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Organized spice jars: ground spices on the left, whole on the right. French Square spice jars so they don't turn.

10 Essential tools & ingredients for cooking the world

Curious what it would be like to eat a meal from every country? You’re not alone. More people than ever before are bringing the world into their kitchens. These 10 essentials will help you make eating internationally an easy part of your weekly routine, although only the first two are absolute requirements. 

1. A good attitude

eating-maldives

First things first: All the cookware in the world won’t help a bad outlook. The first requirement for trying international food is to be open minded. No saying “ugh” or “gross” at the dinner table.

Think: How would you feel if someone spoke that way about your mom’s cooking? Plus, if an entire country loves the food, is it really a question of preference or is liking a certain dish more about what we’re used to?

My rule of thumb? If you can’t think of anything nice to say, hold your tongue.

2. Time with your loved ones

menu.france

Can you cook alone? Yes. Can you eat 195 countries alone? Sure. But I spend enough time alone, in front of a laptop or cellphone. When you take on eating meals from every country in the world, you have the opportunity to take on lively cooking experiences and dinner conversations with those you care most about. Face-t0-face.

Even if you don’t start out sharing your adventure with others, learning about other cultures – and how they come together to make involved dishes like apple or beef empanadas, Hungarian campfire bacon,  and Kosovo’s campfire cake, Flija – might make you rethink your cooking experience. Within the first few months I donated my microwave, bread machine, and toaster – simplifying my tools so that my focus could be on cooking with loved ones.

Be prepared to bond.

3. Epic Spice Collection

Organized spice jars: ground spices on the left, whole on the right. French Square spice jars so they don't turn.

This is not a question of a frivolous, consumer-driven want but rather a question of what’s going to happen if you cook enough countries. In the early days you’ll be buying new spices for most recipes. After a while you’ll be well stocked. By the time you cook recipes from 195+ countries and territories, you might – like me – have 80+ herbs and spices (including whole and ground) tucked in multiple drawers and a cabinet.

The trick is keeping my insane spice collection organized…

I prefer keeping my spices in the dark. This extends their shelf life. Because I have so many, a standard spice rack doesn’t have enough room or flexibility for me. SO, I keep my spice collection in drawers and use a dowel to keep the jars towards the front (a dab of glue holds the dowel in place).*

When it comes to spice jars, I like the order and clarity provided by French Square spice jars (that link goes to a wholesaler that charges less than $1/ea). The square shape keeps the jars from spinning so I can easily read the labels. When it comes time to refill, I buy my spices in bulk so I don’t have to pay for jars I won’t use.

Be prepared: the same phenomenon happens with your coffee, tea, and alcohol collections… if you add global drink recipes to your around the world cooking adventure, be prepared to see your inventory grow… and grow.

* If you don’t have any power tools at home, measure the inside of your drawer and write down the number. Head to Home Depot and use the hand saw at their cutting station (over by the trim) to do the job. Make it a touch long and you can always hand sand it to wedge into place for a tighter fit.

4. World Map or Globe

World Map, with a gemstone on all the countries Sasha Martin's family ate on their Global Table Adventure.

A map or globe will be endlessly useful as you embark on your Global Table Adventure.  Once upon a time, before the age of GPS, maps were a utilitarian purchase. Today they can be an element of style. Make your statement by choosing an antique, modern, or scratch-off maps (yes, really)…. My husband even made the frame from a weathered bench.

Whatever you choose, make sure you like it. You’re going to be using the map for a while. At a rate of 1 country per week, it took us nearly four years to eat our way around the world … having a record of our culinary journey hanging near our dining table remains a source of pride and joy. We use it to identify countries, distances, and proximity to natural resources (like water, mountains, desert etc)… as well as to remember the places we’ve eaten.

5. Gemstones, thumbtacks, stickers

Speaking of a map or globe, find something to mark off the countries as you cook them. There’s nothing more satisfying than seeing your accomplishments pile up. We used simple gemstone stickers of varying sizes to mark countries. They sparkle, making the map a real conversation starter, especially in the evening when the lights are dim.

6. One good piece of cookware

Stirring pot from Life from Scratch: A Memoir of Food, Family, and Forgiveness

In all honesty there’s very little required specialty cookware when it comes to cooking the world. While many Americans have at least 4 small appliances (microwave, toaster, blender, hand mixer), many parts of the world keep their kitchens simple. Sure – it’s fun to add things like tagines to your collection. But if you only had one pot or pan, the most versatile would be a carbon steel wok. In a large wok you can boil noodles, make a stir-fry, braise meat, and even turn it upside down to grill flatbread on the domed surface. It can also go in the oven (with foil over the top) to make big rice dishes like Kabeli Palau from Afghanistan.

7. Steamer basket

Steamer Baskets choices - bamboo or stainless steel. Bamboo imparts flavor, stainless does not.

There were several times over the years of cooking the world that I had to steam food – as with fabulous coiled up pasta “Oromo” from Kyrgyzstan or vegetarian momos from Nepal. It’s worth investing in either a bamboo steamer or a tiered metal steamer for these types of meals. I found both at my local Asian market. The bamboo gives a nice woodsy flavor to steamed foods, while the stainless steel doesn’t impact taste at all.

A tip if the food is too big for a layered steamer, as with a stuffed artichoke? Use crumpled up foil at the bottom of a large pot.

8. A way to grind spices

Mortar and pestles are good for rough grinds, while an electric spice grinder is good for a fine powder.

Many recipes from around the world require spices to be ground, cracked, or chopped. For light jobs you can use a rolling pin but for finer results try a mortar and pestle or electric spice grinder. I like a mortar and pestle for wet grinding (things like garlic, salt and hot peppers together to make green papaya salad), while I like the electric grinder to create fine powders for homemade seasoning blends (fresh ground has much more flavor than the stuff you’ll find at the supermarket).

9. Portable Stove

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Now we’re getting into the luxury supplies for cooking the world. For about $20 at your local Asian market you can purchase a small portable 1-burner stove (with carrying case) to use at your dining table. This is not at all required, but perfect for what I like to call DIY meals – where everyone gets to control their own plate and cook a little while they’re at it. Examples include bibimbap, Vietnamese fresh spring rolls, and Lao Rice Noodle Soup. If you want to spend double the money, buy one online.

10. Just for fun

seychelles.food.recipe.img_6235

While a wok is the most versatile piece of cookware for your culinary adventure, my next favorite piece of cookware is my comal. I use it to char garlic and tomatoes for Laotian salsa or Mexican mole, toast whole spices for various spice blends, and to grill homemade corn tortillas, pupusas, naan, chapati, or coconut roti.

And no one is going to get mad if you own a paella pan …

spain.food.recipe.img_0219

… or a tagine

morocco.food.img_6959

… especially if you make a Quick Paella or Moroccan lamb with honeyed figs for dinner.

Ready to start cooking the world?

No need to wait any longer. In my FREE “Global Table Adventure Starter Guide” you’ll find the resources you need to start cooking the world today.

Your 45-page guide includes:

  • Tips for Starting Your Adventure
  • Getting Everyone Involved
  • Ideas for Potlucks & Parties
  • Frequently Asked Questions
  • Suggested Reading
  • List of countries (by continent)
  • List of countries (A-Z)
  • Get Social! (How to Connect with other Global Table
    Adventurers)

Armed with my free online recipes and this guide, you’ll have everything you need to take your loved ones anywhere in the world you’d like… by dinnertime.

Get your Starter Guide now

 

P.S. Thanks to reader Andrea C. for asking about the essential tools and ingredients for cooking the world. Please email me with your questions – I’d love to help you out!

walk-the-thousand-mile-path

On being happy, even when life is cruddy

Is there something inherently different about people who maintain a positive attitude, even in the most trying circumstances? Happy souls can be found on every continent, in every culture – but when times get tough they become the minority. What keeps a person from constantly looking backwards, becoming a pillar of salt after everything they’ve ever known is destroyed?

Today we explore thoughts on happiness from around the world. These philosophers and authors provide joyful medicine for suffering souls.

