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Smells like home: Sharing family dishes in community

Smells like home: Sharing family dishes in community - (24-01-2021)

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Photo: (far left) Learning how to cook her Indian family’s native dishes as a child helped prepared Sister Lynn Marie D’Souza for sharing many of those very same foods for her Sisters in community. Over the years, she’s added tasty cakes and other sweets to her repertoire, including making homemade jams. (middle) Baking bread together is often just as important as breaking bread together as Sisters gather to prepare brown bread, a favorite recipe of Sister Wilmarie Ehrhard’s mother. Pictured (from left) are Prioress General Sister Dawn Annette Mills, Sister Lucia Anne Le, Sister Dawn Vercillino, Sister Nancy Rose Gucwa and Sister Ramona Varela. (far right) Sister Sarah Schwartzberg enjoys sharing dishes she learned to make while growing up in a large family in Queens, New York.

Living in a religious community offers many opportunities to listen, to share, to talk with others. 

When a woman enters the monastery, her community becomes her new family. However, she continues to retain ties to her biological one. The Benedictine Sisters of Perpetual Adoration is a semi-cloistered community, which offers Sisters multiple ways to remain connected to their lives before entering the monastery. Sisters visit their families or share a vacation, and relatives often spend time with them at the monastery. There are phone calls and letters and FaceTime and social media. All great ways to grow and strengthen familial bonds. 

Sharing those familial bonds with fellow Sisters is also important. And perhaps one of the best places to do that is in the heart of most homes: the kitchen.

I am a first generation American, and I grew up eating the Indian food,” Sister Lynn Marie D’Souza, OSB said. “Since coming to the convent, I really miss the spices and flavors that I grew up with and knew the only way to have them was learning to cook them myself!”

So that’s what she did. She enjoys making traditional Indian dishes her Sisters enjoy such as dahl (Indian lentils), chicken curry, beef curry, and chickpea dishes.

“I love cooking, and I love cooking for other people. But everyone’s favorite is probably the saffron rice,” she added. “Saffron rice is a bit time consuming and fussy to make, but it tastes and smells like home to me. It is the rice dish we always had at special occasions like Christmas and Easter.”

Sister Sarah Schwartzberg, OSB grew up in Queens, New York, surrounded by many aunts, uncles and cousins, and family meals were special times.

“My family always got together in my grandmother's apartment for holiday meals,” Sister Sarah said. “She was the only one who had a dining room with a large table, and noodle kugel was always on the menu.”

A traditional Jewish pudding or casserole, noodle kugel is often made with egg noodles or potatoes, some recipes being savory while others offering a sweeter taste.

“My mother used to make a noodle kugel that included apples and other fruit, but I make one with sour cream and cottage cheese that has become a favorite with the Sisters,” Sister Sarah said.

Spending time together in the kitchen - as with most families - is often more about the food. It’s about gathering to share memories, learn new recipes and simply share time in fellowship. Such as when the Sisters gather to make brown bread, a recipe from the mother of Sister Wilmarie Ehrhardt, OSB.

While cooking and sharing family recipes with Sisters is a treat, being on the receiving end is also a worthwhile adventure.

For instance, Lunar New Year was celebrated with help from Sister Lucia Anne Le, OSB, who was born in Vietnam, and Sister Marie Jona Yoo, OSB who hails from South Korea. Each prepared a variety of native dishes from their home countries, explaining the the symbolism of each. During the early days of the COVID pandemic, the community prepared a Taste of Nations, which featured various foods from many of the countries from which Sisters’ ancestors came.

“I like to try new things and enjoy the ethnic foods some of our Sisters prepare,” Sister Sarah said.

“I love that the Sisters are open to trying new flavors, and I hope to be able to cook more Indian food for them in the future. I do have to tone down the spices a bit!” Sister Lynn Marie said. 

Along with dishes and breads, the Sisters also enjoy sharing sweets as well. Such as the light and fluffy creampuffs made by Sister Cathleen Marie Timberlake, OSB and Sister Lynn Marie’s cranberry almond cake.

“After my dad retired, he started cooking and baking more. He found several cake recipes that sounded good to him, and he made them over and over until they were perfect. His background was in chemistry and science, so he had a whole methodology,” she said. “His cranberry almond cake has become a community favorite over the years. My dad would make it at Christmas. So, I usually make this cake sometime during Christmas. The Sisters’ always refer to it as ‘your dad's cake,’ so that makes it even more special to me.”

Whether it’s old favorites or new recipes, the Sisters love gathering in the kitchen - and at the table - to enjoy the marriage of family and food.