Student gardeners grow stoplight salad and more

Detroit City Kids work and learn in the Garden of Love. Model D photo by Marvin Shaouni.

Detroit City Kids work and learn in the Garden of Love. Model D photo by Marvin Shaouni.

Now that the weather north of the Mason-Dixon Line is getting warm enough to at least think about gardening, I thought it would be a good time to run this article by Detroit freelance writer Amy Kuras. It originally appeared last January in Model D, an online newspaper, and is reprinted with permission.

Over the last two years, schoolyards at Detroit Public Schools all over the city have begun sprouting raised garden beds. Not only do these beds grow produce that nurtures students’ bodies, the gardens nurture their minds as well, being used in lessons across the curriculum from science classes to math and language arts.

The gardens are part of the Detroit School Garden Collaborative, a partnership between the Detroit Public Schools and The Greening of Detroit. The DSGC got started in 2012, with funding through the Healthy and Hunger Free Schools Act. Betty Wiggins, the executive director of the office of school nutrition for DPS, earmarked some of the funds the school district got from the government to start the program. When the gardening season gets started this April, the program will be active at 51 schools.

The school district provides six raised beds and clean soil to fill them, along with seedlings to plant. The principal at each building assigns a key teacher to helm the program and implement the curriculum. The district also provides a garden attendant to help the teacher keep the garden weeded and watered and assists with some of the lessons. And at some schools, they hire students age 14 and up to be garden assistants, who help tend the garden through the summer months and get to participate in field trips to see agricultural producers all over the state.

The district produces most of its own transplants for the garden beds as well, from a greenhouse maintained by students at the Randolph Vocational Center. Some classrooms also produce their own transplants in half the beds, the key teacher can grow whatever produce they want to use; in the other half, they grow what’s called “stoplight salad” — red tomatoes, yellow squash, and green zucchini. That goes on the menu at the school, so the kids are actually eating food they helped grow. It also goes to charter schools for which DPS is the school food authority.

A student gardener displays the fruits of her labor. Model D photo by Marvin Shaouni.

A student gardener displays the fruits of her labor. Model D photo by Marvin Shaouni.

Helping students eat better

“The overall goal is to have an impact on what these young people eat,” says Zaundra Wimberley, DPS director of school gardens and farms. “We want to have an impact on their thought process that an orange or an apple or a red pepper is just as viable a snack as a bag of Cheetos.”

Barbara Lothery, a fifth grade homeroom teacher at Nichols Elementary-Middle School in Indian Village and the co-lead teacher for the school’s garden club, says her students demonstrate a much greater awareness of where their food comes from and the impact it has on their health. “They’re so eager to even taste food that they may have been scared of before, or never liked,” she says. “One day we had some spinach and one little boy asked ‘Is this how real spinach tastes? I’ve only ever had it from the can.’ It blew me away.”

Lothery and her co-teacher, Angela Link, have around 10 kids in third through eighth grade in the garden club, and they also use the garden for lessons in math, science and language arts. Greening of Detroit created the curriculum they use. Lothery also emphasizes the career aspect for her students – that even though they are living in an urban environment, they can grow up to pursue careers in agriculture and make money doing something they enjoy.

The garden also illustrates how growing your own food can bring a healthier diet within reach for students whose families may struggle financially. Some parents have begun growing their own food at home, Lothery says, and one student told her she’d seen the price of organic spinach at the store and couldn’t believe they got it for free right out of the beds at school.

Nichols Elementary-Middle’s garden has drawn support from the surrounding neighborhood as well. The Indian Village Garden Club raised funds and brought volunteer muscle to build six additional raised beds at the school; they also helped use extra soil to create supplemental gardens around the fence line of the school. Volunteers helped Lothery construct a rustic classroom for the children, as well — they sawed pallets into tables and created stools out of a trunk from a tree that was cut down in the neighborhood. One volunteer even came in to teach the children about composting, Lothery says.

