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Imagination born from a Kenyan Storytelling Chandelier

Kenyan Story Telling Mobile/Chandelier

The stories we share during mealtimes nourish us as much as the food we eat. But sometimes we need a little jump start to get conversation flowing. Kenyans use banana leaves to create artwork that not only evoke ancient folk tales but that inspire the telling of new stories.

I found our Kenyan storytelling chandelier at a garden festival called Springfest here in Tulsa. My daughter and I almost breezed right past the booth. The rain had just started coming down in earnest: Ava was dancing in puddles with a friend and I was hunkered beneath my umbrella, feeling grumbly about my wet socks.

But then those dancing figures caught my eye.

Tulsa SpringFest 2015

Turns out the chandelier was made by a group of women in Kenya. Proceeds of our sale went back to helping their village. The vendor told me there was a story behind each figure and when I asked her what they were, she coyly responded that it was up to us to tell it.

While most might use this sort of art over an infant’s crib as a mobile, when the vendor invoked the notion of using the figures for storytelling I knew that the piece belonged over our dining table. Thus the down to earth mobile became our chandelier – more than a conversation starter, these whimsical figures inspire stories for all ages.

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Serving up imagination for breakfast, lunch, and dinner

Mealtimes have changed in subtle ways since we hung up our story telling chandelier. It’s hard to quantify exactly what is different. Our minds are turned outwards from the minutia of our days – work, school, sleep, work, school, sleep – to possibility. Certainly, sometimes we forget the figures are there… but every once in a while the banana leaf chandelier catches on the spring breeze and begins twirling (Did you see it on Instagram?!). As it spins, our eyes are drawn upwards to those figures and the storytelling begins.

The figures are plain and, like a free-spirited sketch, they let the imagination do its part by filling in facial features and other details to suit the latest story.  Through my daughter’s imagination they have been sisters in the sky, constellations, and women whose injuries turn into good (a wounded foot turns sprouts a flower to rest on). Sometimes they’re hunters, sometimes they’re the hunted.

I see our stories growing more complex as time goes on, maturing alongside Ava.  This much I know: We’ll share stories about the past. And we’ll imagine a lively future. Always with our Kenyan Storytelling Chandelier.

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How banana leaf art is made & where to get your own storytelling chandelier:

Banana leaf art is made when the leaves are green and flexible. They can be cut and bent into sculptures. It’s not easy, but the end result is fabulous. Some of them are dyed while others are natural in color, like mine.

I’ve scoured the web to find similar mobiles in case you are interested in bringing the art of storytelling to your mealtimes. I could only find one place – Africa Imports.  The prices are very low because this is a wholesale page but I called the number and they said you can still order from them even if you’re not a wholesaler. Also – they do give back to their artisans: “Africa Imports is not a big company, but we give a big percentage of our profits to help children in Africa. Right now, we guarantee that at least 2% of all of our sales will go to these orphanages and other charitable causes in Africa. As of October 2014, Africa Imports has donated a total of $502,816 to charitable causes in Africa. ” Read more about their giving.

Disclaimer: the link to Africa Imports is an affiliate link, so if you purchase one I will get a small commission (as well as a great deal of joy to know you’ll be enjoying a storytelling chandelier soon)!

I will update this page if I find further resources or if I’m able to reconnect with the vendor I met at Springfest. xxoo

Victoria Sponge Cake Recipe inspired by Mary Poppins

British Victoria Sponge Cake

Victoria Sponge Cake Recipe

Imagine a cake good enough to eat upside down.

This Victoria Sponge Cake is 100% inspired by Mary Poppins – that lovable British nanny at the heart of  countless quirky adventures – and, yes, it’s that good.

Victoria Sponge Cake Recipe inspired by Mary Poppins

The recipe is mentioned in Mary Poppins: 80th Anniversary Collection, which I gave my daughter for Valentine’s Day.

A note on these books: P.L. Travers’s collection goes well beyond the parameters of the Disney movie – the floating tea party scene at the heart of the film can be found on page 42, barely cracking the spine of this 1024 page classic.

Every night at bedtime we settle into a new chapter, following the 5 Banks children on another adventure. They paint the sky, eat gingerbread stars, hang out with the constellations at a circus in space, and travel the world with a compass – and all that within the first few hundred pages. Mary Poppins not only never explains their adventures once they’re over, she insists she has no idea what the children are talking about. More than buttoned up, Mary Poppins is flat out strict, yet the children always have fun when she’s around.

Reading Mary Poppins together

It’s in Mary Poppins Comes Back (the second book in the series), that Mary Poppins makes it clear that sponge cake is her cake of choice. She loves it so much, in fact, Mary pronounces her approval while floating on her head at an upside down tea party with Jane, Michael, and a man named Mr Turvy:

Turning their heads, Jane and Michael were surprised to see that the voice came from Mary Poppins’ parrot-headed umbrella, which was at that moment Catherine-wheeling towards the cake. It landed head-downwards on the tin and in two seconds had cut a large hole in it with its beak.

“There!” squawked the parrot-head conceitedly, “Polly did it! Handsome Polly!” And a happy self-satisfied smile spread over its beak as it settled head-downwards on the floor beside Mary Poppins.

“Well, that’s very kind, very kind,” said Mr Turvy in his gloomy voice, as the dark crust of the cake became visible.

He took a knife out of his pocket and cut a slice. He started violently, and peered at the cake more closely. Then he looked reproachfully at Mary Poppins.

“This is your doing, Mary! Don’t deny it. That cake, when the tin was last open, was a plum cake and now –”

“Sponge is much more digestible,” said Mary Poppins, primly. “Eat slowly please. You’re not starving savages!” she snapped, passing a small slice to each Jane and Michael.

