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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.


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 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


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


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 -

“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
For the custard
  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.

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


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.


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.


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,


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. - from en.wikipedia. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons -

“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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Print Recipe
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
Servings Prep Time
10breadsticks 10minutes
Cook Time
  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.

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


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 -

“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 -,_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.


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.


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.


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
Rating: 5
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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
  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.

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 -

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 -

“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.


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.


* 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 -

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 -

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


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


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


Votes: 2
Rating: 5
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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
For the marinade
For the topping
For serving
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.

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 Source 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?


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


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 - Licensed under GFDL via Wikimedia Commons -

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
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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
  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.

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

"EarthRender" by Tesseract2 - Own work{{Created wfrrrr xith Blender}}. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons -

To the person who thinks eating international food is an act of white supremacy.

"EarthRender" by Tesseract2 - Own work{{Created wfrrrr xith Blender}}. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons -

Our planet by Tesseract 2

When you say that eating food from other countries helps perpetuate white supremacy – that the very act of eating another group’s food oversimplifies and subjugates the “other” as perpetually foreign – you are conveniently ignoring a few simple truths.

If one cannot travel, eating a meal to experience another culture is one of the few visceral ways available to learn about people around the world.

Stovetop travel brings book knowledge to life.

Consider the poor.

The poor do not have the luxury to travel to other countries. Getting a bus ride to work can be a challenge, making the financial burden of crossing the ocean laughable. I grew up poor. My brother and I slept in the living room. My clothes were kept in a dresser in the kitchen. We couldn’t go to other countries for family vacations. We snuck onto empty campsites instead, sleeping in our beat up car whenever we were caught. Many families were and are far worse off than us.

But get this.

My mother used food as a way to help us see beyond our circumstances. Thanks to Mom I learned that there was a beautiful world out there, full of possibility. Putting down the block of welfare cheese to eat 21-layer German Tree Cakes, Irish Soda Bread, and Indian stews as an Italian Hungarian was not an act of subjugation but an act of deliverance.

This much I know:

The entire world can be explored on a stretched dollar – you just need a few spices and a good dose of creativity to begin your journey.

I am puzzled by your assertion:

The outcome [of experiencing other foods] is not only the denial of complexity of those deemed “other,” but also the reassertion of their supposed perpetual foreignness, particularly in relation to a white U.S. national identity, or a white Western identity, more broadly.

Would you rather white people only eat white people food?

And what does that even mean in an era when cultures are blending on a daily basis? Should I only eat Italian Hungarian food – and systematically exclude every other kind of food? Wouldn’t that be an act of white supremacy?

In my experience people typically shun the foods of the groups they dislike/want to feel superior to.

Ever hear the (deplorable) expression “poor people food”?

You seem to claim that no meaningful connection can be made by eating food from other cultures…

…That such a connection is superficial at best. Referring back to my childhood, I’d like to offer one simple question: would you rather we do nothing to get to know the cultures around us? Sit in ignorance and perhaps even defiance of the mosaic that makes up our world?

I might never be Monet, but does that mean I can not learn from him by painting in his style?

I might never write words as sweet as Kahlil Gibran, but does that mean I should never play with the poetry of life the way he does?

I might never make magic so real as Gabriel García Márquez… but shall I not bask in the sparkle?

I might never make a groundnut stew as complex or as rich as the people of Ghana, but isn’t the very act of trying worthy?

Perhaps you would consider me a white supremacist.

After all, I cooked a meal from every country on earth, and then some. But let me explain something to you.

1. Not everyone cooks international food out of a desire for exoticism. My experience was for education – of my self and my family. I wanted to raise my daughter with international perspective and sense of belonging within the global family.

2. I cooked every country in alphabetical order so as to remove myself from the selection process and any inadvertent bias.

3. I spent one week on every country to give them all the same play time. There were a couple of exceptions early on when I combined weeks due to illness or travel but I quickly realized that this was counter to my mission of celebrating all countries equally and vowed to no longer do that.

