Shorba Birang: Recalling tastes of Afghanistan and a lifesaving trek

The Anwar family during their trek from Afghanistan to Pakistan.

The Anwar family during their trek from Afghanistan to Pakistan.

Who can forget the many harrowing scenes in Khaled Hosseini’s novel about Afghanistan, The Kite Runner. One I will never forget is how the protagonist, Amir, and his father, along with a dozen or so others, escape from Afghanistan by hiding in an empty oil tanker. When the truck reaches Pakistan, they find that one of the boys traveling in the tank has died because of the suffocating fumes.

Parwin Anwar, who now lives in suburban Detroit and teaches English as a second language in public schools, has an equally dramatic story of escape from a disintegrating society.

I met Parwin in May at the installation dinner for WISDOM–Women’s Interfaith Solutions for Dialogue in Metro Detroit and the authors of the book Friendship & Faith. Both of us were new board members. She told me she had come from Afghanistan in 1985, but I didn’t know the details of her story until a month later, when she invited me into her home to watch her cook some traditional Afghani foods.

Leaving home

The Anwars liked to picnic at Qargha Dam near Kabul on Fridays.

The Anwars liked to picnic at Qargha Dam near Kabul on Fridays.

Parwin and her husband, Qadir, university graduates, had been living a comfortable life in Kabul. Parwin taught Pashto, one of the main languages of the country, in a high school. Qadir worked in a bank.

In 1978 the government was taken over by the People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan, which was vehemently anti-religious, anti-elite and anti-intelligentsia: three strikes against the Anwars. Less than two years later, the Soviet army invaded. The Anwars, devoutly religious supporters of the anti-Communist Mujahideen, knew they were in danger. They resolved to leave and seek refuge in the United States.

Parwin’s uncle, a professor of engineering, had lived in Michigan for more than 30 years. Her father joined him in 1983. “He had been working for the United Nations in Sudan, and after the Communists came to power, we told him it wasn’t safe for him to come back to Afghanistan because he had ties to the previous government,” said Parwin.

The Anwars had two children, a 5-year-old boy and a 3-year-old girl, and Parwin was six months pregnant.

A 150-mile trek

In a group of 17 that included an elderly couple, six teenagers and three children, they left Kabul and walked 150 miles to Pakistan.

“We had to leave everything behind. We couldn’t take anything or tell anyone we were leaving. We didn’t even say goodbye to our family,” she said.

It was late July and very hot. No one in the group had good walking shoes. Everyone wore traditional clothing, complete with bangle bracelets and henna for the women. Their cover story, in case they were stopped at a checkpoint, was that they were going to a nearby village to attend a wedding.

The group had a horse and two donkeys, one of which was used to carry their meager belongings. Because of her pregnancy, Parwin sometimes rode the horse, but mostly she walked, eight to 12 hours a day. The men carried the children on their backs.

“We took some cooked food with us but after a few hours in the heat, everything was spoiled. We used up our water quickly too. Whenever we came to a river, we drank and filled up every bottle we could. Sometimes villagers gave us food and water, but most days we had very little,” she said.

The power of prayer

They came to a tall mountain, but there was no road around it. “We had to crawl up the mountain,” said Parwin. Some members of the group lost their toenails in the climb. Parwin fell several times. Once she was getting off the horse and her dress caught on the saddle. She fell and suffered a deep scratch the length of her torso. More than once they heard the Soviet army bombarding a village nearby.

“I was so tired and in so much pain,” she said. “One day we stopped in a village and I wanted to give up. I told everyone else I would stay there. But my son – he was only 5 years old – said he would walk behind me so he could catch me if I fell. So I kept going. Every night I was so sure I was going to have the baby that night. I prayed every night, and the next morning I would be fresh. That’s the power of faith and prayer.”

It took them five days to reach Pakistan. Everyone in the group survived.

In Pakistan the Anwars stayed with family so they didn’t have to go to a refugee camp. After eight months they were granted refugee status and came to the United States. Parwin’s younger daughter was born in Pakistan. She had a fourth child, a son, in Michigan.

New life in America

The 10-year Soviet occupation resulted in the deaths of between 850,000 and 1,500,000 Afghan civilians. About 6 million fled to Pakistan and Iran. By the end of 2011, there were about 300,000 Afghanis in the United States. The largest communities are in San Francisco, New York and Washington, D.C.

