December 2023

Holiday Greetings, Readings, and Eatings

It’s hard to believe that we’ve reached the end of 2023. Looking back on all of our Kitchen Table activities, from the monthly Conversations, Kitchen Labs, Sifter Asks, and Wiki Club to the incredibly successful Symposium in July… what a delicious year it has been. In just the past few months, we’ve had several opportunities to share experiences and insights, flavors and fragrances as noted in this brief selection from our autumn season.

At the end of October, we dusted off the Kitchen Table Conversations and laid out a fresh spread for friends old and new. With moderator Cameron Stauch, Dr. Karen E. Fisher, Mohammed Shwamra, and Janie Mac spoke about Food and Migration. Mohammed joined us from Zaatari Refugee Camp in Syria where he is project manager and translator on the book he’s publishing with Karen, titled Zaatari: Culinary Traditions of the World’s Largest Syrian Refugee Camp. Karen spoke about the communal dining rituals at Zaatari, describing how beautifully “food nourishes the soul” in the ways it keeps people together during the most difficult circumstances. Similarly, Janie spoke about the efforts of Refugee Community Kitchen to feed displaced people in the north of France, illuminating the various challenges the organization has faced when feeding people who arrive at their door from all over the world. 

At December’s Kitchen Lab, Birgitte Kampmann was joined by Dr. Nader Mehravari and Professor Samar Khatiwala to teach us about the overlaps of Persian and Indian cuisines. The event was full of information, technical instruction, and descriptions of fabulous aromas in the homes of those attendees who were cooking along. Seeing (and for some, smelling and tasting) the ways that geography, trade routes, and migration — whether forced or voluntary — have influenced both cuisine and culture was not only fascinating but also a poignant reminder of October’s conversations about refugee foodways. 

The day after this kitchen lab, the Kitchen Table became crowded with stacks of books as Cathy Kaufman moderated a Conversation with Elisabeth Luard, Ken Albala, Matt Sartwell, and Eric Treuille. This stunning panel shared their expertise in food writing (from writing it to publishing and selling it) and opened up a delightful conversation about buying books as gifts, where to find books that offer what Elizabeth called “armchair cooking,” and the ways food writing has changed over the years to include food memoirs and travelogues. The discussion of the differences between “cooking books” and “reading books” was lively and certainly left several of us with a long wish list of books we suddenly can’t be without. And the tantalizing idea of an OFS Food Book Club offers an exciting new prospect for 2024.

All of this just goes to show that we are surrounded by reminders, at this busy time of year, of the various and beautiful ways food can unite us across boundaries of all types. Whether it’s holiday rituals that help us feel closer to missing loved ones, or flavors and fragrances that transport us to a home we can’t reach, food remains an essential part of our year-end celebrations and our hopes for the new year. Wishing you all a happy and fulfilling holiday season and a wonderful new year!

by Rebecca D. Mazumdar

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