Community benefits

Community connections are one of the more important goals of the program, says Tepfirah Rushdan, Greening Of Detroit’s urban agriculture manager. When school is out for the summer the garden attendants will reach out to the community to distribute the produce that is ready to be harvested. At Nichols, their extra food goes to a senior center; other garden bounty goes directly to the neighborhood residents, at no charge.

“We want the garden to be part of the culture of the school, just like the gym or the cafeteria,” she says. Rushdan says she’s been struck by the effect being in the garden has had on children who might have some issues with behavior in a traditional classroom.

“They are the same ones sticking their hands in the dirt and pulling a wheelbarrow,” she says. “It’s a return to nature for a lot of student who don’t get the exposure to nature that their suburban counterparts may get.”

Lothery says she’s been extremely pleased with the reception her school’s garden has received from parents, volunteers and the community. “Everyone has been amazing,” she says. “Our garden is called the ‘Garden of Love,’ and everyone who comes over is just beautiful.”

The Model D article didn’t include a recipe for Stoplight Salad, but here’s something similar. I saw many different vegetable combinations online under the terms “stoplight salad” and “traffic light salad.” All you need to do is combine red, yellow and green veggies: tomatoes, cukes and yellow peppers, say, or tomatoes, green peppers and yellow squash, with a simple oil-and-vinegar dressing. One recipe even laid the salad out like a stoplight, with mounds of chopped green, yellow and red veggies in a vertical row on a bed of lettuce.


Please a picky eater with these marvelous meatballs

Many children don't even get this far in trying new foods! Photo by Clay Bitner via Flickr Creative Commons.

Many children don’t even get this far in trying new foods! Photo by Clay Bitner via Flickr Creative Commons.


A few years ago my book club read a wonderful book by Elizabeth Ehrlich called Miriam’s Kitchen. It’s a collection of essays, many connected with her mother-in-law Miriam, the foods she cooked and the lessons the author learned from her. Each chapter ends with recipes.

But the story I most remember from the book was a short anecdote about Ehrlich trying to feed her young children. Once Ehrlich labored to cook a veal stew and brought it to the table with a flourish. “Voila!” she said, as she presented it to her hungry family. Whereupon her 3-year-old said, “I hate voila!”

I’ve been thinking about that story now that my 3-year-old granddaughter has been visiting for Passover. She has a similar response to most new foods: “I don’t like it!” she’ll say, wrinkling her cute little nose, even though she’s never eaten it.

How do children learn to be picky?

Some kids won't eat fruit OR junk food. Photo by David Goehring via Flickr Creative Commons.

Some kids won’t eat fruit OR junk food. Photo by David Goehring via Flickr Creative Commons.

Most children eat almost everything when they start on solid food. But as soon as they learn to say “no,” it seems they use the word very liberally when it comes to food.

When my kids were little, I thought there must be some kind of pre-school underground where they learned this stuff. “Don’t eat the crusts, crusts are bad,” I imagined one toddler saying to another. “Don’t eat raisins, raisins are yuck.”

How else to explain why kids who cheerfully ate an entire sandwich and gobbled “raisin boxes” by the dozen would suddenly refuse to eat bread unless the crust was removed and would no longer touch a dried grape?

Being stuck with a truly picky eater can be very frustrating. Parenting magazines, books and website are full of advice, most of which doesn’t work, as Debbie Koenig can attest.

You can lead a kid to food but you can’t make him eat

Koenig, a food writer and cooking teacher, wrote about her son Harry’s picky eating on Parents magazine’s website. Here are some of the strategies she tried:

  • Sam-I-Am-ing: We tried to encourage Harry to just take a single bite—hey, he might be surprised by how good it tastes. He stalled, he sobbed, he finally succumbed … and I felt like the worst mother in the world. Who wants her child to succumb to food?
  • Bartering: We promised dessert in exchange for a mouthful of a new food. That iron-willed whippersnapper would just forgo the treat—something I’d never be able to do.
  • Going dessert-neutral, serving it together with the rest of the meal, so as not to turn it into a reward. (That’s right, we flip-flopped.) I was pleasantly surprised that Harry didn’t gorge on sweets, but he also rarely tasted a new food.
  • Reverse psychology: We told Harry that the delicious gnocchi, over which his dad and I were loudly oooing and aaaahing, was off limits to kids. Nope, no siree, he couldn’t have any. This was generally met with a shrug and a request for more yogurt.
  • Homemade versions of processed foods: He turned up his nose at my meatballs, preferring one particular brand of frozen minis. Hand-cut-and-breaded fish sticks went untouched. Macaroni and cheese, my mom’s recipe instead of the powdered packet? “That’s not macaroni and cheese,” he said, fighting tears.
  • Cooking with Harry: Experts insist that kids are more likely to eat food they helped to make. For a while, Harry was happy to be my sous chef, although he never tasted the results. And then one day I suggested that since he’d enjoyed spinning the salad so much, he might like to try some. He packed up his specially purchased, kid-friendly knives that very day.

A healthy appetite

At age 6 months, my granddaughter ate almost everything, even lentils!

At age 6 months, my granddaughter ate almost everything, even lentils!

We may roll our eyes when we get the “I don’t like it!” response. But we can hardly complain, because our granddaughter is still a good eater. She does have her favorites: watermelon, pizza, pasta (with and without sauce), scrambled eggs and “chicken on the bone” (a drumstick—with no skin!). She won’t touch a green bean, but she adores artichokes, black olives and Chinese food.

She also adores this recipe for sweet-and-sour meatballs. Last January she was sick and in the hospital for several days, with little appetite. When she felt better, the only food she requested was meatballs. One of my daughter’s friends brought her a containerful, and she downed about three servings before coming up for air.

Come to think of it, I haven’t met a kid who doesn’t like these meatballs, and they’re extremely easy to make.



Celebrating the Season of Gratitude

Photo by Evelyn Lim

Photo by Evelyn Lim

As Thanksgiving approaches, many of us start thinking about what we’re grateful for. I asked my Facebook friends and got some interesting answers:

  • I’m grateful that you and I are still breathing, still know each other and still have our wits about us!
  • I am grateful for so many births and young people in the family for filling a small part of the space lost from loved ones departed. I am grateful those departed are forever woven into the fabric of our lives and not so gone after all.
  • I’m grateful more than anything for lessons in human awareness. Learning how to be kinder, more compassionate, whatever the circumstance, for speaking up for what is true to me instead of suppressing emotions. Those close to me would say this is a very good thing.
  • I’m thankful for my mom. Even though she’s been gone for almost 10 years, she’s still my best friend and my rock. Every day, I still feel like she’s right by my side. I’m so thankful for all the days I was able to laugh, hug, and hear her voice.
  • I am most grateful for all those I know who are more about “us” than “me,” who have a social conscience.
  • I am most grateful for the full, rich life I have, which has nothing to do with “stuff” and everything to do with having an awesome son, amazing and loving family and friends, and a deep spiritual connection to my religion.
  • Having worked in hospice for the last 10 years, I have learned to be grateful for the things that we take for granted. I find myself, daily, being grateful for my wonderful parents, who nurtured me, gave me a strong Jewish identity including moral guidelines and a strong sense of awe for the miracles that are daily with us. Due to this safe, nurturing home, all of the other blessings in my life have followed.

One thing I am grateful for is being a board member of WISDOM, Women’s Interfaith Solutions for Dialogue in Metro Detroit, an amazing and diverse group of women committed to fostering interfaith connections through friendship.

In fact, a book by WISDOM members, Friendship & Faith, was one of the first books published by Read the Spirit!

In about 10 days, WISDOM will host one of its periodic potluck dinners, where participants are encouraged to bring dishes that represent their religious or ethnic heritage.

This is a good month for a WISDOM potluck, because it perfectly defines the type of Season of Gratitude event envisioned by the  Interfaith Leadership Council of Metropolitan Detroit (IFLC).

