Sunday, April 21, 2013

Bistecca Con Salsa delle Erbe ... perfect meal for our global table


Caporales San Simon Dancers from Bolivia

What a sight for sore eyes and hearts it was this weekend to revel in the celebration of the multitudes of international cultures that come together to live, work, and play in Houston.  After a week of being glued to the news in the aftermath of the Boston bombing, the process of soul searching and deeper understanding of the troubles affecting our world are clearly necessary.  

After a tough week of wondering why the fabric of our country seems to be fraying at its edges...comes the... 

International Festival of Houston, Texas...this year celebrating the food and highlighting the culture of...BRAZIL!

Brazilian Carnivale Dancer from Austin Samba: Banh Mi Vietnamese Sandwich: Festival onlooker; Ari-rang Korean Folk Dancers

Every year in the cool breezes of April, Houston brings together and assembles a multitude of nationalities into the hub of its cosmopolitan city to gather, celebrate, dance, sing, and taste the flavors of its multi-ethnic residents.

This is an event that has, over the past 3 years, never failed to renew my belief  that humanity is at its heart, genuinely "good".  And with the entire country mourning, reflecting, and realizing that we need to look deep into our  hearts in order to understand the troubles of not only our country but issues of the world  that are influencing the direction of our country.

When I look deep into the eyes of so many faces of diversity all sharing, caring, and enjoying the fruits of this country at an event like the International Festival... my heart swells with happiness  as well as hope for this world of ours.

To celebrate the Brazilian love of beef, a big bold beef recipe that calls for a medley of fresh herbs makes this simple steak dish an easy dinner option for relaxed weekend grilling.  

I have my rosemary pot doing well...tarragon, thyme, and oregano made it through the Texas winter too.  Chopping the fresh herbs and mixing them with olive oil is a sensory experience that is so lovely.  The aromas are fresh and a clear indication that spring is definitely here to stay.

So here where I live, the city comes together for two weekends in Houston, holds hands, and shows that humanity is not lost.  No, not lost at all... but can always be re-inforced, reinvigorated, and renewed through shared music, food, and time together.

As the Brazilian Carnivale Parade wound its way through the festival grounds this weekend, Brazilian dancers shimmied, twisted, and sashayed while drums beat out festive sounds and tambourines jiggled with jocular rhythms.

One by one people of all ethnicities joined in, twisted their hips and clapped their hands, and encouraged each other to celebrate... move to the music of life renewing itself after a weary week of worry.

Festival Mask of Caporales San Simon (Bolivia)

The dancing and celebrating at the festival, however, was different than the dancing and celebrating on the streets of Boston this weekend.  After the suspected bomber from the marathon was captured, it made me very sad to see footage of celebrations in the street and chants of "we won".  I love Boston.  It is a fabulous city and I think what we are seeing could be the embodiment of a flood of relief from fear and gratitude towards the law enforcement of the city.

While I cannot imagine what being sequestered inside my home is like for fear there may be a bomber on the loose who desires to kill as many Americans as possible, I cringed when I saw people chanting, "USA, USA, USA!"

I'm sure that we, as a country, would love to believe that we are invincible, number one, and the leader of the world, but I suspect that it is that emboldened attitude that may only foster more ill will in many parts of the world.

I don't see this as an "us against them" situation.
I don't see this is as an event that we "won".
I don't see this as a situation that calls for "celebrating" in the streets of our country.

Relief was felt and warranted, to be sure...and safely tucked away in my home I cannot relate to what was going through the homes of so many Bostonians, who were afraid to go out to walk their dogs,  for a bite to eat, or a jog to the park.

Oriental Arts Dance Group of Houston

As I walked through the crowds at this festival, saw the twinkling eyes of so many cultures, eating, laughing, singing, and enjoying their revelry mind runs through the history of each country's relationship to the other.  

