(The Humanitarian Social Network)
Each week we will try and feature a member of the foodie working group. If you would like to be featured or you would like to write a feature of a member, send me a message (please volunteer!).
This weeks (and our first!) featured foodie member is Ella Gray. Yay for Ella. She's been an active member of the working group with funny food stories, great photos and a love of food and community. Read more about Ella in her own words below.
Ella Gray works with MSF in the field as a registered nurse and when not on assignment, splits her time between Baltimore and Southern Vermont. We gave Ella a bunch of questions to get to know her a bit better and what floats her foodie boat.
How would you define a foodie?
Someone who cares about what she eats and derives pleasure from the smells and textures of food and spices. Someone who reads about food in her spare time. Often someone who likes to cook but it can be someone who simply enjoys eating and *connects* with eating almost as a spiritual or sensual connection. Eating is an experience not just something one does to survive.
When did you discover how much you love food?
Probably in my earliest days of living alone, in my late teens when I would just buy random, interesting things at the grocery store and combine them to see what kinds of flavors they would make and if they would interest me or my friends. I have a history of truly terrible food outcomes but I've also had a fair number of successes.
Tell us a crazy food story:
Well the most recent one is to do with deciding to cook an entire thanksgiving dinner in Northern Uganda where very little was available and everyone seemed unwilling to even think about selling me a turkey. And I was the only American so while everyone was more than willing to help and do what I instructed them to do, I orchestrated the whole thing. It turned out hilarious (catching the turkey on fire) but mostly delicious with turkey, candied yams, mashed potatoes, homemade pumpkin pie, freshly made whipped cream (I put it in a jar and shook shook shook it until it was the perfect texture -- making sure not to turn it into butter!).
There is also the time that I was the primary cook in a house with a vegetarian, a vegan and a celiac so everything I made had to be meat, wheat, and dairy free. That was good preparation for field cooking because it made me really think about substitutions and making things flavorful and interestingly textured without the typical things we fall back on.
However there are also the times when I was younger and I tried to make coconut macaroons for a vegan friend and attempted to substitute soy milk for sweetened condensed milk (fail!) and the time in high school when my friend and I decided to that we wanted to bake and everything turned out terribly (little pastry bunnies with absolutely no flavoring, pie that was basically soup with a crust) but that her older brother loved and ate heartily anyway (no one else would touch the stuff).
What’s the best thing you ever ate?
There are many things but the best thing with the funniest story was tiramisu from the local coop in Vermont and when we asked who made the heavenly stuff we were told it came from the mobsters out of providence -- a cover up for their less appealing activities! I have a belief that my best meals are always yet to come although I have a deep and abiding love for Mediterranean food and Spanish ham.
What’s the best thing you ever cooked?
I made truffles in the field last year (for a colleagues birthday) -- not so easy in the heat. And I also made a chocolate cake that got major yum reviews. At home I most often make brunch with banana pancakes, scones, baked apple pancakes, and sausage or bacon and I invite everyone and we do what we were always supposed to do over food -- bond and talk and build community.
Where do you like to shop for ingredients where you live right now?
I like to shop at the local coop but we also have several grocery stores here (I'm in Vermont waiting for a visa to Sudan right now).
Advice for newbie cooks in the field?
Don't be afraid to experiment but always have a backup. At home whenever I cook I say "well, if it's terrible I'll buy everyone pizza !" You can't really do that in the field so I always try to have a backup plan just in case everything is a disaster (usually scrambled eggs with grated tomato is an excellent and easy meal at any time -- or a frittata).
Things we would never find your kitchen without?
A really good, sharp knife. A microplane grater (although this isn't exactly true since I don't carry it into the field). Garlic, cheese, SPICES! (to read what other members think belong in a kitchen, see here).
Any last words?
I'm not a great cook but you don't have to be in order to make something that people will enjoy and that will satisfy hunger and facilitate beautiful friendships and good memories.
Thanks, Ella, for an entertaining profile and for being brave enough to be the first featured foodie!
awesome article! would love to share a meal with you Ella, come out to Kyrgyzstan! Thanks for doing this Z, great idea!
Yeah, this is interesting and fun. It is great to hear how people relate to food - both cooking and eating - when they are "in the field". It is also a great way to connect with new colleagues (my male counterparts talk about football as a way in - I try cooking/food). You are welcome in Arusha, Ella!
Glad you like it Karen! Check out the rest of the stuff in the foodies group and let me know what other stuff you would like to see :) Any interest in being profiled? Pretty please?
We will have a new feature on Monday...stay tuned!
It was the pretty please that got me.... Ok go on then, although I am not half as interesting or "foodie" as Ella