4. We celebrated the countries you’ve never heard of  – and for most people there’s always a couple unless you have an extraordinary knowledge of geography – as much as the culinary giants (which have, I admit, been lifted up as a result of centuries of geopolitical chess).

In my experience there is good food everywhere.

5. I purposefully did not choose the most shocking recipes (i.e. recipes that would make people gawk instead of invest their time in  meaningful exploration). Instead I created a culinary bridge with culturally relevant recipes that used ingredients most are familiar with. Want a new way to make potatoes that also helps teach you how people eat around the world? I have that. Same for rice. Same for pasta. Veggies. Fruit.

Why didn’t I just travel the world instead of cooking it?

It comes down to finances and time. But I have traveled.

When I was almost 11 another family took me in and raised me. I went from sleeping in the living room to my own bedroom with a walk in closet. I spent my adolescence in France and Luxembourg and saw 12 countries by the age of 19.

During those years I experienced the food first hand. Saw the sights. Met the people. Made friends.

Was it a richer cultural experience than what my mother offered me as a young girl or, even later, when I chose to bring the world to my kitchen?

It certainly was a different experience. While it’s fantastic to be in the real place and experience the real thing, there is real value to what my mother offered.

When money and time don’t allow I’ll take cooking the world (and memories of the attempt) over nothing any day.

If trying food from other countries isn’t an act of white supremacy, what is it?

I believe exploring international food builds bridges. My daughter is now 6 years old and understands that we are all connected. She knows that food doesn’t just appear on the table out of thin air, but that every recipe has a story and cultural ties. She regularly refers to the map hanging by our dinner table, making a point to ask about what part of the world inspires our meals.

Maybe there are people who eat food from other countries to assert their white supremacy.

But I’m not one of them. And I have yet to meet someone who is.

There are real benefits to exploring the world from our kitchens…

Let’s not lose sight of the good we can do with a pot and a spoon.

Speaking of which, I’d be happy to talk this over over dinner sometime.

We can make it a potluck.

"Die Gartenlaube (1887) b 437" by Various - Scan from the original work. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons -

Think you can’t handle spicy food? Think again.

"Die Gartenlaube (1887) b 437" by Various - Scan from the original work. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons -

“Dog Days” Illustration from “Die Gartenlaube (1887) – a German newspaper.

I never thought I could learn to tolerate spicy food, let alone love it.

The very idea of enjoying a cup of hot salsa once seemed as unlikely as camping at the North Pole.

But recently – somewhere between spooning hot chili sauce on my rice during dinner and eating a piece of ‘scorpion cheddar’ from the sample bin at Whole Foods (complete with warning label “eat at your own risk”) – I began to ponder my path towards eating food high on the Scoville scale.

Spice shop photo by Emna Mizouni.

Spice shop in Douz, Tunisia. Photo by Emna Mizouni.

What is the Scoville Scale?

Think of it as a game of Mercy… for your mouth. The Scoville scale was developed in 1912 by a man of the same name – Wilbur Scoville. At first sugar water is given to trained testers. Then, little by little, the hot part of the pepper (a.k.a. capsinoid extract) is added to the water until the testers feel the heat.

  • If a lot of extract has to be added before testers notice the heat then it’s a mild pepper.
  • If hardly any extract has to be added before testers notice the heat then it’s a hot pepper.

Thanks, Wilbur!

Wilbur Scoville (1910)

Wilbur Scoville (1910)

For reference: Bell peppers have no heat, while a pepper called the Carolina Reaper tops the charts at 2,200,000 Scoville heat units.

That Scorpion cheddar I nibbled?

It’s way hotter than a Habanero. For a few years it was rated the hottest pepper in the world by Guinness World Records at 1,463,700 Scoville heat units. Today it rates just below the Carolina Reaper.

It made me cough, but I went back for more.

