By Nina M. Scott
(Published in print: Friday, February 12, 2016)
Katy van Geel and I are enthusiastic foodies, cooks and 5 College Learning in Retirement members. Last spring, Katy asked if I would co-moderate a course with her with the intriguing title “1000 Foods to Eat Before You Die,” taken from food critic Mimi Sheraton’s recent book of the same name. This is not a recipe book, but rather a compilation and description of iconic foods from around the world. It’s a great read.
Cooking and eating naturally go with storytelling, right? So Katy and I envisioned a course which would be limited to six participants plus the two of us — about the maximum number most of our abodes could hold for a meal — which would move from house to house every week. Each hostess would choose to prepare foods either from different parts of the world, from ethnic or family cuisines, or focusing on one particular food product. We met in the mornings, so lunch was the featured meal.
LIR has a preview of upcoming courses and activities every spring and fall, when course moderators assemble to brief interested members or outsiders on what exactly their courses would cover. We had no idea if our course would even appeal, so we shamelessly decided to seduce prospective members by offering a warm taco dip and corn chips to taste. It worked! It produced a long waiting list, and the lucky six who got in represented the Valley well: Amherst, Chesterfield, Leeds and Northampton.
We had a frankly marvelous semester, sashaying from home to home, cooking, eating and sharing many, many stories. We also organized a field trip to three ethnic markets in the area, which was a definite eye-opener.
Katy compiled many of our recipes and photos for sharing with each other; and now, with Hampshire Life readers, on an occasional basis. We have titled them “Tasting Circle,” as that describes who we are and what we did.
Here’s a sample recipe to begin with.
Seductive Warm Taco Dip
1 16-ounce can refried beans with green chilies
8 ounces sour cream
8 ounces cream cheese (at room temperature)
½ package taco seasoning (any brand)
3 ounces Monterey Jack cheese, grated (plain or Pepper Jack)
3 ounces sharp cheddar, grated
Chopped green peppers
Chopped mild white onion
Preheat oven to 350°F.
Mix all ingredients. Bake uncovered in a greased 8x8x2” dish until bubbling. Let cool until it won’t burn your mouth. Arrange the topping ingredients in 3 vertical stripes like the Mexican flag, green, then white, then red. Serve with sturdy corn chips (the scoop kind). Leftovers can be reheated in a microwave.
Nina Scott is a retired UMass professor of Spanish. She has lived in Amherst since 1968.