Historic Chautauqua is thriving (and sour cream banana bread)

A street scene in Chautauqua

A street scene in Chautauqua

After returning from Northern Ireland, which I wrote about last week, we spent a week at the Chautauqua Institution in Chautauqua, NY (in the very southwestern corner of the state).

A friend who has been going there for the past five years said it was “a magical place,” and she was right! The Chautauqua brochure describes it as “a festival for the mind, body and spirit.” We came home jazzed up intellectually but completely relaxed–a rare combination.

Many long-time Chautauquans (we were a distinct minority as newbies) asked how we’d heard about the place. I learned about it in high school American history class, and had always been curious.

An impressive history

The Everett Jewish Life Center

The Everett Jewish Life Center

Chautauqua got its start in 1874 as an outdoor school for training Methodist Sunday School teachers. Visitors from across the US and Canada–20,000 the first season, in two-week sessions–gathered to hear speakers on the Bible, biblical history, teaching and social issues.

By the early part of the 20th century, the “Chautauqua Movement” had grown to dozens of programs hosted by communities around the country, many of which produced traveling tent shows. The movement provided exposure to culture and education for thousands of Americans.

Today religion, philosophy and social issues are still an important part of the Chautauqua experience, though it is no longer affiliated with a particular church.

The “institution” comprises the entire town. There are private houses, B&Bs, apartments, hotels and more than a dozen “denominational” houses run by churches or faith groups to provide accommodations for their members at reasonable rates. (We stayed at the Everett Jewish Life Center, a bed-and-breakfast that opened six years ago.) Within the community, people travel by foot, bike or free shuttle bus. No one bothers to lock their bikes; many don’t even lock their doors.

Lots of retirees stay for the entire nine-week season.

Education and the arts

Music and the arts are important too. There’s a resident symphony orchestra, opera company, and theatre company, two art galleries and programs in music, art and dance for high school and college students, as well as a “children’s school” and day camp, billed as the country’s oldest.

A July 4 amphitheater concert by the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra

A July 4 amphitheater concert by the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra

Every week has themed lectures on social issues. The morning lectures for our week were on “Feeding a Hungry Planet,” and the afternoon lectures were on “Equal Justice for All?” The lectures were top-notch. Here are a few of the nuggets I gleaned from the morning sessions:

  • From Dennis Dimick, editor, and Jim Richardson, photographer, of National Geographic on “The Future of Food”: half of the food in the world is still grown by small farmers. To be sustainable, agriculture needs to rely on small family farms, not industrial farms, and we need to stop paving over farmland.
  • From Tracie McMillan, author of The American Way of Eating, and Amy Toensing, National Geographic photographer: At some point in their lives, nearly half the children in the United States will be on food assistance. Today, one in six Americans receives some sort of food assistance. “As a freelancer I know I’m one sickness or accident away from needing help myself,” said Tracie. She also said being your brother’s keeper means more than creating and supporting food banks. We should create public policies that will end the need for food banks.
  • Pamela Ronald, from the University of California at Davis and author (with Raoul Adamchak) of Tomorrow’s Table, spoke in defense ofgenetically engineered crops (a term she much prefers to “genetically modified”), a position many in the generally liberal audience found surprising. Genetically tweaking crops can greatly reduce the need for insecticide, said Ronald, who also favors organic farming.
  • From Barton Seaver, author of For Cod and Country, a cookbook: while the US has more coastline than any other country, we produce only 4 percent of the seafood we consume. He recommended eating domestically farmed seafood and eating lower on the food chain (e.g. more anchovies, sardines, herring, oysters and mussels and less tuna and salmon)
  • From Jonathan Foley, director of the Institute on the Environment at the University of Minnesota: The world human population will grow until 2050 and then level off. The challenge is to get through that time without causing permanent damage to the planet. His recommendations include a halt to deforestation; delivering more food on less land; producing food with less water and fewer chemicals; using more crops for humans and less for animals and biofuel; and reducing waste.

We enjoyed nightly concerts, nature walks, and book reviews. There were dozens of classes we could register for too (for an extra fee). My husband took a five-session class on sight-singing, and I took a single-session class on knife skills (move over, Julia Child!). On Friday evening we attended a lovely lakeside Jewish service  to welcome the Sabbath, led by a visiting rabbi from Youngstown, Ohio. Afterwards we were startled to hear  a song from the Sabbath service played on the bell tower’s carillon.