1. Start with the truth.

“When suffering knocks at your door & you say there is no seat for him, he tells you not to worry because he has brought his own stool.” - Chinua Achebe (Nigerian Author & Critic)

No matter how insular a life we live, suffering finds us. The question is what will we do when the bully crashes into our heart? The first, inevitable step? Sit with it a while. Understand it. We must face reality before we can ever hope to heal.

"The greatest happiness is to know the source of unhappiness." - Fyodor Dostoyevsky (Russian Author & Philosopher)

2. Change your perspective.

“Let us try to see things from their better side: You complain about seeing thorny rose bushes; Me, I rejoice and give thanks to the gods That thorns have roses.” ― Anonymous verse found in “Lettres écrites de mon jardin” by French journalist Alphonse Carr.

Even though grief sits in our hearts, it cannot be our only companion. Healing begins when we look around and begin to see the roses on the thorn bush. Those people who find happiness during cruddy times manage to also see the good around them – in the beginning it might be nothing more than recognizing a nice breeze while standing at the grave of a loved one.  Over time we might be able to reframe our circumstances.

Take my life, for example: Mine is a story of rebuilding.

Rebuilding after living in multiple foster homes. Rebuilding after being separated from my siblings. Rebuilding after losing my brother. Rebuilding after “family” became synonymous with “temporary.”  I could just as easily say my story is one of destruction; one cannot rebuild something that hasn’t been destroyed. But here’s the simple truth: Any time I’ve focused on destruction, I am destroyed.

I’d rather see the roses than the thorns. Speaking of which…

3. Blind spots are a gift.

"I've come to the conclusion that, to be unequivocally happy, you have to have some blind spots." - Bill Withers (American Musician speaking on NPR)

When times get tough truly happy people narrow their vision. This survival skill allows them to keep moving forward without getting distracted by possible emotional drop-offs.

I recently heard Bill Withers on NPR – he’s most known for recording several major hits including “Lean on Me“, “Ain’t No Sunshine“, “Just the Two of Us“, and “Lovely Day.” Most remarkable, Withers walked away from the music biz when the studio’s creative limitations no longer served him. He continues to make music for himself, but he is not interested in being a part of the machine. He doesn’t focus on the glitz and glam he might have missed. Blind spots prevented him from staying in a bad situation and keep him content with what he has.

4. Give light to others.

“When you have once seen the glow of happiness on the face of a beloved person, you know that a man can have no vocation but to awaken that light on the faces surrounding him. In the depth of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer.” ― Albert Camus (French Author & Philosopher)

Common advice after hardship is to “keep busy.” But I can keep busy on Facebook – and that does nothing but feed my depression. Instead, happy people often keep busy in some sort of service.

It’s impossible to feel sad or sorry for myself when I’m helping other people.

When we focus our efforts outside of ourselves it can rekindle a sense of purpose and meaning during trying times – which unlocks our inner summer.

5. Find comfort in community.

"A man who calls his kinsmen to a feast does not do so to save them from starving. They all have food in their own homes. When we gather together in the moonlit village ground it is not because of the moon. Every man can see it in his own compound. We come together because it is good for kinsmen to do so." - Excerpt from 'Things Fall Apart' by Nigerian author Chinua Achebe.

There is much we can do on our own, but happy people allow themselves to be fed by community when times get tough. The classic example is the meal served after a funeral, typically at the bereaved’s home. Rather than eat alone, the grieving eat surrounded by loved ones. Simple things, like a walk in the park or watching a movie, are also better with friends.

6. Honor the journey

"Step by step walk the thousand-mile road." — Excerpt from 'The Book of Five Rings' by Miyamoto Musashi (Japanese Author & Samurai)

Real talk? Some sad things stay with us forever, like the death of a loved one. But happy people know to live in the moment, one step at a time. In this way we can keep moving emotionally, even while honoring our loss.

7. Stubborn happiness.

"The heart's memory eliminates the bad and magnifies the good and thanks to this artifice we manage to endure the burden of the past." — Gabriel Garcí­a Márquez (Colombian Author & Journalist)

Finding happiness is not a one-stop shopping experience. Being happy is more like tending a garden. Emotional weeds pop up occasionally and the toil of dealing with them can sometimes be a setback. But, years later, we look back and remember the amazing tomatoes we grew… without much thought to the thistles and dandelions… and how little control over them we really had.

Happiness is as simple – and as complicated – as that.

"Happiness is not a destination: Being happy takes constant weeding, a tending of emotions and circumstances as they arise. There’s no happily ever after, or any one person or place that can bring happiness. It takes work to be calm in the midst of turmoil. But releasing the need to control it – well, that’s a start." - Excerpt of 'Life from Scratch: A Memoir of Food, Family, and Forgiveness'' by Sasha Martin.

Collages & quotes assembled by Sasha Martin // Art credit goes to: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9.

 

Recipe for Gingered Pineapple Sundae with Toasted Coconut Flakes

Gingered Pineapple Ice Cream Sundae with Toasted Coconut

Recipe for Gingered Pineapple Sundae with toasted coconut

Let’s travel to Sub-Saharan Africa, where the flavors of the tropics make an ordinary ice cream sundae outstanding.

Start by harvesting real vanilla beans from Madagascar to make the ice cream. Then head to Nigeria to pluck a heavy, sweet pineapple and a knob of ginger root. Nigeria is the world’s 8th largest producer of pineapple and the 4th largest producer of ginger.*

Recipe for Gingered Pineapple Sundae with toasted coconut flakes

Chunk up the golden fruit, then cook it with brown sugar and a whisper of the freshly grated ginger. Ten minutes on a flame will release the pineapple juices into the brown sugar, making a sticky, caramel-like sauce.

Recipe for Gingered Pineapple Ice Cream Sunday with Toasted Coconut

Look how tall my little girl is getting…

gingered-pineapple-coconut-icecream-recipe-11

Sometime this fall she stopped using the step stool.

I always knew bringing the world into our kitchen was good nourishment, but she grew an inch over the summer.

<sigh>

Recipe for Gingered Pineapple Sundae with Toasted Coconut Flakes

When you’re done bemoaning how fast life flies, assemble your ice cream sundae.

First: Drop two fat scoops of vanilla ice cream into a shallow bowl.

Second: Spoon on the hot pineapple and sauce. Work quickly to sprinkle with lightly toasted coconut flakes (you can pick these up in Tanzania, the world’s 10th largest producer of coconut).

Even as the ice cream slumps into the pineapple, the coconut adds crunch.

gingered-pineapple-coconut-icecream-recipe-01

This recipe was one of the biggest wins with my family – out of 650+ recipes from every country in the world this little treat stands out as one of the yummiest.

gingered-pineapple-coconut-icecream-recipe-15

gingered-pineapple-coconut-icecream-recipe-14

Keith barely got any…

gingered-pineapple-coconut-icecream-recipe-06

…thanks to this little monkey.

gingered-pineapple-coconut-icecream-recipe-05

He’s such a good sport.

gingered-pineapple-coconut-icecream-recipe-03

Best of all, this isn’t just another sweet treat.

This sundae honors the flavors of sub-Saharan Africa… and provides an opportunity to discuss the regional importance of vanilla, pineapple, ginger, and coconut to locals. Try it as a quick and simple option for World Food Day – October 16. And while you’re at it, why not become a real-life superhero? Make your table larger by donating the cost of your sundaes to Hunger Free, an initiative of World Vision.

gingered-pineapple-coconut-icecream-recipe-07

With your support, families all over the world will enjoy the relief that comes with food security.

