Got pickle questions? Please, just ask us …

A jar of half-sour pickles

A jar of half-sour pickles

Got questions? Feed The Spirit hopes to help! Here’s an example …

Constant reader and Read the Spirit columnist Debra Darvick had a few questions about making pickles, after reading guest writer Eliezer Finkelman’s recent Feed The Spirit column: Pickles with character! Tips for pickling more than cucumbers. Debra asked about using an enameled metal pot for fermenting and also whether the crock should be covered.

We asked Eli to respond:

It gives me great pleasure to try to help my friend Debra with pickle-related questions.

I do not know the answer about enameled metal. I would worry about whether the iron might react with the brine, if there exist any cracks in the enamel. I would prefer a non-reactive vessel, such as glass or plastic.

You do not want a tight-fitting lid. As the pickles ferment, the brine gives off a gas. As my son discovered in his first attempt at copying his father-in-law’s pickle recipe, if you let it ferment in a sealed vessel, the vessel will explode, and your kitchen will smell of pickles for a substantial time thereafter.

Or you could have a tight-fitting lid, as long as you do not seal it tightly. Covering the vessel as the pickles ferment serves to keep “stuff” out. People usually use cloth. You also might want to cover the cukes and tomatoes with a weighted plate to keep the cukes below the brine level.

(Feed The Spirit host Bobbie Lewis adds: My daughter took one look at my plastic tub of fermenting veggies and said, “You should cover that”—so we put the tub lid on top of the tub slightly askew, and didn’t fasten it.) 

The whitish froth on the top of a batch of fermenting pickles  occurs as a normal part of the process.
You can get peppercorns at supermarkets or groceries without too much trouble, I think. I have not tried pickles w/o peppercorns, but I bet they would work, just tasting a little different. (Bobbie: Look for “whole black pepper” in the spice aisle.)
The pickles ripen faster in hot weather than in cold. Taste them after a few days at room temperature, and you might find half-sours. After a week or two at room temperature, you probably will taste old-fashioned sour pickles. These pickles should look and taste like classic sour pickles.

If you started with large cucumbers, the texture might feel a little different: not as firm.

Good luck, and hearty appetite!

Got questions? Feed The Spirit hopes to help! Add your question as a Comment, below. And, please, share these columns with friends by clicking on the blue-“f” Facebook icon or the envelope-shaped email icon.

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.


Pickles with character! Tips for pickling more than cucumbers.

This week’s blog is by Louis (aka Eliezer) Finkelman, a rabbi, scholar, teacher and freelance writer as well as a gardener, cook, home brewer and vintner and assistant to the cheese-maker with whom he shares his Southfield, Michigan home.

UPDATE: Got questions on pickling? Just ask by adding a comment below. Eli already has answered one set of questions here.

Eli Finkelman with his cucumber plants

Eli Finkelman with his cucumber plants

Robust cucumber plants in my backyard garden have started to flower, and when that happens, my thoughts return to pickles.  About this time of year, I remember Mr. Fenster’s sour pickles, which contributed significantly to the joy to my childhood.

Barrel pickles by the pound

We bought our pickles at Mr. Fenster’s Appetizing Store under the elevated subway station a few blocks from the New York house where I grew up. We walked to that store about every week; I even worked there one summer. Pickled cucumbers and green tomatoes floated in a huge wooden barrel near the entrance to the store. Like the other customers, we would bring a glass jar, washed since it last held jelly or peanut butter. Other customers might ask for “half sours,” but we would ask for “sours.” While we watched, Mr. Fenster stuffed the jar with the maximum number of pickles, and poured brine, “pickle juice,” over them to fill the jar.

These pickles had character.

When the experts at Consumer Reports rated commercial pickles last year, they were not looking for anything like Mr. Fenster’s sour pickles. Consumer Reports wanted vinegar-cured pickles that have bright colors, crispy skins and crunchy textures. I have no nostalgic feelings for vinegar-cured pickles.

Produced by natural fermentation

A crock of sour pickles

A crock of sour pickles

A jar of half-sour pickles

A jar of half-sour pickles

Sour pickles get produced by natural fermentation, just like bread, sour cream, yogurt, wine and beer. Microorganisms change the sugar in cucumbers into lactic acid.  If you want to make anything that relies on fermentation, you learn to keep the little microorganisms happy. When they’re happy, they will do nice things to your food.

