Come to Bethlehem and eat.

I was in Houston this week, speaking at a training and HR workshop for independent blood centers. Yes, I know you’re surprised there would be such a gathering. And you’re probably wondering if I mean the Red Cross, which I do not. I could get all technical and explain the complicated volunteer blood supply in the U.S., but it’s not part of this story. So just do the right thing: donate 3-4 times per year and help save lives, wherever you are.

Anyway, I arrived in Houston late Wednesday afternoon. I opted for a taxi thinking it might be the best and fastest option for getting me to the hotel in time for the group’s evening reception. The driver was friendly but quiet. Traffic was terrible. Reading emails on my phone was making me carsick, and since we were clearly going to be together for a good long time I thought some conversation might be in order. Forget Dale Carnegie. If you want to learn how to talk to people, take long taxi rides.

So we chit-chatted about the traffic and whether it was always gridlocked (no) and how the city was growing.

We moved 15 or 20 feet; five minutes passed.

“Where are you from?” he asked, glancing at his rear view mirror, his face warm and smiling.

Tennessee Brewery April 2014I told him I was from Memphis and that I’d been to Houston only once before, also for work. He told me he moved to Houston from LA three years earlier, partly because the cost of living was lower and mostly because his wife was from Texas. We talked about Memphis and Houston and LA and traffic and nothing of much importance, passing time as we progressed down the road 100 feet at a stretch.

“Where are you from originally?” I asked, knowing it wasn’t LA.

“Palestine,” he said, a bit warily. “I moved here from Bethlehem. Seven years ago, with my niece.” I wondered how many times he’d reached that point in a taxi ride conversation and found his fare suddenly less friendly, even in 2014, even in an international city, even though the majority of people emigrating from Bethlehem over the last 10 years have been Christian pacifists.

When I lived in Omaha I worked with a woman who had spent a year in Bethlehem and Jerusalem for her college study. Plus I’ve spent the last few years working on Sundays as a catechist for 6-9 year olds, and the land of Israel is part of our work. I’m not sure I could point to the Ukraine without the help of clear labels, but Bethlehem I’ve got.

“It’s just south of Jerusalem, right? A bike ride away, if it weren’t for the wall?”

“Yes,” he replied, relieved. “It is a very old city.”

For most of the rest of the trip he told me about Bethelem and Palestine. He was looking forward to seeing his family in about six weeks, a biennial journey that would take him away from hot humid Houston in June, July and August. It was the story of someone happy and sad at the same time.

We were finally winding through downtown, almost to the hotel. In contrast to the expressway scenery, everything was green grass and lush, flowers and flowering brush everywhere.

“Olives will be in season while you’re there?” I asked, because I never can remember if olives are spring, summer or fall fruits and because all the green suddenly made me think of food.

At that my driver lit up. “No,” he said excitedly, “but so many things will be! It is what I miss so much, being here. There, food is everywhere. Good food. It grows in fields and on the sides of streets. Grapes, dates, apples, olives – everything. And you just pick it and eat, and everyone enjoys the wonderful food.  Here you have so much, but no one shares. There we have very little, just food and friends and family, but we share it; food is for everyone. Come to Bethlehem; you’ll see!”

Food | Week of May 5, 2014

Chili Con Carne | Guacamole & Chips

Yeah, winter’s over. But somehow chili con carne seems more appetizing than tacos or tostadas for our our family Cinco de Mayo night dinner.  If you make the chili a little thicker, you could make burritos instead of serving in bowls (just for a little variety). Here’s a new recipe (new to me) from Feed Me Phoebe, a site that features many gluten-free recipes for all you gluten-free readers (although you’re probably already way on this one, H).

Delta Sol May 2014Fig, Goat Cheese & Arugula Pizza

Yeah, we had this just a couple of weeks ago. But arugula has a short season here because it fades once the heat turns on, so I’m enjoying it while it’s around. This recipe is different from the one I posted last go ’round, although it’s very similar. I’m going to try to revive my ailing sourdough starter and make sourdough crust, thanks to some inspiration from Wendy at Chez Chloe.

Spiced Lamb in Pita | Mediterranean Platter

If you live in Memphis, then you’re probably as excited as we are that the annual Greek festival is this weekend. If you’re not here or not inclined to fight the crowd, try these lamb pita pockets and serve with some stuffed grape leaves, stuffed peppers and an assortment of olives, all of which should be available at your local grocer or specialty market.

Ricotta-Asparagus Soufflé

I will probably be making this spring delight for myself alone and letting my people eat leftovers. Hope springs eternal, though. This recipe is from the Cowgirl Creamery cookbook which I have to plug, because cheese from Cowgirl Creamery is just so yummy…. Mt. Tam is my favorite….  Anyway, the only thing I do differently from the recipe’s instructions is to add the egg yolks to the sauce after the May lettuce 2014sauce has been removed from the stove (butter, flour, milk = sauce for me). I’m sure it works either way, but I do it the way my mamma taught me and that’s that.

Turkey-Avocado Club Sandwiches

Since the week’s line-up includes at least two items that will make my people go “EWWW!” I’m adding a crowd pleaser: club sandwiches. I’m sure you probably don’t need a recipe to make a turkey-avocado club, but here’s one with a few twists and features that may not be part of your typical routine (Greek yogurt, for example). I’m serving these with chips and fresh fruit, which should make everyone happy.



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