 

* Food and Agriculture Organization, 2009

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Inspired by a cooked fruit salad in Jessica B. Haris's "The Africa Cookbook" and an ice cream topper in Marcus Samuellsson's "A Taste of Africa." While this sundae is not specifically from any one country, we put together flavor profiles for the dessert that are very typical of sub-Saharah Africa - pineapple, coconut, ginger, and vanilla. In particular these crops are a big part of the economies of Nigeria, Tanzania, and Madagascar.Gingered Pineapple Ice Ceam Sundae with Toasted Coconut
Servings Prep Time
2-4people 5minutes
Cook Time
10minutes
Servings Prep Time
2-4people 5minutes
Cook Time
10minutes
Ingredients
Instructions
  1. Add the pineapple, brown sugar, and ginger root to a small pot and bring to a simmer over medium heat (the pineapple will release its juices). Cook 5-10 minutes until the brown sugar dissolves and thickens into a syrup. Stir occasionally.
  2. Serve with vanilla ice cream and toasted coconut chips to make a sundae.
Source:

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

"Hipp hipp hurra! Konstnärsfest på Skagen - Peder Severin Krøyer" by UFA66 - Own work. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Hipp_hipp_hurra!_Konstn%C3%A4rsfest_p%C3%A5_Skagen_-_Peder_Severin_Kr%C3%B8yer.jpg#/media/File:Hipp_hipp_hurra!_Konstn%C3%A4rsfest_p%C3%A5_Skagen_-_Peder_Severin_Kr%C3%B8yer.jpg

5 Tips for hosting a World Food Day dinner party that matters

5 Tips for hosting a World Food Day dinner party that matters

“Hipp hipp hurra!” (1888) / Peder Severin Krøyer

World Food Day seems like a strange day to have a party:

This isn’t one of those holiday-non-holidays, like Moment of Frustration Day (October 12) or Punk for a Day Day (October 25). World Food Day is a day of action every October 16, when people all over the world make a commitment to eradicate hunger.

So why have a dinner party when so many are hungry?

Because you’re probably going to have a dinner party sometime soon anyway.

5 Tips for hosting a World Food Day dinner party that matters

“Midday in Urgut” (1957) / Valentina Monakhova

Why not make it a meal with a cause?

This World Food Day make your table larger by donating the cost of your meal to help make the world hunger free. A World Food Day dinner party is a great way to sample new foods while raising awareness & funds for those most in need around the globe. This year I partnered with HungerFree, an initiative of World Vision, to do something really special – and you’re invited.

Imagine if we could fit the whole world around a single table?
We can start by making room in our hearts.


Here’s how it works:

1. Host a dinner party with your loved ones in honor of World Food Day.
2. Make your table larger by donating the cost of your meal through HungerFree’s interactive portal.
3. Share your plans & event photos on social media to help spread the #HungerFree movement.

Boom.

5 Tips for hosting a World Food Day dinner party that matters

“Puebla Kitchen” (19th c.) / Unknown – Mexico

HungerFree is a new initiative by World Vision to unlock the full potential of young people to break the cycle of poverty and free communities around the world from hunger once and for all. By simply ‘doubling-up’ the cost of your meal, you will help grow their work with young people around the world.

5 Tips for hosting the Perfect World Food Day Dinner Party

1.  Create a themed menu

5 Tips for hosting a World Food Day dinner party that matters

“My First Egg” (1914) / José Maria Sousa de Moura Girão

Whether it’s a potluck or you’re flying solo, dinner parties are more fun when they have a theme. World Food Day is an ideal time to highlight food systems that help developing areas become self-sustaining. Here are a few thematic opportunities for on-point (but not overbearing) education:

  • Eggs – a couple of chickens can provide a consistent source of protein and nutrition for a small family. Make an all-vegetarian menu to honor the chicken’s role in feeding communities around the world.
  • Pineapple farms – a small pineapple farm can keep financial insecurity at bay, as with Marko’s case study. Highlight the tropical fruit in every course with several pineapple recipes.
  • Fish ponds – you know the old adage: give a man a fish, you feed him for a day – teach a man to fish, you feed him for a lifetime. Fish ponds are another way communities are becoming self sustaining, as seen in this video. Celebrate this growing movement by creating a menu that features seafood recipes.
  • A special country – perhaps you want to honor a particular country that’s near and dear to your heart. Browse this list of countries A-Z to plan your menu by country.

2. Map it

5 Tips for hosting a World Food Day dinner party that matters

“Map of the World” (17th c.) / Unknown – Japan

Use maps to connect your World Food Day dinner party to the communities you’re learning about. Easy solutions include hanging a map in your dining room or placing a globe on your tablecloth/picnic blanket. Kids of all ages will love the challenge of finding countries or calculating distances between their home and the featured community. You can also compare a modern map to one from antiquity and discuss how the mapmaker’s perspective and context changes how parts of the world are represented.

3. Tune in

5 Tips for hosting a World Food Day dinner party that matters

“Gypsy Dance in the Gardens of Alcázar” (1851) / Alfred Dehodencq

Add ambiance by playing world music during your dinner party. Radiooooo is an amazing resource: Just click on a country and it will play music from that country. You can narrow by decade, too! They have an app if you prefer to stream music from your cellphone.

Speaking of cellphones, encourage your guests to tuck them far, far away. Tell them there’s no international phone plan for this dinner party. Without the dings and beeps and glowing screens, everyone will have an easier time tuning into each other.

4. Plan ahead

5 Tips for hosting a World Food Day dinner party that matters

“The Meal” (1891) / Paul Gauguin

Clean early in the week and decorate/set the table the night before. When you’re scrambling at the last minute with food prep and the doorbell rings, you’ll be glad to look up and see the table ready to go. If your dinner party will be outside you can still gather all needed items into a box or basket. Place it near the back door for easy setup. Don’t forget condiments and serving spoons.

You can also do a drink inventory the day before. Place any drinks that are meant to be enjoyed cold into the fridge. This is also a great time to make that gallon of ice tea (Vanilla Ginger Bissap, anyone?).

5. Smile

5 Tips for hosting a World Food Day dinner party that matters

“Mercedes Batista and Valter Ribeiro” (1956) / José Medeiros

As host or hostess, you set the tone for your party. Take a cue from Julia Child: smile through your successes and your failures. If you keep a sense of humor, your guests will be more at ease should any mishaps (or debates) arise.

Oh, and there’s one more reason to smile: a World Food Day photo opp. Take a group picture, then share the photo on social media to help spread the movement. I’ll be tagging my photos #HungerFree #WorldFoodDay #GlobalTableAdventure – I invite you to join me as we build momentum for a well-fed world. Here’s a snapshot of all the people participating as of early October:

5 Tips for hosting a World Food Day dinner party that matters

P.S. After all that effort, don’t forget to donate the cost of your meal on HungerFree.org. When we share our abundance, the world smiles.

Thank you for your giving heart.

Will you host a World Food Day dinner party? What will you make? Will it be for your family or for a crowd of friends? Feel free to brainstorm below!

5 Tips for hosting a World Food Day dinner party that matters

“Three African women with baskets” (21st c.) / Craft market purchase – unknown

Make Your Table Larger

Recipe for Thai Pumpkin Custard

Thai Pumpkin Custard | Sankaya

Recipe for Thai Coconut Custard steamed in a pumpkin

This fall put Thailand on the table: steam sweet coconut custard inside tiny gourds.

Let’s be real: Give someone a single tiny gourd filled with custard and a spoon and they’re guaranteed to smile (And possibly love you forever).

Whether you use a squash or a pumpkin, Sankaya eats like a deconstructed pumpkin pie. The center of the gourd is filled with coconut custard, rich with egg and vanilla extract. As the steam heats the custard, the palm sugar and coconut milk butters the gourd’s tender, orange flesh from the inside. But unlike chilled pie, Sankaya is at it’s best a few clicks above room temperature.

Sankaya earns an A+ in the “fun for kids” department.

Recipe for Thai Coconut Custard steamed in a pumpkin

My daughter and this tiger her nephew love helping in the kitchen.

The gourmet treat forgives wobbly hands and giggly attention spans. As long as most of the custard makes it into the pumpkin, this dessert is in good shape!

Recipe for Thai Coconut Custard steamed in a pumpkin

While the ingredient list is short, a few simple tips will keep you from a soggy pumpkin and raw custard. Here are the top 4 lessons I learned while experimenting with this steamed dessert.

Choosing the right gourd

Recipe for Thai coconut custard steamed in a pumpkin

Pumpkins are hard to cut.

I experienced pumpkin misery last year when I attempted to slice, carve, drop, slam my daughter’s pumpkin onto the cutting board to split it for roasting. I was sweating before I ever popped the four-pounder into the oven. Even then? It wasn’t pretty.

