The World Is a Kitchen

The World Is a Kitchen

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$16.95Cooking Your Way Through Culture — Stories, Recipes, and Resources

Buy this book on Amazon

By Susan Brady and Michele Anna Jordan
August 2006
ISBN 1-932361-40-5 328 pages
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“A vicarious delight for the virtual tourist, as well as an inspiration for the most seasoned culinary voyager.” —Mollie Katzen, author of Moosewood Cookbook

Taste the World One Culture at a Time

From the casual cook to the seasoned traveler to the serious gourmand, The World Is a Kitcheninspires its readers to experience food in a new way, exploring new lands, new cultures, and new cuisines. Chefs, travel writers, and dedicated foodies share their unique experiences, transporting readers into kitchens in Morocco, Italy, Belize, Cypress, Kenya, Vietnam, and elsewhere around the world, revealing the diverse traditions of other countries through their cuisine. Explore the gastronomic side of travel through these stories, trying the hard-won and treasured recipes as you go along, and then get ready to plan your own adventure.

  • 37 first-person culinary adventures at cooking schools, on the road, in homes, and B&Bs across the globe
  • 30 international recipes, including African mafe, Russian pelmeni, Mexican mole verde, and a classic French tarte tatin
  • Extensive resource section including research tips, cooking schools and classes, culinary tours, internet resources, and recommended reading

Including Recipes and Resources

“A delicious treat…”
—Joan Peterson, author of Eat Smart Culinary Travel Guides

“A splendidly evocative book celebrating the culinary adventurer in each of us…”
—David Yeadon, author of The Way of the Wanderer

Whatever your taste in reading, a feast awaits in this buffet of personal anecdotes.”
—Andrea Rademan, editor of New Asian Cuisine

“Proves that food is a doorway into understanding other cultures.”
—Rolf Potts, author of Vagabonding: An Uncommon Guide to the Art of Long-Term Travel

“Generous, funny, wise and unpretentious.”
—Andrew Todhunter, author of A Meal Observed

Preface

By Michele Anna JordanThere is no flavor called moon
although I feel as if I can taste it
cool, soft and powdery.
Tea-cookie, translucent jellybean, host.
Swallow her down
nibble by nibble
until you too glow.
Soon, people will stop
to lick your hands
and ask for the recipe.

—Lizzie Hannon, “A Night in My Kitchen”

Whether we travel to eat or eat to travel, when something tastes good we want more: We ask for seconds and sometimes thirds, we lick each other’s fingers, we ask for the recipe. We carry the treasure home, in our hands and in our hearts, where we hope to recreate the magic.

I was lucky to have been born with an adventurous palate. My first memory of food on the road was the sweet ripe watermelon I ate on my fourth birthday in Tulsa, Oklahoma. A few days later, on the California Zephyr from Chicago to Oakland, I ate what I consider my formative meal, the one that that transformed me bite by bite from a passive into an active eater, one eager to discover and savor all the enticing flavors the world offers.

I was in the dining car, asleep in my mother’s lap, when her complaints about rare prime rib awakened me. She’d ordered well done and did not know what to do.

I sat up, tasted the juicy red meat and then devoured the entire slab.

When we got home, I wanted more and I learned how to get it. I began to tell my mother how to cook—yes, I was a cheeky little thing—and I used smell and taste to find my way back to flavors I had discovered here and there, at my grandmother’s house, in a friend’s kitchen, in the neighborhood Chinese restaurant, in that silver dining car with the tuxedo-clad waiters. Soon, I could convince my mother to take me to San Francisco for Dungeness crab, to a farm stand on the outskirts of town that had the best tasting watermelon and juiciest plums, to an out-of-the-way deli for smoked salmon, smoked oysters, and good Italian salami. On my eighth birthday, I received my first cookbook.

Married at just sixteen, I defied all predictions that my husband would starve at the hands of his child bride. I cooked my way through The White House Cookbook by Rene Verdon, the Kennedys’ chef, and figured out where to buy ingredients like fresh rosemary that were then all but impossible to find in suburban America. I learned my way around unfamiliar streets and aisles, guided by hunger and curiosity, invaluable tools for any culinary traveler.