The trick to sour pickles is having the right amount of salt in your brine. Too much salt and the microorganisms do not thrive, the brine stays clear, and you wind up with something that tastes like a salted cucumber. Too little salt, and who knows what might happen! If you get the right amount,  the microorganisms thrive. After a few days, gas bubbles out of the salt water, which turns greenish and cloudy, giving off a magic aroma. What were once mere cucumbers turn first to half-sours, and then to that triumph of culinary art, the sour pickle.

Keep those microorganisms happy!

Eli Finkelman prepares to pickle his first harvest of cukes.

Eli Finkelman prepares to pickle his first harvest of cukes.

So how much salt makes the right little microorganisms happy? Sandor Katz, in his book Wild Fermentationsays between two and three tablespoons per quart of water, yielding a solution between 3.6 and 5.4 percent salt by weight. Jamie Geller, author of the “Joy of Kosher” blog,  recommends one-half cup per gallon, which agrees with Katz’s lower number. Use kosher salt or pickling salt, not iodized table salt.

Some recipes insist on stuffing as many cukes as possible into your fermentation jar. That seems to me like nostalgia for what Mr. Fenster did after the pickles had fermented. You can do this if you want to; it may help keep the cukes below the level of the brine. But the cukes will pickle just as nicely if they swim freely in a tub. The important thing is not to let them above the brine.

The pickles turn sour because the little microorganisms produce lactic acid. The longer you wait, the more intense the sour flavor.  Eat them when they are as sour as you like them.

Add some spices

Besides the salt and water, it’s spices that give the pickles the traditional “kosher pickle” flavor. Do not use a package of pickling spices from the supermarket; it  might include all sorts of spices that belong nowhere near a sour pickle, such as cloves and allspice other items that belong with a vinegar pickle.

For every quart of brine, add a few whole, peeled cloves of garlic, a few peppercorns, a few mustard seeds, and some dill – either dill seeds or feathery dill leaves.  Mr. Fenster also added a few tiny dried hot peppers, and you should too, unless you cannot stand the heat.

Use fresh, small cukes. Keep them whole, but cut off the blossoms.

If you pickle cukes in a glass jar, shake it up a couple of times a day, to make sure that the brine can touch every spot on every cucumber. Be sure there are no air pockets. If you make pickles in a plastic bucket or a crock, swirl it around and make sure that no cucumbers float above the surface. The surface might turn moldy, but the pickles, under the moldy surface, are doing fine.

In Wild Fermentation, Sandor Katz suggests putting a weighted plate on the surface of the brine, to keep the cukes below sea level. You can let keep them in the fridge, or you can let them ferment faster at room temperature, like Mr. Fenster did. (Katz also has a blog with the same name, Wild Fermentation.)

Try this idea to speed things up

A jar of pickled green tomatoes

A jar of pickled green tomatoes

I never saw this next idea in a recipe for pickles, but it works for every other fermented product, so I bet it would help with pickles. If you happen to have a jar of fermented pickles – the real thing, not the shelf-stable vinegar pickles – then you can add a splash of the brine from the pickle jar to your pickling brine. This will give a head start to the right kind of microorganisms in your jar or bucket or crock.  Mr. Fenster did not have to do that, because the right kind of microorganisms had been living in his wooden pickle barrel for years.

When the first frost warnings appear this fall, you might have a bucketful of green tomatoes in your garden and no good ideas for what to do with them. Do not despair!  Pickle the tomatoes the same way you pickled the cucumbers, or pickle a mixed barrel of cukes and tomatoes.

How do you know when the pickles are done?  A half-sour looks like a cucumber, maybe a little more translucent, and tastes like a cucumber, but saltier, and with a little sourish snap. A sour pickle looks translucent, is dull olive green in color, and tastes like, well, like one of the joys of my childhood, like a link to my ancestors.

When your pickles are sour, move them to the refrigerator, and keep them in the brine. Serve them with meat sandwiches, or chopped up in potato salad. Or, on a hot day when you have been working in the garden, just eat a whole sour pickle right out of the barrel!

If you need another pickle recipe or two here is one from Cookography and one from the New York Times.

Since making pickles is more of a method than a recipe, today’s recipe is for potato salad that includes a chopped sour pickle.

What foods bring you back to your childhood? Can you share a story and a recipe?

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


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, 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.