Parwin cooks many foods from her homeland. Dinner often includes a vegetable soup, made with with rice or noodles, that’s fragrant with herbs and spices. Parwin usually mixes parsley, cilantro and dill together and freezes the mix in small quantities – the size of a large ice cube –  until she needs them. She does the same with a mixture of turmeric, garlic and fresh ginger.

Parwin often makes this soup during Ramadan. Here’s how to make it. Just be aware that Parwin never measures anything, she just knows what works! These quantities are my estimates. Don’t worry about it too much. One of the joys of making soup is that whatever you throw in a pot will probably taste good!

th Food-writer-Bobbie-Lewis-in-her-kitchenA NOTE FROM YOUR FEED THE SPIRIT HOST, BOBBIE LEWIS: Please help us to spread word about Feed the Spirit. Use the convenient social-media icons with these columns to share with friends. The most important is the blue-“f” Facebook icon. Just click and “Like” this column so others can find it. Thank you!

Bolani: A vegetarian treat from Afghanistan for Ramadan

Feed the Spirit columnist Bobbie Lewis

Feed the Spirit columnist Bobbie Lewis

Parwin Anwar’s suburban Detroit home was bustling. She had offered to show me how to cook some of the dishes her family eats during Ramadan, which falls during the longer summer days this year. Her two daughters-in-law had come to enjoy the fruits of her labor, bringing with them two friends and three toddlers. The room hummed with activity and love.

In addition to learning how to make some Afghani foods, I wanted to get a sense of how Muslims cope with the month-long fast, especially when Ramadan falls in the summer when the days are so long. Because the Islamic calendar is a lunar one, with no correction to bring it in sync with the solar calendar, Ramadan occurs approximately 11 days earlier every year.

Ramadan: It’s a long, hard fast in the summer

Going without food and drink between dawn and dark would be hard enough in the winter, when there are about 10 hours of daylight. How much more difficult it must be in the summer months, when—in Michigan anyway—the fast stretches on for more than 15 hours. And, when it often is hot enough to easily dehydrate anyone, let alone a fasting person.

In Muslim countries, schools, stores and offices close or modify their hours so that people can eat and do their business after dark and sleep during some of the daylight hours. In countries where Muslims are a minority, Ramadan is a challenge.

Parwin Anwar with a platter of bulani.

Parwin Anwar with a platter of bolani.

Parwin says many women start shopping and cooking weeks in advance for Ramadan and for Eid al Fitr, the festival that marks its end. She often makes curries, soups and other dishes and freezes them for use during Ramadan. Then all she needs to do to make a meal after the fast is defrost something, cook up some rice or noodles and throw together a salad.

Iftar: Breaking the Ramadan fast

Muslims like to break the fast by eating dates and sipping water—something the Prophet Muhammad did to break his fast. Many then get together with family or friends for the iftar meal.

Parwin and her husband, Qadir, are empty nesters with four adult children. Every night during Ramadan they go to communal prayers at the mosque starting about an hour and a half after the fast. That doesn’t leave them much time to have a large meal.

“By the time we get home it’s close to midnight, and we don’t want to eat a lot,” said Parwin. “So we eat something simple before the prayers, then rest for a few hours. We eat our big meal for sohor (the pre-dawn meal)—around 2:30 or 3 a.m.—so we can be finished before daybreak.”

Parwin fries the stuffed bulani.

Parwin fries the stuffed bolani.

The Anwars’ Ramadan meals usually start with a soup. They often eat pakora—thin slices of potato dipped in a chickpea-flour batter and deep fried—and bolani, a pan-fried turnover filled with chopped scallions, pumpkin or potatoes. The meal often ends with fresh fruit.

Ramadan iftar favorites—
cooked with love … and memory

Getting a recipe from Parwin posed a problem. Like many traditional cooks, she does not measure her ingredients using standardized cups or weights. She knows from memory how much of what should go into each dish and she cooks by sight, feel and taste.

This week’s Feed the Spirit recipe for bolani—the Afghani stuffed fried bread that they enjoy in their home—was adapted from what I saw Parwin do in her kitchen and recipe resources I found online. The best online recipe I found comes from an Afghani family in Australia. The web page includes a good video showing how to make bolani and links to other Afghani recipes.


