Extending the Table: Honoring Dietary Restrictions

Ben and Heather Kulp’s 6-week challenge to cook exclusively from
Extending the Table Cookbook.

Extending the Table

One of the worst feelings a host can have is setting down a plate of food only to realize your guest can’t eat it. Heather had this experience recently when she planned dinner with two friends she hadn’t seen in awhile. She picked a restaurant they had all loved during a younger period in life. When they arrived, though, the friends mentioned that they were following a gluten-free diet. Very little on the menu was gluten-free, so the friends ended up eating plain salad. Heather’s tempeh reuben was less tasty because of it.

We used to be a culture in which it was rude to have dietary restrictions. You were labeled “picky” or even worse, “weird.” Even though Heather’s been a vegetarian for 13 years, her grandmother’s maxim rings through her ears whenever someone serves her meat, “Eat everything on your plate; there are starving children in Africa!”

The funny thing is, most countries do not eat as much wheat or meat as we do in the U.S. and Canada.

Our soil and land space has made farming and animal husbandry easier than in some other countries. Heather’s ancestors grew wheat in Kansas and Oklahoma, even surviving the Dust Bowl in order to grow food for market. Ben’s ancestors raised chickens. But both also had substantial gardens, where they could grow diverse “crops” to be eaten at home. So, the dietary focus was not on wheat or meat alone, but on lots of fresh vegetables and fruits.

Now, it’s hard to go a meal without having at least two servings of wheat or one serving of meat—that is, unless you cook from home! Well, Grandma, thanks to Extending the Table and other resources about global diets, we understand that our dietary choices—including being “picky” about not eating much meat and focusing on whole grains and vegetables–can actually help reduce starvation in Africa.

One of the new features in the latest edition of Extending the Table is the letters next to each recipe indicating whether it is vegetarian and/or gluten-free. This was particularly helpful this week, as we cooked for many people with dietary restrictions.

First, Heather and our son visited her family in Colorado. With a sister and brother-in-law who both have celiac disease (which means eating gluten can cause severe intestinal damage and even cancer—this is distinct from people who choose to eat gluten-free or have a wheat allergy/sensitivity), the gluten-free designations came in handy. Too often, these relatives find themselves buying expensive “imitation” foods that are trying to be like the wheat-based version: crackers, cookies, and bread that aren’t very wholesome and are rarely tasty. So many recipes are naturally gluten-free, though, so Heather focused on those.

The New Mexico Hominy Soup (p. 102) was a hit. We subbed in chorizo for the pork neck and kicked up the spice a bit (after all, we were in the West, where chili powder is used like salt and pepper!). We even looked up how hominy is made. It seems like a great way for families in cultures without refrigeration to preserve corn. An attempt at Cabbage and Tomato Sauce (p. 128) was less well-received. Though it was wholesome, it didn’t have much flavor. I’ll follow the suggestion in the margin next time and include chunky peanut butter (as long as no one has a peanut allergy!).

The next dietary restriction we faced was a friend who gave birth recently. Babies are quite sensitive to what their mothers eat, so things that cause gas in us—beans, cabbage, broccoli—can be incredibly painful for them. So, we focused on bland and healthful items, especially those high in protein (a necessary nutrient for breastfeeding mothers around the world). While Heather’s grandmother’s sauerkraut and bratwurst is anything but bland, most German food is known for its baseness. So, we stuck with a mostly-German menu. First was the Creamy Carrot Soup (p. 79). Rich in beta carotene, this helps baby’s eye development. We paired it with the Grambrot Hearty Wheat Bread (p. 61), though we found the bread almost too hearty! We laughed at the comment in the recipe’s margin, “It’s real bread that gives you something to chew.” Indeed, it was great dipped in the soup. To honor the new father’s heritage, we also made the Colombian Orange and Peanut Salad (p. 118), subbing spinach for the Boston lettuce. Fresh and rich in both iron and protein, we served the salad after the soup for a cool finish to the meal.

10_OrangePeanutSalad_ExtendTable-1293Colombian Orange and Peanut Salad

The final dietary restriction we had this week was an unpleasant one—both of us got the flu. We lived off of Ginger Tea (p. 39) and other ayurvedic-type dishes. We especially loved the heat of the Assorted Vegetable Saute (Indonesian, p. 138). As the older version of the cookbook recommends, we added some tempeh (fermented bean cake) to increase the protein content. The spices, especially the chilis, used in other countries’ cooking certainly cleared our sinuses and gave us the immunity boost we needed!

IndonesianDishAssorted Vegetable Saute, author photo

As we navigate the increasingly complicated world of the global food trade and its impact on our bodies, we are grateful to have tools to help those who host us, and those we host, honor a variety of dietary choices.

