By Jennie

picThere are several cooking groups within the activities offered by International Neighbors, and Carmen Cross coordinates the International Cooking Group, by far the longest running of these groups. She started the group in 1984 with five members from the Netherlands, Germany, Japan, and – of course – Colombia, Carmen’s native country. Since her retirement from teaching Spanish at the University of Michigan a few years ago, she has expanded to two groups, each with about fifteen members from all over the world.

Carmen disliked cooking as a youngster, but now very much enjoys it and fully realizes the connection with people and other cultures that cooking together can promote. Carmen says that her kitchen is her laboratory, which she loves to share each month with her cooking groups’ members as they take turns preparing lunches with recipes from their own country. This month, for example, participants from Iran, Syria, and Bulgaria will be cooking. Of course, each meeting ends with a tasty lunch and jovial conversation.

Each year, Carmen leads off with some of her own favorite recipes. This year she cooked a variation on one of her mother’s recipes of white rice with chicken, vegetables and fried plantain. For dessert, Carmen served maracuyá (known in English as passion fruit) with a recipe containing condensed milk and whipped cream.

Carmen welcomes help in the kitchen, but also serves as a good teacher. “I told one young woman, ‘that plantain needs to go to the hospital’,” says Carmen, jokingly, explaining that her helper had sliced the plantain in the wrong direction. Carmen says that cooking in a group like this is a great way to meet friends and learn from each other. She also gets a good feeling from the group when they are all working together.

What’s the worst recipe that the group has cooked? “Well,” says Carmen, “we misjudged the heat of some chili peppers in one recipe and very sadly the dish was much too hot for us to eat. We always enjoy the process of cooking, though.” What’s the best dish the group has cooked? “One of my all-time favorites is a dish of beef with pickles prepared by my German friend Gerti.” Both mistakes and successes are rewarding in these cooking groups, where the joy of cooking together is shared by all.