Hope for highly sensitive palates


Unlike my daughter, pictured above, I didn’t grow up eating spicy food. Mom’s cooking had great flavor but the spiciest dish we ever ate was chicken paprika – mostly mild thanks to the cooling effects of sour cream. Living in Europe as a teenager did little to change things; France and Luxembourg are not known for their use of chili peppers.

So it stands to reason that when I began cooking a meal from every country in the world during my early 30’s I had a relatively sensitive palate. Back then I swore a scant 1/4 teaspoon of cayenne pepper in a large batch of food was enough to make me sweat. Given my age, I had good reason to think it’d always be that way.

Heck, according to the New York Times:

For the uninitiated, a relatively mild hot pepper can seem intolerably strong and truly hot peppers may even cause blistering of the lips and palate. (Source)

But I was wrong.


Every continent has something to teach us about learning to love spicy food. Here 7 of my favorite lessons learned while cooking the world.

1. Start by celebrating raw “heat.”


Nordic Around the World Lunch

While Europeans are not known for their use of chili peppers, they are known for using raw “heat” in their food. Take these classic European combinations, for example:

Building raw heat is a great place to start for sensitive palates because the “burn” is mild at best (and doesn’t inflict actual pain the way chili peppers can).

If you find these ingredients too pungent (a.k.a. stinky), slice them extra thin and remove some of their bite by adding them to a glass of cold water for 30 minutes. As for spicy mustard, a thin spread goes a long way!

2. Use your nose

Eastern Asia

"Compare Hikimi Wasabi Color And Taste" by MIURA, Yuji - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons -

“Compare Hikimi Wasabi Color And Taste” Photo by Yuji Miura.

PRO TIP: If chili peppers hurt your taste buds, try the green mound of wasabi sitting next to your sushi.

The burning sensation from wasabi (a.k.a. Japanese Horseradish) is a short-lived flare up. The “pain” concentrates in your nasal passage (making your eyes water and nose burn more than your mouth).

Best of all?

The effect fades in 5-10 seconds.


Over the last several years I tripled my wasabi intake and learned to enjoy the ephemeral pain… not in a sadistic way, but rather in the way that every melody benefits from a little crescendo. Even my six-year old daughter goes heavy on the wasabi because she now trusts that the pain will end.

And soon.

3. Grow your tolerance bite by bite

Western Asia

"ARS-habanero" by Stephen Ausmus - This image was released by the Agricultural Research Service, the research agency of the United States Department of Agriculture, with the ID D812-5 (next).This tag does not indicate the copyright status of the attached work. A normal copyright tag is still required. See Commons:Licensing for more information.English | français | македонски | +/−. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons -

“ARS Habanero” Photo by Stephen Ausmus.

I once saw a grown man eat a couple of whole Habanero peppers on a dare. His face turned red and sweat pooled on his forehead. Then he got sick to his stomach.

I don’t get that all or nothing mentality.

Taking enormous spoonfuls of spicy curries will backfire if you have a sensitive palate – likely turning you off spicy food indefinitely. Take a cue from Bhutan: even though spicy peppers are so commonplace to be considered a main course (see ema datshi for example), hot peppers are not one of baby’s first foods.

Instead mothers help their babies grow accustomed to the heat by serving them foods in spicy sauces… but here’s the key: They “baby bird” the food into their kid’s mouth.

Bhutanese eat chilli raw or cooked, minced or roasted, but no Bhutanese dish is complete without ema. And young toddlers are initiated in the art of chilli eating early on. Parents pick meat or vegetables from the chilli dish, suck it to moderate the heat, and then feed their child, who breaks into a sweat but quickly adapts.

Ema:The fiery Bhutanese food (by Wangdi and Yeshi)

Here’s the win: The amazing flavor remains … but with tolerable heat levels.

TRY IT AT HOME: Dig a hunk vegetable or meat from your curry and tap it on the edge of your bowl. Let the offending sauce drip off or consider dunking the hunk into a small bowl of water to rinse it further.