.

Wish your friends and colleagues well in Ramadan

To all my Muslim friends and readers: “Ramadan mubarak!” (That’s “A blessed Ramadan!”)

Would you like to greet Muslim friends and colleagues? All this week, the popular Our Values column is reporting on 5 surprising things about Ramadan—and the first column is about how to greet our Muslim neighbors. Want to read more about the holiday itself? Stephanie Fenton’s Holidays column has a complete report on the fasting month and the way it affects communities around the world. Finally, if you like this recipe, today, please share it with friends: Click the blue-“f” Facebook icons and “Like” this column and recipe; or you could click the little envelope-shaped icons and email this to a friend.

Enjoy a good movie after dinner? Film critic Ed McNulty serves up A Baker’s Dozen: 13 Best Films on Food and Faith, which includes Hollywood favorites as well as one feature film about fasting in Ramadan.

Come back next week!

Come back to Feed the Spirit next week, when I’ll share another one of Parwin’s recipes, along with the dramatic story of how she and her family left Afghanistan.

Detroit SOUP: A grassroots recipe for nourishing community

th Food-writer-Bobbie-Lewis-in-her-kitchen

BOBBIE LEWIS

It’s a cheap dinner out!
It’s a fundraiser!
It’s a community builder!
It’s democracy in action!
It’s a Champion of Change recognized by the White House!
Actually, Detroit SOUP is all of the above!

Detroit SOUP  is a tremendously successful grassroots enterprise that started in 2010 in Detroit’s Mexicantown area (that’s part of the city’s wonderfully diverse southwest side). Kate Daughdrill and Jessica Hernandez got a small group of friends together for soup dinners in a loft above a bakery and gave the funds they took at the door back to the community.

Detroit SOUP: Recycling one of Detroit’s treasures

Their idea took off!

Detroit SOUP was founded in Detroit in 2010 by Kate Daughdrill and Jessica Hernandez

CLICK THE PHOTO to learn more about Detroit SOUP!

So, Detroit SOUP moved to a permanent home in Detroit’s New Center area. If you’re passing through Michigan, Detroit SOUP is now located near our landmark Fisher Building in the former home of Detroit’s once-famous Jam Handy studios. Like so much in the Motor City, this is recycling at its best. Long vacant, Jam Handy once was on the cutting edge of commercial filmmaking. The studio produced the 1944 cartoon version of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer as well as countless commercials and industrial-training films.

When is the next Detroit SOUP event? Coming right up July 14! (Click the Detroit SOUP photo, at right, to get all the details.)

Voting for the best proposal at DetroitSOUP

Voting for the best proposal at DetroitSOUP. Photo by Dave Lewinski.

What happens? Volunteers plan and carry out monthly dinners for more than 200 guests, who pay $5 to sit at long communal tables made of old doors and boards and enjoy a dinner of soup, bread and salad (all the food is donated). During the meal, diners hear up to four short proposals from people who need a little financial boost to get a community project or artistic endeavor off the ground. Everyone present votes on the proposal they like best, and the winner gets a little grant for his or her project.

WHITE HOUSE HONORS: Detroit SOUP has been so successful at bringing people together and promoting community betterment that its director, Amy Kaherl, was honored by the White House as a Champion of Change in the “crowdsourcing” category.

Detroit SOUP:
An idea that’s easy to imitate

It’s such a cool idea—and one that is easy for other communities to copy. In fact, Detroit SOUP didn’t invent it. They got the idea from InCUBATE in Chicago, a group dedicated to exploring new approaches to arts administration and funding. InCUBATE started Sunday Soup dinners in 2007. (Sunday Soup returned to Chicago last year after taking a two-year break.) The Sunday Soup idea has been implemented in nearly 90 communities around the world–mostly in the U.S. but also in Canada, Europe, Australia and Japan.

Soup at Spaulding, 2010

Soup at Spaulding, 2010

One of the winning projects at DetroitSOUP was Spaulding Court in Detroit. My son-in-law, Jon Koller, heads a nonprofit organization that is renovating this dilapidated 100-year-old townhouse community. And then Friends of Spaulding Court copied the DetroitSOUP idea. For several years they ran a similar fundraising soup dinner called Soup at Spaulding. (Heading to Detroit and want to find Spaulding Court? It’s off 12th Street, aka Rosa Parks, a few blocks north of the old Tiger Stadium site.)