The Chautauqua philosophy

The Chautauqua philosophy

Diverse in Culture, Nation, Race

The people we met at Chautauqua were intelligent, inquisitive and eager to learn. They were also very white. Of the thousands of people in residence, we saw less than a dozen black people, a few people of East Asian heritage, one from India or Pakistan and two Arabs (who were there as leaders of an interfaith college program).

Institution administrators realize this is not ideal and are working to address the imbalance. The new director of the Department of Religion (which runs the afternoon lecture series) is the Rev. Dr. Robert Franklin, an African-American.

The guest preacher for the daily inter-denominational Christian services every morning during our week was Rev. Raphael Warnock of Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, Martin Luther King’s church, and the Ebenezer choir performed at the weekly Sacred Song concert. The institution is planning to open a “Martin Luther King House” similar to the denominational houses.

The ethos of Chautauqua was summed up for me in this verse from a hymn sung in the daily amphitheater service, which enticed me as I was out for a morning bike ride with the glorious sound of the pipe organ (said to be the largest outdoor organ in the country). It’s from Diverse in Culture, Nation, Race by Ruth C. Duck:

God let us be a table spread
With gifts of love and broken bread,
Where all find welcome, grace attends
And enemies arise as friends.

There doesn’t seem to be any particular food associated with Chautauqua. I chose today’s recipe in honor of the Chautauqua Farmers’ Market, held every weekday morning. In addition to fruits and veggies, several vendors sold homemade baked goods.

This recipe is adapted from one I found on www.food.com. It’s very moist and rich-tasting but not too sweet, and it’s excellent with cream cheese.

Hot cross buns are a Good Friday treat

Hot cross buns, photo by Shannon Hobbs via Wikimedia Commons.

Hot cross buns, photo by Shannon Hobbs via Wikimedia Commons.

 

Hot cross buns!
Hot cross buns!
One ha’ penny, two ha’ penny,
Hot cross buns!
If you have no daughters,
Give them to your sons
One ha’ penny,
Two ha’ penny,
Hot Cross Buns

These buns go back a long way, but for much of their history they were known simply as “cross buns.”

The earliest record of the familiar nursery rhyme is in Christmas Box, published in London in 1798. However, there are earlier references to it as a street cry. The earliest written record of the term “hot cross buns” was in Poor Robin’s Almanack for 1733, which noted:

Good Friday come this month, the old woman runs
With one or two a penny hot cross buns.

The fruit-studded sweet buns have become connected to Good Friday – more on this later – but it wasn’t always so.

An ancient custom?

Many scholars think the custom of baking buns and decorating them with a cross is much older. Archeologists found two small, burned loaves marked with crosses in the ruins of the Roman city of Herculaneum, destroyed by the same volcano that destroyed Pompei.

Pagan Saxons honored Eostre, the goddess of spring (and source of the word Easter) with loaves marked with crosses. They may have symbolized the four stages of the moon or the four seasons.

But as food historian Ivan Day says in a long article about hot cross buns, “The trouble with any folk food, any traditional food, is that no-one tended to write about them in the very early period.”

A symbol of the crucifixion

Christianity naturally adopted hot cross buns to symobolize the crucifixion of Jesus, along with numerous superstitions. In days of yore, people believed a bun baked on Good Friday would never go moldy. A bun hung in the kitchen would maintain safety in the home, and maybe even improve the quality of the baking done in it. Burying a hot cross bun in a pile of corn would keep away vermin.

An early Christian myth deals with St. Clare of Assisi and Pope Gregory IX.  The pope had come to Assisi for the canonization of St. Francis in 1228. Sister Clare invited him to share her humble meal of stale bread, and when she blessed it, a cross miraculously appeared on the loaf.

Hot cross buns for sale in an English supermarket; photo by Soin via Flickr Creative Commons.

Hot cross buns for sale in an English supermarket; photo by Soin via Flickr Creative Commons.

The world’s oldest bun

In 2010, the website World Amazing Records published the story of Nancy Titman, then 91, who claimed to have the world’s oldest hot cross bun. The bun, which has March 1821 on its base, was made in the London bakery of Nancy’s great-great-great-grandfather, William Skinner.