4. Chill out!

Middle East/Asia, North Africa & the Americas

Ok. So you’ve bitten into something a little spicier than you’d like. Your eyes are watering and you’re certain your irritated taste buds will never recover.

Here’s the good news: Just about any spicy dish can be tamed with a heaping dollop of plain yogurt (or perhaps one of these yogurt based recipes). Over the four years it took to cook the world, yogurt was my go-to way to help lessen the pain of a good spice burn. Not only is yogurt cold but it contains a protein called capsein that helps neutralize the kick from the capscaisin in your food.

PRO TIP: Keep plain yogurt on hand when serving spicy food

Thanks to this tip, my daughter was able to enjoy a very spicy Ethiopian dish called doro wat (she’s vegetarian so she limited her tasting to the hard-boiled eggs and a bit of the screaming-hot sauce. Every bite was followed (hastily) by a spoonful of yogurt.

Sour cream and crema in Latin America works the same way, for the record.

5. Embrace the habit

Southern Africa

As I cooked meals south of the Sahara I noticed the pervasiveness of spicy food.. in everything. Well, maybe not everything. But hot peppers made their way into most meals – from groundnut soup to several recipes including piri piri sauce.

Here’s the 411: The more spice you eat, the more accustomed to it you’ll get.

After four years and 195+ countries I have a much higher tolerance for spicy food. While I still don’t like eating foods so hot that I can’t taste anything, that threshold is higher now. If I were to stop eating spicy food for 4 years I guarantee I’d be back to square one.

TRY IT AT HOME: Going forward add one spicy dish to your weekly menu every week. That means on week 2 you’re eating 2 spicy dishes, on week 5 you’re eating 5!

Eating spicy food is a skill you must hone, no different than playing the piano or practicing calculus.

Use it or lose it.

6. Find the right pepper for the job

South America

There’s no reason to jump straight into eating Carolina Reapers.  In the beginning I ate a lot of recipes with Poblano peppers – they were plenty spicy for me. Gradually I moved through the Scoville ranks – the occasional Jalapeno, Anaheim, or red Fresno all helped me build tolerance. In any recipe calling for a hotter pepper, feel free to substitute something more mild.

PRO TIP: If you’re not sure what pepper to choose, ask the grocery clerk. Most good stores will have a produce specialist on hand to help you.

7. Sweeten the pot

North America & Oceania & beyond

Ever hear of adding chocolate to a pot of chili? What about sweet and spicy barbecue sauce on a rack of homemade ribs? Throughout North America you’ll find sugar being used to balance the heat in spicy dishes. If you accidentally go overboard, try adding some to your dish. It’ll help.

In Oceania and India I’ve seen fruit used in curries – another great way to sweeten the dish and give your smarting taste buds some relief.

PRO TIP: Sugar or fruit takes the edge off of spicy food

Ready, set, go!

You’re now equipped to embark on a mission to try more spicy foods. With these tips, you’ll be well on your way to learning to love spicy food… with minimal pain to your tastebuds.

Of course, these are just the tricks and tips I’ve learned over the years; let me know in the comments if you have additional ideas!

Mary Poppins Birthday Party

A Very British “Mary Poppins” Birthday Party

Mary Poppins Birthday Party: Floating Invitation

Why stay home for your child’s birthday party when you can “journey” to 17 Cherry Tree Lane with a very magical Mary Poppins Tea Party? I began reading Mary Poppins to my daughter earlier this year and we soon found ourselves delighted by the adventures. It wasn’t long before Ava asked me if she could have a Mary Poppins themed birthday party.

The more we read of the 1024 page story, the more ideas we got. Here are the highlights of my daughter’s Mary Poppins Birthday party.

Set the Tone with Floating Invitations

Mary Poppins is associated with unexpected, magical adventures. To set the tone, I made “floating” invitations a few weeks before the party.