During its three short years, Detroit SOUP has given back more than $27,000 to Detroit. The micro-grants have gone to a wide array of projects, including Veronika Scott’s Empowerment Plan, which produces coats that can be turned into sleeping bags for the homeless, and a high school group’s screen printed apparel project.

Detroit SOUP: Connecting the community

“Never in my wildest imagination did I think SOUP would grow to become a staple to the flow of the city,” said Amy Kaherl, who grew up and went to college in Michigan and then studied theology and popular culture at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasedena, Calif.

“SOUP has a natural way of connecting people. We are meeting to have a shared experience. People can bump elbows sitting next to one another on the floor, stand a little less awkwardly in line together, and talk about what project they think would best benefit from their $5. We have watched friendships made, jobs found, resources shared, projects find new collaborators, and even a couple meet and marry.”

Amy says SOUP gives her a way to study connection and meaning in our everyday experiences.  Take a look at this little clip from NBC Nightly News , where Amy says, “It’s a chance to draw people together, share ideas over a simple meal like soup, salad and bread and hear how people really want to help continue to revitalize the city. I love just being a connecting point for people.”

Try this soup recipe

Read the Spirit writer Terry Gallagher wrote a recent series in the Our Values department about his family’s Soup-a-thon. For 13 weeks every fall, the Gallaghers cook up a big pot of soup and invite friends to join them for a soup dinner. Here’s one of the recipes Terry provided then for a simple kidney bean soup. It comes from the More-With-Less Cookbook, commissioned in 1976 by the Mennonite Central Committee as a way of encouraging church members to use food resources wisely and to encourage the philosophy that if residents of North America use less, they can increase the food resources available elsewhere in the world.

Let us hear from you!

Do you think a program like DetroitSOUP would work in your community? Why or why not?

Do you have a good “more-with-less” soup recipe or a good soup story to share?

PLEASE, help us spread the news to friends: Click the blue-”f” icon, either at top or bottom of this story, and share this article with your friends on Facebook.

(Originally published at readthespirit.com, an online magazine covering religion, spirituality, interfaith news and cross-cultural issues.)

Summer Solstice at Stonehenge

41 Years. That’s the milestone my husband Joe and I celebrated on our wedding anniversary this week. We were married in Bournemouth, on the south coast of England. We had next to no money, so for our honeymoon we rented the cheapest van we could find, put a flimsy foam mattress in the back and tooled around the south of England for four wonderful days.

My husband and I visited Stonehenge on our honeymoon in 1972.

My husband and I visited Stonehenge on our honeymoon in 1972.

Of course we visited Stonehenge, in Wiltshire. It was a popular tourist site, but wasn’t yet attracting the hordes that led the British government to cordon off the stones so that they could only be seen from a safe distance. In 1972, we could go right up to them and touch them. In fact, I posed for the obligatory photo showing how I was single-handedly holding up the massive structure.

No one really knows why Stonehenge was built or the purpose it served, but it definitely seems to be connected to the solar calendar. Every year at the summer solstice, the sun aligns perfectly with the space formed by some of the stones.

Thousands visit for summer solstice

I thought about our visit to Stonehenge when I read that tens of thousands of people converged on the ancient monument June 20 and 21 to watch the sun rise on the summer solstice, the longest day of the year. Here is the Guardian newspaper’s article about it. English Heritage, which manages the site, allows people to go right up to the stones for ceremonial purposes during the summer solstice – something it calls Managed Open Access.

Celebrating the summer solstice at Stonehenge

Celebrating the summer solstice at Stonehenge

Some were undoubtedly just out for a good time, but some were actual pagans celebrating an important date on their spiritual calendar. For Wiccans, the summer solstice is one of eight annual festivals, called sabbats (which is where the expression “Witch’s Sabbath,” a gathering of witches, comes from.)

Pagans are not non-believers!

Pagans have suffered from a lot of negative associations over the years. Many of us think “non-believer,” or “heathen” or even “savage” when we hear it. But professing pagans – most are Wiccans or Druids – take their faith seriously. Even the U.S. military recognizes paganism as a world faith and now provides pagan headstones in military cemeteries, when they are requested.