Nancy, from in northern England, said, “It’s a relic which has been passed down through the family. My mum said our ancestors worked in a baker’s shop and they believed buns baked on Good Friday didn’t go mouldy.

“It is rock hard and the currants have disintegrated but you can tell it’s a hot cross bun and you can still see the shape of the cross.”

A pub in London’s East End called The Widow’s Son has a connection to hot cross buns. The story is that a widow once lived on the site. Her only son a sailor who was due to return on Good Friday and asked his mother to bake him some hot cross buns.

He never returned, but every Good Friday, his mother had a new bun waiting, which she added to her collection from previous years. When she died, the buns were found hanging from a beam in her cottage. This story has been preserved by the landlords of the pub that replaced the cottage in 1848. Every year British sailors gather at the pub to eat hot cross buns, drink beer and have a good time.

An Elizabethan connection

In her book on English baking, Elizabeth David says Queen Elizabeth I cemented the connection between hot cross buns and Good Friday by forbidding bakeries to make any spiced bread “except it be at burials, or on Friday before Easter, or at Christmas.”

In the old days, the cross was marked with knife slashes in the dough before it was baked. Today it’s common for the cross to be made of icing.

Although their popularity peaks before Easter, fruit-studded hot cross buns are sold in Britain year-round – in a variety of flavors, no less – and have become one of the country’s most popular baked goods.

This recipe comes from the Fleischmann’sYeast Best-Ever Breads cookbook. The buns are lightly spiced, tender and full of dried fruits.

The recipe calls for a cup of chopped dates. I thought I had enough dates on hand, but I discovered someone else in the household had gotten to them and I only had a quarter-cup. I made up the difference with golden raisins and dried cranberries, and the buns were terrific!

This was my first time making this recipe, and as you can see from the photo, I wasn’t very adept at making the sign of the cross. (I don’t think that has anything to do with my being Jewish!)

You need to make the icing thicker than you would if making a glaze – and wait till the buns are completely cool before making the crosses. If you have a pastry bag or another method of piping it on, that will give you better results. It also might help to cut a cross into each bun before you bake them.

This recipe makes 18 buns.

Saloma Furlong’s Amish Sticky Buns as seen on PBS

Photo from Saloma Furlong's kitchen today. Used with her permission.

Photo from Saloma Furlong’s kitchen today. Used with her permission.

A NOTE FROM FeedTheSpirit HOST BOBBIE LEWIS: I am traveling this week and am pleased to welcome Saloma Furlong to our online home for stories—and recipes—about faith, family traditions and good food. Stay tuned! I’ll be back soon with some special stories about foods for Christian and Jewish holidays. Here’s Saloma ….

A TASTE OF MY AMISH HOME

By SALOMA FURLONG

At the end of my new book, Bonnet Strings: An Amish Woman’s Ties to Two Worlds, I include some recipes from the Amish community where I grew up. Among them, “Mem’s White Bread” holds the deepest memories. When my older brother and sister started going to school and I was the oldest one still left at home, I would oftentimes make bread right alongside my mother, Mem. She would start first thing in the morning to make all of her loaves. When she reached the stage of turning out her dough for kneading on her breadboard, she would give me a blob of dough and let me knead it right next to her.

Of course, she often had to throw out the loaf I made because I was small and I sometimes would drop my dough on the floor while I was kneading it. It could get pretty dirty. But, sometimes, my bread would make it all the way through the process—I wouldn’t drop it—and then I’d be so proud to eat it!

When I did start going to school, I would come home on bread-baking day and I would tell her: “Oh, you made bread today without me!” So, Mem actually changed her schedule and made bread later in the day, when I was home from school.

When I was growing up, Mem was known as the best bread baker in our church district. I learned how to bake Mem‘s white bread, but it wasn’t until I was baking professionally that I wrote down the recipe. Here is the closest I have come to duplicating Mem‘s bread, including her way of teaching me what the temperature of the water or milk should be when adding the yeast.

She also would make cinnamon rolls from that white bread dough. I don’t have a written-down recipe for that, from her, but I did find a recipe for what I call the “Sticky Bun Stuff” in a Mennonite cookbook that seems to me a perfect way to recreate Mem’s sticky buns.

If you would like to learn more about my story, which was featured in two films about the Amish on the PBS network, please read my interview with ReadTheSpirit Editor David Crumm.