As I sampled the bold and hearty foods from Brazil...I tasted the flavors of influence from their colonization by Portugal, tasted the spices brought by slaves to work the land, and tasted the indigenous ingredients grown long before when the country was untouched by outside influences.

Could it be so hard to realize or acknowledge that we all eventually dine at the same table with one another? 

The more I assemble one recipe after another, read one list of ingredients from one country and compare it to another, the revelation to me is always the same...we  enjoy variations of the same flavors and ingredients that are consistent from one country to another, one culture to another...regardless of who we pray to, or what color is on our skin, or what constitutes the relationships that define the word "love".

So if there isn't necessarily an "us versus them"  or a "good versus evil" at the heart of our human nature, then why are there evil events that take place in this world and what can we do to stop them?

Austin Samba Dancer dancing in the Brazilian Parade

I wandered around the festival wondering how many people might have that question on their minds too.  Dedications could be heard to the victims of the bombing in Boston.  Pleas for increased humanity and understanding sounded in between each group of performers.

Bottom Left: Picanho à Brazileira, stewed beans, and Pork Sausage from Tradicao Restaurant in Houston, TX

In my mind, the answer seems to stem from the need for "resources".  What resources  I have beneath my soil may be different from that found under your soil.  It may be better or may be plentiful or scarce, it may be easily retrieved or buried deeply within the earth.   

The color of skin, the religious history, the cultural differences we perceive as obstacles to peace are actually of no profound importance but become excuses used in order to level the playing field in this world for the constant need for resources.

Bottom Left: Fried Catfish, Hushpuppies and French Fries Cajun Dinner

I am certainly no politician, sociologist, or psychologist.  But, it seems that the age-old adage, "with age comes wisdom" might have some value to it.  With each new turning of generations, how many lessons that should have been learned from history...are not passed down to the next?  

As we theorize the reasons for the events of Boston this past week it will inevitably lead us to journey to unknown parts of Eastern Europe.  We'll try to unravel the angst, turmoil, and confusion that resulted after the devastation of WWII, the collapse of the Soviet Union, the ensuing Cold War with the U.S., and the many ethnic and religious groups overlapping in that part of the world.

Roasted Fennel and Artichoke Hearts in Olive Oil

Whereas, my outlook may seem a simplistic one, I am realizing as I get older, that even though the events of history may be complicated and are filled with names, dates, battles, boundary lines, trade agreements, incidences after incidences recorded in history that make the multitudes of problems seem unsolvable, the core heart of the issue could be far more simplistic than the work it took to unravel the facts.

The years of intertwining struggle between groups of people whose ethnic names we can barely pronounce, seems so remotely related to us, to our iconic marathon, or a city like Boston, that embodies the soul of America. What does this have to do with our country?  How are their struggles related to the U.S?

But, we must not cast the reasons for their anger aside and adopt an "us versus them" mentality.  We must not chant to each other "we will win" or "go U.S.A.".  

These chants may make us feel safe and secure for the moment but they will only secure and encourage a more imminent danger to us in the long run.

Dancers from Mixteco Ballet Folklorica

So, what are we to do?  What can each and every seemingly insignificant one of us do?  Do we, as individuals, have the power to change the greater world?

We must, first of all, understand our own history.  We realize and accept that we have made historical mistakes that have left waves of discontent that have been embedded in others' outlook towards us.  

We must know the histories of other parts of the world in relation to our own.  We must understand that resources, or lack thereof,  shape the historical events of our grandparents and will shape future events of our future grandchildren.

The histories of most other countries are much longer and deeply rooted, uprooted, and planted over again and again than in the U.S.

During the 1800 and 1900's, we were geographically separated from the consequences of WWI and WWII.  We were able and capable of prospering and benefiting  economically.  

Dancers from Oriental Arts group in Houston, Texas

The fragile structure of the world's economy is inextricably linked in today's world and from now on...what happens "over there" will affect us "over here".  

