Sharing Food, Sharing Stories from Spain to Syria to Minnesota

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The phrase breaking bread together is an immediately recognizable metaphor for connecting, for meeting up, for sharing. Sharing food, sharing stories are basic ways of enjoying friendships old and new, marking family milestones, celebrating events, breaking down barriers. Come along to learn about three books which are as much about sharing stories and moments of connection as they are about teaching you favorite recipes.

From the Source: Spain comes from the travel experts at Lonely Planet. Artisan cooks and chef and producers from big city and rural countryside are interviewed and given space to explain their dishes and expand on their passions. Individual voices come through clearly in the narrative, in the recipes, and in the photographs. As each dish is presented the creators have distinct personalities which shine through.

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The recipes and stories are organized by region and maps help you locate each place within its region. Makers range from award winning chefs to cooks at rural family restaurants; each has a story to tell of food, place, and connection. Dishes include ones you might know — churros, for instance, or gazpacho — and ones that are less familiar, such as Fabada Asturiana and Tarta de Santiago.

Chefs and home cooks got together to create Cook for Syria, too, but in a rather different way. It began with a group of friends in England who wanted to do something to help the children in the war torn country of Syria. Clerkenwell Boy and Suitcase magazine spearheaded an effort for a month of hosted dinners in homes, restaurant special nights, and other events. Money was raised in aid of UNICEF’s Syria Relief fund via Next Generation London (UNICEF’s youth branch). Out of this came the cookbook Cook for Syria.

In the book, world renown chefs including Nuno Mendes, Angela Hartnett, and Jamie Oliver share Syrian and Syrian inspired dishes. Home cooks offer recipes handed down through their families across generations.

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Dishes include lamb and sour cherry meatballs, fatteh’d magdous (stuffed eggplant in tomato sauce), broad beans with garlic, olive oil cake with yogurt sorbet and dozens more. The creators and organizers also offer tips on how to host warm and welcoming dinner parties featuring these dishes, in the hope that this initiative for helping the children of Syria will spread. All the recipes, the photography, publicity, and other aspects of the book are donated, so that proceeds from its sale may also go UNICEF’s Syria Relief fund. The photography and the stories will bring you into the recipes; the recipes compliment and extend the ideas and the sharing of culture.

Amy Thielen knows about sharing ideas and culture through food, too. She grew up in rural northern Minnesota near the headwaters of the Mississippi. She also spent seven years cooking on the line at top New York city restaurants. When she and her husband decided to move back to northern Minnesota, Thielen combined her knowledge and experience into an appreciation of locally sourced food and recipes. The result is her book The New Midwestern Table.

Each recipe is introduced with vivid and at times funny stories of midwestern life and food. The photographs compliment this, varying among photos of the dishes themselves, the making of the food, and midwestern landscapes. Recipes include classic chicken and wild rice soup, butter basted wall eye with thyme, greens with birch mushroom dressing, cranberry and port tart, and more. Thielen knows her way with words; she is a James Beard award winning writer. The recipes, stories, and photographs all work to create an engaging journey.

Each of these three books is great for reading and enjoying and looking at photographs whether you choose to make any of the dishes or not. Food to share, stories to share, connections to make: these books are gateways to all of these, and to understanding the people and cultures of the places they celebrate.

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