When it comes to ease of preparation, pumpkin doesn’t hold a candle to squash (unless it’s on the patio in which case pumpkin likely does hold a candle). But each has its benefits. I tried them all.

Recipe for Thai Pumpkin Custard

Clockwise from bird plate: long delicata squash, sweet dumpling squash, kabocha, and mini pumpkin.

Tiny pumpkins that fit in the palm of your hand have thinner shells, but even after steaming the outside remains challenging to slice (and often cracks under pressure). You can get away with it if you peel the shell away from your slice before serving. Otherwise, tiny pumpkins work best for single, self-contained portions. Just provide a spoon!

Kabocha squash is the traditional gourd the Thai use for this recipe. Kabocha slices much easier than pumpkin. But with tender flesh comes fragility – removing kabocha from the steam bath risks cracking unless you let the squash cool somewhat and have a plate at the ready before attempting the move. Don’t even bother with tongs – a cloth napkin and your hands are the best tools for this job.

Kabocha squash typically fill two palms and will take a good 15-20 minutes longer to cook than tiny pumpkins. To help the custard set quicker, cook the squash “lid” on the side.

Small squash, like sweet dumpling and delicata are even more tender than kabocha. Handle with care and wait to slice the dessert cools significantly. Bonus: the skin can be eaten.

50 Shades of sugar

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Thai recipes use palm sugar shavings to make a creamy white custard. I realized too late that my palm sugar – long forgotten in the back of my spice drawer – had seen better days. I didn’t have time to run to the Asian market to pick up a new package. Good news: brown sugar makes a great substitute and doesn’t require dissolving in warm liquid. If you make your custard with brown sugar, expect a dusky caramel hue. Do 50-50 with granulated sugar for a color closer to tan.

Foil your plans

how-to-steam-without-a-steamer-basket

If you don’t have a specialty steamer basket that can accommodate multiple gourds, try lightly crumpled aluminum foil on the bottom of your pot. Magically, the crinkles don’t compress under the gourds, but rather keep them raised out of water.*

If the pumpkins are too tall to cover with a lid, use a second sheet of foil to seal the top and trap the steam.

As for trapped cats?

Place a chair by the door and they’re guaranteed to want out. Boom.

Recipe for Thai Coconut Custard steamed in a pumpkin

Recipe for Thai Coconut Custard steamed in a pumpkin

Stay cool, be cool

Keep your fingers from burning – let the gourds cool 10-20 minutes before attempting to move or slice them. This also allows any excess gourd juices to redistribute and reabsorb into the pumpkins.

Recipe for Thai Coconut Custard steamed in a pumpkin

While you wait, why not collect some hay for your next hay ride?

Since we’re cooking Thailand this week, let’s make it rice hay.

"Rice farmers Mae Wang Chiang Mai Province" by Takeaway - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Rice_farmers_Mae_Wang_Chiang_Mai_Province.jpg#/media/File:Rice_farmers_Mae_Wang_Chiang_Mai_Province.jpg

“Rice farmers in Thailand gather rice straw after the harvest” by Takeaway.

When you’re done, enjoy the Sankaya with gusto.

Yum, yum.

pumpkin-coconut-custard-recipe-01 pumpkin-coconut-custard-recipe-02

Thanks, Thailand.

 

* This also works great for artichokes.

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Sankaya makes a wonderful sweet treat in the autumn. Provide one small pumpkin per person or slice up a larger squash to serve up to 6 people. Thai Pumpkin Custard | Sankaya
Servings Prep Time
3-6people 5minutes
Cook Time Passive Time
45-60minutes 15minutes
Servings Prep Time
3-6people 5minutes
Cook Time Passive Time
45-60minutes 15minutes
Ingredients
For the custard
Instructions
  1. Cut the top of your pumpkin or squash. Scoop out seeds and discard.
  2. Whisk together all custard ingredients and pour into the gourds. Fill just below the top. Place the tops on smaller gourds or cook on the side for larger gourds.
  3. Steam for 45 minutes to an hour. The custard may appear jiggly - check with a toothpick to ensure it has set.
  4. Serve a little warm or at room temperature, slicing into wedges if desired.
Source:

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

bigtable

Build a bigger table, not a higher fence

When you have more than you need build a bigger table - not a higher fence.

Are you ready to stumble into the heartbeat of the world?

A little while back I shared this meme on Facebook:

If you have more than you need build a bigger table – not a higher fence. 

I went to bed and didn’t think much of it. Just a few days later and more than 1.75 million people had viewed it (and counting). It was clear that I’d stumbled onto the pulse of something enormous. What was happening? Why did so many people see, share and like this simple statement?

I have a few theories.

We’re tired of living in a boxed-in world.

Our fence is as tall as the rest of them. Presumably tall fences exist so that we can water our plants in our jammies. I’ll admit: There’s something freeing about lounging in my robe while sipping a cup of tea – secure in the knowledge that no one has to shield their children from my fuzzy slippers or towel turban.

But this comfort comes at a cost.

Tall fences interrupt casual encounters with our neighbors. Those fifteen-minute chats that start with trivial banter about the weather? They can end with impromptu barbecues and deep friendship. If it weren’t for the Bearded Boys – our old neighbors who insisted on lugging their dining table to the front yard and declared back yards and fences the worst – we probably would have never thought twice about the solitude our fences provide.

TheBeardedBoys

We are craving connection.

With our thumbs sore from scanning our phones and our necks stiff from Netflix, the very idea of filling an enormous table with food, friends, and lively chatter can feel overwhelming. So many people express their loneliness on social media but avoid making the phone call that could result in a meaningful gathering.

Why? Because it’s hard.

Risking rejection is scary.

My freshman year of college I did what all kids do: I called home to see what the family’s plans were for Thanksgiving. My guardians had taken care of me since I was 10. But during that phone call they told me that, now that I was 19, I no longer needed to stay with them.

Sigh.

None of us want to be rejected. Sometimes there’s a big rejection, other times it’s a series of smaller rejections. Either way the result is the same: we’re less willing to reach out and try. We simply burrow deeper into ourselves.

Sasha Martin as a little girl

Cultivating deep friendship takes time.

I moved to Tulsa in 2005.  As the new girl in town, I had to learn how to pick up the phone and invite people over and out. It’s scary and it doesn’t always work out. For a while my motorcycle hobby made it easier – we had a shared experience to fall back on. But once I had my daughter I sold my bike and with it went my go-to ice breaker.

I had to start all over with the moms I met at library play groups. Some people grew up in Tulsa and already had full calendars. Some people didn’t click with me – just like dating. But once in a blue moon I struck friendship gold.

It’s been ten years and I’m finally feeling more at ease with my friendships. Ten years.

These things take time.

Families are more spread out than ever.

As we spread out around the country and globe, we’re farther from our families than ever before. The meme’s vision of an enormous table full of laughter, conversation and chaos creates nostalgia for a family we may never have had – but always wanted – or for a family we once had but have since moved away from.

The idea of opening ourselves up to greater community appeals to the child inside of us who wanted to invite everyone to their birthday party.

Even the mailman.

What would it be like if we could recapture the open, trusting spirit of our inner child?

What if we took a leap from our lonely perch and once again invited everyone into our hearts?

Potsdam, Frühstückspause der Gerüstbauer

Potsdam, Frühstückspause der Gerüstbauer

Scary news gets old.

Some people shut down because of fear – after all, the media loves to share the sensational and the terrible. All that negative energy skips over the good and can clog a well-meaning heart. It can make us forget the good in the world.

And there is good in the world.

We all want to love and be loved. We all want to nourish ourselves and our families.  Some of us reject the curmudgeonly view of the world. We share a different vision. One of coming together. Of our world being an enormous family.

Reporters like to ask me who my dream dinner companion would be.

I have a hard time choosing just one person. I suppose that makes sense after cooking more than 650 recipes from every country.

I’d like to set an enormous global table and invite the entire world to join in. No food fights, no arguments. Just a giant helping of togetherness.

Oh, and one other thing: no fences.

We created a mini version of this dinner a couple of years ago, when we created the Global Table Experience – a feast with food from nearly every country in the world right here in Tulsa. The food was donated by a team of local chefs and the event was hosted at Philbrook, on the museum’s free day. People piled their plates high and enjoyed food from all over the world with a suggested donation of 1 can of food per person.