With my first venture abroad, an accidental trip to India—I was on my way to Canada when a new acquaintance was so certain that I should go to India that he bought me a round-trip ticket to Bombay—I began to discover how intimately hospitality and the pleasures of the table are entwined in other cultures. A visitor, any visitor, was received with open arms and an abundant table filled with the best foods the family could afford. There was always rice,dal, sliced cucumbers and tomatoes, meat (usually goat) curry, vegetable curry, a dizzying array of condiments, including raitas, fresh and cooked chutneys, raisins, toasted nuts, coconut, and platters of huge papaya for dessert.

Soon, I was making chapattis in a rustic country kitchen with a tiny little woman named Mansari, a long silver braid stretching all the way down her back. As little birds flew in and out of the barred windows, we patted the dough into perfect rounds and cooked them on a hot grill until their aromas filled the air. Mansari sang one Beatles song after another, tunes she learned from young visitors. We spent each afternoon this way, wrapped in the rhythm of the patting and the melody of the songs as we sipped sweet chai and savored each other’s company.

I was dazzled by the colors, aromas, and flavors of India but it took some time before my hosts—other than Mansari, who knew instinctively that we were eager to learn anything she wanted to teach us—would take my curiosity seriously. Yet by expressing my interest slowly and somewhat indirectly, often the best way to get what you want in a foreign land, I was able to get the cook who worked for the family with whom I was staying to understand my sincerity. Before long, she invited me into her kitchen and let me help as she toasted spices and roots, ground them into fine pastes and powders and stirred them into rich stews. All these years later I can return to that moment in a kitchen on the outskirts of Ahmednager, revisit the aromas and textures and bring them to my own table.

The world opened to me while I was in India and it has never closed. And always, it is the foods of any land that most entice me. I had never thought of what I do as culinary travel because to travel for any other purpose, to not immediately look for the best local trattoria in Genova, say, or the most delicious food stands in Kuala Lumpur’s night market, is simply unthinkable. Within an hour of arriving in Paris for the first time, my bags were stashed in the tiny seventh floor walk-up where I was staying and I was happily ensconced in a bustling local bistro over a mound of steak tartare and a hot ramekin of brandade de morue. Before noon the next day, I had a recipe for that brandade tucked into my suitcase. I am, obviously, one of those lucky people who lives to eat.

It was inevitable, I think, that traveling for culinary adventures coalesce into the popular pursuit it is today. As Americans, we have become, in general, more adventurous when it comes to food. That there is now a chain of fast-food restaurants called Chipotle, after that delicious fiery smoked chile of Mexico, tells it all. As recently as the 1990s, it was almost impossible to find chipotles outside of Mexican communities. Just a generation ago it was difficult to find olive oil and today we travel to Italy to see the olives harvested and to search for the most flavorful oils.

Americans still have a reputation among hotel managers around the world for wanting our own food when we travel, a preference we share with Japanese tourists, but increasingly we are venturing away from bacon, eggs, and cereal for breakfast and Big Macs for lunch and dinner and discovering the joys of jook, tagines and tapas.

Cooking has become the universal language, an international tongue that allows us to communicate, to resolve every cultural challenge, be it language, custom or belief, and even overcome personal inhibitions like shyness and insecurity. We take a bite, smile, and raise our eyes to see the same response in our companions. May I have some more, please?

And you know what comes next: How did you make it?

We lick each other’s fingers and ask for the recipe.

Introduction

By Susan BradyThe World Is a Kitchen was five years in the making, but the concept was formulated, quite unknowingly, fourteen years ago before culinary tourism had become the popular pursuit it is today. I was hired by a nascent travel publishing company to help produce its first book, but not having traveled much in my life, I seemed an odd choice for the job. My skills, however, complemented those of my two bosses, and working on Travelers’ Tales Thailandhelped bring alive an unfamiliar country for me. But something was missing. Having never been to Asia was an obstacle, until I found the article. Written by Kemp Minifie in Gourmet, it was about a cooking school in Bangkok. She wrote that “one of the most vivid pleasures of travel to Thailand is the cuisine” and proceeded to seduce with preparation of dish after dish, eloquently describing smells, sights, sounds, tastes. I had found my connection. I went out and bought my first Thai cookbook, The Taste of Thailand by Vatcharin Bhumichitr, which has some wonderful stories as well as recipes. I read about unusual produce and regional foods, and started testing dishes. I felt like an alchemist in the kitchen with all these new ingredients and spices, the mixing, the preparation. The end product was bright, vivid, and full of flavor that tantalized my taste buds. I was hooked.