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Mark the Spring Equinox by destroying Le Nain Rouge (and eating baked French Toast)

A Detroit brew pub has named a beer after Le Nain Rouge. Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

A Detroit brew pub has named a beer after Le Nain Rouge. Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

Let New Orleans have its Mardi Gras!  Detroit has the Marche du Nain Rouge, a unique parade designed to force the Red Dwarf (Le Nain Rouge) from the city.

This isn’t necessarily a story about food, but I wanted to do something related to the Spring Equinox and I found the legend of Le Nain Rouge intriguing. Supposedly whenever Le Nain has been sighted, a great tragedy has happened in the city.

Le Nain Rouge leads the parade. Photo by Dan Eklund via Flickr Creative Commons.

Le Nain Rouge leads the parade. Photo by Dan Eklund via Flickr Creative Commons.

First sighted in 1701

Le Nain Rouge was first seen by Detroit’s founder, Antione de la Mothe Cadillac, in 1701. He was strolling just outside the walls of Fort Ponchartrain, site of the original settlement, when Le Nain crossed his path. Cadillac drove it off, but it cursed him as it retreated.

Cadillac’s life was never the same. He was indicted by the French government on charges of illegal trafficking, removed from power and imprisoned. Although he was eventually cleared, he never regained his fortune or land in Detroit.

A portent of disaster

Later, Le Nain was spotted before a disastrous clash between the British and Chief Pontiac’s tribe; 58 British soldiers were killed. People claim to have seen Le Nain Rouge in 1805, just before a fire destroyed much of the City of Detroit.

During the War of 1812, General William Hull surrendered Fort Detroit without firing a shot after he reported seeing a dwarf dancing nearby. He became the only American officer sentenced to death for military incompetence (he was reprieved by President James Madison).

More recently, Le Nain was spotted in 1967, just before a week of civil disturbances erupted in Detroit, and in 1976, just before one of the worst ice storms the city ever experienced.

How will you recognize Le Nain Rouge if you see him? He’s not a very attractive character. He’s supposed to be child-sized and wear brown clothing with red or black fur boots. He has blazing red eyes and rotten teeth.

Drive him out!

La Marche du Nain Rouge drives the red dwarf out of Detroit, preventing him from plaguing the city and its residents for another year. It’s held on the Sunday closest to the Spring Equinox, which is appropriate timing, since the Spring Equinox symbolizes rebirth and new beginnings in numerous cultures.

La Marche du Nain Rouge is a parade and street carnival, similar to Mardi Gras and other Carnival celebrations.

A creative parade participant. Photo from Flickr Creative Commons.

A creative parade participant. Photo from Flickr Creative Commons.

A local dresses up as Le Nain Rouge, with a mask to conceal his (or her) identity. Le Nain leads the parade, followed by 12 Detroiters called La Bande du Nains. The band consists of a man, woman and child from each of four continents: Africa, the Americas (North and South), Asia and Europe. They dress in 18th century costumes, like the Detroiters who first drove Le Nain from the city, and carry pots and pans, sticks and canes.

Le Nain and La Bande are followed by musicians, floats and individual marchers. Costumes run the gamut from supernatural creatures and historical and political figures to just wild and crazy.

Originally La Marche du Nain Rouge followed one of Detroit’s oldest streets south to the Detroit River, where Le Nain was thrown. More recently, the march has ended at a city park where an effigy of Le Nain is burned.

If you’re anywhere near Detroit next Sunday, come join the fun! The march starts at 1 p.m. in the parking lot of the Traffic Jam and Snug, Canfield and Second, and moves down Cass to Temple, ending in Cass Park.

A not-really-French recipe

What does all this have to do with food? Not much, as I’ve already admitted, but I thought this was a cool story. In looking for a recipe to conclude this column, I remembered a great recipe for baked French toast. OK, so that’s not really French–but it’s a wonderful dish! It comes from a bed & breakfast we once stayed in called the Music Box Inn in Whitehall, Michigan.

You can use low-fat milk instead of the half & half if you want to reduce the fat, and it will still taste good – just not as good! With the half & half, it’s very rich and extremely delicious.

Be sure to use real maple syrup, not any of that god-awful fake stuff, and note that you need to start preparing it the night before you plan to eat it.

(The photo with the recipe is by Baking Junkie, via Flickr Creative Commons.)

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.


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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.

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.