But there is more to do.

We need less isolation, more community, and greater feasts for all.

And we can start by making room in our hearts.

Go ahead. Risk rejection. Make a few calls. Tear down those fences. Build a bigger table.

It’s worth it.

Sending love to you and yours,

xxoo
Sasha

All of us, all over the world, are cells in the body of humanity. You are not separate from your fellow humans, and you cannot find harmony for yourself alone. You can only find harmony when you realize the oneness of all and work for the good of all." Peace Pilgrim

Australian Vegemite Breadsticks Recipe

Aussie Twisted Vegemite Breadsticks

Australian Vegemite Breadsticks Recipe

Homemade breadsticks are such a grown-up move.

Only the most organized adult takes the time to add homemade breadsticks to an already jam-packed dinner party menu.  More importantly, only an adult can resist eating all the breadsticks.

Aussie breadsticks do not apologize for their allure. These brash wands of dough smirk from their buttery throne – glistening with parmesan and Vegemite – daring you to show restraint before the main course arrives. Once you succumb? You’ll be too full for prime rib, too sleepy for Pavlova.

Forget about fitting into anything but elastic.

Unless, of course, you’re one of those adults who can take one trim nibble, lay down the breadstick and casually carry on a conversation for 20 minutes without the Medial Forebrain Bundle (that’s the pleasure seeking part of the brain for those who don’t watch Grey’s Anatomy) going into full on panic mode. I’ve always envied people with such restraint. Those are the real grown-ups.

I’m 36 years old and still waiting.

My husband and daughter? They don’t stand a chance.

Australian Vegemite Breadsticks Recipe

Australian Vegemite Breadsticks Recipe

 

Uluru by Corey Leopold.

Uluru by Corey Leopold.

What is an Aussie breadstick?

Aussie breadsticks are the worst kind of best. These strips of twisted puff pastry will challenge your adulthood in less than 20 minutes in the oven – hardly enough time to make a realistic plan of resistance.  They’re crispy, buttery, and cheesy – but they wouldn’t be from down under if they didn’t have signature Aussie flair – a generous smear of Vegemite. The black, yeasty spread adds malty, salty smack as well as deep umami to the outer crust.

I added a bit of chopped rosemary to green up the flavor, but thyme would do nicely as well.

Australian Vegemite Breadsticks Recipe

"Vegemite and Marmite" by AZAdam / AdamOriginal uploader was Scharks at en.wikipedia.Later version(s) were uploaded by Vanderdecken at en.wikipedia. - http://www.flickr.com/photos/38074672@N00/53574980Transferred from en.wikipedia. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Vegemite_and_Marmite.jpg#/media/File:Vegemite_and_Marmite.jpg

“Vegemite and Marmite” by AZAdam.

Australian Vegemite Breadsticks Recipe

Australian Vegemite Breadsticks Recipe

Australian Vegemite Breadsticks Recipe

So, how good are Aussie breadsticks?

I ate three and skipped dinner.

Take that adulthood.

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These strips of twisted puff pastry will challenge your adulthood in less than 20 minutes in the oven - hardly enough time to make a realistic plan of resistance. They're crispy, buttery, and cheesy - but they wouldn't be from down under if they didn't have signature Aussie flair - a generous smear of Vegemite. The black, yeasty spread adds malty, salty smack as well as deep umami to the outside. I added a bit of chopped rosemary to green up the flavor, but thyme would do nicely as well. Aussie Twisted Vegemite Breadsticks
Servings Prep Time
10breadsticks 10minutes
Cook Time
15-20minutes
Servings Prep Time
10breadsticks 10minutes
Cook Time
15-20minutes
Ingredients
Instructions
  1. Preheat the oven to 400F.
  2. Brush thawed puff pastry with vegetable oil. Mash together the butter, yeast extract, and rosemary. Spread on thawed puff pastry. Sprinkle liberally with Parmesan cheese. Cut in 10 strips (I used a ravioli wheel but a knife works well, too). Twist on a lined baking pan.
  3. Bake at 400 F for 15-20 minutes or until golden brown and crisp. Let cool. Serve in jars or a cloth-lined bread basket.
Source:

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

How-to-organize-a-bookshelf-sm

How to organize your book collection

"BIBLIOTECA PALAFOXIANA" by José P. Torrealba - Ayuntamiento - Oficina de Turismo. Licensed under CC BY 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:BIBLIOTECA_PALAFOXIANA.tif#/media/File:BIBLIOTECA_PALAFOXIANA.tif

“Biblioteca Palafoxiana” by José P. Torrealba.

Whether you have a crazy cookbook collection or an overflowing child’s bookcase, a few simple tricks can help you get organized. I know because last month I organized my daughter’s bookshelves. She has 300+ books from all over the world spread over 2 bookcases. There are floppy soft covers and tiny collectibles. There are boxed sets who’ve long since lost their boxes. After 6 years of use the bookshelves were so disorganized they were barely functional. Heavy books shoved smaller editions to the back of the shelf where they’d be lost for weeks at a time. Random art projects were strewn in with the toppled volumes, making finding a favorite book near impossible.

Organizing the bookshelves was my daughter’s idea.

Even though I was annoyed with the state of the bookshelves, I had mostly accepted the weekly grind of reshuffling things. And even though I’m becoming more and more of a minimalist, I draw the line at downsizing my daughter’s book collection – books build creativity and knowledge. We’ll always have well-stocked bookshelves.

It was my six-year old daughter that suggested we fix things up. We’d just been to the library and were talking about how easy it to find what you’re looking for there even though dozens of people pull from the shelves every hour.  I told her librarians decide how to categorize the books with color codes and labeling systems.  Sometimes, I told her, it’s not an easy job figuring out where books should go (my memoir can be found in the cooking department and sometimes in the memoir department, for example).

This captured Ava’s attention.

“Let’s organize my books, Mama,” she chirped.

I paused. I blinked. … not because I didn’t want to do the work, but rather because I knew I’d throw myself into the project wholeheartedly. I couldn’t just half do it.

The whole project took about 10 hours spread over two days… and I’d do it all over again given the chance.

In the month since we organized the bookshelves they have STAYED organized.

I am able to find the African folktales and I know exactly where her cookbooks are. Best of all, so does she. Since we introduced this system my daughter can be found checking the spines of her books before putting them away… exactly where they belong.

Here’s how to organize your bookshelves, no matter how many books you have.

How to organize your book collection

1. Put all your books on the floor.

Don’t skip this step. The only way to get organized is to see what you have. I got the idea of pulling everything off the shelves from Marie Condo’s book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing. Not only will you find duplicates, but you’ll be more inclined to let go of less-loved books because it’s quicker to donate them than sort them.

2. Make piles by common type

As you take books off the shelves you’ll start noticing – “Hey! My child has a lot of biographies.” And science books. And cookbooks. And Egyptian reference books. And Christmas stories. Every child’s bookcase will reflect their interests; this is the key to how you need to categorize their bookshelves.

Build the category piles on pieces of labeled construction paper to help keep them straight.

The piles may change as you work:

  • I initially started a pile called “Folktales/Fairytales.” It grew so big, I decided to break it up geographically. I had “The Americas,” “Africa and Asia,” and “Europe.”
  • Same with nonfiction – there were enough books to create the following sections: “Science,” “Egypt,” “Biography,” “Entertainment,” “Animals,” “Cookbooks,” “Global.”
  • I then had a whole section called seasonal that I further broke up: “Fall” and “Winter/Christmas.” Those were books that are rarely read except for those times of year.
  • I was surprised to find I had nearly a dozen volumes of children’s poetry. So they got their own section.
The orange and green dots are books in "Entertaining" - the red dot is "Biography."

The orange/green dots are “Entertainment.” The red dots are “Biography.”

Two green dots are global interest; yellow/red dots are science books.

Two green dots are global interest; yellow/red dots are science books.

A single green dot indicates "European" stories or fables.

A single green dot indicates “European” stories or fables. Sometimes we keep multiple copies of the same story to compare illustrators or translators.