To celebrate the publication of that first book, I cooked a huge Thai meal. And subsequent books received the same treatment. India, Spain, Nepal, France, Mexico, Italy…the list goes on. I was able to better understand and to connect to a country and its culture through the indigenous food. And, there was, of course, the side benefit of getting to eat really wonderful things, not just in celebration, but this type of cooking entered my everyday life. My children grew up eating curries and moles and cassoulets, with only the occasional meatloaf thrown in.

In the last five years I have begun to travel, and no matter whether it is to Erie, Pennsylvania, or Taipei, Taiwan, my focus on every trip is the food. Sometimes I am fortunate enough to go to a cooking school, like I did at the Oriental Cooking School in Bangkok, the Boathouse Cooking School in Phuket, and the New Orleans Cooking Experience in Louisiana. Oftentimes I focused on country specialties, like chocolate in Belgium and the Chinese- and Japanese-influenced regional cuisines throughout Taiwan. When a destination did not have a remarkable cuisine, I sought out unusual restaurants or stores, like La Buona Tavola in Seattle, which specializes in truffle-based foodstuffs and small vineyard Italian wines. Everywhere I went, I found common ground when food was the focus of conversation. Street food vendors gladly showed me how things were cooked, waiters went into lengthy descriptions of ingredients of a particular dish, spice sellers were happy to enlighten me as to how to use the mahlab fourteen different ways. Food brings out the best in people, and while people in many cultures may be shy or unused to sharing themselves, they have no qualms rambling on about the regional specialties, their mother’s famous dish, or even inviting you home for a meal. And some of the best teachers are in the home, as this book illustrates.

I now consider myself a culinary traveler, seeing the world through its food. I have found out that I was not alone in this endeavor. According to recent articles in Business Week, The Seattle Times, and MSNBC, the trend toward culinary travel is increasing. Cooking Light has expounded the virtues of culinary vacations and Margo True, the Executive Editor of Saveur, traveled and learned firsthand what “no TV cook or book could tell her,” while making strudel in Vienna and rolling yufka in Turkey. And I can attest to hands-on learning. It is something that alerts all the senses: seeing and touching the exotic ingredients, hearing them sizzle and pop in a pan, smelling the fragrant aromas, tasting the unique flavors. When you use all five senses, your memory recall is better and duplicating recipes at home is easier than checking out a cookbook from the library and having a go blindly. Stepping into another kitchen can be intimidating, but oh so worthwhile.

Taking the next step can be difficult. But more and more people are traveling these days and finding that the world is a friendly place. Given the proliferation of cooking shows and rise in popularity of food and cooking magazines, there’s little doubt that curiosity toward foreign cuisine is at an all-time high. Culinary travel gives us the opportunity to create bridges between people and cultures, and allows us glimpses into worlds previously unseen. And what marvelous worlds they are.

In the five sections of this book you will find connections and a direction for your next adventure. Will it be in Cyprus? Thailand? Ghana? France? New Orleans? Will you, like Eileen Hodges Sonnad, learn that it is a privilege to serve food to those you love, if it is done with love, in “First, the Mustard Seeds”? When planning that next trip, our Resource Section can help guide you to find the right tour, class, or school to fit your needs. Or maybe you will enter someone’s home through serendipity, like Celeste Brash does in “Mama Roses’ Coconut Bread” and find that where a language barrier exists, that words become irrelevant as time is passed, working towards the same goal, and a bong can be created that is like none other. Like Augusto Andres, you will come to realize that the how is not as important as the why while “In the Kitchen with Yuyo.” It could be that you will test a recipe, such as themafe in the story “A Scandal in Senegal,” and will decide that Africa is the place to go. No matter where it is that this book leads you, we agree with Helen Gallagher, who in “Flavor by the Spoonful,” finds that food is the soul of good travel.

We have tried to combine first-person experiences of cooking in a foreign land, delicious recipes for you to recreate, and a resource section covering books, magazines, cooking schools, and culinary tours. The stories included in this collection serve to show just a small portion of culinary experiences abroad to help steer you in a direction that will make you, and your stomach, happy. Along with these great real-life experiences the Resource section will help you take the next step and venture out into the world of culinary travel.