Poppins’s insistence on proper behavior is comedic brilliance by author P.L. Travers … after all doesn’t floating on your head negate any need for proper decorum?

Not in Mary Poppins’s world.

Mary-Poppins-Illustration

How to make Victoria Sponge Cake

Victoria Sponge Cake is named for Queen Victoria (1819-1901) who enjoyed a slice or two at teatime during the 19th century. This was the era when taking formal tea became the thing. Since the queen favored sponge, the dessert became synonymous with British teatime.  

The mild cake is meant to be soft and spongy, hence the name. All you’ll need are a few pantry staples: flour, butter, sugar, egg, and levener – this simple cake requires no extravagance (most recipes, but not all, avoid vanilla extract and lemon zest). A plain, trim slice effortlessly makes a splash among fancier desserts on the tea spread, just as the girl-next-door shines sweetly among a gaggle of divas in stilettos.

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In Britain, many recipes stipulate that the sugar, flour, butter and eggs should be the same weight, based on the weight of the eggs. I made this version by the cup for folks who don’t have a scale handy (or don’t feel like pulling one out). You’ll need 4 eggs.

Room temperature ingredients make the fluffiest cakes, as does creaming together the butter and sugar for a good five minutes.

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After creaming the butter and sugar together, alternate adding the eggs and flour to form a thick, luscious mix. A little milk makes it looser but not pourable.

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Finally, pop the cakes into a 350F oven (for a perfectly flat cake, use baking strips).

Once baked and cooled, I followed tradition and placed a thick layer of strawberry preserves and whipped cream between the cake layers (lemon curd is fabulous, too). Another not-exactly-traditional approach is to swap out the whipped cream for a layer of buttercream.

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The top is left unadorned save a dusting of powdered sugar.

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A few notes on the ingredients

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Superfine Sugar

Superfine sugar is best for this recipe as the fine granules incorporate more readily. To make superfine sugar, take one heaping cup sugar and blend for about 1 minute. Measure out 1 cup and use as instructed. There’ll be a little leftover. See above – the sugar on the right is my homemade superfine sugar (click the photo to zoom in and see the difference in the granules). Note that it is not the same as powdered sugar.

Flour

I’d planned to use cake flour in hopes of making a perfectly featherlight cake but there was a drought of cake flour at every grocery store in Tulsa this week. And by every grocery store, I mean four… because, let’s be honest, if I can’t find cake flour in four grocery stores I’m done looking.

I wondered if perhaps, as the grocer at Whole Foods indicated, the glut of best-selling cake mixes and gluten free products has – quite possibly – permanently taken the small shelf space cake flour once occupied. After all, the poorest selling products get the boot. In which case we all better learn how to make cake without cake flour.

The good news? Victoria Sponge Cake is also fabulous with all-purpose flour and requires no special trips to the market.

Which leaves you more time for reading and eating!

And that, I’d say, is a win-win.

Suggested Reading:

Mary Poppins: 80th Anniversary Collection, Book 2 – Mary Poppins Comes Back - Chapter 4 – “Topsy Turvy.” by P.L. Travers.

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Victoria Sponge Cake is named for Queen Victoria (1819-1901) who enjoyed a slice or two at teatime during the 19th century. It is also a favorite of the fictional character, Mary Poppins. The mild cake is meant to be soft and spongy, hence the name. British Victorian Sponge Cake
Servings Prep Time
1layer cake (two 8" rounds) 25minutes
Cook Time Passive Time
25minutes 1.5hours
Servings Prep Time
1layer cake (two 8" rounds) 25minutes
Cook Time Passive Time
25minutes 1.5hours
Ingredients
For the cake:
For filling & decorating
Instructions
For the cake:
  1. Preheat oven to 350F. Meanwhile, grease two 8-inch cake pans and line the bottoms with rounds of parchment paper.
  2. Beat butter and sugar together for several minutes until fluffy and white (using a stand mixer fitted with paddle attachment or hand mixer). Scrape sides occasionally.
  3. Whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt in a small bowl.
  4. Add the eggs and flour to the butter mixture in alternating thirds on low. Add the milk to loosen a bit. Scrape as needed. When fully combined, divide between baking pans.
  5. Bake for 25 minutes or until light brown and the surface springs back when pressed gently with the fingertip. Let cool completely - about 1 1/2 hours
For decorating:
  1. On the bottom layer of cake: Spoon on strawberry preserves or lemon curd. Top with a generous layer of whipped cream, then the second layer of cake. Dust with powdered sugar and serve with hot tea.
Storage
  1. Cooled cake layers may be wrapped in plastic wrap and aluminum foil, then stored in the freezer for a month or two. Thaw at room temperature, then decorate as usual.
Recipe Notes

To make superfine sugar, take one heaping cup sugar and blend or process for about 1 minute. Measure out 1 cup and use as instructed. There may be a little leftover.

To avoid a domed cake, use baking strips.

Source:

Recipe Copyright Sasha Martin, Global Table Adventure. For personal or educational use only.

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A Japanese Sushi-rolling Birthday Party

DIY Japanese Sushi-rolling Birthday Party

A Japanese birthday party is a fabulous alternative to the standard princess or pirate birthday party. A couple of years ago my good friend and artist Annie Ferris had a Japanese-themed birthday party for her daughter and was kind enough to share the photos. The girls are 4 years old, proving there’s no age limit to having a fun and educational birthday party.

I love how Annie managed to throw together a totally immersive experience while maintaining a down-to-earth vibe. Here are some of my favorite features of her daughter’s Japanese Birthday Party.