3. Use colored stickers or washi tape to indicate sections.

Once you’ve come up with your sections, start putting the books back on the shelves. To start you can use a post it note to mark each section. Then go back through and tape on colored stickers to the spines to give a visual indicator for each section. A piece of tape will secure the stickers so they can withstand frequent handling.

Color coding is very Montessori – it almost doesn’t matter what the sections are – your kid will feel empowered to put her books back where they belong based on the stickers alone. I’m not kidding when I tell you my daughter and husband now keep the bookshelves looking awesome with no effort or reminders.

Even after teaching the cat to make egg salad.

Two yellow dots? Cookbooks!

Two yellow dots? Those indicate one of Ava’s favorite sections – cookbooks!

4. Add the name of each category to help your child learn them

This is the final step that helps make a pretty and functional system educational. Add the name of each category on the bookshelf. Use a label maker if you want. I decided to use “barely visible” white stickers with pencil. Over time my daughter will realize where certain fables come from, and that books about real people are called “Biographies.”

If Ava wants to know what her cat is thinking or learn about Ancient Egypt she can follow the red and blue dots or read the labels below them!

If Ava wants to know

5. If you have a wide bookcase break it up with magazine files

Don’t make the mistake I made: large bookshelves with frequent use are nearly impossible to keep tidy. This is because it’s never just a few books that topple – it’s all of them. And it’s never just a few books that slide behind others – it’s a dozen.

When I struggle to put books away without pinching a finger it’s unreasonable to expect my 6-year old to successfully put her books away.

So what to do?

If you go to the library you’ll notice they use metal dividers to help manage their books. Magazine files are an elegant way to break up the home library while also providing support.  I used White See Jane Work Magazine Files that I found at the local office supply store. Three per shelf was the right number to keep things from sliding around or toppling. Plus 3 looks nice.

Real Talk: One of my shelves was too short for the magazine file so I used an exacto knife to trim the top. A little white paint or tape and you’d never know the difference.

6. Fill the magazine files with the skinny or short books that always get lost

This way you’ll be able to get your hands on them. I have one filled with Ava’s art pads, another with her beginning reader books.

7. Enjoy

Now that you’ve done the hard work, sit back and enjoy the books! Make themed story times. Perhaps spend one night reading poetry. Or an entire week on biographies. Or a week on folktales with very important messages, like the one below.

A story every child should read.

Do you have a big collection of cookbooks or children’s books? How do you organize your shelves? Share your tips (or frustrations) below.

Swedish Cheese Custard Recipe

Swedish Cheese Custard

Swedish Cheese Custard Recipe

“Winters are long in Sweden,” Alex reminded me. I’d just flipped to the Swedish Cheese Custard in my 100-year old copy of the “Pan Pacific Cookbook” and lifted my eyebrows. My eyebrows lifted further as I scanned the main ingredients – cheese, eggs, and milk.

She laughed and nodded.

Turns out Cheese Custard is a dairy farmer’s happy place.

Perfect after a casual ski through deep snow.

"A lady on skis in Gysinge, Gästrikland, Sweden (8494829054)" by Swedish National Heritage Board from Sweden - A lady on skis in Gysinge, Gästrikland, Sweden. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:A_lady_on_skis_in_Gysinge,_G%C3%A4strikland,_Sweden_(8494829054).jpg#/media/File:A_lady_on_skis_in_Gysinge,_G%C3%A4strikland,_Sweden_(8494829054).jpg

“Art History professor, Esther Burno (1903-1965) on skis in Gysinge, Sweden” by Swedish National Heritage Board.

Swedish Cheese Custard recipe from the Pan Pacific Cook Book

Swedish Cheese Custard Recipe

But one question remained… Is cheese custard good?

Cheese custard is a question mark on this side of the Atlantic Ocean. We don’t typically eat savory chilled custards. But Swede’s know it is a silky, indulgent affair. It’s as if someone took the ingredients to a quiche and mixed them up – there’s fewer eggs, more cheese and much more milk.

All that milk? It makes for a delicate spoonful.

Swedish Cheese Custard

This photo shows the custard after 24 hours refrigeration. The other photos were taken shortly after baking (I was losing light fast).

The most fun?

As the custard cools the cheese creates a soft, flaky crust. The golden top looks similar to the crust of France’s often swooned over crème brûlée. My friend recommended using Jalsburg cheese – unless you can find Sweden’s whiskey-cured Prästost. Jalsburg gives the custard a mild, nutty flavor with a little extra salt concentrated in the flaky crust.

It’s a ladies who brunch sort of affair.

Imagine.

Trim ramekins arrive cool from the refrigerator, as fine as crème brûlée but with the same addictive qualities as a salty bag of potato chips.  There’s a salad with thinly sliced fennel and garden tomatoes on the side. Feathery fennel fronds give the vinaigrette a gentle licorice note.

Perfect for baby showers and bridal showers.

Perfect for brunch.

Or…

My copy (the short green spine) and another edition in red.

My precious copy of the Pan Pacific Cook Book lives under our world map in the dining room (it’s the short green spine). On the right is a reprint from the same year in red.

… perfect to park your yellow 18-wheeler next to.

Swedish Cheese Custard Recipe

Ava has big ideas when it comes to food styling. I love her boundless creativity!

I also love this tooth situation.

Swedish Cheese Custard

How to make Swedish Cheese Custard

There are barely five ingredients in this recipe – cheese, eggs, milk, paprika, and salt – so technique is what is going to make the custard exceptional. 

Swedish Cheese Custard Recipe

Avoid clumps of cheese in your custard by:

– melting the cheese into hot milk
– tempering the eggs with the milk mixture
– straining the custard mixture

Create an even, silky texture by baking the custards in a hot water bath.
Prevent a cracking custard by removing the ramekins from the oven while the custard is still jiggly. It will firm up in the refrigerator.

Swedish Cheese Custard Recipe

Kids will like the smooth texture and soft cheese crust. Encourage them to help you make it; They’ll love watching the cheese “disappear” into the milk.

Speaking of kids… Ava is growing up waaay to fast.

Six-years old and a first grader.

Sheesh.

Swedish Cheese Custard Recipe

SO. Indulge me for a moment and let’s enjoy this custard with a side of nostalgia.

To help you with that, here’s a (hypnotic) Swedish tree.

See how much it changes in a year?

Animation of a Chestnut tree's 365 day growth throughout 1979 in Lund, Sweden.

Animation of a Chestnut tree’s 365 day growth throughout 1979 in Lund, Sweden.


Votes: 1
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Swedish Cheese Custard is a delicate option for brunch - enjoy with a fennel salad dressed lightly in vinaigrette. You can use the fennel fronds to add dimension to your favorite oil and vinegar dressing.Swedish Cheese Custard
Servings Prep Time
6people 10minutes
Cook Time Passive Time
45minutes 4hours
Servings Prep Time
6people 10minutes
Cook Time Passive Time
45minutes 4hours
Ingredients
Instructions
  1. Preheat the oven to 300F and put on a kettle of water to boil. Place ramekins in a large casserole (like a lasagna pan). Leave room between each ramekin.
  2. Heat the milk over medium-high until one or two bubbles break the service. Reduce heat to low, add the shredded cheese, and stir until melted. Remove from heat.
  3. Break the eggs into a medium bowl and beat lightly. Stir in a few tablespoons of the hot milk to temper the eggs so that they do not scramble. Add the rest of the milk mixture and combine well.
  4. Strain and pour milk mixture into ramekins. Create a water bath: immediately pour boiling water into the large casserole until it reaches halfway up the sides of the ramekins. Place them in hot oven and bake for about 35 minutes. They'll still be jiggly but will set as they cool.
Source:

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

"Watching Sunset Salar de Uyuni Bolivia Luca Galuzzi 2006" by I, Luca Galuzzi. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.5 via Wikimedia Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Watching_Sunset_Salar_de_Uyuni_Bolivia_Luca_Galuzzi_2006.jpg#/media/File:Watching_Sunset_Salar_de_Uyuni_Bolivia_Luca_Galuzzi_2006.jpg

Trade fantasies & overcome hate by cooking together

"Watching Sunset Salar de Uyuni Bolivia Luca Galuzzi 2006" by I, Luca Galuzzi. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.5 via Wikimedia Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Watching_Sunset_Salar_de_Uyuni_Bolivia_Luca_Galuzzi_2006.jpg#/media/File:Watching_Sunset_Salar_de_Uyuni_Bolivia_Luca_Galuzzi_2006.jpg

“Sunset, Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia” by Luca Galuzzi.