To buy Extending the Tableclick here

MennoByte_photoBen Kulp is a cellist, Suzuki cello instructor, and entrepreneur. Heather Scheiwe Kulp is the Clinical Fellow at the Harvard Law School Negotiation and Mediation Clinical Program. Along with a son born February 2014, they live in Boston, Massachusetts, and attend the Mennonite Congregation of Boston. Together, they enjoy hiking, listening to live music, and enjoying good food with friends.

Look for their posts each Wednesday thru June 11, under the special series category, Six Weeks with Extending the Table. Or sign up to receive all Mennobytes posts by subscription from the SUBSCRIBE button on the right side of the blog.


Extending beyond our boundaries

Ben and Heather Kulp’s 6-week challenge to cook exclusively from Extending the Table Cookbook.

By Ben and Heather Kulp

We made a ceremony of it. The first night of our new challenge, to eat out of Extending the Table exclusively for six weeks, we put our little guy to bed, poured ourselves a glass of Menno Tea (it tastes just like Grandmother’s iced tea!), and cracked open the cookbook. As with our More with Less challenge, we wanted to start by getting a sense of how the cookbook was laid out, what was included along with the recipes, and what ingredients we may need to stock to maximize the number of recipes we can make.

Extending the Table

Amid the many beautiful stories, photos, and instructions for when and how the recipes are often eaten, we noticed one thing: we wanted to eat it all!

Soon, though, we realized a limiting factor about Extending the Table that wasn’t present with the potatoes-and-milk recipes in More with Less; we had lots of experience eating food from other countries, but we have far less experience cooking global food. Though they sounded amazing, we had no idea how to measure our success with new (to us) recipes like Tuna Omelet or Beef Wat or Chin Chin.

So, we decided to start our challenge with the familiar.

This week, we cooked dishes from countries that either one or both of us had visited. Since we had tasted the local flavors of that particular country (or at least the region of that country we visited), we figured we would have a good sense about whether or not our end product was authentic.

Our first dish was Cuban-Style Black Beans (p. 165), actually designated as from Puerto Rico. A few years ago, we spent a wonderful week in Puerto Rico celebrating Ben’s mother’s birthday. The simple beans and rice took us back to the easy days of vacation in the El Yunque rainforest.

A quick dish for a busy evening was Tico Tortilla Skillet (p. 188 in the first edition). Ben put it together in 20 minutes so we could trade off eating and putting our son to bed.

The first hot day of the year prompted us to crave salad. Accompanying our simple spinach and almonds was the Greek Salad Dressing (p. 121), which reminded Heather of a mountain town she visited in Greece. Overlooking the ocean, the town enjoyed salty breezes and brined fish, often accompanied by a lemony dressing like the one in Extending the Table.

Heather had a few friends over on Saturday to participate in a clothing, accessories, and book swap. She made them Guacamole (p. 267), with fresh avocado and the first herbs of the season. It reminded her of the few weeks she spent in Mexico building houses. Every morning, noon, and evening, her group would receive handmade tortillas, rice, beans, and guacamole for a meal. And with the intensity of the daily work, it was a comfort to have the same meal three times a day.

After a few “safe” dishes, we decided to branch out. Heather picked a recipe that looked a little more complicated, used ingredients we rarely use (mung beans!), and involved a cooking process we use even less frequently (frying!). The Samosas’ (p. 282) aromatic spice blend—cardamom, curry, coriander, cumin—invigorated our Saturday night air.


A photo of Samosas from the new edition of Extending the Table.

We were so pleased with the Kenyan pastries’ effect on our evening, until Heather began to cook them.

She must have worked the dough too long and filled the pastries too full, because beans and onions spilled out every which way, no matter how much she pinched the dough together. Moreover, she hadn’t paid attention to the instruction to cool the filling before putting it in the dough, so every time she dipped into the bean pot, she pulled her hand back with a start. Anyone ever touched a hot raisin?

Finally, Heather didn’t pay close enough attention to the measurements for the beans. The recipe calls for 1¼ cup cooked beans, but she assumed it was 1¼ cup uncooked beans. After she had fried all the dough, she still had 2+ cups of bean filling. Guess what Ben will have for lunch the next few days!

While the samosas were a mess, they were indeed tasty and they taught us a few things that we’ll take with us on the rest of our Extending journey. First, if there are directions, read them closely—and understand them before you attempt to deviate! Second, the familiar may be comfortable (and we certainly enjoyed some excellent Turkish, Puerto Rican, and Costa Rican comfort foods), but the unfamiliar forces us outside our boundaries. Just like our son, who learned to turn over this week and now wants to explore the entire length of our apartment, we need to stretch beyond our safety blankets if we want to experience the world. The “success” of recipes, just like the success of rolling over for the first time, is not about how fancy or how skillful you are. Success is about trying it out, enjoying the process, and appreciating the new perspective taking such a risk gives you.