To make it look like your child is floating, simply rub oil on the cement with an old face cloth, feathering the edges to make it look like a shadow. Have your child stand about a foot behind the oil stain. Take a photo – they’ll look like they’re floating. This works best on a very cloudy day because there will be no competing shadows to ruin the effect.

Mary Poppins Birthday Party: Floating Invitation

Make it a Costume Party

Everyone loves an excuse to dress up! We invited Ava’s friends to wear a costume inspired by the movie, book, or tea parties in general. They did not disappoint!

There were several Chimney Sweeps…

Mary Poppins Birthday Party: Chimney Sweep Costume

Mary Poppins Birthday Party: Chimney Sweet Costume

An adorable Bert in red stripes…Mary Poppins Birthday Party: Bert Costume

And, as is to be expected, several Mary Poppins!

Mary Poppins Birthday Party: Costumes

Mary Poppins Birthday Party: Costumes

We assembled Ava’s costumes from items found at second hand shops, yard sales, and the craft store.

Look – Ava lost her front tooth between the time we took the invitation photo and party day!

So sweet!

Mary Poppins Birthday Party

A few red ribbons made her dress unmistakably Mary.

Mary Poppins costume

Fancy outfits and umbrellas were everywhere…

Mary Poppins Birthday Party: Costumes

Mary Poppins Costume Party

Mary Poppins Birthday Party: Decor

Pro Tip for Children’s Costume Parties: Make sure everyone is included

We provided several dress up hats and gloves for kiddos to use during the party, which worked out great for those children who either forgot their costume or wanted to try on other fancy items.  We simply laid them out on a bench – the kids took it from there!

Mary Poppins Birthday Party: Costumes

A musical needs… music!

Create atmosphere with a Mary Poppins playlist borrowed from the movie and Broadway show. Tunes add upbeat energy and get all the kids excited! If you don’t want to buy songs, try creating a Mary Poppins playlist on the free version of Pandora. You’ll have other songs mixed in and the occasional ad, but it also folds in unexpected favorites, like the Original London Cast Recordings!

Much better than radio silence. 

Start the Party with Art

Mary Poppins Sidewalk Chalk

Art is a great way to keep the children entertained while everyone arrives.  We invited each child create their own sidewalk chalk art on our back patio – just like Bert does in the book and movie. This simple activity filled about 30 minutes and ensured no children were left out of the games and tea party to come.

Mary Poppins Sidewalk Chalk

Create Floating Keepsake Photos

Another idea to occupy the children as they arrive is to create keepsake photos. We weren’t able to fit this in as it was quite sunny the day of Ava’s party… but if you have a covered driveway you might be able to do this regardless of weather. If it doesn’t work out, you can always give your guests a copy of your child’s floating photo as part of their thank you/goodie bag – kids love having photos of their friends.

As the children arrive have a photographer snap their photos. By rubbing oil onto a spot in the sidewalk and having children stand about a foot away with an umbrella, the false shadow makes the kids look like they are floating – just like Mary Poppins. A treasure for sure!

Play a Sweet Party Game

Mary Poppins Birthday Party: Spoonful of Sugar Game

Once all the children have arrived and the artwork is done, we brought together the children for a competitive game of “A Spoonful of Sugar.” Pro tip: my husband (a.k.a. Bert) led this game while I got the food ready for the tea party!

To Play: You’ll need 3 small tables or 1 table and 2 chairs. Have the children form 2 lines. Put a bowl full of sugar in front of each line. Across the lawn from them put a table with 2 small empty bowls or cups. Have the children use spoons to fill their bowls. Whoever fills theirs first wins!

Spoonful of Sugar Game

Tea party on the lawn

Mary Poppins Birthday Party: Decor

Now that all the kids got their giggles out with art and games, it was finally time for the tea party!

I was planning on a picnic-style tea party but when 24 children RSVP’d yes, I knew I had to rethink my strategy. To optimize room in my back yard, a good friend suggested I rent kids tables and chairs (for parents and children). This kept everyone comfortable (and with delivery the rentals still cost 1/2 as much as renting a location).