Sushi Rolling station

DIY Japanese Sushi-rolling Birthday Party

Ava still asks to make homemade sushi and this party is one reason why.

How to set up a Sushi Rolling Station:

Set up several low tables – kids craft tables or coffee tables work well – and use cushions for seating. Not only is this set up very Japanese, but it’s also easier for wiggly little ones to manage.

At each child’s place you’ll need:

DIY Japanese Sushi-rolling Birthday Party

In the center of the table Annie provided:

  • a pile of napkins (she used plain red for Japan but how cute are these blue fish?)
  • several bowls with vegetables like asparagus, avocado, and cucumber for homemade veggie sushi (recipe)
  • a block of cream cheese
  • homemade sushi rice (recipe)
  • decorations (more on that in a moment)

Annie also featured an easel at one end of the room with step-by-step instructions for rolling the sushi. She drew the instructions in marker – four per sheet.

DIY Japanese Sushi-rolling Birthday Party

Annie and her daughter went through the instructions slowly, making sure everyone had completed each step before moving on. Even the youngest sushi roller was able to participate with great success.

DIY Japanese Sushi-rolling Birthday Party

Since this party was for little people, Annie provided a few plastic serrated lettuce knives for slicing the sushi. While the knives were quite safe, pressing the knife straight into the rolled sushi didn’t work – however if the rolls were tight and I glided the knife gently back and forth it did work.

DIY Japanese Sushi-rolling Birthday PartyA few bottles of Sapporo were on hand for the adults. Cheers to that!

Homemade “Wasabi” cake

It might look like a spicy ball of wasabi, but this was the sweetest treat of all! Green frosting and sprinkles made this little girl’s homemade vanilla cake stay on theme.

DIY Japanese Sushi-rolling Birthday PartyOther sweets were found in the children’s goodie bags – such as Pocky Sticks and hard candies – all found at the local Asian market.

3. Decorations

Scattered around the party were:

While I’ve provided links to online shopping, most of these items were found at the local Asian market.

DIY Japanese Sushi-rolling Birthday Party DIY Japanese Sushi-rolling Birthday Party

4. Costumes etc.

The invitations came in little Asian-style takeout boxes (they were polka dotted) – these can be found at many craft stores or online. Included with the invitations were instructions to come dressed in Japanese clothes.

The costumes were a big hit with the children! From the fans to the kimonos, I love them all. The girl in the black and white dress had her hair tied in a bow on top of her head – just amazing… and next to her – I love that boy’s fish t-shirt!

DIY Japanese Sushi-rolling Birthday PartyMy daughter, below left, found her costume at our local Asian market… complete with wooden clogs. After the party these items were a great addition to her dress up chest!

DIY Japanese Sushi-rolling Birthday PartyIf you’re considering having a Japanese birthday party, I hope you’ve found some inspiration thanks to Annie’s fabulous Sushi Rolling Party!

Oh, and if you’ve hosted an epic globally-inspired birthday party let me know – I’d love to hear all about it!

 

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Dipping into Mezze for Lunch


I don’t think a single day has passed without my five-year old eating some sort of food with her hands. While many parents might fret about their child’s “grabby” manners at the dinner table, I encourage her to explore how she eats her food as much as what she eats.

My guidelines are simple: only three fingers (the thumb, index and middle fingers of her right hand) and no more than one knuckle deep. Bread should be used whenever possible to help scoop up particularly messy food.

Oh, yeah… And use a napkin.

popcornSince cooking the world we’ve learned that eating with our hands slows us down and helps us connect to the meal (and each other) in a visceral way. Millions of people eat with their hands – in fact some estimates range from 1 to 2 billion folks daily. That’s people from India to Lebanon, and from Morocco to Ethiopia. The number grows dramatically if you consider the sandwich, popcorn, and pizza munching people right here in the USA. Even hummus  – once considered international food – is not only ubiquitous here in the states, it’s a viral sensation.

So what’s a girl to eat for Mezze?

Mezze is the art of small bites – anything from stuffed grape leaves to spanikopita. Today, mezze means homemade labneh, a high-protein lunch (and a welcome change from hummus). Labneh comes from the Middle East and Central Asia, with variations in eastern Europe. Simply strain some yogurt and season with lemon juice, herbs, a bit of salt, and olive oil. Friendly dippers include pita bread, carrots, and peppers. It might be too much to ask for a leisurely lunch with today’s hectic school schedules, but with a labneh-filled lunchbox filled, at least you’ll know it’ll be nutritious.

For other Mezze ideas, see our Greek Around the World Lunch.

Ava's Around the World LunchesAround the World Lunches

Around the World Lunches began when I shared a few of Ava’s globally-inspired lunches on Instagram and Facebook. The response was immediate: Turns out a lot of people are looking for ideas.

Check out our other Around the World lunches – perfect for school or work.

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Honeymoon Smoothie | عصير المتزوجين

How to make a Honeymoon Smoothie from Yemen (عصير المتزوجين)

How do you know it’s springtime in Yemen? So much of Yemen is dusty: sand overwhelms the northern stretches in an area called “Rub’ al Khali” or the “Empty Quarter”; even ancient skyscrapers are made of sun-baked mud, as can be found in the town of Shibam.

"Shibam Wadi Hadhramaut Yemen" by Jialiang Gao www.peace-on-earth.org - Original Photograph. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Shibam_Wadi_Hadhramaut_Yemen.jpg#/media/File:Shibam_Wadi_Hadhramaut_Yemen.jpg

“Shibam Hadhramaut, Yemen” by Jialiang Gao. In this town the houses are all made of mud brick, some towers are 11 stories high. While the town’s origins are from 2,000 years ago, many of the buildings were constructed in the 16th century.