I don't have any answers.  I'm just an average daughter, an average mom, an average mother, sister, and aunt.

But, what I do know, is when I bring a freshly made loaf of bread to a neighbor, it makes them smile.  When I wave to a group of walkers in the neighborhood, it softens their face.  When I stop to pick up something someone has dropped, their eyes begin to twinkle.

Owners of Farafinya: Beads and African Crafts

And little by little by little...a community has the potential to come together.  Someone who is unhappy in this country may have a moment of pause.  Someone who is confused about the world, may see a sliver of hope.  Someone who is angry at our culture, may have a glimmer of understanding.

It is very easy to come to this country but still grow up very divided from the culture that is considered "American".  I see it every day.  On my block, alone, there must be 10 to 15 different nationalities all living one house apart from one another.

On one hand, families want to hold on to their histories, their cultures, their ways.  They want to pass on their traditions, festivities, and stories down to the next gum-chewing, sneaker-wearing, skateboard-pushing generation that is melting into the great pot of America.

Hardly any of our forefathers decided to pick up and come to America because they just needed a change of scenery.

And this is all good.  It is as it should be.  Out of strife and adversity come better understanding than if we all remained separate.

Top Right: Brazilian Beef, Pasteis, and Potato Fritters

But, when so many people are walking side by side at the International Festival, out in the open, sharing and caring about one another, the scene, the laughter, the food, and the sounds are so transforming. 

It is very easy to not reach across the street and offer that loaf of bread.  It is very easy to live within the confines of a home, that provide electronic entertainment far surpassing anything a bike, park, or playground might deliver.

Most of us  just call ourselves common folk.  We are moms, or accountants, or teachers and we don't have the knowledge or power or ability to negotiate a safer future for our country in the grand scheme of things.

We do, however, have the ability to understand the history of our country as it relates to the histories and experiences of others.  And we must.

We do have the ability to smile at a stranger and make their day just that teeny weeny bit brighter.

We do have the ability to wave to a neighbor and ask if they are alright, query how was their day, point out their flowers out front look pretty. 

We do have the ability to bring over a freshly baked loaf of bread without much hassle.

We do this because the past has shown us that through overlapping quests for resources, overlapping ideals and goals, intermixing of alliances as well as barriers, we all sit down around the same table eventually.

We all can trace ingredients in almost every dish that we make that can touch its origins from multiple ethnic groups of people.  

It is what gives food flavor, makes dishes become traditional, and brings people together even if they don't realize that the table around which they are gathering... a global table.

A weekend's close...a sweet treat...key lime cupcakes from our bakery


  1. A wonderful event! Thanks for sharing your lovely pictures with us.

    Both the steak and roasted fennel look and sound mouthwatering!



    1. Thank you Rosa. We've been here 3 years and this festival just amazes me every year.

  2. Thank you for these gorgeous images and delicious recipes... a totally wonderful post Sarah... I will be sharing this with my readers on My Daily Click... Thank you for the inspiration... xv

    1. Delighted as always to be included in anything you put together Vicki. Thank you.

  3. Such a wonderful cultural post my friend thank you!

    Choc Chip Uru

    1. Just what we needed here after a weeklong saga on the news out of Boston. Thank you Guru.

  4. Gorgeous photos Sarah. I wish I had an answer to all your questions. But there are too many complexities in this world. I believe that history repeats itself because many people do not bother with history. They think all those dates and names of long-dead people are boring. But The history of our individual countries makes us who we are. Before marrying an American, I never realized how much hate the word America can elicit. I do not know why and it bewilders me.

    1. I can imagine it is so interesting to see your viewpoints shift and change as you hear insights into a culture that you are connected to through marriage. I often feel conflicted about the sentiments towards Americans and the more I learn about our international political history, the more I have insights that help to shed light on unexplainable events.