Preface
MICHELE ANNA JORDAN

Introduction
SUSAN BRADY

Part One
NORTH/CENTRAL/SOUTH AMERICA

In the Kitchen with Yuyo
AUGUSTO ANDRES
Mexico

A World Without Latkes
ROBERT GOLLING JR.
Airborne

Moqueca Feast
AVITAL GAD-CYKMAN
Brazil

Tastes of Generosity
JUDY WARE
Mexico

Nawlins
SARAH PASCARELLA
USA

Making the Small Tortilla
NANCY HARLESS
Belize

Foodie Lesson in Philo
LYNELL GEORGE
USA

Part Two
EUROPE

Drown the Snail
LAURA FLORAND
France

Tomatoes
MARY TAYLOR SIMETI
Italy

Mushrooming Before the Fall
DEBORAH GARFINKLE
Czech Republic

Look Until Done
JOAN HALADAY
Portugal

Mincing Garlic
MICHELE ANNA JORDAN
Spain

Open House
CATHERINE WATSON
France

Guiseppa’s Secret Ingredient
CATHERINE ANN LOMBARD
Italy

Kitchen on Wheels
ANN McCOLL LINDSAY
UK/Europe

Basque Tortilla
MELISSA KRONENTHAL
Spain

Part Three
AFRICA/MIDDLE EAST

Serendipity in Cyprus
WAYNE MILSTEAD
Cyprus

Honor Thy Mother
RACHEL NEWCOMB
Morocco

Cooking with Jas
JOSH FLOSI
Kenya

Flavor by the Spoonful
HELEN GALLAGHER
Turkey

A Scandal in Senegal
TOM SWENSON
Senegal

A Taste of Ghana
LYDIA POLGREEN
Ghana

Part Four
ASIA

First, The Mustard Seeds
EILEEN HODGES SONNAD
India

Japanese Salsa
LAURA KLINE
Japan

Uzbeki Cornmeal
RUBY LONG
Uzbekistan

Chef for a Day
BOB RICE
China

Kimchi Cravings
JAY COOKE
Korea/USA

Meat and Potatoes
JESSICA JACOBSON
Siberia

Kaoru’s Kitchen
TARA AUSTEN WEAVER
Japan

Part Five
SOUTHEAST ASIA/OCEANIA

Mama Rose’s Coconut Bread
CELESTE BRASH
Polynesia/South Pacific

360 Days a Year
ROBERT L. STRAUSS
Vietnam

A Cooking School in Bangkok
KEMP MILES MINIFIE
Thailand

The Slaying of the Yabbies
LUCY FRIEDLAND
Australia

Souvenir
CINDY WALLACH
Bali

Trin Diem Vy
RICHARD STERLING
Vietnam

Operation Kitchen
WILLIAM P. PITTS
Thailand

Pie on Ice
SARAH ANDREWS
Antarctica

The Next Step – Resources and References
• Research Tips
• Cooking Schools/Classes
• Culinary Tours
• Internet Resources/Clearinghouses
• Recommended Reading – Books and Magazines

Index
Index of Contributors
Acknowledgments

Tastes of Generosity

By Judy Ware

Immortalizing family recipes.

Spanish verbs run amok in my brain. My husband Jim and I are only two weeks into a three-month commitment to learn Spanish in Oaxaca, Mexico. I suggest a getaway day to explore the food of this region where at least fifteen indigenous groups contribute to its diversity. We get lucky. A call to local cooking diva Susana Trilling of Seasons of My Heart fame results in A journey into the secrets of Oaxacan cooking. Now our teacher sits in the front seat of the van, her long black braid brushing the top of my knees.

Her driver weaves through city traffic where blaring horns and exhaust fumes pollute the air. Soon our intimate group views the rural outskirts of the colonial city. Expectations are high as the three other Americans chat about the two days they have already spent with Susana. I listen to their enthusiasm and eagerly await a calm day in her cooking school kitchen. I intend to watch, listen, eat, and grab a fistful of recipes to take home.

Susana gives us a sketch of her past sixteen years living in the valley of Oaxaca. Her Mexican grandmother introduced her to the wonders of complex spices and recipes while growing up in the United States. Now, she shares recipes from the women who welcome her into their homes to eat and cook together. The collection of knowledge from all seven regions of the state of Oaxaca comes together at her school, where students begin to understand the value of food passed on through generations.