"Shibam Yemen Interior" by Jialiang Gao www.peace-on-earth.org - Original Photograph. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Shibam_Yemen_Interior.jpg#/media/File:Shibam_Yemen_Interior.jpg

“Shibam, Yemen – Interior” by Jialiang Gao.

But… like a mirage, there’s another, glimmering view of Yemen.

Between the dusty cliffs of the Hadramout desert lies a valley of prickly trees and honey bees, where one of the world’s great aphrodisiacs accumulates in golden pools.

This is Sidr Honey, a.k.a. jujube honey.

Jujube Tree. Photo by Thamizhpparithi Maari.

Jujube Tree. Photo by Thamizhpparithi Maari.

Every year, semi-nomadic beekeepers flock to the Do’an Valley, where the sweet fragrance of the jujube tree sets the bees into motion. The resulting honey is said to be a tremendous aphrodisiac.

And what do you do with an aphrodisiac?

You drink it, of course.

Honeymoon Smoothie

عصير المتزوجين is a love potion of sorts – a honey-laced smoothie meant to sweeten marriage and to help single folks find true love. I call it a “honeymoon smoothie,” though I read that the literal translation is “married couples juice.”

Inside you’ll find everything sweet and nutritious: mango, banana, dates, milk and honey…

How to make a Honeymoon Smoothie from Yemen (عصير المتزوجين)

How to make a Honeymoon Smoothie from Yemen (عصير المتزوجين)

And a sprinkling of nuts and coconut makes for a crunchy contrast.

How to make a Honeymoon Smoothie from Yemen (عصير المتزوجين)

Heart-to-Heart with my daughter

Lately my daughter has been asking about marriage. How I knew I wanted to marry Keith. How she’ll know which boy to marry.

How to make a Honeymoon Smoothie from Yemen (عصير المتزوجين)

My goodness. She’s so young for these questions. But our talk was tender and I didn’t shy away from her questions.

Not that it was immediately obvious what to tell her – how much is too much information, I wondered.

If you read my book then you know it wasn’t exactly appropriate to read from my memoir … so I simply told her that when I met Keith I felt as though my heart came home. I added that I spent some years “making sure” we would be good to each other even when we were grouchy. I explained that it’s easy to be kind when things are going well… but I wanted to make sure that, when times got tough, he wouldn’t be mean to me and that I wouldn’t be mean to him. That we would help each other.

She listened carefully, then replied: “If two mean people get married, will they have a mean baby?”

Ah, the mind of a 5 1/2 year old…

How to make a Honeymoon Smoothie from Yemen (عصير المتزوجين)

How to make a Honeymoon Smoothie from Yemen (عصير المتزوجين)

There are lots of ways to make this smoothie – the most important is to use very ripe fruit and add lots of honey. My recipe is adapted and simplified from Sheba Yemeni Food, where she adds a drizzle of Vimto to the glass for color (Vimto is a popular grape, raspberry, and blackcurrant cordial) and tahini havla for added flavor. Both are available at Middle Eastern markets, should you wish to make this variation.

Yemen might not have spring as we know it, but one sip of this smoothie and spring arrives.

It is no wonder this is wedding season.

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A love-potion of sorts from Yemen, perfect for newlyweds or those looking to get married. Make sure to add plenty of honey - that's a Yemeni aphrodisiac. Honeymoon Smoothie | عصير المتزوجين
Servings Prep Time
1quart 15minutes
Servings Prep Time
1quart 15minutes
Ingredients
For the smoothie:
Instructions
  1. Peel and chop the fruit. Add to a blender with the dates and milk. Blend until smooth, add ice, then blend again. Sweeten with honey to taste, pulsing once or twice to incorporate.
  2. Serve in glasses drizzled with Vimto, if desired.
  3. Top with one or more items from the list of garnishes. If you'd like to grind the nuts into a powder, that's nice, too. Sliced banana and mango are another yummy idea.
  4. Serve cold with a straw or a spoon, and a smile.
Source:

Recipe Copyright Sasha Martin, Global Table Adventure. For personal or educational use only.

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Eat a country, build a country

Cooking a meal from Nauru, way out in Oceania? What about creating the island nation of Nauru as a supplemental learning project? This interactive sand box is a phenomenal learning tool that utilizes Xbox technology and sand to build topographic models on the fly. As kids push sand around, mountains and rivers are formed. You can even make it “rain” by holding your hand over the land – the rainwater flows realistically down hillsides.

Here are some kids playing with it and…

… Here’s more of an explanation of how it works.

I did some digging and found the directions for how to make the interactive sand box are available to anyone with a bit of coding know-how thanks to the developer, Oliver Kreylos (@okreylos) – a faculty member and self-proclaimed holodeck builder at the University of California Davis.

Cool.

For those who are serious about bringing this project to their home, school, or local children’s museum: a few resources are available here and here. At the time of writing this article, Oliver Kreylosr’s opensource code page was down (a side effect of going viral, I’m sure) but here’s the link for when it comes back up.

Until then you can also build your countries the old-fashioned way – with balled up newspaper, more paper, and glue…

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Tips for how to build an old-fashioned paper mache landmass or volcano:

1. To make a mountain, use paper, Elmer’s glue, and water. For a volcano, you’ll also need an empty water bottle.

2. To build your landmass: Make the glue really watery. Dip strips of paper in the glue and lay them across balled up paper and around the water bottle, if using. Leave the top of the water bottle clear of any paper so you can make it erupt later.

3. Let dry for a day or two, then decorate with paint and whatever else suits your fancy.

4. To make the volcano erupt: Add 2 Tbsp baking soda to the water bottle. Mix 1/4 cup vinegar and red food coloring (if desired) – pour into the bottle and watch her blow!

