Food for Thought…

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Last night as I read the post by @Naomi_Hattaway (, I fell asleep with thoughts of food and friends around the world.

Recipes for Friendship

Recipes for Friendship

So when I woke up at 3:52 this morning, as often happens, my mind was already connecting the dots. I went to my cookbook shelf and pulled out copies of my cookbooks cum memorybooks/souvenirs from my time in Azerbaijan and decided to take some photos to share.

Naomi had written: “We were coming together once a month to teach each other recipes that we had brought with us from our previous locations, whether expat assignments or from our childhood kitchens. During the process of dissecting those recipes, we were in turn creating another layer, a deeper foundation to build on as we all continued on in our journey. ”

Candadian ex-pat's Brisbane Stew, to be made in Baku, Azerbaijan by an American ex-pat...

Candadian ex-pat’s Brisbane Stew, to be made in Baku, Azerbaijan by an American ex-pat…

I doubt that #Judy Rickatson ever imagined when she guided this cookbook project, “Recipes for Friendship” for the International Women’s Club of Baku, that a decade later back ‘home’ ( a term I use loosely these days) in Alexandria, Virginia, a transplanted Texan would be using her recipe for Brisbane Stew. Let’s see, Canada, England, Baku, Brisbane, Houston, Alexandria… yep, that pretty much circles the globe in friendship. What’s more, it’s a gift that keeps on giving, as I left another copy in my flat for the next family of expats coming in.

As I flipped the pages of this little memory book, I remember Donna Hill (another Canadian, wife of Doug Hill, Amoco/BP) telling her story about having to take defensive driving- being a kind Canadian, she was reluctant to ram the offender’s car. “Couldn’t I just maneuver around him?” Not gonna happen… let’s have another go. Finally on the third try, as Donna relayed this story, the instructor stepped on her foot on the accelerator and forced the car into a collision path that she had to use all her skill to minimize and speed away from. She passed and, I imagine, to this day is a very safe driver, avoiding many collisions as she goes.

I saw recipes from Sheila Churchman… and remembered the Churchman family from the Wharf restaurant- arguably the central ex-pat hangout in the early years, now sadly gone before their time. Actually the tragedy was that most of her family perished together just before Christmas in 2007. Dave and Sheila had lived in Saudi, Kuwait, Baku and other “high risk” places, and yet it was a gas leak in Colfax, LA that triggered the explosion that caused the deaths of Dave, Sheila, Dave’s mother “Miss Mary”, and later their son Don.

Sheila Churchman's recipe honors her memory

Sheila Churchman’s recipe honors her memory

I remember sitting at the Wharf one Sunday afternoon, having a bowl of Sheila’s vegetable soup. People always went to the Wharf more to meet friends than for the food, but the vegetable soup was always good… except this day. I asked Sheila if they had changed her recipe and she said they hadn’t. But upon tasting it she realized something was horribly wrong. Upon investigating, she found the chef they had fired recently had changed the recipe before he departed- from 1 Tbsp vinegar to 1 CUP of vinegar! That would do it!

(Anyone who remembers Sheila knows this page, illustrations, captions and all, is perfect for remembering Sheila! And we do, fondly.)

Others who contributed to this little gem of a memory book are scattered around the world now- I see on Facebook that the talented artist who handled the many illustrations, Yelena-Alona Dontsova-Ref is now married and living in Tel Aviv. Many more of these ladies have gone on to other expat assignments, while some have retired and gone to England, Canada, and the USA.

Being there so long, and not being with an international support system, I spent a lot of my time in local restaurants or in the homes of my students and staff. As I was leaving for a holiday in Germany during my first year there, one of my students gave me an Azeri cookery book. These photos below are particular favorites.

Azerbaijan Kebobs, Shaslik- a favorite meal

Azerbaijan Kebobs, Shaslik- a favorite meal

First the ever present Shashlik- simple (if you have a mangal) and hard not to find something to like- grilled tomatoes (my fav), potatoes, onions, beef (of some kind) or chicken. Sprinkle a little sumac on and you’re ready to eat.

Second, the Azerbaijan/Soviet era “champagne”.

Azerbaijan sparkling wine... 1984, of course

Azerbaijan sparkling wine… 1984, of course

During my entire decade there, every single bottle was labeled 1984- not just some, but all of them.

It got to be a game after a while- I went to enough local dinners in homes and that was always the drink of choice for the host to offer, and always 1984… all can I can say is, it must have been a heck of a year!

Food for thought and many happy thoughts about food and friends.

Bon Apetit! Nush Olsan! Afiet Olsan! Priatnova Apetit! Happy memories!

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