Paganism may be attracting new followers because it is based on a belief in the divinity of nature which appeals to many young adults. Professor Ronald Hutton, of Bristol University in England, a leading expert on paganism, believes there are at least 100,000 practicing pagans in Britain. Considering that fewer than 1 million people regularly attend services at the country’s official church, the Church of England, he says, “paganism matters.”

Read more about the history of paganism.

Pagans believe in magic, and use spells to encourage desired outcomes.

Different pots for different types of spells

About 20 years ago, while on assignment for my employer, I met a woman called Gundella the Witch who was a practicing Wiccan. She told me she had separate pots for cooking up potions for different kinds of spells – one set for “quiet” spells, like something to calm you down, and another set for more active spells, like something to give you extra energy. As someone who keeps the Jewish dietary laws, which involves separate sets of pots and dishes for meat and dairy foods, I found this fascinating.

There’s no witchcraft in today’s recipe, but it does have an appropriate name, Wiccan Magic Cake. There is definitely something magical about it. You mix up a batter, which is quite thin, bake it, and it magically separates into a bottom crust, a custard layer and a thin brown top. It’s got a lot of eggs and milk, and it’s not too sweet, so you can even eat it for breakfast.  I got the recipe from a friend who posted it on Facebook — the only attribution was “Frisky.” So thank you, Frisky, whoever you are.

 

Blessings of growing your own: from lettuce to rhubarb crisp

Rhubarb growing in the gardenIn Judaism, there’s a blessing for everything, including the eating of food from plants: “Blessed are you, God, ruler of the universe, who creates food of the earth.” It seems especially appropriate when eating food you pick from your own garden because you can see the direct connection between the food and the earth.

There is something spiritual, almost magical, about growing your own food. You throw some tiny seeds onto the soil, and a few weeks later you can pick something delicious and nutritious.

Today, I’m giving you a delicious—and easy—recipe for rhubarb crisp. But, first, take a moment just to consider the joys of gardening. Do you share our passion? (Please, add a comment below.)

Do You Love Gardening This Much?

I never had a vegetable garden growing up. My mother hopefully planted a few blueberry and bush cherry shrubs, as well as a dwarf apple tree, but we never got any fruit from them. My first home as a married woman was in a ticky-tacky graduate student apartment building at Temple University in Philadelphia.

We lived on the ground floor of the mid-1960s era building. Our two windows looked out on the back of the building, a parking lot—and a small strip of lawn outlined by a cast iron fence. Someone on the resident activities committee had the bright idea to turn that little strip of grass into garden plots, and we eagerly signed up for one.

But, the apartment building had been constructed on the site of demolished Philadelphia row houses, and the little garden plots were full of broken bricks and hunks of concrete. We spent many hours digging and screening the soil. One hapless neighbor pulled an entire marble doorstep from her plot. Finally the soil was deemed suitably rock-free, and in went the tomato and pepper plants and the lettuce and cucumber seeds.

One night a few weeks later we were just getting to sleep when we were awakened by the gleam of a flashlight and cries of glee outside our window. “Oooh, look at that!” one neighbor called out. “Wow, is that a carrot?” marveled her roommate.

We had to ask the resident activities committee to decree that gardening be done in the daylight hours only. Since then, we’ve always had some sort of vegetable garden, even if it was only a few potted tomatoes on the windowsill of our second apartment, which was on the second floor.

Our first rhubarb plant

Our first rhubarb—producing just enough to enjoy!

Early lettuce and turnips

Early lettuce and turnips

The Long Odyssey
of the Prized Rhubarb Plant

In our garden, we now grow tomatoes, peppers, lettuce, beans, zucchini, eggplant and more. A few years ago we bought a rhubarb plant, and this year, for the first time, it produced enough rhubarb to eat.

Rhubarb developed in Asia, where for millennia it was valued for medicinal purposes. As an import to Europe, it was more valuable than cinnamon, opium and saffron. Ruy Gonzales de Clavijo, a Castilian diplomat, wrote in the early 1400s of his stay in Samarkand, “The best of all merchandise coming to Samarkand (in Uzbekistan) was from China, especially silks, satins, musk, rubies, diamonds, pearls and rhubarb…”

Rhubarb had become very popular as a tasty dish by the 1700s. By the early 20th century, Americans were consuming 30 tons of it every year. But I had never even heard of rhubarb until I was at least 10, maybe older, and then it was something in stories about early American life, not something people I knew actually ate. I recently read a convincing theory that rhubarb fell out of favor in the latter part of the 20th century because of sugar rationing during World War II. Rhubarb is inedible without a lot of sweetener. With sugar in short supply, practical cooks in the 1940s turned to fruit, such as apples, for their pies and crumbles.