Here’s Ava with her tropical volcano last summer. We decorated it with flowers, grasses and moss from the garden. And, yes, you can watch it erupt (and see which “people” survive the lava flow).

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russian-cabbage-pie-recipe-11

Russian Cabbage Pie

How to make Russian Cabbage PieThis much Russia knows: the chilly, early days of spring go hand-in-hand with cabbage. Throughout the countryside, rows of cabbages can be found poking through the ground even as the last freeze thaws. The tough, squeaky heads are impenetrable to all but the peskiest of creatures, but give them some attention with a sharp knife and persistent flame and you’ll see why cabbage is the pride of Russian home cooking.

How to make Russian Cabbage Pie

From cabbage rolls to borscht, Russian cookbooks are fat with ideas to use up the spring harvest – and at a mere $2-$3 per head at the market, it’s tempting to attempt them all. But if I had to pick just one, cabbage pie seems to shows off the humble vegetable’s truest potential.

"Serebriakova cabbage-village-neskuchnoye-1909" by Zinaida Serebriakova - http://www.wikipaintings.org/en/zinaida-serebriakova/cabbage-village-neskuchnoye-1909. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Serebriakova_cabbage-village-neskuchnoye-1909.jpg#/media/File:Serebriakova_cabbage-village-neskuchnoye-1909.jpg

Cabbage. Village Neskuchnoy (1909). Painted by Zinaida Serebriakova (1884-1967), one of Russia’s great female artists, known in part for her depictions of the Russian countryside.

Cook it up with little more than butter, a smattering of onion and lay it between sticky spoonfuls of sour cream batter… bake, then slice into neat squares and you’ll have a feast fit for any potluck. (We took it over to our neighbor’s potluck party; the casserole was cleaned out in mere minutes!)

The ingredients are simple enough…

Ingredients:

For the filling:

1 head cabbage (medium), cored and chopped
1 large onion, sliced thinly
3 tablespoons butter
3 eggs (hard-boiled)
2 teaspoons salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1 egg (raw)

For the batter:

3 eggs
1 cup sour cream
1/4 cup mayonnaise
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 1/4 cups flour
pinch salt

How to make it. 

Personally, I like cabbage pie with character, which means two things: First, take the time to really soften the onion and cabbage in the pan – that’s where the flavor builds…

How to make Russian Cabbage Pie

… second, season generously with salt and pepper (a little extra pepper adds welcome bite). Think of this way: scrambled eggs without a good shake of salt and pepper are terrible. The same goes with cabbage pie, especially since there’s a few hard-boiled eggs in the mix.

How to make Russian Cabbage Pie

Once the filling is cooked and seasoned, the sour cream batter comes together with a few turns of a spatula…

How to make Russian Cabbage Pie

Spread a little batter on the bottom of the pan, add the filling, and then spoon the remaining batter on top. Use the back of a spoon or spatula to spread evenly across the top. The coating might seem sparse but it puffs as it bakes and turns out to be just right. How to make Russian Cabbage PieWait a few minutes before slicing – the pie holds together better that way.

How to make Russian Cabbage Pie

Enjoy on a chilly spring day – warm or at room temperature.

Remember – there’s great joy in sharing a table with your loved ones.  Take the time to make your meals into adventures… into memories worth reliving.

"Zinaida Serebryakova (1914) At Breakfast" by Zinaida Serebryakova ; Серебрякова - http://entertainment.webshots.com/photo/2963882390037029906CkKXLW. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Zinaida_Serebryakova_(1914)_At_Breakfast.jpg#/media/File:Zinaida_Serebryakova_(1914)_At_Breakfast.jpg

“At Breakfast” (1914) by Russian painter Zinaida Serebryakova.

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Russian Cabbage pie is a casserole worthy of any potluck. Take the time to wilt the cabbage down fully and season well for best results. Russian Cabbage Pie
Servings Prep Time
12people 15minutes
Cook Time
80minutes
Servings Prep Time
12people 15minutes
Cook Time
80minutes
Ingredients
For the filling:
For the batter:
Instructions
For the Filling:
  1. Cook the cabbage and onion in butter over medium-high until softened. A large wok works best. Season the cabbage with salt and pepper as you work (if it's bland now, it'll be bland later!). The wilting process takes about 20 minutes. You may need to reduce the heat as you go to prevent burning. Stir occasionally.
  2. Set the hot mixture aside to cool. Meanwhile preheat the oven to 375F and grease an 11x9-inch baking dish.
  3. Once the filling has cooled to luke-warm, stir in the chopped hard-boiled eggs and the raw egg to bind.
For the batter:
  1. Add the eggs, sour cream, and mayonnaise to a medium bowl. Stir until smooth, then add the dry ingredients.
To assemble and bake:
  1. Spread a little less than half the batter evenly over the bottom of the prepared baking dish. Spoon on the filling.
  2. Top the casserole with the remaining batter, adding it in dollops evenly across the surface and smoothing it with the back of a spoon or spatula to cover the entire surface.
  3. Bake for 45 minutes, until the crust is golden brown and shiny. Let cool at least 15 minutes before slicing so that it holds its shape.
  4. Serve room temperature or warm. It'd be lovely with a bit of sour cream on the side.
Source:

Recipe Copyright Sasha Martin, Global Table Adventure. For personal or educational use only.

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What’s the difference? Tasting Ceylon Teas

How to set up an accurate tea tasting.

English Breakfast, Irish Breakfast, English Afternoon… Why so many names when they’re all “100% Ceylon Tea”?