Lincoln's Thanksgiving Proclamation

Lincoln’s Thanksgiving Proclamation

We associate Thanksgiving with the Pilgrims, and churches and villages in the colonial and early American periods often held annual harvest dinners similar to the first Thanksgiving.

But Thanksgiving didn’t truly become an American holiday until 1863, when President Abraham Lincoln’s issued a Thanksgiving Proclamation, inviting “my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens.”

You’ll find lots of fascinating historical materials about Lincoln and Thanksgiving at our Lincoln Resource Page. In addition, the IFLC has prepared a guide, available online, to help congregations and organizations plan a Season of Gratitude event—a “salon” (discussion group), or meal, or a combination—that is open to people of all faiths. “The event should celebrate and demonstrate gratitude for all of the diverse contributions people make to our civic community,” notes the IFLC’s guide.

Here is the recipe for the dish I plan to bring to the WISDOM potluck: Jerusalem kugel. A kugel is a pudding, It’s most often made of noodles, but can also be made of potatoes, corn, rice, zucchini or just about any grain or vegetable bound with eggs and baked. Most people pronounce it with a “u” like in “sugar,” but others say “koogle” or even “kiggle.”

A Jerusalem kugel is a sweet-and-spicy noodle pudding, with lots of caramelized sugar and black pepper.

I’m also planning to bring it to my sister’s house for Thanksgiving dinner, because Thanksgiving this year coincides with Chanukah. That’s a subject for another blog. Suffice it to say that traditional Chanukah foods use a lot of oil, usually to fry the food in. This dish is not fried, but it does use a lot of oil so it qualifies.

Jerusalem kugel for sale at a Jerusalem market

Jerusalem kugel for sale at a Jerusalem market

Most recipes direct you to cook the noodles, then caramelize the sugar in the oil and add it to the noodles with the eggs. I adapted this recipe from one that appeared in the New York Times in 2005. You caramelize the sugar first, then add water to it for cooking the noodles. I found this to be an easier method that results in a smoother consistency, without little hard bits of caramelized sugar in the kugel. It’s somewhat time-consuming but well worth the effort.

You have to be careful when caramelizing the sugar. If you let it go even 30 seconds too long, it will burn. And if you’ve never done it, you may not know what to expect. This is what happens when you mix the sugar with the oil and heat it: First the sugar will seem to dissolve, but much of the oil will remain separate. As the mixture continues to cook, it will seem to solidify as the oil is absorbed, and you’ll have clumps of moistened sugar. Keep stirring. Finally the sugar will start to melt and turn brown. Stir it constantly and watch it like a hawk. As soon as the color is golden brown, almost as dark as you want, pull it off the flame–I say “almost” because the hot syrup will continue to cook for short while.

This makes a very large kugel, enough to feed 12 or more. To make a smaller kugel, use 8 ounces of noodles, ⅓ cup oil, 1¼ tsp. salt, ½ tsp. black pepper, 1 cup sugar and 3 eggs, and bake it in an 8-inch square pan.

What’s kosher? (Part 2, with beef and eggplant ragout)

Kosher meat in a supermarket.

Kosher meat in a supermarket.

The basics of kashrut, the Jewish dietary laws, were in my column last week (along with a delicious easy recipe for blintz souffle). This is the second part of my introduction to keeping kosher.

Some people “keep kosher” because they truly believe it was commanded by God. Others do it so that members of their family–usually more religious parents or, increasingly, newly religious children–will eat in their homes. Some like the reminder, every time they eat, that they are part of a people with a history going back more than five millennia. Some feel the practice helps elevate the act of eating into something meaningful, even holy.

The vast majority of Jews do not “keep kosher” but some avoid certain inherently unkosher foods such as pork. If you invite someone Jewish to a meal, it’s a good idea to ask if there’s anything they do not eat. (Actually, considering how common food allergies have become, that’s a good question to ask when inviting anyone!)