In my early 20’s I had a few friends who liked to play Grand Theft Auto. They’d lay on the floor for hours, only emerging to pay the pizza delivery boy and refill their coozies. Curious (and eager for a slice), I grabbed a controller and joined them a few times.

Here’s what I discovered: “GTA” is a really violent game based on the premise of becoming the most powerful criminal possible. Stomping characters until they… perish… (something many young players do while laughing) is not uncommon.

It’s completely gross.

And this isn’t just about violence – its about choosing to be the bad guy.  If I really step back and look at the “fantasy” this game provides, I am embarrassed. I am embarrassed for the game developers and I am embarrassed for ever picking up a controller.

The fantasies we engage might never affect our lives, but they definitely reflect our realities.

Lots of people would tell me to lighten up – they might say “it’s just a game” or  “a video game does not make killers.” And perhaps they’re right. I haven’t done a study. But I am certain of one thing: the things we turn to reflect our lives – who we are at the moment, what we’re feeling, what we’re struggling with.

I don’t think people spend hours playing extremely violent games unless they have a gap in their lives they need to fill. It might be as simple as boredom. Or it might be as dramatic as feeling abandoned. The first is easily resolved. The second? Not so much.

I followed the herd because I didn’t know what I stood for.

It’s not exactly a surprise that my life was more full of strife when I filled it with junk like violent video games, smoking, and bad relationships. During my teenage years and early adulthood I was still figuring out who I was and what I stood for.

I was still developing my inner compass. For goodness sakes: I even remember struggling with “hurting someone’s feelings” if I didn’t laugh at their mean jokes.

Those days are gone.

I will never give a pity laugh for a cruel joke again.

I will also never play a game like GTA again.* I’m not interested in escaping to a fantasy of a destructive, hateful world. I’m not interesting in pretending to hurt anyone. I am interesting in healing, helping, and building something good.

I’m enamored by shows like Dr. Who – where the hero wins the day with his brain, not his brawn.

But here we are, another decade of my life gone by, and I am playing a game called GTA – every day.

Thankfully this time it’s not Grand Theft Auto.

This time I’m choosing to be the good guy.

Wouldn't it be great if your kid's first thought was not theft and mayhem when someone mentions GTA?

It was not without quite a bit of irony that I realized the abbreviation to my quest to eat a meal from every country in the world – Global Table Adventure – was “GTA.”

But what a difference. Instead of stealing cars and killing cops, the GTA I created was about mixing spices and preparing meals together.

 

Me and you? We’re building a community interested in cooking towards love, community, and global awareness.

Imagine if young people spent less time engaged in a fantasy world where they’re a bad guy and spent more time in the kitchen with their families, cooking and sampling delicious food from around the world. Would we find that, 50 years from now, this would be a happier planet? That there would be less mindless pizza eating on the couch, and more time spent at the table together?

One thing is certain: it would definitely be a more delicious place to live.

menu.france

What’s in your way?

Even if you (or your loved ones) don’t play video games, there is still work to do.

Take time for introspection – turn off your phone, your laptop, the TV, the radio – and sit in silence. Think about what mindless, repetitive acts you do that get in the way of your dream for a peaceful home and world. What can you cut out that is getting in your way (or, worse, numbing you out from the REAL love waiting for you)?

Remember – it starts with ourselves.

It starts at home.

And getting on the right path may be as simple as cooking a good meal together.

A life filled with good food and loving company is not a fantasy – it’s reality you can create.

xxoo
Sasha

* Are there are any peace-minded video games you can recommend to those readers who still like to play once in a while but are interested in shifting away from violence towards something constructive? For me, games like SimCity – where the only enemy is natural disaster and traffic congestion – appeal to my inner geek! If only Dr. Who made a video game…

Recipe for Colombian Steak & Eggs | Bistec a Caballo

Colombian Steak & Eggs | Bistec a caballo

How to make b

Bistec a caballo is the kind of hearty, Colombian chow that will feed a child with a full grown appetite – and grow the appetite of an aged person. The seasoned steak and eggs are as easily gobbled up by children on the back porch (barefoot from playing in the creek, their minds already on the next adventure), as they are sliced up during a late summer dinner party (complete with twinkling candles, and bottles of Cerveza Ancla – a popular Colombian brew).

You’ll have an opportunity to host your own South American dinner party thanks to the authentic Colombian CEM Cookware featured in today’s photos. But first, let’s explore a delicious Colombian recipe to bring to your party.

Recipe for Colombian Steak & Eggs | Bistec a Caballo

Feeding children’s imagination

Though I had an overactive imagination as a child, I was never much good at certain types of pretend. I specifically remember trying to make myself have an imaginary friend because all the other kids had one.

I drug a rope around as a leash for two pitiful minutes before I gave up.

Sasha Martin as a little girl

When I was about 6 years old.

Even though I couldn’t conjure up characters, going on adventures in character was one of my favorite pastimes. My brother Michael and I ran the neighborhood as any number of characters. Often he was the Lone Ranger and I was Tonto – mostly because I loved Tonto’s brown and white horse named Scout. We didn’t have a creek to play in but our feet were chalky from running in the playground sand across the street. We were gone from the house for hours – finding rocks, sticks, and questionable scraps to play with – until we were so hungry we’d gobble up anything mom made.

Little cowboy Michael loved when Mom made steak.

Colombian thoughts on childhood

As I prepared to make my first-ever batch of Colombian bistec a caballo, I couldn’t help but think about Michael’s love of steak. And I found myself wondering about the Colombian experience of childhood.

I stumbled across a snippet of poetry from the Colombian modernist poet José Asunción Silva  (1865-1896) – the man immortalized on the 5,000 pesos bill.

Silva on the 5,000 Pesos bill

Silva on the 5,000 Pesos bill

After experiencing the death of his 4 siblings (3 by the age of 10) Silva certainly had conflicted feelings about his early years. He wrote in his poem Childhood that the “hazy memories / Time so generously glorifies” help us maintain a “fantasy of happy childhood days.”

But the poem ends beautifully:

Childhood, hallowed valley
Of blessed calm and coolness,
Where rays that will later blast our days
So softly shine,
How saintly your pure innocence,
How fleeting your brief happiness,
How sweet in hours of bitterness
To turn back to the past
And call upon those memories!

Excerpt from “Childhood” by José Asunción Silva

I can relate to Silva’s impassioned sentiments. Michael has been gone since 1992 – just a boy himself when he died – but my hallowed memories of long afternoons romping through the neighborhood on an imaginary horse are certainly sweet… even if they are part fantasy.

"Casa de Poesía Silva 1" by Martinduquea - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Casa_de_Poes%C3%ADa_Silva_1.jpg#/media/File:Casa_de_Poes%C3%ADa_Silva_1.jpg

A child plays in the doorway of Silva’s house in Bogotá . Photo by Martinduquea.

"Casa de Poesía Silva 2" by Martinduquea - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Casa_de_Poes%C3%ADa_Silva_2.jpg#/media/File:Casa_de_Poes%C3%ADa_Silva_2.jpg

Silva and a photograph of his courtyard today (courtyard photographed by Martinduquea).

What does bistec a caballo mean?

I’d like to think bistec a caballo is the kind of meal Michael would have gobbled up. Sure, the seasonings are different from what Mom would have used – cumin, garlic, oregano, and cilantro – but the spirit of the thing is right up his alley.

But alarm bells might go off if you know Spanish. After all, caballo means horse.

But have no fear. Tonto’s beloved Scout was not harmed in the making of this dish.

Bistec means beefsteak – and, in poetic terms, bistec a caballo is a Colombian cowboy feast… a dish on horseback, so to speak.