Thank goodness for the experience of friends!

Mary Poppins Birthday Party: Decor

The decor was pretty simple: To start, Keith hung an umbrella over the center of the table using fishing line. It bobbed and weaved in the breeze, looking like Mary Poppins might descend at any moment! This detail was the talk of the party.

There were also a cluster of gold balloons and one large red one. I wrote “Mary Poppins” on the red one with gold paint pen. This detail referenced the chapter when the whole neighborhood goes floating around the park with balloons… and, naturally, Mary Poppins’s is red and the largest of all.

Ava chose gold tablecloths to mimic the gold tablecloth in the floating tea party scene of the movie. I found turquoise napkins with tea pots on them to complement the look.

Spoonful of Sugar

On each napkin we placed party spoons – and of course each spoon held a homemade sugar cube (extra sugar cubes were kept in sugar bowls nearby).

To make sugar cubes, simply stir a couple of teaspoons of water into a cup or so of granulated sugar. Add food coloring if desired. Stir until the mixture resembles damp sand. Press into small chocolate molds, carefully tip out, and let dry.

A few jars of purple and white flowers and candlesticks completed the fancy look.

Mary Poppins Tea Party: Decor

For serving, I used lots of china from my Great Aunt and my husband’s grandmother, as well as a few pieces from the second hand shops.

The buffet table was outfitted with homemade felt and glitter umbrellas and illustrations from the books on yellow card stock for decor – modge podge sealed the images in!

Mary Poppins Birthday Party: Decorations and Details

Mary Poppins Birthday Party: Homemade Umbrellas

A Very British Tea Party Menu

Mary Poppins Birthday Party: Buffet Decorations

We served the kiddos a proper British Tea menu – including curried coronation tea sandwiches (using eggs instead of chicken for my vegetarian daughter), some gingerbread stars (more on that later), Victoria Sponge Cake with fresh berries, Uncle Albert’s Lemon Cakes (petit fours purchased from Whole Foods… because even I can’t make everything), Iced Tea with spoonfuls of sugar, and Lime Juice Cordial (a.k.a. Limeade).

Official Mary Poppins Menu - Global Table Adventure

Mary Poppins Birthday Party: Authentic Menu

The kids were intensely focused on pouring and enjoying their tea. It was real china after all!

Mary Poppins Birthday Party: Authentic Menu

Mary Poppins Birthday Party: Authentic Menu

Mary Poppins Birthday Party: Authentic Menu

Mary Poppins Birthday Party: Authentic Menu

The Cake

Mary Poppins Cake Topper

I served a Victoria Sponge Cake because that is Mary Poppins’s favorite cake (she turns a plum cake into a sponge at Mr. Turvy’s house in Mary Poppins Comes Back).

Instead of the traditional unadorned sides, I completely covered the cake layers with sweetened whipped cream thickened with a couple teaspoons of gelatin. This stabilized whipped cream tastes exactly like whipped cream but slices better (and doesn’t weep in the heat). I used strawberry preserves on one half and lemon curd on the other. I also froze the decorated cake overnight so that my slices would be razor sharp.

They thawed in minutes. It was 85F, after all.

Mary Poppins Birthday Party: A slice of Victoria Sponge Cake

For the adults, I make an extra layer, split it in two, then filled it in the traditional way. After freezing it sliced up perfectly!

Mary Poppins Birthday Party Menu

For a cake topper, I traced an outline of Mary Poppins onto a piece of yellow cardstock and cut it out. I used a needle and thread to string it up on some thin dowels.

Mary Poppins Cake Topper

A touch of magic: Floating Tables

Mary Poppins Floating Table Trick

It’s not a Mary Poppins party without a touch of magic. I remembered seeing a floating table at a magic show last year and immediately thought of the tea party scene in Mary Poppins, where Jane, Michael, Uncle Albert, and Mary Poppins all float to the ceiling because they’re laughing too much.