We anticipate our first stop at the house of Dominica in the village of Etla. The menu here includes atole, a chocolate corn drink, fresh country cheese, and more. Inside the slatted wood fence, Dominica’s house sits open to a courtyard of dirt where chickens, sheep, and goats roam freely with a resident dog. She leads us to the back where her husband works a shovel, leveling the dirt for a pile of cement bricks that will partition a now-open room. A white votive candle illuminates a religious icon, plastic greenery, and a small vase of dusty plastic pink roses. This is the family altar, a private nook, yet not closed to us. It’s as if we’re old friends.

A cheerful yellow-and-red oilcloth covers the long wooden table where our attention focuses on Dominica and her punch bowl. I recognize the green glaze that coats the vessel as being from the village of Atzompa. She pours a milky corn liquid into it and begins the whipping of the drink we are about to taste. We all take turns twirling the molinillo. I feel the worn wooden handle twirl between the palms of my hands. Froth climbs the bowl now, mixing with a smidgeon of chocolate. None of us wants to be the first to take a sip. In unison, we share the moment by raising our mugs. It’s clear this hospitable moment matches the recipe’s original intention. Figuratively, we’ve stepped on a welcome mat that embraces both of our cultures.

A young girl around eight sidles up to her grandma Dominica. She clutches a doll that holds a miniature gold saxophone. Both she and the doll look with dark eyes that sparkle under thick black lashes. She smiles and tilts her head downward as she peeks at us, drawing us closer to her family. Dominica’s sisters and a neighbor who makes cheese from her cows’ milk join the patter of conversation that turns melodious in my wandering mind.

We stand around the table to husk, one by one, the cacao beans as they come out of the roasting pan. Grinding the chocolate comes next. Jim manages the pre-Hispanic stylematate. He diligently rolls and grinds the beans in the hot sun, stooping his tall frame to the ground while sweat pours from his forehead. Soon the chocolate shines and sugar and cinnamon bark are added. Our noses preview the sweet taste to come. Chocolate is poured into individual banana leaves and wrapped for its journey to Susana’s cooking school.

The neighbor lady squeezes and strains the cheese until the consistency is perfect. She covers the smooth hunk with a tea towel. I notice the care. No plastic wrap or aluminum foil, only a towel, laundered and bleached white by the sun. It balances on the top of her head as she carries it to our van. We’ll use it for a special dish at Susana’s. I feel the love that accompanies this food. Future families and friends will continue meeting around a table such as Dominica’s and be grateful for the experience.

Before leaving, we enter a vented smoke hut constructed of cactus stalks where a comal (a flat unglazed ceramic griddle) perches on an open fire in the corner and is tended by a tiny older woman with gray braids. Her Zapotec-style apron protects her clothes. With short arms that barely reach the hot tortillas, she slathers them with lard and bean paste. We sample the smoky botana (snack). Susana points out that the tortillas here were made from the corn the family grew. She describes how they remove the outer layers of the corn kernels so it can be more easily digested. Tedious work, I think. I’m a bit surprised that the old ways are preferred to the convenience of buying a can of digestible corn from the market.

I think of the packages of tortillas on the shelves of supermarkets at home. I’m sure these Etla tortillas taste better because of the ingredients coming straight from the earth. Susana gives hugs and kisses to the women of the house as we pile in the van for the next stop of our journey. I am impatient to hear more about her connection with these generous people. She doesn’t disappoint.

“This family is only one of many that I have met during the last sixteen years. I’ve haunted the local markets and researched family specialties. Many have been kind enough to invite me into their homes to teach me their ways,” Susana says. I’m touched by her story and with renewed enthusiasm, look forward to the remainder of this special day.

The van suddenly turns west at the pueblo of San Lorenzo. We see an era stopped in time. Oxen with yolks, burro-driven carts, mangy, homeless dogs, semi-open huts with corn growing alongside. A boy of about ten is chasing a rabbit. His slingshot is in ready position for the kill. Susana covers her eyes, but still watches. “He is trying to kill the poor bunny,” she says. I want to pause here and take it all in, but we must continue to Rancho Aurora where Susana and her husband Eric live. A screech of brakes interrupts my dreaming as we barely avoid slamming into a bull whose eyes stare straight into the front windshield of our van. Susana switches to Spanish and scolds our driver for not being more attentive. It seems they’ve had previous conversations like this, and on one occasion he made road kill of a village dog.

