This past week I visited Scandinavia. I savored a moist St. Lucia Day bun with hints of delicate saffron and delighted at a mixture of lingonberries and spice-infused meatballs. Last week I sat in the streets of Budapest with a dinner drenched in paprika-rich sauce. Tonight I will linger in Nepal as I dig into a vegetable curry.
In truth, I am lying – I have not physically travelled recently from my home in the States. This Christmas season we are staying firmly on the ground, with no plans for international travel. Yet I am finding creative ways to invite the world into our holiday celebrations, mostly through the art of food.
I adore cooking, especially spices, and these are the simplest gateways into the sensory experience of another culture. When my tongue is tickled by a spicy curry, I remember moments of daily life when I lived in the shadow of the Himalayas for a brief summer as a teenager. The feel of scooping the warm curry and rice up with my hand, the smell of incense permeating the streets of Kathmandu, the way my soul soared when the clouds lifted enough for a brief glimpse of the highest ridges of the Himalayas. A magical trip to a time and place through my taste buds.
I cannot afford to be constantly on the road, as I wish desperately to be, so spices are a relatively inexpensive way to linger in those moments of cultural adventure when I am buried in the frigid white winter of Wisconsin.
“Dinner Table Travel”, as I prefer to call it, also allows me to share a small slice of my travel experiences with my husband and friends. Simply flipping through two-dimensional photos is a limited way of sharing human experience. We are biologically equipped with five senses, not just one, and food provides a package of multiple sensory sensations – the texture of buttering and rolling a piece of lefsa, the aroma of spices perfectly paired to incense the room, the taste of a culture found in a local dish, all sensations beyond the scope of simple eyesight. I am bringing my travel photos to life at the dinner table.
In honor of St. Lucia’s Day, a saint’s day important in the calendar of Sweden, I treated our friends to a Scandinavian feast – a table piled high with lefsa, Jarlsberg cheese, meatballs and lingonberries, a platter of various light-as-air butter cookies, and a steaming cup of spiced holiday glögg to wash it all down.
I have also discovered that my habit of traveling the world through the spices I use has health benefits in managing my fibromyalgia. Who knew? As I throw in a dash of cinnamon or chop fresh cilantro, I am creating a food synergy that aids my body. Curries are especially beneficial for those with fibro. The turmeric that lends a curry its distinctive yellow hue soothes muscle and joint pain. Ginger has long been known to help regulate the digestive system and soothe nausea. With IBS and other digestive issues a common problem for fibromyalgics, sipping ginger tea or throwing some freshly diced ginger into a stir fry is probably not a bad idea.
There are even a number of spices and herbs, that when paired with certain carbohydrates, work with the carbs to slow their release into the bloodstream and mediate the effects of reactive hypoglycemia, another associated issue in people with fibro. For this reason, I have started stirring cinnamon into my morning applesauce, tossing my potatoes in fresh parsley, and using generous amounts of garlic, cumin, and coriander. While including these herbs and spices in my diet obviously have not made my fatigue and pain disappear, they have lessened the physical effects of fibro on a daily basis, and that in itself is such a gift!
So as I yearn to see, touch, hear, smell, and taste a larger world out there, I am setting a dinner table that invites the world into my home. Something to whet the appetite for future adventures as I deck the halls, spend time with my family, and allow my travel fund to grow.