The Family that Cooks Together Stays Together

I just received the Holiday 2010 donation-reminder catalogue from the organization Heifer International ( www.heifer.org ) and I found an interesting little sidebar article that I thought was a terrific idea. ( I support the work that Heifer does and we are among their yearly contributors.)

I am sharing the idea and copying the article here for AEP readers because it reminded me of the importance of  family traditions during the holidays, because, well, holidays are about ‘ family.’

The title of the piece is THE FAMILY THAT COOK TOGETHER STAYS TOGETHER ( for those with the catalogue it is on page 7).  Not only is this idea in sync with the core tenets of Heifer International’s mission but it is also valuable fodder for those of us living hectic lives with family scattered in many places.

Here is what the piece said:

” If you plan ahead this year, it’s possible to put together inexpensive holiday gifts that preserve culinary traditions and encourage healthful home cooking. Try compiling a collection of family recipes and have a family cookbook printed and bound for each household on your list. Include old favorites from past generations and solicit contributions from new in-laws. Your local office supply store can probably help you assemble the originals for reproduction – copy the original hand-written recipes if you have them! This project is also great for church groups, mom’s groups and other social clubs. ”

Food magazines and cookbooks have been focusing on the notions of ‘preserving traditions’ and ‘getting Grandma to put her favorite recipes down on paper’ for some time now. Traditions can be about large concepts such as Christmas in xxx Country or it can be as finely focused as the silly but wonderful traditions within our own families. So here is fodder to create that family recipe book …if not for this Christmas then surely for the next !

Those of us who work in the food business know the importance of food to the human spirit beyond the primary need of providing sustenance and nutrition. Food heals, food binds, food comforts, food educates, food defines our roots and cultures, food empowers and food makes good times even better

This is the season to wish for plentiful food on the table. Not just for our families and friends but a wish that all people around the globe will have the means to provide a better bounty at their family table.  Please visit www.heifer.org to learn of the ways that this organization works to empower people in different parts of the world with what most of us take for granted: the means to supply our own food.

Heifer envisions…
A world of communities living together in peace and equitably sharing the resources of a healthy planet.

Heifer’s mission is…
To work with communities to end hunger and poverty and to care for the Earth.

Heifer’s strategy is…
To “Pass on the Gift.” As people share their animals’ offspring with others – along with their knowledge, resources, and skills – an expanding network of hope, dignity, and self-reliance is created that reaches around the globe.

Heifer’s History
This simple idea of giving families a source of food rather than short-term relief caught on and has continued for over 65 years. Today, millions of families in 128 countries have been given the gifts of self-reliance and hope.

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Treasures from the Qianlong Garden in the Forbidden City

Students of Chinese art, culture, history and lovers of magnificent, exquisitely rendered objects should be aware of  a very impressive but fleeting exhibition currently on view at the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, MA.  I recently had the opportunity to spend a day lingering over this glorious exhibition ( and some of the rest of the museum as well ) and highly recommend it to anyone able to make the trip to Salem.

The exhibition is The Emperor’s Private Paradise: Treasures from the Forbidden City and it is a first-hand look at “ninety objects of ceremony and leisure” – furnishings, screens and panels, murals, jades, cloisonne and other priceless possessions – that once belonged to the Qianlong Emperor ( r. 1736-1796).

In advance of his retirement, the emperor commissioned the construction of a private compound and garden within the Forbidden City, complete with reception halls, study rooms and shrines for his personal enjoyment and relaxation.

The Qianlong Emperor was one of the richest and most powerful men in the world in his day, and he outfit his private rooms with objects made from the most precious materials by the best skilled artists and craftsmen. It is these personal objects of the Qianlong Emperor that are on exhibit at the PEM.

According to a press release from the PEM, the Qianlong Emperor was “a connoisseur, scholar and devout Buddhist. He created a luxurious garden compound to serve throughout his retirement as a secluded place of contemplation, repose and entertainment.”

Nancy Berlinger, curator of Chinese art at the PEM, is quoted as saying ” the treasures are from a part of the forbidden City that’s so different from the rest of the Forbidden City. These objects were made for a context that’s about being contemplative. It’s not about being big, official, national, a victorious ruler or emperor. It’s about being a scholar, and Confucian and a Buddhist.”

The majority of buildings in the Forbidden City ( some 179 acres houses 980 buildings ) have been shuttered since the last emperor left the Forbidden City in 1924 and have never been opened to or visited since by the public. The Qianlong Gardens ( also known as the Tranquility and Longevity Palace Garden ) is now part of a decade-long, multi-million dollar conservation initiative being undertaken by the World Monuments Fund and the Palace Museum in Beijing.

