“We dream of a ship. On this ship, people of the globe live in harmony with one another. As a cup of Noah’s pudding, each nation embraces the other. We dream of a ship. On this ship, everyone will be able to keep and retain their own identity, culture, faith, heritage, richness, and taste“. Pacifica Institute Silicon Valley Branch cordially invited one and all for its 5th annual Ashure Night, a Noah’s Pudding Contest and Dinner, on Saturday, March 21st of 2015. Around 200 guests were greeted with smiling faces along with name tags and table placements. Undoubtedly table placements are to encourage new connections especially for those who have been before, if not, one may otherwise stick with a familiar face and potentially miss one of the goals of the evening. On the way in old friendships renewed and new ones began as guests entered crossing a metaphorical bridge of hospitality. The venue was decorated in white and blue, which not only matches the Pacifica Logo but also emerged guest in the colors of the ocean and sky which correlated with the theme. Tables were adorned with pink flowers representing warmth and love to be shared. There was a hand crafted Noah’s ark decoration between the stage and the table for the competing Ashure displays.
The dinner was prepared by volunteers and featured a Turkish influenced menu. At each table there were guests from diverse backgrounds of nationality, religion, and culture. Conversation turned to various topics including discussing the background of Ashure and the preparation of it, the style of the event in previous years, new acquaintances were formed, and other current events were discussed. Some shared their experience of preparing Ashure for the first time and the experience of group cooking along with the togetherness achieved through the process. During the evening guest were treated to an endearing short play presented by children pretending to make a pot of Ashure “soup”. Each of the children representing one ingredient in the soup and making a themed metaphor regarding the addition of that ingredient to the soup. The following are a few lines from the play. “Peace begins with a smile. I was a tiny wheat seed planted in peace, rain watered me with peace, people harvested me with peace and now I shall add peace to the soup. As a nut I respect that some may not like me, some even may have an allergy, but still I deserve to be part of it, I wish my existence will add tolerance to the soup.” Sugar hoped to bring deliciousness and joy. Other ingredients desired to add harmony and love. “Open your heart wide like the ocean, become inspired with faith and love for others, offer a hand to those in need, and be concerned about everyone, says Fethullah Gulen, I wish the small pot of a handful of beans will make a love soup and bring peace to the whole world.”
One of the evenings games started shortly after the play as guest were invited to participate in an Ashure table team trivia game promoting conversation. A few of the questions were: What is the meaning of the word Ashure? The answer was the number 10. Ashure being pronounced in (at least) Arabic and Turkish for the number ten and also coming from the date of the 10th of Muharram on the Islamic Lunar calender, in which Ashure is prepared. Another question was regarding the minimum number of ingredients in Ashure, with ten being the answer again. The ongoing metaphor theme was touched on in the question of what Ashure symbolizes with the answer being, harmonious coexistence where diverse ingredients keeping their own identities and flavors although being mixed together in a delicious union, wealth in the richness of the dish through its abundant and diverse ingredients, and sharing by bringing people together through sharing Ashure. The winners of the contest were treated to an exquisite Turkish coffee cup and saucer.
This year there were five groups with 20 competitors in the contest. The groups formed themes for the presentation of their ashure. The groups were formed by members of Pacifica and anyone from the area that would like to sign up for the contest. Days before the contest groups gathered formulating their plans for recipe and decoration. Potentially starting even the day before the event with the preparation of soaking the beans for the Ashure. Commonly on the day of the event groups started cooking and preparing their individual ingredients in the morning to then bring together to cook in a combined pot and finally to finalize the decoration.
Upon browsing the Ashure display table, one can notice it is not easy to be a judge with such creative entries. The winner of this year’s contest for presentation was Team one, “Noah’s Brave Souls” who had crafted the scene from the traditional story, depicting the origin of Ashure. Their presentation was of a handcrafted ark complete with a few animals surrounded by sand. Gathered near the ark where Noah and his followers around the bowl of celebratory Ashure. For guests unfamiliar with the story they learned that once the ark had finally reached land all the remaining food on the ark was gathered and prepared to make a meal to celebrate the receding of the water and the end of the flood. The meal prepared was a unique one consisting of what was remaining in the pantry and resembles what we share today as Ashure. In Turkey and in other countries, as well as in some Christian and Jewish communities Ashure may be traditionally shared with neighbors, relatives, colleagues, and friends as a gesture of togetherness, peace and love. The taste of Ashure may be as diverse as the people who prepare it. The base of the dessert consists of wheat, beans, sugar, dried fruits and nuts where the types of each vary. Garnishes and spices if any can really change the flavor and may be one or more added together such as, cinnamon, clove, rose water, seeds, citrus zest, and a verity of fruits with pomegranate kernels being a favorite. Some of the best cooks of Ashure know the secret to be in finding a balance and harmony in the flavors that are chosen. This can also be likened to the necessity of trying to live in balance and harmony with each other in life, that we may have a more enjoyable life experience. The consistency shouldn’t be too thick or runny, but a medium pudding. All flavors should both mingle and retain their own character.