The edible part of rhubarb is the stalk; in fact, the leaves are toxic. The stalks, which resemble celery stalks, can be green tinged with pink or bright red, depending on the variety. Don’t try to eat them raw; they need to be stewed or baked. A surfeit of rhubarb can be easily frozen, either in whole stalks or cut in pieces. You can cook it directly from the freezer, without defrosting it first. Here is a simple recipe for Rhubarb Crisp that we made with the first batch we picked. I adapted it from a recipe I found on food.com, contributed by “Selfie,” a cook who proudly declared: “Mom’s recipe! Easy to make and easy to eat.”

Do you have a great rhubarb recipe to share? Or a comment about some other old-fashioned but newly discovered food? Are you looking forward to cooking with produce you’re growing yourself? Let us hear from you!

Add a comment below. Please, help spread word about this new website by

Challah tops our list of holy breads

WELCOME to FeedTheSpirit with host Bobbie Lewis. 

Bobbie and Joe Lewis with our first challah!

Bobbie and Joe Lewis with our first challah!

BREAD is a cornerstone of faith and ritual, Lynne Meredith Golodner writes in her book, The Flavors of Faith: Holy Breads, the first in a series of books about the many ways food carries rich associations with religious traditions. In Judaism, Lynne points out, the bread known as challah is the hallmark of the weekly Sabbath and Jewish holidays.

What most people don’t know is that “challah” actually refers not to a loaf made with eggs and oil but to the separation of a small portion of the dough before the bread is baked. In Numbers (15:17-21) the Israelites were commanded to take some of the dough and give it to the Temple priests as a “contribution for the Lord.” Since the Temple no longer exists, we fulfill this commandment by taking a piece of dough at least the size of an olive and burning it. This small sacrifice also reminds us of the destruction of our holiest site. Separating and burning a piece of the dough is called “taking challah.”

How do you pronounce and spell challah?

One word; many spellings. I spell this type of bread with a “ch” because the first sound is guttural, like in the German “ach.” But below you’ll see it spelled with just an “h” because that’s the way the recipe creator spells it. It’s a Hebrew word – there’s no “correct” English spelling!)

How do you make challah?

Jewish Catalog

Our oft-used copy of The Jewish Catalog

For us, challah is a life-long tradition. Soon after my husband and I were married we bought The First Jewish Catalog: A Do-It-Yourself Kit. It became our guide as we created new traditions of our own from ancient customs. The book had a whole chapter on challah, including recipes and diagrams showing how to make braids with three, four or even six ropes of dough.

That photo of Joe and me with our very first challah was taken in 1973. We’re smiling—but the truth is: That loaf was hard as a rock! Completely inedible! We literally used it as a doorstop. I’m guessing we didn’t let the dough rise properly.

Needless to say, we’ve gotten a lot better at bread baking! Since he retired a year and a half ago, Joe has been baking all our bread. He tried a bunch of different challah recipes, but has stuck with this one, adapted from The Hallah Book: Recipes, History, and Traditions by Freda Reider. We eat it every Friday night to welcome the Sabbath!

HOW DO YOU WEAVE OR BRAID A CHALLAH LOAF?

Don’t worry! It’s easier than it looks!

Many cookbooks have step-by-step photos and sketches, but millions of cooks go online these days. Joe and I just added to the YouTube collection of challah videos with this little gem we produced in under 2 minutes! Most braided challah instructions show three strands. Joe likes to use four! So, if you really want to impress friends and family with an elaborately woven loaf—check out this 2-minute video featuring Joe at work.

Tah Dah! A four-strand challah!

today's challah

We’ve gotten better at this!

And here we are with the finished product! I put myself in the picture for symmetry’s sake—I can’t take any credit for this one!

Another good challah recipe comes from one of my children’s favorite grade school teachers. Riva Thatch taught Hebrew at Hillel Day School in Farmington Hills, Mich. for many years, and gave this recipe to all her students. My daughter, Miriam Gardin, says she was impressed by Mrs. Thatch not only because she was an excellent teacher but because of her efforts to survive the Holocaust.

