she kept turning back to the Word, directing the conference-goers back to the Word, and pointing again and again to the Word made flesh, Jesus.

Near the end of the last session, Tara spoke on the importance of accepting on another and serving one another as brothers and sisters in Christ. (Again, based upon what Christ has done for us — accepting us and serving us.) She pointed out how easy it is to fall into the “Jesus+Plus” thinking. Theologically, we can slip into the Jesus+Plus my good works, my sound theology, my worship experience. . . Not that we would consciously form our salvific beliefs around such ideas, but that becomes our manner of living.

Relationally, we can fall into “Jesus+Plus” thinking as well. It is so easy for us as people to want to be comfortable with those who are like us. And within the Church this has often become very pronounced. Jesus+Plus likeminded families, breastfeeding mamas, cry-it-out-ers, family bedders. . .

We’ve even seen this cause strife and division in individual congregations. Difficulties in maintaining previously close relationships.

It can be hard to get past the “Jesus+Plus” thinking, both in our daily walk with the Lord as well as in our relationships. Once again, it is time to turn to the Gospel, recognizing that what Christ has done for me is what Christ has done for those who live and think and parent very differently from me.

Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God. Romans 15:7

And so, my brothers and sisters in Christ. . . I’m seeking the Lord. Seeking the Lord to apply the Gospel in my life and in my relationships. In our parenting, I believe that God gave to you your children to raise to the glory of God — just as He gave my children to me. It is in that spirit of unity that we share encouragement, factual information, and our own varied experiences.

Eating like an Immigrant, Part V: More on Convenience

August 24, 2009 by joannabug  
Filed under Grace for Life, Loving

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I know that these posts are interconnected, but I wanted to revisit an idea I mentioned earlier, the ideal of convenience.

When you’re making food from other countries/immigrant cultures, it doesn’t have to be elaborate. Sometimes we’ll make a Mediterranean antipasto platter with good bread, meats, cheeses, vegetables or a salad (maybe tabbouleh or a couscous salad), and olives. On a hot summer night, it feels so exotic and fun, but incredibly easy. Or French onion soup (in the crockpot) and croque monsieurs (fancy French grilled cheese sandwiches).

It also saves effort to either double or triple what you’re making and freeze it (or eat it for lunches) (I guess this works better in small families like ours). Or use it for more than one purpose, like ratatouille as a stew the first night (I always crockpot it), over spaghetti the next, and on top of toasted bread as bruschetta another night. Also, if you get a fun ingredient–say, a bunch of fresh herbs, or some unusual vegetables–find a couple of things to use it for, so it doesn’t go to waste if you don’t need it all for one recipe.

Ratatouille: recipe and five ways to use it
Simple French onion soup

Cross-posted from In Search of Lost Time.

Eating like an Immigrant, Part IV: Staples

August 17, 2009 by joannabug  
Filed under Grace for Life, Loving

Recently, I’ve been doing a blog challenge called My Kitchen, My World, in which bloggers pick two countries to “visit” a month, make a meal from the country, and blog about what they’ve done. Here’s a link to the countries I’ve “visited” so far.

It’s really fun, but I don’t always plan ahead, and don’t have the energy for an “extra” grocery store trip. So, a lot of times I’ll google the country’s name along with the ingredients I have in the house. This really has brought home the fact that a lot of cultures use the same basic ingredients–rice, pasta or bread, beans, lentils, common vegetables and herbs (often grown in one’s own garden), widely available meats or fish–but are distinguished by their use of spices to flavor the foods. So, for me, having good spices in my cupboard is an investment that actually makes a lot of sense (and you can get good spices for not too much, if you look at ethnic stores, like I said above). Good spices can be combined with inexpensive ingredients, like beans, rice, and in-season vegetables, to make incredible and economical meals.

And use what you have on hand–especially with good spices. Sal, a first-generation Sicilian friend of ours freezes bits and pieces of leftover meats, and then he makes the most amazing tomato sauce you could imagine from whatever he has in the house. That could be a whole ‘nother post, creative ways to use your leftovers, but I don’t want to make this series too long. I feel like if I get another meal out of leftovers, it’s like getting a free meal. Think about soups, stews, egg-based dishes, fried rice, and so forth as ways of using up small bits of leftovers to make another meal. Or you can repurpose leftovers: old bread as french toast (or if you’re PA Dutch, hutzla), strata, ribolitta, or bread crumbs.

I’m about to order the Mennonite cookbook Extending the Table: A World Community Cookbook which encapsulates some of these ideas, especially cooking with staples even in exploring exotic cuisines.


*This post includes our family recipe for Hutzla passed down through several generations.
*Ribollita is a great way to use up leftover bread (you can freeze some and save it, if you’d like) as well as bits and pieces of vegetables.