My husband gave me a box set of black teas for Christmas. I poured intently over the dozen-or-so varieties only to discover that, while the tea names varied, the labels all listed the same ingredient: 100% Ceylon Tea. The issue came up again this month: I am fueling my book tour with gallons of tea … and yet every cuppa is little more than a brew of 100% Ceylon Tea.

Isn’t the definition of insanity

Doing the same thing over and over again but expecting different results?

I had to find out what was going on.

My next move? A literal “pouring over” with hot water. Every morning I sipped a different tea only to remain perplexed: I couldn’t detect a noticeable difference in the teas. Feeling more and more duped, I decided to host an official tea tasting.  And, since I wanted to be sure of the results, I did it with my husband and friend.

How to set up an accurate tea tasting.

How to set up an accurate tea tasting:

Whether you’re trying teas from the same part of the world or multiple regions, a tea tasting is a great way to bring the world into your kitchen. Even the tiniest global citizens can enjoy a tea tasting to learn more about geography, weather patterns, and agriculture.

  1. Take small sips. A tea tasting is a lot like wine tasting. While wine tastings can cause tipsy tipplers, caffeine jitters can be a minor issue at tea tastings (unless you’re tasting caffeine-free tea, in which case even the youngest family members can participate).
  2. Brew times are critical. Check packaging for suggested brew times.  While water is heating up, place the tea bags in the cups. Boil enough hot water to fill all the cups and add it in quick succession. Set a timer for exact brew. Remove the tea bags starting with the one that got hot water first.
  3. Sniff coffee grounds. Everything can start to taste the same after a while. Sniff coffee grounds to clear you palate (drinking water can help, too).

How to set up an accurate tea tasting.

The Results

My official panel of tasters included myself, Keith (thanks to his extra sensitive palate that once earned him the nickname Mr Picky), and my friend Alex.

English Afternoon

Description on the package: Medium strength, delightful bouquet

English afternoon is astringent and finished with a sharp high note – a little bit like the bite of a citrus peel.

Irish Breakfast

Description on the package: Deep color, extra strength

If Irish breakfast tea was musical, this tea would be the deep bass. I thought it had a pleasant vegetal note – rather like steamed artichokes and I’m certain the extra strength would be welcome on dreary mornings. Alex and Keith disagreed, noting that the mouthfeel was “rough” with a heavy bitterness and the astringency of unripe banana peel.

How to set up an accurate tea tasting.

English Breakfast

Description on the package: Rich, strong, full bodied

Full, round, with a suspicion of vanilla, English Breakfast was the crowd favorite. If you’re looking for a smooth wake-up call, a pot of English Breakfast is a sure bet.

Earl Grey

Description on the package: Medium strength, deep tone, delicate fragrance of Bergamot.

Just for fun, we added Earl Grey to the mix of teas we tasted. The package also claims 100% Ceylon, with the added fragrance of bergamot oil (a fruit in the citrus family also dubbed “sour orange”). To me the flavor is piney and quite floral. As far as the Ceylon Tea goes, Earl Grey tastes of mist and dreams, just as the name indicates.

Bergamot Fruit. Photo by Ivo Spadone.

Bergamot Fruit. Photo by Ivo Spadone.

How can there be a difference when it’s all Ceylon Tea?

Call me crazy, but even after the taste test I remained unsatisfied. How could there be a difference when the ingredient labels are exactly the same?

Turns out much of a tea’s flavor has to do with where it is grown and how it is processed. Ceylon Tea indicates tea grown in Sri Lanka. According to Dilmah Tea:

Only strength and tone vary, depending on the elevation of tea gardens above sea level in low, mid and high grown regions. Each region has it’s own distinctive character.

Traditional tea, made in the ‘orthodox’ style – a production process that starts with handpicking the leaves and continues through withering, rolling, oxidation and firing – follows a technique perfected over centuries. It produces tea that are varied and sophisticated.

Single Origin Tea – unblended tea – is important because one of the most desirable features in tea is terroir – the sense of place. Terroir dictates that tea grown in the Uva region at a certain time of year, possesses the unique, signature taste that is the product of that unique climatic phenomenon. It gives each valley, each region and each country its unique identity in tea. The lower cost option though is to buy tea from wherever it is cheap – for tea varies enormously in cost – and blend it all together to produce a ‘multi-origin blend’. That may work for coffee, but certainly not for tea.

Turns out I may not be crazy to expect different results from the teas – after all they aren’t exactly the same. So, if you’re using 100% Ceylon the variation comes from the terroir (similar to wine). Just because most wine is made with grapes doesn’t mean every bottle tastes the same!

Ok, got it! Let’s sip some tea… perhaps with some cream and currant scones!

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How to set up an accurate tea tasting.

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Living with my memoir out in the world

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Between recipes and global tips I want to take a moment to pause, breath in, and thank you, my beautiful readers. You continue to welcome me as I tour the country and promote my debut memoir, Life from Scratch: A Memoir of Food, Family, and Forgiveness. Your warmth humbles me.

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You tell me it’s safe to cry with you – and good thing, because I can’t seem to stop. I did it in book signings, on live radio, and in front of live studio audiences. I did it when that one host asked me “What would you tell your ten year old self?” Tears streamed down as I choked out the words “Nothing, I’d just hug her.” If you read the book you know my ten year old self sorely needed hugs.

Sharing my life story makes me feel naked on stage but I learned something amazing: when you’re willing to be vulnerable, so are your friends.

We’ve cried together, you and I, sometimes without words being exchanged. Just a knowing look can be enough. Others have opened up and shared their painful childhood memories – old friends and new friends.  Turns out we’re all looking for that sense of belonging – we’re all looking to find our place in this world.