“It wasn’t just luck; it was a lot of her own initiative, strength and creativity that got her through,” Miriam says, looking back more than 20 years. “I also remember her teaching us that they made soap in the ghetto from ashes and I thought that was almost unbelievable. Soap from ashes? No way! But Mrs. Thatch was totally believable!”

You can find Mrs. Thatch’s wonderful recipe, along with many more, in Lynne Meredith Golodner’s new The Flavors of Faith: Holy Breads.

Now it’s your turn!

Have you ever made bread “from scratch”?

What did you learn from the experience?

What bread traditions reflect your faith or your family’s culture?

Please, this new project depends on you, our readers! In addition to leaving a comment or a question, you’ll help us spread the word by clicking on the Facebook button with this column and telling your friends.

Welcome to Feed the Spirit! Got a story, a recipe, a question?

Bobbie Lewis in her kitchen, armed for this new challenge. BUT, the success of FeedTheSpirit ultimately depends on you, as readers, to share your stories, recipes, ideas and questions!

Bobbie Lewis in her kitchen, armed for this new challenge. BUT, the success of FeedTheSpirit ultimately depends on you, as readers, to share your stories, recipes, ideas and questions!

ReadTheSpirit is proud to introduce our newest department: FeedTheSpirit, a section we are launching to share stories, recipes and questions from readers about foods that are linked to faith and culture. Your host for this new department is veteran food writer Bobbie Lewis. She will keep stirring the pot in this new department, week by week, so you’ll always find a fascinating new story or recipe or Q&A each week.
Here is Bobbie’s first column …

In the immortal words of James Stockdale (who you’ve probably already forgotten was Ross Perot’s running mate in his third-party campaign for president in 1996), “Who am I and what am I doing here?”

There are a lot of words that could describe me: retiree, public relations professional, wife, mother (of 3), grandmother (of 1), Conservative Jew, liberal, feminist. If I had to sum up my professional career in one word it would be “writer.”

I started as a general assignment reporter for a major metropolitan newspaper. After moving to Michigan more than 36 years ago, I had a long career in communications for nonprofit organizations, including the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit, Sinai Hospital, Hospice of Michigan and Lutheran Social Services.

I’m also someone who loves good food. I love to cook and as my scale shows—I also love to eat.

recipe folder

My recipe file – you can see why it needs organizing!

After I retired from full-time work last summer, I determined to get my recipes in order. They were scattered among a file box, an accordion-file folder, and more than one manila folder, not to mention several dozen cookbooks. In the course of transcribing all the clippings and handwritten cards I actually want to keep into a gigantic Word document (I reckon I’m about one-third of the way there), I decided to share my fave recipes via a blog, Bobbie’s Best Recipes.

This caught the attention of David Crumm, editor of ReadTheSpirit. I knew David from his days as religion writer at the Detroit Free Press, when I would pitch him religion-related stories about my employers. I’ve subscribed to ReadTheSpirit since its inception.

I have long been interested in interfaith relations. This may stem from seven years as the only Jewish girl in an almost completely Protestant elementary school class. I am active with WISDOM, which stands for Women’s Interfaith Dialogue for Solutions and Dialogue in Metro Detroit and is a group dedicated to promoting cross-cultural friendships. (WISDOM literally wrote the book on that, called Friendship & Faith.) Currently, I also serve on the planning committee for the North American Interfaith Network (NAIN) conference to be held in Detroit in August 2014.

So when David invited me to moderate a blog about food and its relation to faith, family and culture, I leaped at the opportunity.

I hope many of you will help me in this effort by sharing, commenting or asking a question.

Do you have a great story about food that’s also about faith, family, friendship or culture? Please share it with me—I’m looking for guest bloggers who can take over this space from time to time.

Don’t hesitate to share your comments about any of the stories or recipes that appear here, And feel free to ask a question—about anything that might be unclear in a post or about something you’d like to see here. Perhaps you’re looking for a recipe connected to a religious holiday or an ethnic community and you haven’t been able to find it. We’ll put out the request, and maybe another reader will be able to help.

I hope you’ll think of FeedTheSpirit as an online community of people interested in food and in faith—and in how the twain often meet.