Through a deep arroyo, barely lined with water, the van changes gears and the engine surges, climbing the steep hill to Susana’s school. We see the immense red dome loom skyward like some sort of religious shrine and marvel at the ambitious project of building such a massive structure here in nearly inaccessible terrain. I try to picture the laying of wires for electricity, tapping water from deep in the ground, and hauling building supplies. Susana’s husband, Eric, was the master planner and builder for the project. They achieved an impossible dream with grit and determination. We climb the steep stone stairs to the front door. Inside, I can’t believe the expanse of this space. The open room: part kitchen, part eating area, is surrounded by windows that frame the brilliance of bougainvillea and greenery growing in contrast to the dusty hills. Enormous earthen pots tempt our parched mouths to drink fresh fruit waters of hibiscus, orange, and watermelon. Gnarly wood baskets hold fresh garlic, shiny white onions, chiles, limes, and fresh pineapple, which must be ripe, because I smell its sweetness.

Oscar, a chicken farmer invites us to watch him prepare his own special rendition of a drink called a michilada. In halting English, I only hear, “Be sure to add salsa bufalo to the beer, stir in the spices and enjoy.” We soon hold our own samples of this drink. The burn on the way down my throat stays most of the afternoon. Oscar proudly tells us that his chickens are yellow because he dyes their feed with marigold coloring. Today he is dressed in waiter-white shirt and black pants. His posture projects confidence and pride in his work as part of the kitchen staff. Susana joins him and explains how the recipes we’ll prepare today were once shown on her PBS series in the States. Helpers from the village place bottles of cold beer on the counter. We are welcome to serve ourselves. I think I’ll float after all this liquid.

I slip into a state of nirvana, wanting to drift back to our morning and the kindness we experienced, but instead, Susana talks rapidly and with such purpose, I come back to reality. She’s giving us a quick overview of the six recipes we’ll prepare and eat. I’m beginning to see there is no way to escape active participation. An attitude adjustment is in order.

I agree to prepare an appetizer with a Mexican/Thai influence called Platanos Fritos con Crema de Jengibre y Jalapeño (fried plantains with ginger jalapeño cream). It appeals because I think it’s manageable and I’m lazy. I gasp when Jim volunteers to make the Pastel de Tres Leches (three milk cake). In order for it to achieve its full potential, he must perform numerous complicated steps. At home, Jim excels as a chopping assistant, but in our forty-two years of marriage, I don’t recall him as a standout baker. But I quickly decide that it is not my problem. I’ll simply concentrate on my own little project.

Each of us finds a spot in the airy kitchen where splendid tiles of navy blue faced with bright sunflowers accent counters and splash boards. Local stones create a façade for the giant island in the center of the kitchen. The use of subtle shades of pink, yellow, and blue presents a calming effect. Everywhere I look, a different view of the barren hills and valley below attacks me with a sense of mystery. Lila Downs sings “La Sanduga” from a boom box on the floor. I’m easily distracted. A woman from the village hands me skin-grasping gloves so I won’t burn myself deseeding the jalapeños. I chop the juicy peppers and they join the fresh garlic and ginger already sitting in the blender. Next comes cream cheese, but the amount seems skimpy. Susana agrees that I should double the recipe. Others are struggling with sticky flour-and-water masa for tortilla appetizers. Susana directs us to start assembling the Ensalada de Nopales Asados (grilled nopales salad). She says that the women in the market clean the prickles from the fruit. She claims the fruit is good for lowering cholesterol and weight.

I hear Jim ask for help in separating eggs. I avoid looking his way for fear I’ll be brought into his dilemma. Others scramble to help him and I see a counter covered with bowls and dairy products ready to measure. I slice the bananas and set them aside to fry. Already two hours have passed and there’s more to do. The Quesadillas de Flor de Calabaza (fresh cheese and squash blossom turnovers) are ready to stuff. It looks easy until I try folding in the soft white cheese we brought from Dominica’s. It’s a coordination problem. While placing the cheese inside the tortillas, one must also place the squash flowers on top. I see the cheese oozing out of mine onto the comal. My hands feel too big and like a child in school. I’m happy to leave this task to hands that are more adept. I smell pollo asada on the grill and spot an inviting hammock that swings from the veranda. It must be siesta time somewhere, but not here.

