Good Life

Well-Seasoned | Program unites families with international dishes

Steamy windows and the savory aroma of Hungarian paprika took the edge off the mid-winter chill in the Foster Avenue kitchen of Laura Reidy and Ralph Licastro last Saturday evening.

The air was charged with anticipation as Monica Montag brought a big pot of water to a boil for her homemade nokedli, little dumplings, to serve with her Chicken Paprikash, spiced with paprika that she brought from Hungary. Platters of homemade cookies, Vanilias Kifli and Ishli Fank dipped in chocolate were on the side counter, ready to serve for dessert.

Reidy was relaxed with her friend Montag at the stove, as she readied limes and herbs for garnish. Asked if she was ready to entertain nine paying customers at her charmingly dressed dining room table, bright with spring flowers, she said she was ready because Montag was doing the cooking.

Montag had back up, as well. Her mother, Eva Montag, who lives at Mount Nittany Residences, had made most of the delicate cookies and the flaky cheese biscuits known as Pogacsa, which were served with drinks.

“She really is a fabulous baker, and she loves to do it,” Montag said of her 89-year-old mother. “And her nokedli would look better than mine,” she admitted, smiling, as she dropped small bits of dough into the boiling water. “She has the knack.”

Montag had a bag of egg noodles on the side, just in case hers didn’t work out — but she didn’t have to resort to using them. Her inner Hungarian took over, or the spirit of her mother steadied her hand above the steam. It all worked out just fine, and 12 people sat down and enjoyed a Hungarian dinner together to support the programs of Global Connections.

Host Reidy has a special perspective on the organization. She is president of the community nonprofit that is affiliated with Penn State and the Centre County United Way.

Formed in 1961 with the goal of assisting international students, researchers and teachers that come to the Centre Region to attend the university, Global Connections provides a network of support for families through a diverse portfolio of programs.

Reidy explained where the $75 per person goes after it is collected at the GC office. The hosts or sponsors of the dinners provide ingredients and support to the chefs, many of whom are international residents that volunteer their time and expertise to prepare the menus.

“The funds raised through the dinners are used to fund the Global Connections’ programs. Last year, Global Connections served nearly 7,000 individuals through outreach to the international and local community. As the international population grows in Centre County, we hear themes of loneliness and isolation, alienation and lack of self-confidence, challenges with English as a second language, and other adjustment issues. Through GC programs such as the International Friendship Program, Conversation Partners Program, English as a Second Language classes and the International Speakers Program, the organization provides positive outcomes, such as improvement in language skills, creation of support systems and friend groups, development of self-confidence, and the sharing of time and cultural talents.

Reidy has a long history with the organization.

“My family and I have been involved with Global Connections since the mid-1990s, and I have been the president since last May. We have ‘friended’ nine internationals; we do keep in touch with them and have visited some at their international homes. We really enjoy the International Friendship Program — it’s a great way to learn about others’ differences in a positive way and diminish inaccurate perceptions. We have shared many meals with our international ‘friends’ — food seems to be a common element that unites cultures.”

Dinners took place in five area homes, with menus of Israeli, Tanzanian, Tuscan, Korean and Azerbaijani cuisine. But it is not too late to sign up for other dinners that will take place in February.

On Feb. 1, “Sabores del Perú: Taste of Peru” will be hosted by Dave and Kat Snowe with the Peruvian dishes prepared by Mary Ines Castillo. At host Carl Hill’s home, “Paprika and the Magyar Spirit: Secrets of Hungarian Cuisine” will be prepared by Vanda Hurnyi-Mikoné.

There is still room for diners on Feb. 8 in the Lemont home of Sue and Ron Smith, where Pieter and Lida Ouwehand will warm the February cold with an “Out of Africa” menu. Persian, Nepalese and Thai menus are planned for that evening. A complete and tantalizing listing of the dinners and the menus can be found at the Global Connections website, www.gc-cc.org/events/passport-on-a-plate-dinner.

Get to know your international neighbors, build community and encourage world peace, one bite at a time.

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