  5. What lovely photos...that looks like so much fun! I love their smiles and costumes...just wonderful!

    The events in Boston were tragic and so very sad. I didn't see anything wrong with the chants of USA...not when you remember that people were killed, maimed and lives ruined simply because they were Americans. I think the chants meant that we will seek justice for the man who ran the race and lost his 8 year old son, his daughter a leg, and his wife parts of her brain. Justice for 14 people who lost limbs and remain in the hospital...and over 100 others who were hurt. We should rejoice when a terrorist is caught so he can't hurt others.

    I just bought a steak today...I'm jotting down this recipe to try! It sounds and looks delicious!

    1. Oh, Betsy, I hear you. I really do. Each time I see the news I have such conflicting views of how I feel we should proceed forward. This situation is so charged with raw emotion right now that it is difficult to process all of the information flowing across the country. My heart goes out to all the innocents but any mass chanting just scares me because of how I fear so many will perceive it. I think I worry about the perception more than the reality of current events.

    2. Writing in peace from Down Under - Sarah, perchance you have hit it very much on the nose when you speak of how the rest of the world looks at the US and attitudes of some of its citizens as in the case here. What makes people act like that? What hurt have they suffered in the country? Have they been made to feel like second-class citizens? Nobody starts off as a socalled terrorist! Personally I was aghast at the chanting and 'celebrating' as are all the people I know here . . .

  6. Sarah: I was still on the Net late last night night when this appeared. The power of it fazed me. I am one of those Eastern European small kids caught up a long time ago by the circumstances you describe. I look at the world now from the comparative 'safety' of Australia. I look at the obvious stark contrasts you so brilliantly present. I wish I knew what to do in any logical way but to put out my hand to the person standing next to me, whatever colour, whatever race . . . there have been too many Bostons! I shall share your post, and that of course fully . . .

  7. Humanity is not gone, there's so many signs that we're still going in a right direction. Boston bombing - I'm still speechless.

    1. I agree. The only "real" place I see humanity on the Houston Highways! ha!

  8. Simon Weisenthal said it best as a holocaust survivor - "If we forget, it will happen again". It seems to me as a people we're poor learners but the world goes around on the shoulders of a few good men (and women) and so as long as we do our part, I think we're contributing in the right direction.

    And you always do that with your picture story boards and your beautiful words. And that in itself is ray of light. Keep shining Sarah :)

    chow! Devaki @ weavethousandflavors

    1. Thank you Devaki. You are one wise mamma!

  9. You captured so much incredible beauty! I love all the wonderful, beautiful, lived-in faces you offer here. But my favorite is the henna hand.

    1. Thank you Relyn. I love when someone mentions their favorite photo. I find that so interesting. Aren't henna designs so beautiful. I love watching the design being applied and seeing the final result.

  10. I am with Relyn - the hand stood out to me too. But they are all absolutely beautiful and especially those close ups of the faces. I felt like I was there.
    You have summed up well what many feel. I hadn't realised they were celebrating in Boston at the death and injury of those two young, very misguided men. That is surely sad. Youth is so full of ideals because they don't feel their own vulnerability at that age and so their choices are questionable. The US, like NZ, has a short history since the occupation by white man and they should defer to cultures that have been around for thousands of years and show respect even if it is not always returned.

  11. Wow, wow, wow, Sarah... you have captured the colour and beauty of this festival and brought it right into to my home. There is so much sorrow in the world of late and over the last decade or more I have been amazed at what we in this seemingly war free era have watched unfold in terms of terrorism and acts of violence. Praying for peace.

  12. It is such a complicated and sometimes (actually oftentimes) heart-breaking world we live in. Would it be way over-simplistic to say that really, everything comes down to love? Even the smallest simplest loving gesture can change someone forever. When I was overwhelmed with the awfulness of what happened in Boston, that is what I kept coming back to... what little thing can I do to brighten someone's day today? The butterfly effect.
    Beautiful images, Sarah! So much colour and life! The world is filled with as much light as it is filled with darkness.


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