Maybe next week, we’ll try the Wat.

Ben and Heather Kulp


Extending Our Family Food Challenge: Six Weeks with Extending the Table

Special Mennobyte series: Six Weeks with Extending the Table by Ben and Heather Kulp

Extending the TableFor those familiar with us, Ben and Heather Kulp, you know that we have been seeking to make more intentional choices about our lifestyles, especially as we spend time getting to know our son, who was born in February. After hearing about a fellow church family’s own transformative experiences around food choices, we were inspired to take on a food consumption experiment. During Lent, we spent 40 days cooking exclusively from More with Less. We learned about food-as-comfort, hospitality, even how to bake with soy flour. But what ultimately came out of our 40 days (other than some wonderful meals and some money saved) was a sense that we want to simplify many other areas of our life as well.

pizzaPizza from refrigerator leftovers from Forty Days of More with Less

So, we’ve begun exploring other ways of getting rid of stuff in our lives—possessions, tasks, relationships—that consume too much time and energy. We’ve discovered Be More with Less, a blog with regular “homework” to help us simplify. Heather has dedicated herself to trying Project 333 starting in July, after she hosts a clothes swap to share the fun with friends. And we’re going through our many years of photos (both print and digital) to focus on the few treasured pictures we’d like to keep.

When we share our simplicity challenges with others, we’ve found a few common trends. There’s the “Oh, I should really do that, too,” conversation, where we’re able to share tips we learned from our More with Less journey. There’s the “Why would you want to get rid of all your stuff?” surprise. But the most striking comments are those from folks who have traveled and/or lived abroad for periods of time who say, “Well, we lived that way for years when I lived in Kenya [insert Guatemala, Thailand, etc.]. . .”

This global perspective on our desire for simplicity made us think about how we could capture some of those lessons while living here in the States. Whenever we asked to hear more about people’s international experiences, we repeatedly heard stories about a common aspect of community life abroad: food.

So, what better way to learn more about simplicity abroad than to share in the mission of another Mennonite World Community Cookbook, Extending the Table? The introduction to the 2014 edition shares that the intention of the book is “to take us to the tables of people for whom food is the staff of life.” So, for the next six weeks, you can follow us as we eat exclusively from the tables of people from countries around the world. We’ll share stories from our adventure as well as brilliantly colored photos from the new edition.

Our first story actually begins with a recipe that is in our dog-eared 2003 edition of the cookbook. Before taking our 40 day Lenten journey using More with Less exclusively, we flipped through all the Mennonite Community Cookbooks to see if there were recipes particular to celebrating a newborn. In Extending the Table, an accompanying note to the Spicy Cinnamon Cup recipe states that Arab families used the beverage to welcome guests who came to visit a new baby. We made this recipe multiple times during parental leave. Unfortunately, this recipe is not included in the new version. (Pictured below is a spiced tea which is included in the new book.)

02_SpicedTea_ExtendTable-4231Spiced Tea in new Extending the Table cookbook

However, we were struck by another story about an infant, this one in the 2014 edition on page 120. Linda Nafziger-Meiser narrates a visit from Zambian friends when her baby was only three months old. She was struck by the simple gift that her friends gave her baby: a cup and plate that her friends had received from the airline along with their in-flight meal. Linda reflects that we often have so many plates that we never use them all; we buy separate plates for our salads, desserts, main dishes, tea cups, even bread rolls. Yet, her friends saw usefulness—even specialness—in the utensils that we would throw away.

We look forward to this journey opening our eyes to the many extraneous “plates” we, as middle-class Americans, hold onto. Our sisters and brothers around the world have much to teach us about seeing the beauty—and simplicity—of what’s right in front of us. We look forward to learning alongside them.

To buy Extending the Table on special sale, click here. Ends May 8, 2014.


Ben Kulp is a cellist, Suzuki cello instructor, and entrepreneur. Heather Scheiwe Kulp is the Clinical Fellow at the Harvard Law School Negotiation and Mediation Clinical Program. Along with a son born February 2014, they live in Boston, Massachusetts, and attend the Mennonite Congregation of Boston. Together, they enjoy hiking, listening to live music, and enjoying good food with friends.

Look for their posts each Wednesday thru June 11, under the special series category, Six Weeks with Extending the Table. Or sign up to receive all Mennobytes posts by subscription from the SUBSCRIBE button on the right side of the blog.