Sal’s Sicilian Sauce

Well, it’s more of a process than a recipe, following what his mom taught him. He freezes leftover meats–pork chops, sausage, beef, etc.–and then when it comes time to make his sauce, he browns the meats, adds a couple of large cans of crushed tomatoes, a small can of tomato paste, Italian seasoning and a pinch of red pepper flakes, and maybe some diced veggies (celery, carrot, etc.). He cooks it for an hour or so until everything is tender, and tastes to see how sweet it is, and adds wine, and some sugar, if needed, and cooks it down if its too runny.

Then he sautees a whole pile of onions and garlic in olive oil, and adds it (which is really good–all of the tomato sauces I’ve seen call for it at the beginning, but this is really tasty), mixes it in, and cooks it for a very few more minutes.

Meanwhile, he boils pasta al dente, doesn’t rinse it, and when he’s getting it ready to serve, he mixes the pasta and a cup or two of sauce in one bowl, and serves the rest of the meat sauce on the side, for people to pour on top.

I had some last night–we had made up an entire soup pot full of it and froze it into several containers. It had chicken sausage, kielbasa, smoked pork loin cut into teeny cubes, and little bits of ham–not a ton of any one meat (they were all leftovers I had frozen before), but they each added distinctive flavors to it.

You can see Sal (and his famous sauce!) here.

Cross-posted from In Search of Lost Time.

Eating Like an Immigrant, Part III: Economy and Convenience

August 10, 2009 by joannabug  
Filed under Grace for Life, Loving

When we moved, our income changed along with our family size, so that eating out regularly wasn’t a good choice. In Pittsburgh, we had a slew of inexpensive and fun ethnic restaurants we would visit together. Athens, well, it isn’t quite the same. At the same time, I realized that if I cooked more exotic foods at home, it would make it feel more like an adventure than a sacrifice. The two kinds of foods we loved the most were Indian and Thai foods. So I focused on learning to cook Thai and Indian food, and found that there are simple and economical meals for both of those cuisines.

In doing some reading, I realized that most food cuisines are based on what’s locally available. It feels almost redundant to write that, but look at recipes for bouillabaisse, for example. It was originally based on the leftover small fish that got caught in fishermen’s nets. Now, people argue about the authenticity if you don’t use particular kinds of fish, etc. But then, it was a matter of what was there, what was inexpensive, what was not wasteful, what was convenient. It can be easy, again, to get lost in the web of Authenticity, and not use what’s at hand. For immigrants, many didn’t have the luxury of their old local ingredients, and had to adapt to the availability of foods in their new country.

Along this journey, I found a fabulous Thai cookbook, Quick and Easy Thai: 70 Easy Recipes, written by a woman who lived in Thailand, learned to love the food and culture, and then came back to the US where a lot of the more exotic ingredients were hard to come by. The cookbook is written with both common ingredients that can replace the more unusual ingredients, as well as the more authentic option, if you have access to it. For example, she suggests replacing wild lime leaves or lemongrass (common in Thailand) with grated lime or lemon peel and a little extra lime or lemon juice in the recipe.

I haven’t actually used it, but a similar cookbook–but for Indian food–is 5 Spices, 50 Dishes: Simple Indian Recipes Using Five Common Spices. It uses five common spices–cayenne pepper, coriander, cumin, mustard, and turmeric–as the basis for numerous Indian meals.


I adapted these basil rolls directly from the Quick and Easy Thai cookbook, as well as the ideas for the zucchini and squash curry that I paired with it that I blogged about in this post.

Cross-posted from In Search of Lost Time.

Seeds Family Worship Winner!

August 7, 2009 by kristen  
Filed under Grace for Life, Loving, Teaching, Worship

RANDOM.ORG spoke, and the winner is comment #41, Megan.   She wins a full set of CDs from Seeds Family Worship.

If you didn’t win, and you want some Seeds CDs of your own, use the coupon code KSTEWART09 – that will take 20% off your order until January 10th, 2010.   Each CD comes with two copies, one to keep and one to share.   You can also access the songs online through their website and start using them right away with your children.

Thank you, Seeds, for sponsoring this giveaway and for sharing great scripture songs with us!

Mommies, Babies, and Chemistry

August 5, 2009 by MommyGirl  
Filed under Breastfeeding

A few years ago I came across this fascinating article about The Chemistry of Attachment by Linda F. Palmer. My mother was asking me more about Reactive Attachment Disorder, and this article touches on the oxytocin/cortisol impact on infant brain development. The wonderful way God has designed mothers and babies continually amazes me.

Here are some quotes from the article, of the creative chemicals that connect us.


Under the early influence of oxytocin, nerve junctions in certain areas of mother’s brain actually undergo reorganization, thereby making her maternal behaviors “hard-wired.”