Recipe for Colombian Steak & Eggs | Bistec a Caballo

To make it, most Colombians add flaps of steak to a pan along with onion, tomato, and the occasional crush of garlic. But I was drawn to the recipes that marinate and grill the steak – this gives it an unctuous crust and deeper flavor – before topping it with pan-fried onion and tomato.

So, who is the rider?

It could be the smothering of onion and tomato.

Or it could be the fried egg.

I happen to think it’s all three.

How to make Bistec a Caballo

First, marinate a tender cut of steak in oregano, garlic, cumin, oil, salt, and pepper.

Recipe for Colombian Steak & Eggs | Bistec a Caballo

Let the steak rest this way for a good hour. Overnight is fine, too.

My family loved flap steak for this recipe; it’s well-marbled with loads of nooks and crannies (these crevices help the marinade soak into the steak). You could also use skirt steak but it’s a bit less porous and more expensive.

Recipe for Colombian Steak & Eggs | Bistec a Caballo

When you’re almost ready to eat, cook up some rice.

Meanwhile, add a pile of onion to a well-oiled pan. This Colombian clay skillet keeps the onions moist, even as the turn golden.

Recipe for Colombian Steak & Eggs | Bistec a Caballo

Once they soften, add some garlic and chopped tomato.

Recipe for Colombian Steak & Eggs | Bistec a Caballo

Season well and cook until the tomatoes have just begun to slump into the onion’s sweet warmth.

Look for golden hues…

Recipe for Colombian Steak & Eggs | Bistec a Caballo

Delicious.

Next: grill the steak and fry some eggs.

I like to grill my steak over high heat for several minutes per side. Cooking times will vary depending on the thickness of your cut – but mine was medium after 5-7 minutes per side.

Recipe for Colombian Steak & Eggs | Bistec a Caballo

Finally, assemble the dish!

Each person gets rice topped with steak, the onion mixture and a fried egg (don’t forget to add a sprinkling of fresh cilantro).

Enjoy for brunch, lunch, or dinner.

Vegetarian version of bistec a caballo

Oh, and vegetarians (like my daughter) can substitute a portabella mushroom for the steak … just marinate it the same way!

Recipe for Colombian Steak & Eggs | Bistec a Caballo

colombian-steak-eggs-bistec-al-caballo-08

The Giveaway!

CEM Cookware

Colombian Entertaining Prize Package

UPDATE: Congratulations to “Eva” – I just did the random drawing and YOU are the lucky winner 🙂

One of you will win Colombian cookware and plates for your very own dinner party, generously provided by Colombia es Mas Cookware (CEM Cookware). To enter, simply leave a comment sharing what you’d like to cook in the casserole! A winner will be selected by 8/24/2015 and announced in this post.

The Colombian Entertaining Prize Package includes:

The Large Casserole
A set of 4 Salad Plates
Salsa Dish with Lid and Spoon
Total value: $155

 

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Cumin, garlic, and oregano seasoned steak served over rice - and under onion, tomato, and egg. Wonderful for a dinner party. Colombian Steak & Eggs | Bistec a caballo
Servings Prep Time
2-4people 15minutes
Cook Time Passive Time
25minutes 1hour
Servings Prep Time
2-4people 15minutes
Cook Time Passive Time
25minutes 1hour
Ingredients
For the marinade
For the topping
For serving
Instructions
For the steak
  1. Cut the steak in 2-4 pieces. Add to a plastic bag and toss well with marinade ingredients. Refrigerate for about an hour or overnight.
For the sauce
  1. When you're almost ready to eat, cook the rice. Meanwhile, fry a pile of onion rings in a well-oiled pan over medium heat. When they soften and begin to brown add the garlic and chopped tomato.
  2. Season well and cook until the tomatoes have just begun to slump into the onion. This should take about 5 minutes. Garnish with cilantro.
Finishing Touches
  1. Grill the steak over high heat (depending on thickness and size of cut, this could be about 5 minutes per side).
  2. Fry the eggs while the meat rests.
  3. Assemble the dish: Each person gets rice, topped with the steak, then the onion mix, a fried egg, and a sprinkling of fresh cilantro. Enjoy for brunch, lunch, or dinner.
Source:

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

Mexican Mango with chili and lime juice

Mexican Mango with chili and lime juice

An easy recipe for Mexican mango with chili powder and lime juice

Mexicans offer up an unexpected appetizer for the margarita lover in all of us.

Take a walk along a Mexican beach and you’re likely to find carts of mangoes being peeled and cut into elaborate flowers and wands. Mango carving is not unique to Mexico – the art can be found wherever the fruit is grown – but Mexican mango flowers smack of lime juice with puffs of chili powder and salt.

Just look at this video:

I planned to make a mango flower for you today. How could I not?

Real Talk: When I tried to replicate his mango carving technique I ran into trouble.

My first problem was that the ripe mango slid down any stick I put it on (I tried chopsticks and skewers). And, without the proper handle, carving the flower became a slippery, dangerous mess. By the end of the afternoon I’d hobbled together a few cranky looking flowers but, as I had nothing to stand them on, I’ll leave their appearance to your imagination.

An easy recipe for Mexican mango with chili powder and lime juice

The happy solution?

A ridiculously simple approach that will add a festive touch to any appetizer buffet:

Fill a glass container several inches deep with raw black beans. Add cubes of spiced mango to forks and stick in the beans. If the forks topple you simply need more beans.

Since this appetizer only includes three ingredients (four if you count salt), each ingredient must be of the highest possible quality.

Mangoes require patience.

: Closeup view of mango tree flowers, Cardwell. QLD. Date26 July 2007 Sourcehttp://www.scienceimage.csiro.au/image/3706 AuthorWillem van Aken, CSIRO

Closeup view of mango tree flowers. Photo by Willem van Aken.

I’m not just talking about from flower to fruit. This is about after the grocery store.

For a long time I ate firm, pale-fleshed sour mangoes. My problem? I was cutting into them too soon (the crime was all the worse since mangoes are one of my favorite fruits). But if you can resist carving up your mangoes right away you will be rewarded with deep orange flesh so sweet it rivals honey.

To enjoy the sweetest possible mango:

Cut into a mango when fragrant, soft, and the skin is just beginning to wrinkle.

Not all Chili Powder is equal

An easy recipe for Mexican mango with chili powder and lime juice

Chili powder ranges from mostly sweet to screaming hot, even in Mexico. This means cayenne pepper is a great option for those who like to sweat. A sweet, smoky chili powder works for those with milder sensibilities. Whichever variety you prefer, make sure the spice is fresh for maximum flavor.

Tip: To find the perfect chili powder purchase small samples from the bulk spice bin at the grocery store. You can even set out a variety in small bowls and let your guests dust their own mangoes!

Get real with Lime Juice

Can we all agree to use fresh lime juice? From an actual lime?

Really.

There’s no substitute for the pucker it creates.

100% Kid approved

That’s right. Fork over fork, Ava made these nibbles disappear!

An easy recipe for Mexican mango with chili powder and lime juice

mango-chili-recipe-05

An easy recipe for Mexican mango with chili powder and lime juice

She’d fit right in at a fancy cocktail party, don’t ya think?

Enjoy this sweet and spicy bite of Mexico.

Perhaps with a sweet and spicy view.

"Volcan de Colima Sept 2009" by Universidad de Colima - http://www.ucol.mx. Licensed under GFDL via Wikimedia Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Volcan_de_Colima_Sept_2009.JPG#/media/File:Volcan_de_Colima_Sept_2009.JPG

Volcan de Colima in Sept 2009. Photo by Universidad de Colima

As always, I’m cheering as you cook up your Global Table Adventures. Email your stories or share your photos on Instagram (use #GlobalTableAdventure).

Votes: 0
Rating: 0
You:
Rate this recipe!
Print Recipe
Spiced mangoes are an easy and fun appetizer or snack. Also great served at the end of a meal. Mexican Mango with chili and lime juice
Servings Prep Time
4people 15minutes
Servings Prep Time
4people 15minutes
Ingredients
Instructions
  1. Fill a glass container several inches deep with raw black beans.
  2. Season cubed mango with lime juice, chili powder and salt (all to taste).
  3. Add cubes of spiced mango to forks and stick in the beans. If the forks topple you simply need more beans.
Source:

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