“Come to the table,” Lamya announced.  Thus began the sharing of a meal and conversation at the home of Dr. Shakir Hamoodi and his wife Lamya Najim.  Sharing conversations over meals with the Hamoodis and their five children—all born and raised in Columbia—has been part of a remarkable journey that has brought us together often over the years and fed our kindred spirits.  

Called to the table, the family collects around shared plates and platters–each arrayed with a culinary creation as beautiful to behold and as diverse in its geographic origins. Lamya’s menu is a culinary potpourri of Iraqi dishes that remind the Hamoodis of their Middle Eastern heritage, now shared with local friends and passed on to their own children—daughter Lamees, and sons Owais, Salahadeen, Husam, and Abdul Rahman.

Always part of the fare are red piquanté South African peppadew peppers stuffed with heavenly French feta. Another favorite is creamy Labna–thick Middle Eastern yogurt with mint spread across a serving plate with the back of a spoon.  It is sprinkled with roasted thyme, drizzled with extra virgin olive oil, and eaten with flat bread. Honey in a jar lined within with thin slices of pistachios, pine nuts, and almonds is served with slices of cow’s milk cheese imported from the Pyrenees.  And always, there is a dish of pitted, herbed Picholine French olives.

A brunch meal includes platters of crushed tomatoes sautéed in olive oil and topped with gently poached eggs. Pieces of homemade pita bread are used to soak up flavorful sauces. 

Wondering if the family ever prepares seafood, I once mentioned my love of scallops with linguine. “What are scallops?” Lamees asked.  “Mollusks in scallop-shaped shells,” I explained.  “Large sea scallops are found in oceans, but the smaller, sweeter and more tender bay scallops are harvested from shallow waters of bays and estuaries along the east coast of the United States.”  

The following evening, friends joined Kit and me for dinner at Boomerang Creek.  The menu was Linguine with Bay Scallops served with slices of handmade asiago cheese-encrusted focaccia bread, a recipe from “No Need to Knead”—a cookbook written and illustrated by our friend Suzanne Dunaway long before Americans developed a craving for this magical Italian bread.  The salad was simple and light—slices of grapefruit, navel oranges, avocado, and kiwi with a spritz of aged balsamic vinegar. 

The wine that I’d selected to accompany the meal was a Martín Codáx Albariño Spanish white—a cause for celebration in the way that good wine and conversation complement a meal.  Albariño is a medium-bodied crisp, refreshing wine with bright fruit character and subtle floral aromas, enjoyable with everything from salads to seafood and poultry dishes.  

A week later, our son Hayden called from his home in Madrid, Spain.  I mentioned our meal at the Hamoodi home, shared my recipe for scallops, and then mentioned the incredible bottle of Albariño white wine.  Hayden immediately began describing the wine’s crisp and fruity character, knowing it well as a popular regional Spanish varietal.  Then reading a bit of history from the label, I added, “Martín Códax was a 13th century Galician troubadour whose romantic works are still sung and played today in the Northwest of Spain.” 

“Makes sense,” Hayden said, “since that’s the very region where Spain’s Atlantic sea scallops are harvested.”

Food is memory. It is also a part of every community’s history.  Three years ago, Shakir and his family closed their family-owned-and-operated World Harvest International and Gourmet Foods Market.  Not a week goes by that I don’t think about stopping in to visit with Shakir over a cup of his Turkish coffee and plate of his lemony olives. This gracious man who greets me as “Sister Cathy” relished the relationships he developed with his customers.  I visited “Brother Shakir” often to re-stock our larder with imported cheeses and olives, Italian tuna packed in olive oil, dark chocolate with sea salt, and 28 oz. cans of Italian peeled plum tomatoes that I prefer for soups—and my recipe for scallops.

Like the Hamoodi family, I understand that shared conversations and meals—planned or spontaneous—become food memories to be savored again and again over time.  As Kit and I continue to shelter at home, we reflect on the times when we dropped by World Harvest Market or shared meals at the Hamoodi family’s table.  Those food memories live on in my heart and are a comfort in today’s Covid-19 world. 

For that reason, I’ve asked Shakir and Lamya to consider sharing a food story and family recipe with our community via The Common Ingredient—a website launched recently to raise donations for local organizations supporting Covid-19 food relief.  You can do the same thing.  Visit  HYPERLINK “http://www.thecommoningredient.com” www.thecommoningredient.com to learn how. Pick a recipe, try it, and make a donation.  Because the common ingredient that matters is love.

Cathy Salter is a geographer and columnist who lives with her husband, Kit, in Southern Boone County at a place they call Boomerang Creek.