Food has the power to bring people together.
In my family, cookouts were the best time of the summer. It was a time to get together with family and close friends, to share and enjoy a meal where everyone helped in the preparation. We were masters at cramming way too many adults and children into a house built for five people. No wonder the festivities would spill out onto the porch, the backyard and the street. We would eat, dance, sing and play until early the next morning.
I miss those days. Don’t get me wrong, my family still gets together, but I am rarely able to attend. I moved away; over a thousand miles away to be exact. That’s quite a distance to travel for a family cookout; so, I had to adapt. Initially, I accepted invitations to events, but I always felt like an outsider. It never felt like home. When I had events at my house, I tried to create the feeling of home by inviting people who looked like me. That didn’t feel like home either because while everyone looked like me, they each had different experiences.
I spent years longing for the joy of the family cookout before I realized the joy was within reach the whole time. I was the one who needed to change. I didn’t seek to make this change and I didn’t receive sage advice from a village elder. I learned it from my husband.
My husband is a creative and his chosen profession is chef; so, the kitchen is where he creates. In the early years of our marriage, working together in the kitchen was painful. We were different people, from different culinary traditions. He was raised in North Carolina where the pork is pulled and soaked in a tangy vinegar sauce. I was from Detroit where pork is on a bone and the sauce is just modified ketchup. Our taste buds were different, and so were our methods.
I was very regimented. I followed recipes to the letter. My goal was to achieve the exact same taste every time. My husband was the complete opposite. He was an explorer, looking for something new. He never made the same thing twice; so, he had no need for recipes. Imagine us in the kitchen attempting to show the other how to cook the “right” way. Well after twenty-two years, I have learned there is no “right” way.
I had to learn to look at each meal without expectation and to stop asking for what he cooked last year because he found no excitement in repeating the past. At first, I hated the new flavors and the different recipes – I know that sounds ridiculous – but after many years, I learned to love them. I finally realized that the things that made him different were the things that made us better.
Now, I can look at experiences, like the family cookout, with a different perspective. Instead of looking to recreate the sights, smells, and relationships of the past, I use those relationships to build something new. I don’t forget about the past; it is one of my prized memories. But, now, as I look forward to the best ritual of the summer, I don’t long for the past. I anticipate the newness to come.
Food is one of the easiest ways to embrace other cultures. Over the years, we have found a few favorite recipes that build upon the traditions that shaped us but embrace the people we have become. We always use recipes as a base. We add ingredients, change the preparation, and make something new. We hope these recipes inspire you to create something new. Please share your creations in the comments.
There really isn’t a recipe for fruit salad, but it is the one dish that almost everyone enjoys. Fruit is the perfect snack and there are so many ways to prepare it. Spice it up with exotic fruits, serve it on skewers, freeze it or soak it in your favorite spirit.
Collard Green Cole Slaw
This is a recipe I found when preparing a meal for one of my good friends who is a vegetarian. We loved it so much that it has become a traditional dish, especially in the summer. When we prepare it, we substitute white balsamic vinegar for the cider vinegar and we add tomatoes. Wanna try it? Here’s the recipe I used.
Layered Pasta Salad
Pasta salad is another favorite dish for summer get-togethers. This recipe is one inspired by my aunt’s seven layer salad recipe. Feel free to switch up the ingredients. If you don’t like onions, leave them out. If you want to add meat, try boiled shrimp or bacon.
16 oz bag of pasta (small shells, macaroni, ziti)
1 red onion, chopped
½ cup yellow bell pepper, chopped
½ cup orange bell pepper, chopped
1 cup broccoli with stems removed
1 cup diced tomato
1 cup diced cucumber
10 ounces grated Parmesan cheese
2 cups of mayonaise
2 tablespoons of white sugar (optional)
1/2 cup Italian dressing
- Prepare past as directed on package. Strain, then rinse in cold water. Let it drain.
- Prepare the dressing by whisking together the mayonnaise, and the Italian dressing. Set aside.
- In a large flat bowl, place 1/3 of the cooked pasta in a dish, add the broccoli as the first layer, add the second 1/3 of the cooked pasta. Drizzle half of the dressing on top of the second layer of pasta.
- Combine the bell peppers and the onions. Add the bell pepper and onion mixture as the next layer. Continue layering the tomato, then the cucumber.s Add the last of the pasta and drizzle the remaining dressing. Add the grated parmesan cheese as the final layer.
Angelia McFarland is a writer, advocate, marketer and entrepreneur. Through her company EOP Media, LLC, she helps people use the power of digital and social marketing to amplify their authentic voice. Follow her on Facebook at @eopmedia
Brian McFarland is Executive Chef and proprietor of Sweet-n-Cheezy. Follow his creations on Facebook at @sweetncheezyTX