Eating sounds better all the time. The resident dog slithers by and plops his long brown body in front of the door so that we must step over him. He has a good view of Susana’s son and village kids romping near the farm machinery and assorted cars below.

I’m ready to fry my bananas. Oscar instructs me to pour the oil one-inch deep in the cast-iron pan. It must be hot before adding the fruit. I hear the oil pop and immerse the sliced bananas in the oil. The slices start blurring at the edges as if they were melting. I know something is wrong. Why aren’t they crisping up? Here I am doing the simplest of recipes and I’ve already screwed up. What a disaster! I think about dumping the greasy mess out the back door, hoping the dog will slurp it up. I see one spare banana on the counter. For a moment, I entertain the thought of starting over, but one banana isn’t enough.

Susana gently shoves me aside and with a long-handled spoon begins lifting bananas out of the oil on to a plate. “You must not put so many in at one time,” she says. “They are crowded and cool the oil.” I feel stupid. Why didn’t I know this simple thing? Now I have ruined our dish. Susana smiles, “It’s all right. If they don’t crisp up we’ll put them in the oven for a bit.” I decide I’m not the first to make this mistake. The lesson is learned.

Meanwhile Jim is in the final difficult stages of cake preparation. He must top the cake with fresh kiwi, mango, berries, and whipped cream and then roll it for the refrigerator. I can imagine the cake splitting in half and all the ingredients ending up on the floor. He smiles, but his teeth clench in the effort.

Eric comes in from laying water pipe in a neighboring village. He and his helpers sit down, ready to eat. The long table is set with woven coverings, bright red fresh flowers accompany the plates of food before us. Jim’s cake is a hit. A long day’s effort, but well worth the struggles. Susana joins us and makes the appropriate compliments for our work, being kind enough not to mention my soggy bananas, which did crisp up in the oven. I savor a flor de calabasa in my mouth and stare straight out the window to a spot on a faraway hill. “Do you see the ruins?” asks Susana. “That is our ancient Monte Alban.”

Our idle chatter ceases as we ponder the wonder of the moment. Twenty-five-hundred-year-old ruins are alive with a rich history while a modern cooking school successfully perpetuates old recipes for generations to come. The fistful of recipes I plan on keeping will forever trigger the places and faces that shared their heritage with us for just one day.


Judy Ware likes nothing better than to hunker down in a Mexican town long enough to recognize the fruit and vegetable vendors at a weekly farmer’s market and the children walking home from school for a midday comida. She writes about life experiences shared with her husband as they poke around the globe. Her work has appeared in Empty Vessel Full Vessel; Standing; Poetry by Idaho Women; Frankische Unzeiger, a regional German publication; and several regional magazines.

When Michele Anna Jordan was offered a live sago worm at a farmers’ market in Serian, Sarawak (one of two Malaysian states on the island of Borneo), she politely declined. It is the only food she has ever refused during cooking and eating adventures in dozens of countries on four continents. She ate durian in Kuala Lumpur and after her first bite of mangosteen bought a kilo and returned to her hotel, where she quickly devoured all of them. She has written about food, cooking, culture and travel in newspapers, magazines, anthologies, and in sixteen cookbooks to date, including California Home Cooking, The New Cook’s Tour of Sonoma, Salt & Pepper, and The BLT Cookbook. Her radio show “Mouthful” is available as a podcast at iTunes and Yahoo. Jordan teaches unique in-home cooking classes and is currently at work on several new books. See what she is up to atwww.micheleannajordan.com.

Susan Brady has been cooking up a storm in the Travelers’ Tales kitchen for the past fourteen years, preparing and plating almost 100 travel books. She has traveled from the shores of Southern Thailand to the chocolate shops of Belgium in her quest to taste the world’s many cultures and is still hungry for more. A member of the International Food, Wine, and Travel Writers’ Association, she is known as Mrs. B in the food blogging world (follow her culinary adventures at www.eatingsuburbia.com). Susan and her busy stove reside in the suburbs outside of San Francisco, California.

2017-04-24T02:32:39+00:00