My relationships are deepening because I dared to trust my life in your hearts. What a gift.

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So much of me being a published author has to do with saying my dreams out loud – with taking chances. Yesterday I gave my friend Rick Steves a real-life hug in Edmonds, Washington. Seven minutes on his show back in 2012 launched my site to thousands and led me to my book agent. You never know where the angels are in your life, or who will step up with an idea to reinvigorate your dreams. And you never who you might be able to help.

Rick Steves confided in me that he was launched into the public spotlight by a wildly successful author and TV Host – Arthur Frommer – and that he is grateful he is able to help other people in that way now. Here he is writing about it in his own words:

When I was in my twenties, my first really big media break came when I was invited to New York City to be on Arthur Frommer’s cable TV show. I remember Arthur putting his arm around my shoulder, looking into the camera, and — as if introducing me to the world —declaring, “Ladies and gentlemen, Rick Steves, the new Steve Birnbaum, Eugene Fodor, Temple Fielding of the travel guide industry.”

I couldn’t believe my ears. I was just a scruffy kid who loved to travel and share my experiences. I was scrappy for publicity, and here Arthur was using his show to boost me. […] Today, a generation later, I find myself getting great joy from sharing my audience with other travelers who are, perhaps, the new Frommers, Birnbaums, Fodors, and Fieldings themselves.

rick-steves

I want to tell you what I know to be true – and what I tell my daughter all the time:

Say your dreams out loud. Amazing things will happen. You are worth it.

See you on the rest of my book tour!

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red-velvet

O’Hara’s Irish Red Velvet Cake with Bailey’s Buttercream

Irish Red Velvet Cake Recipe

Think you need to eat green this Saint Patrick’s Day? Think again.

Come Saint Patrick’s Day, few desserts can stand up to the mighty Guinness Chocolate Cake – until now.  Irish Red Velvet Cake is as cheery as a wee leprechaun’s cheeks and as fiery as his beard. The crimson batter contains a dusting of cocoa and is bound with buttermilk – both characteristics of a traditional Red Velvet Cake, popular in the American South. But a few glugs of O’Hara’s Irish Red Ale gives this otherwise ordinary cake Celtic edge.

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This delightful Irish-American fusion makes an ideal dessert for the 40 million Irish Americans who celebrate Saint Patrick’s Day every year. (And, since Saint Patrick’s Day is more widely celebrated by Irish Americans than the Irish, this fusion turns out to be quite apropos.)

What is an Irish Red Ale?

Irish Red ales are reddish-brown in color and full-bodied. In the case of O’Hara’s, toasted malt sweetens the drink, while a bit of hops deepens the finish.

Too much of the bubbly brew can give the Irish Red Velvet Cake a yeasty, bread-like flavor – a modest 1/2 cup does the trick. Cutting back on the buttermilk to accommodate the Irish Red ale causes the cake to lose some richness but what is lost is more than made up for in festivity. The cake remains ultra moist and – according to one friend – irresistible, particularly when paired with a fluffy spread of Bailey’s Buttercream.

Note: The booze cooks off, so this cake is suitable for children, too. The Bailey’s in the buttercream is no different than adding vanilla extract.

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Origins of Irish Red Velvet Cake:

One blustery day this winter I decided to organize my cookbook collection. Food and Wine had just come to the house to do a photo shoot promoting my new book and had made a half dozen stacks with my cookbooks for a photo feature. As I put the books away, I sorted and edited the collection with fresh eyes.

In the chaos I stumbled upon a beer guide I’d long-since forgotten about. The glossy pages fell open revealing an assortment of Irish beers. A formidable pint of Guinness caught my eye, reminding me of the Guinness Chocolate Cake with Bailey’s Buttercream my family enjoyed back when we first cooked Ireland.

Then my eyes drifted across the page to the Irish Red ales. Somehow the notion of a red ale and a beer-infused cake became transposed.  My brain decided, (with alarming urgency) “I must make an Irish Red Velvet Cake.” A quick Google search turned up empty: as far as I could tell no one had attempted such a thing. Until now.

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A few decorating tips

For perfectly white, crumb-free buttercream use a “crumb coating.”

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It sounds fancy but just means that – after you bake and…

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… stack the cake layers…irish-red-velvet-cake-recipe-09

… you spread a very thin layer of buttercream over the entire cake.

Next, refrigerate until the buttercream chills and is firm to the touch (about 30 minutes). The hardened buttercream traps the crumbs so that the next (thicker) layer of buttercream remains pristine as fresh snowfall.

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For the final coat, I like to dab frosting strategically around the cake and then use an offset spatula to smooth it out evenly.

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It’s really scientific.

Irish Red Velvet Cake Recipe

Your stove top travels await….

Take a moment, where ever you are, to enjoy your cake with a sense of adventure and imagination.

Perhaps in in an Irish castle…

Photo of Carrigafoyle Castle, Co. Kerry, Republic of Ireland.

Photo of Carrigafoyle Castle, Co. Kerry, Republic of Ireland by Arcaist.

… or an Irish Pub in… America!

"Downtown Disney - Raglan Road Irish Pub - retouched" by Flickr user: berkielynn http://www.flickr.com/people/berkie/ - Flickr: http://www.flickr.com/photos/berkie/3177485179/. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Downtown_Disney_-_Raglan_Road_Irish_Pub_-_retouched.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Downtown_Disney_-_Raglan_Road_Irish_Pub_-_retouched.jpg

“Downtown Disney – Raglan Road Irish Pub” by Berkielynn.

Either way, you’ll be on your way to very sweet and very lucky day.