The winner for taste was Team 2, featuring a carved melon in the shape of a turkey with quite elegant plumage of fruit and leaf feathers where the Ashure was inside the melon.
This year’s other three Ashure consisted of other diverse themes one of them, Team 4, “End World Hunger One Plate at a Time, One person starves to death every 4 seconds, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Donate to: www.embracerelief.org”, with the presentation featuring a central bowl with toppings arranged in the form of the world map and the exterior in a starred pattern.
Team 5 picked a new way to touch on the common boat them. They used a single piece of carved wood as the bowl, decorating the Ashure with a wave pattern, with the boat on a painted watery scene. This year as well as years past there have been a verity of boats prepared of carved wood, melon, or other materials to display the Ashure.
One of the most unique presentations was Team 6 of three tiered bowls surrounded by tulle, baby lights, candles, leaves, and filled with potpourri and ornately carved oranges with cloves.
Previous years have presented the Ashure as a peacock or other birds with a leafy branch, Rumi’s dervishes, babies, country flags, world peace and current events have be incorporated into themes as well. The competition has evolved in to much more than just your average cooking contest but rather into quite an artistic statement with multiple goals throughout the process. All of the contestants received the fitting gift of a wooden spoon having the event and date written on it by a Turkish calligrapher.
Each of the cooking contest judges; Maggi Henderson Reverend at Old First Presbyterian Church, Shelley Swan Executive Director at Carry the Vision, Kathi McShane Pastor at Campbell United Methodist Church and Maha Elgenaidi President of Islamic Networks Group (ING), were asked to come forth to speak a few words. To briefly paraphrase their words one mentioned about an idea she liked to promote known as Radical Hospitality, noting it was something she encouraged her community to aspire to. She appreciated Pacifica saying that she felt one of the goals of the evening, was this idea of Radical Hospitality. Maha Elgenaidi mentioned how much fun the event was that it was the most fun Muslim event that she had been to, stating that usually Muslim events are quite serious with the goal of teaching the other about us. She also mentioned that Pacifica’s goals in intercultural and interfaith dialogue were something the Muslim world could benefit to take note of. One judge was not quite sure of her qualifications to be a judge other than her love of a variety of food. All the judges were most appreciative of the aim of the event and hospitality received. Each of the judges were presented with a framed poem of Maulana Jalaluddin Rumi’s Seven Advices in which Rumi strives to condense his teachings into seven advices which follow.
“1- In generosity and helping others…Be like the river. 2- In compassion and grace…Be like the sun. 3- In concealing other’s faults…Be like the night. 4- In anger and fury…Be like the dead. 5- In modesty and humility…Be like the soil. 6- In tolerance…Be like the ocean. 7- Either appear as you are or…Be as you appear.”
Finally it was time to taste the Ashure. Guests were given a cup prepared from one of the contestants’ pots of Ashure.
Wait it’s not over yet! Unbeknown to guest they were in for quite another surprise as two musicians, John Erlich and Susie Goldenstain, playing several musical pieces up to about 200 years old with traditional instruments, serenaded them.
A final dimension to the program was the opportunity to learn a little about Embrace Relief and the Enes Kanter Education Fund, establishing a scholarship fund for new college freshmen who are the first female in her immediate family attending college OR who are the child of a firefighter or member of law enforcement who lost their life while serving in their line of duty. Mr. Kanter has committed to donating $100 every other day over the course of the next 6 months and has also donated several incentives to encourage outside contributions towards this campaign. Guest were encouraged to donate to this worthy charity. More information can be found at, http://embracerelief.org/eneskanter/.
As the evening wound to a close, hosts are in hopes that all are now full with; happily satisfied stomachs, warm conversation, and a sense of relaxation and peace, as all part ways, new friends share information and farewells. As one guest noted, “Pacifica had outdone themselves hosting quite a diverse program to reflect the diversity and the togetherness reflected in Ashure and the world alike, for surely we are all on the same ship and we can live in harmony while retain our own unique identities, if we work for it. This night was a genuine effort toward that lofty goal, one that we all may take example of.”