Persistent regular body contact and other nurturing acts by parents produce a constant, elevated level of oxytocin in the infant, which in turn provides a valuable reduction in the infant’s stress-hormone responses. . . the resulting high or low level of oxytocin will control the permanent organization of the stress-handling portion of the baby’s brain-promoting lasting “securely attached” or “insecure” characteristics in the adolescent and adult.

When an infant does not receive regular oxytocin-producing responsive care, the resultant stress responses cause elevated levels of the stress hormone cortisol. Chronic cortisol elevations in infants . . .are shown in biochemical studies to be associated with permanent brain changes that lead to elevated responses to stress throughout life,


Released in response to nearness and touch, vasopressin promotes bonding between the father and the mother, helps the father recognize and bond to his baby. . . It has gained a reputation as the “monogamy hormone.”


. . .prolactin is released in response to suckling, promoting milk production as well as maternal behaviors. Prolactin relaxes mother. . . so she has no strong desire to hop up and do other things.


Babies need milk, and opioids are nature’s reward to them for obtaining it. . . The first few episodes of sucking organize nerve pathways in the newborn’s brain, conditioning her to continue this activity.

Prolonged elevation of prolactin in the attached parent stimulates the opioid system, heightening the rewards for intimate, loving family relationships. . .

Once a strong opioid bonding has occurred, separation can become emotionally upsetting, and in the infant possibly even physically uncomfortable when opioid levels decrease in the brain, much like the withdrawal symptoms from cocaine or heroin. When opioid levels become low, one might feel like going home to hold the baby or like crying for a parent’s warm embrace. . .


Norepinephrine helps organize the infant’s stress control system


Newborns are much more sensitive to pheromones than adults. . . . Through these, baby most likely learns how to perceive the level of stress in the caretakers around her, such as when mother is experiencing fear or joy. . . .body odors and pheromones can only be sensed when people are physically very near each other.

Eating like an Immigrant, Part II: Ethnic Stores

August 3, 2009 by joannabug  
Filed under Grace for Life, Loving

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Another step in Pittsburgh was realizing that the little ethnic stores scattered all over the city (but especially in the Strip District) had fabulous, exotic and inexpensive ingredients. Many times, it’s working-class people who are shopping at these stores, and it keeps prices reasonable. For example, getting cumin or curry powder from the local Indian store totally beat out anything I could find at the grocery store (the spices at the grocery store were at least 5x-10x more expensive than what I would find at ethnic stores), and it was so fresh tasting.

In one area of Atlanta, apparently there is a large Ethiopian population, and sometimes we’ll get injera (like an enormous sourdough buckwheat pancake), and then I’ll make some stews to go with it. And there’s a lot of overlap between countries with spices, for example, cumin and coriander are used in Hispanic, Indian, and Middle-Eastern dishes. We’ve found a place where we can get Thai curry paste for about $1.50 for a cup of it (which makes dozens of meals).

So, your challenge is to go to an ethnic store and check out the ingredients–I focused on the spices here, I know, but look at the vegetables and herbs, check out the meats, try to see what the backbone of the food culture is. Is it rice based? Noodle? Are there interesting ingredients you’d like to try out? Do you see any similarities between the kinds of foods you’re seeing here and other foods that you’re familiar with? And please leave a comment if you do this, I would love to hear about your experiences.


*Shwarma is a fun, Middle-Eastern spiced variation on gyros.
*I’ve made a few Thai curries using the inexpensive pastes, here’s one of them, Thai chicken, vegetable, and pineapple curry
*Here’s our Ethiopian feast that we paired with the injera from the tiny, family-run food store, with links to some recipes for Ethiopian food (I found them to pretty adaptable to what I had on hand, more on that later–next time I’ll make it, I’ll blog about some of the streamlining I did)

Cross-posted from In Search of Lost Time.

MbG Giveaway! Seeds Family Worship

August 2, 2009 by kristen  
Filed under Grace for Life, Loving, Teaching, Worship

Have you heard about Seeds Family Worship?   It’s a ministry that provides God’s word set to music that is catchy and fun.  You can listen online to see for yourself.  When we received a set in the mail, I chose a verse that addressed an issue one of my children was struggling with: anxiety.  She loved the song and has been singing it with frequency, and I know she has even mentioned it when she was worried about something.  For that alone, I’m thankful to Seeds.


We have a full set of CDs to giveaway to one lucky mom.  Enter by leaving a comment on this post with your email address in the appropriate field (it won’t show) by Friday at 3 p.m. EST.  If you’d like to share the contest via twitter, facebook, your blog, etc. you can earn one extra entry, just leave a second comment telling where you spread the word.

When I announce the winner, I’ll also have a coupon code for everyone else to use to order their own copies, too.   Seeds wants their music to spread and ingeniously package each CD with a second copy to give to a friend, which I think is an awesome idea.

Best of luck to you!