Hosting kosher- or halal-keeping guests

Strictly orthodox Jews will not eat any food that is not certified kosher and prepared in a kosher kitchen, even if all the ingredients are kosher. Many who are less strict (like me) will eat in restaurants or in non-kosher homes, as long as the food itself is kosher.

If you want to invite a kosher-keeping Jew or a halal-keeping Muslim to eat with you, you’ll probably want to prepare a meal that revolves around fish and vegetables, or find a restaurant where there are vegetarian options or a lot of fish (but not shellfish, a category of food that’s not allowed).

If your recipe calls for chicken or beef stock and you want to use it for a meatless meal, substitute vegetable stock.

For Muslim guests, be sure to avoid using wine or liqueur in cooking and also make sure that there’s no alcohol in any of your ingredients, such as red wine or balsamic vinegar.

A wide variety of symbols signify a product is kosher. The product at bottom right also has a Halal designation for Muslims.

A wide variety of symbols signify a product is kosher. The product at bottom center also has a Halal designation for Muslims.

Kosher certification

Be careful about using prepared foods in cans, jars or boxes.

Kashrut-observant Jews rely on a complicated system in which religious authorities supervise the production of food products and certify that they are kosher. The manufacturers indicate this status with a “hechsher.” But it’s not that hard to find food with a hechsher.

Sue Fishkoff, in her book Kosher Nation says about one-third to one-half of the food for sale in the typical American supermarket is kosher. That means more than $200 billion of the country’s estimated $500 billion in annual food sales is of items that are certified kosher. Not bad for a religious group that makes up less than 2 percent of the U.S. population!

The most common hechsher is the one provided by the Union of Orthodox Rabbis: a “U” inside a circle,” commonly called the “O-U.” You probably have many cans and boxes in your cupboard with this symbol without realizing what it means.

Other common symbols include the “O-K” (a K inside a circle), and the “triangle K” (a K inside a triangle).

If there’s a “D” next to the symbol, it indicates the product contains dairy ingredients. A “DE” indicates it was made on equipment that is also used to make dairy foods. A “P” indicates it’s kosher for Passover, a holiday that provides an additional set of dietary demands.

A simple “K” on a product means the manufacturer believes it contains nothing unkosher–but the production has not been supervised by any Jewish organization. This is acceptable to some but not to others.

There are nearly 1,000 known kosher certification symbols from all over the world. You can find an illustrated list here. 

In areas with large Muslim populations, you may see some packaged foods with a “halal” certification.

For an interesting perspective on kosher certification, read this Huffington Post blog by Conservative Rabbi Jason Miller, founder of the Kosher Michigan certification organization.

Last week I shared a kosher dairy recipe, so this week I’m sharing a recipe for meat. This came from my friend Ruth Marcus. She called it “moussaka” but it doesn’t have the traditional béchamel sauce you find in Greek moussaka (because that is made with milk and it wouldn’t be kosher). So I’ve renamed it Beef and Eggplant Ragout. The eggplant disappears in the cooking so it’s a good dish for families with kids who hate veggies. And it freezes very well.

Bread and Wine; The Lost Ravioli Recipes of Hoboken: Serving up good books … and good recipes!

two interesting books about food have caught my eye and I’m happy to recommend them to you. Both include recipes, but they’re not cookbooks.

Shauna Nyquist

Shauna Niequist

The first is Bread & Wine: A Love Letter to Life Around the Table with Recipes, by Shauna Niequist whose website tells more about her life. Bread & Wine is similar in many ways to Feed The Spirit: It’s a collection of essays about family, faith, values–and food!

The second book is The Lost Ravioli Recipes of Hoboken: A Search for Food and Family by Laura Schenone. It’s a fascinating tale of the author’s search for her  culinary roots.

I will call these authors by their first names, because after reading their books, I feel I know so much about them and their lives.

Life’s “beautiful and broken moments”

In Bread & Wine, Shauna writes about “the beautiful and broken moments of everyday life–friendship, family, faith, food, marriage, love, babies, books, celebration, heartache, and all the other things that shape us, delight us, and reveal to us the heart of God.”