Mary Poppins Birthday Party: Making the table float

I soon learned floating tables are quite expensive, so I made a deal with a local magician’s store. He rented me one of his tables for $50 (which included training me how to do the trick).

While the kids enjoyed their tea, I asked the children if they thought Mary Poppins knew about our party. They said yes… and I said, let’s test the theory. I then invited the children to begin laughing – just to see if they could get the table to float. If we can, I told them, that means Mary Poppins sees our party and is smiling wherever she is.

This trick instantly brought a sense of wonder and awe to the tea party.

One parent caught Ava’s reaction!

Mary Poppins Magic Show

And of course the children had to come over and help me “make it work.”

Mary Poppins: Floating Table Trick Mary Poppins: Floating Table Trick

Gingerbread Stars


Stars are a huge theme in the Mary Poppins book series. The children paint the sky, go to a circus in the sky (the constellation “creatures” are the performers), and Mary Poppins takes the children to purchase gingerbread stars. Ava had the brilliant idea to hang gingerbread stars from a rope, just like we did back when we cooked the Netherlands! The kids got to try to eat them without hands.

This was the “wrap up” activity for the party.

Instructions: Cut Gingerbread dough into a star. Use a straw to make a hole at the top of each star before cooking. Bake, then let cool completely. Tie lengths of string to the cookies. Store this way, ready to go for the party so you don’t have as much to do on the day of the party! When ready to play, hang the stars and let the children try to eat them – no hands!

Mary Poppins Birthday Party: Gingerbread Stars

This. Was. Hysterical.

Mary Poppins Birthday Party: Gingerbread Stars Game

Mary Poppins Birthday Party: Gingerbread Stars Game

Eventually, they all got their cookie.


Mary Poppins Birthday Party: Gingerbread Stars Game


Mary Poppins Birthday Party: Gingerbread Stars Game


Mary Poppins Birthday Party: Gingerbread Stars Game

The Party Favors

Mary Poppins Birthday Party: Decorations and Details

I kept the favor bags simple. The children got a tea bag for their own tea party, chocolate “tuppence,” and a candy cane (because in the books they ride candy canes like horses). The goodie bag also included a thank you note from Ava (“Thank you for coming to my party because parties are fun!”) and the sparkly photo of her and her flying umbrella featured at the top of this post.

Every child also got a DIY White Umbrella that they could take home and paint. These worked out to be less than $3 per child. Best of all, they are designed to be decorated with fabric markers or paint… so each child can personalize their own.

Mary Poppins Birthday Party: Decorations and Details

Here’s how one of the boys decorated his – with sharpie tie dye…

Mary Poppins Birthday Party: Decorate your own umbrella

Super colorful and fun!

Practically Perfect in Every Way

Nothing is completely perfect in life. As wonderful as this party was…. there was… shall we say… a few moments of drama.

(Just keeping it real!)

I had to share the best…

Behold, the slippery cake stand.

Dropping the Cake

Oh no!

Dropping the Cake

I love how, in an attempt to stop the fall, I flung the cake even farther away.

I also love my toothless gasp.

Thank goodness the cake was frozen.

Unbelievably, there was hardly any damage.

Five minutes in the kitchen with several kind-hearted mothers and the cake was doctored up – as good as new.

Let’s try this again…

Mary Poppins Birthday Cake

Happy Birthday Miss Ava.

Mama loves you!

Mary Poppins Birthday Party: Mary Costume

Suggested Materials:

Mary Poppins: 80th Anniversary Collection by P.L. Travers.
Mary Poppins 50th Anniversary Edition, with Julie Andrews & Dick Van Dyke.
Sing-Along Songs: Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious – I Love to Laugh.

Special Thanks:

Most of the photos in this post were taken by Ingrid Williams, a dear friend and photographer, as well as scattered contributions from friends Dana, Ryan, and Chrissie. They freed me up to float tables and drop cakes at leisure. Thank you all!