So, what better thing to do with such valuable objects than to pack them up and send them ‘on the road’ and out of harms way, so to speak. Which is exactly why the treasures are making a tour of the USA before returning to their rightful place in the renovated buildings in the Qianlong Garden. (Just thinking about how these objects are moved, packed, insured and coddled before, during and after shipment is a process that I would love to see documented on film).

Not only is it a thrill to see workmanship such as this on the highest level of achievement, but I felt a tremendous amount of  awe viewing these masterpieces because they have never before been seen by ‘the general public’.

In fact, except for a handful of Asian art experts, conservation workers, government officials and museum staff,  visitors in the USA who view these objects at the three chosen museums will be seeing these treasures for the first time, even before they have been  exhibited in China.

The decision to bring the story of the restoration of the Forbidden City and the Qianlong Emperor’s treasures to the American people first was made by the Chinese government and the Palace Museum in the spirit of cultural awareness, education and cooperation among  museums.

These objects will travel only to three museums in the USA ( PEM in Salem, the Met in NYC and the Milwaukee Art Museum ) before returning to China.

In recent years the PEM has also received much praise for one of their permanent exhibits – the Chinese house known as Yin Yu Tang. This is a wealthy merchants house in the Chinese vernacular style built in the early 1800’s in the rural village of Huang Cun in Anhui Province.

After nearly 200 years of continuous family living, the house was no longer lived in by any of the original family members. It was dis-assembled, brought to Salem, and carefully re-constructed on the museum grounds. One visits the old house, which is furnished as it might have been when people lived there, and an audio tour allows the voices of family members to escort visitors thru the rooms with stories and bits of history.

There is nothing like this authentic Chinese house anywhere in the USA, and the juxtaposition of the simple life of the family who occupied Yin Tu Tang and the sublime treasures from the private quarters of the Qianlong Emperor makes a striking study in contrasts of individual status, living environments and material possessions.

The mission of a world-class museum is to expose visitors to a kaleidoscope of wonders about culture, tradition, the history of people, places, wildlife and things on earth. The PEM should be applauded for the exemplary work that they have put into bringing these diverse and compelling aspects of China to its visitors.

The PEM website is worth a visit, also – there is much to see and learn. Visitors to the museum can also purchase advance tickets for viewing these two exhibits online.

The Emperor’s Private Paradise: Treasures from the Forbidden City’, Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, Massachusetts, September 14 – January 9 2011.  www.pem.org

Mastering the Art of Coffee ™

Bob and Julia then....

The last time that Julia Child joined us in Northampton for the United Way fundraiser Books and Cooks her appearance coincided with the release of the 40th Anniversary Edition of her cooking classic Mastering the Art of French Cooking.

She arrived at the event on time, mid-afternoon, having spent the morning in Washington, DC testifying before Congress about on-boat shrimp processing regulations (one of the food issues/abuses that she was outspoken about).

Knowing that Julia loved her coffee, and preferred it dark and rich, we at Cooks Shop Here  created a blend especially for her and named it ‘Mastering the Art of Coffee’. ™  We were to serve it to her and all attendees, for the first time, in her honor that evening.

About 5:00 she caught wind of the fact that coffee was ready-to-serve and asked one of her escorts to find out if she could have an advance cup, and we said ‘sure’!

At one point later that evening we looked up across our table and there she was, with her cup & saucer in hand, coming back for what turned out to be her third cup! She was so excited about the coffee, and wanted to know what it was. We told her that we had created it just for her, for that evening, so it was ‘her blend’  Mastering the Art of Coffee.™

She was really touched and loved the whole idea of it. She told us that no one had ever created a coffee blend for her before. Right then and there we decided to add it to our repertoire, and we have been offering it ever since. Thousands of happy coffee drinkers have been enjoying ‘her blend’ for these last 10 years!

Tonight, November 1st 2010, Cooks Shop Here will be serving Julia’s coffee again to attendees at the WGBY/Museums10 benefit The French Connection: A Gala Tribute to Julia Child and Charlotte Turgeon at the Hotel Northampton in Northampton, MA.

In honor of Charlotte Turgeon, who was a passionate tea drinker and legendary afternoon tea hostess, we have created a spicy black tea blend that we have named Indochine. The style of the tea blend and its name is a nod to a time in the 20th century when Oriental goods and foods, tea in particular, were especially fashionable at well-heeled social gatherings in the West.