Each essay is followed by a recipe. Shauna says she likes nothing better than gathering family and friends around her table and feeding them. She’s a devout Christian, and the title refers to the bread and wine used sacramentally in the church as well as the food and spirits that sustain us on a daily basis. Shauna says the moments she feels God’s presence most profoundly take place around a table.

Although she has developed into an excellent cook, she stresses that she didn’t start out that way. She frequently reminds us that the complexity and sophistication of the food have little to do with the quality of the experience of sharing food. “Some of my most sacred meals have been eaten out of travel mugs on camping trips or on benches on the street in Europe,” she says.

Shauna advises anyone unused to cooking for guests to “start where you are.” If entertaining is not something you’re used to, invite people over and serve pizza with a salad and bottled dressing, on paper plates if necessary. As you get comfortable with the idea of being a host or hostess, you can become a little more adventurous and start experimenting.

Laura Schenone

Laura Schenone

A search for culinary roots

Award-winning food writer Laura Schenone has a mixed ethnic heritage that includes Croatian, Irish, German and Italian great-grandmothers.

In her early 40s, living in suburban New Jersey with a husband and two young sons, she found herself yearning to be able to cook something that could span generations and tell a story. She wanted, she says, “a recipe I could trace from my family, back into history, further and further back, into an ancient past. Even more importantly – a recipe that could take me to a landscape more beautiful than postindustrial New Jersey….I wanted nothing more and nothing less than an authentic old family recipe.”

She turned to her father’s Italian family to find it. Her Italian great-grandmother, Adalgiza, had come to America – to Hoboken, New Jersey – from Genoa, where ravioli is an essential component of the cuisine. Adalgiza’s ravioli, Laura says, were “the real deal.”

Laura sets out not only to find the “original” recipe but to learn how to make ravioli the old way, rolling and flipping the dough until it is so thin it’s translucent and crimping the filled squares with an ancient ravioli press. It took a lot of practice, often testing the patience of her husband and sons. Armed with Adalgiza’s ravioli recipe – passed down to an aunt, who wrote it out, and then to a cousin – Laura sets off to visit Genoa, on Italy’s Ligurian coast. She also visits Recco, the small mountain town where her great-grandfather was born.

By Ewan Munro from London, UK (La Barca, Waterloo, London  Uploaded by tm) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

By Ewan Munro from London, UK (La Barca, Waterloo, London Uploaded by tm) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

She discovers that Ligurian cuisine is quite different from the southern Italian foods most of us are familiar with. She learns that poverty, more than anything else, drove millions of Italians from their homeland to America in the 19th and early 20th centuries. The mountain folk were so poor that they could rarely afford wheat for pasta and olive oil, now considered staples of Italian cuisine. They were nourished by the chestnut trees that grew around them, using the wood for furniture and the dried nuts to make flour. They flavored their dishes with mushrooms and herbs found in the chestnut forests.

Prepare all the ingredients before cooking.

Prepare all the ingredients before cooking.

A fancy but not-too-difficult recipe

Laura’s recipes are really complex and look daunting even for an experienced cook like me. But she includes detailed instructions and lots of photos. Shauna’s recipes are less intimidating. Here is one that she adapted from Sally Sampson’s book The $50 Dinner Party. Shauna says it may look difficult because of the long list of ingredients, but it’s mostly just chopping and throwing things into the pot. I recommend mixing up the spices and getting everything chopped before you start cooking.

The recipe says it serves six. Shauna says she often doubles the recipe to serve 10 to 12 and serves it with a simple green salad and pita or naan. And I halved it for my husband and me. Half the recipe made enough for two generous dinners and two lunches. It tastes great left over!

If you think you don’t like Indian food, this might change your mind. It’s spicy-flavorful, not spicy-hot. If you don’t like hot, leave out the cayenne pepper. If you like heat, add a little more.


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!