Or at least an interesting one…

"St Patrick's Parade 2014. (13239914155)" by Miguel Mendez from Malahide, Ireland - St Patrick's Parade 2014.. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:St_Patrick%27s_Parade_2014._(13239914155).jpg#mediaviewer/File:St_Patrick%27s_Parade_2014._(13239914155).jpg

“St Patrick’s Parade 2014″ by Miguel Mendez from Malahide, Ireland.

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Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

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Irish Red Velvet Cake is as cheery as a wee leprechaun's cheeks and as fiery as his beard. The crimson batter contains a dusting of cocoa and is bound with buttermilk - both characteristics of a traditional Red Velvet Cake, popular in the American South. But a few glugs of O'Hara's Irish Red Ale gives this otherwise ordinary cake Celtic edge. Makes one 6" triple layer cake or one 8" layer cake.O'Hara's Irish Red Velvet Cake
Servings Prep Time
1layer cake 1hour
Cook Time Passive Time
25-35minutes 30minutes
Servings Prep Time
1layer cake 1hour
Cook Time Passive Time
25-35minutes 30minutes
Ingredients
For the Bailey's Buttercream
Instructions
  1. Preheat the oven to 350F.
  2. Prepare cake pans by greasing and lining with a circle of parchment paper.
  3. In a small saucepan, melt the butter and cocoa together and stir until smooth. Remove from heat and add the red food coloring, O'Hara's Irish Red, buttermilk, vanilla extract, and apple cider vinegar.
  4. In large bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients and then beat in the wet ingredients and the eggs. Beat smooth and pour into prepared cake pans.
  5. Bake 6" cakes for 25-30 minutes, or 8" cakes for 30-35 minutes
For the Bailey's Buttercream
  1. Let the cake cool completely. Meanwhile, beat the softened butter in a stand mixer on high speed until fluffy. Reduce speed and slowly incorporate the powdered sugar. When well-combined increase the speed and beat well for up to 10 minutes adding in enough Bailey's to make the buttercream loose and fluffy. Scrape the bowl as needed.
To assemble:
  1. Assemble the layers by placing a thick layer of buttercream between them as "glue." Use 1/3 remaining buttercream to create a crumb coating, spreading thinly all over the cake. Chill 30 minutes, then spread remaining buttercream over the cake. Enjoy!
Source:

Recipe Copyright Sasha Martin, Global Table Adventure. For personal or educational use only.

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Samoan Tropical Salad

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Summer can’t come soon enough – the heat of sun on my shoulders, the way my skin smells with sunscreen on, hot evenings under the stars. So today we’re going to Samoa.

There’ll be drippy sweetness: papaya and cantaloupe. There’ll be richness, too – buttery avocado and moody – almost bitter – spinach.

And to finish it all off? A puckering of lime juice – as bright as a Samoan seascape.

"Nu'ulopa island - Samoa" by Neil - originally posted to Flickr as Nu'ulopa. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Nu%27ulopa_island_-_Samoa.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Nu%27ulopa_island_-_Samoa.jpg

“Nu’ulopa island – Samoa” by Neil.

 

Typically known for rich, coconut milk-laden recipes, this Samoan salad is a healthier twist on island fare. The version I based mine on even won a Samoan recipe challenge!

Tropical Fruit

I chose this salad for sentimental reasons – something to set the scene a bit for the release of my new book Life from Scratch: A Memoir of Food, Family, and ForgivenessI went to Samoa 2 months before I was born (as a real life stowaway, I suppose). Scientists believe our taste preferences can be affected by what our mother’s ate while we were gestating. I like to think I carry a bit of Samoa with me today.

Samoan Fruit Salad

It was an odd beginning, I suppose – being swept halfway around the world before ever being born.

But it’s all I know.

When you read my story, you’ll understand why it’s walks the line of bitter-sweet.
Just like this salad.

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Samoan Fruit Salad
Servings
6people
Servings
6people
Ingredients
Instructions
  1. Add the spinach to 2 large platters or one large bowl. Slice the papaya in half, then remove seeds. Cut in strips, removing skin, and layer on salad. Do the same with the avocado and cantaloupe. Dress with a few squeezes of fresh lime juice (and serve with extra lime slices on the side). Enjoy!
Source:

Recipe Copyright Sasha Martin, Global Table Adventure. For personal or educational use only.

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On sending my book out into the world

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What we think writing a book looks like.

They say writing a book is like having a baby. I’m not so sure.

My memoir,  Life from Scratch is due into the world on March 3rd, 2015. I started writing in 2013 and can assure you that the 2-year gestation period was one of the most challenging periods of my career. I am just now starting to feel the butterflies as early press pours in from Women’s Day, O Magazine, and Food and Wine.

But in the beginning, I could only see the work that had to be done.

Weekends. Nights. Tears. Writing. Rewriting.

Rewriting again.

After I submitted my final manuscript edits to National Geographic, I told my husband “I’m ready to send my memoir out in to the world. Whatever happens now, I’ve already won – I’ve written a book – a BOOK!”

He laughed and nodded. He understood what a gift it was to get through the worry and fuss to produce a finished manuscript, ready for the world.

With a real baby weekends of worry  ramp up over a lengthy 18 years, until the child is grown up and finally off, on their own. With a book the timeline is condensed. Next week, after just two years, my book baby moves out and gets a job.

Whoa.

I can only wish what all parents wish: that you love her and become her friend.

After all, she’s still pretty new in this world. And it was a wild, sometimes dangerous adventure to get her here (see photo below).

In return, she just might inspire a few new adventures in your life.

P.S. If you’re interested in pre-ordering, please check out the special offer National Geographic has put together for you!

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What writing a book really looks like – controlled chaos mixed up with magic (and apparently swans).