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Meals from around the World | Best Cook

Meals from around the World | Best Cook
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In 2009 Sarah Commerford and her 15-year-old son, Tim, watched the movie Julie and Julia together. Afterwards, Tim said, “Why don’t we make a different meal from another country every week?” It was an intriguing and ambitious idea. Thus began an international gastronomic adventure, right there on a quiet side street in Holliston, Massachusetts. According to Google, the planet was home to 191 countries at that time. Sarah went alphabetically, and each week, she blogged about their journey, calling it “What’s Cooking in Your World?” and describing the results of recipes from whatever country she and Tim were exploring that week.

Sarah used her blog and social media to ask people in each country what they liked to eat. And people from Azerbaijan and Iceland and Moldova would respond with recipes and stories. “I wasn’t looking for the national dish so much as what an average family would sit down to eat on a normal day,” Sarah explains. During her “trips,” she made many friends around the world. Sarah works as an advocate for families with special-needs children, but each week for more than three years, she blogged about her discoveries in the world of foreign foods.

While we talked, Sarah, an animated, green-eyed woman with a mass of blonde hair, was cubing potatoes in her small but interesting kitchen, full of antiques she’s picked up over the years at flea markets. She was making Slovak mushroom soup, a rich concoction that made her kitchen smell like the forests of Eastern Europe.

For her project, she’d bought a new laptop so that she could blog about her venture, like Julie in the film. That no-longer-new laptop sat on the counter between us, sticky with evidence of her trek through the culinary wilderness of the big world beyond her windows. “It’s all messed up with food now,” Sarah says. “I tried to cover it with Saran Wrap, but that didn’t work …

“My family learned a lot about the world this way. For each nation, I had to research the country and the food. Then I’d do the shopping and the cooking, then plate the food and post it on my blog.” Oh yes, and get around the table for that night’s journey to yet another faraway place, sometimes impossible to pronounce. (How do you say Niue?)

It wasn’t easy. Where do you find a durian (a Southeast Asian fruit) in the suburbs? She did manage to find one in Boston’s South End, only to discover that its odor is so disgusting (compared variously to rotting onions or raw sewage) that it’s banned from some airports. But, ever inventive, Sarah managed to make ice cream with it.

Sarah fed her family ostrich steaks, wild boar, and alligator, much of which was delivered by UPS. She started with Afghanistan (chicken and chickpea stew with rice) and ended with Zim­babwe (sosatie, marinated meat and apricots, skewered and grilled). She even dug a firepit to be true to African cooking: “My husband came home and saw me with this big fire out in the yard, and he was like, ‘What are you doing?’ I think he thought I was going to set the fence on fire.”

While Sarah was in the midst of this project, the map changed. By the time she ended her journey in November 2012, the world had expanded to 193 countries. “I now have friends from around the world,” she says, “and I really learned the global map in a way I’d never learned it in school.”

And she can now make a mean chivito sandwich from Uruguay, piadina from San Marino, and doubles from Trinidad and Tobago. Not bad for a New England home cook in Holliston, Massachusetts.

Updated Friday, February 14th, 2014

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