Welcome to A Harmony of Flavors Blog

What is a Blog?  (Web Log)
 /blɔg, [blawg, blog] noun, verb, blogged, blog·ging. noun

A Web site containing the writer's or group of writers' own experiences, observations, opinions, etc.

Chris Rawstern

A blog (short for weblog) is a personal online journal that is frequently updated and intended for general public consumption. Blogs are defined by their format: a series of entries posted to a single page in reverse-chronological order. Blogs generally represent the personality of the author or reflect the purpose of the Web site that hosts the blog. Topics sometimes include brief philosophical musings, commentary on Internet and other social issues, and links to other sites the author favors, especially those that support a point being made on a post.

It is best expressed by a phrase I recently saw:
A weblog is kind of a continual tour, with a human guide you get to know. There are many guides to choose from; each develops an audience. There is a camaraderie that forms between the people who run weblogs and their followers, somewhat like an "electronic-extended family.

What do I want this Blog to represent?

If the Blog represents my personality, then its purpose is to bring together a group of people with a desire to enhance their cooking with new skills and ideas. I certainly do not think for one moment that any one person holds all of the secrets of cooking. It is a community of individuals that combined, sharing their ideas and tips, enhance the cooking experience for us all. My sisters and I talk food and recipes constantly when we are together. It is the same with friends. A glass of wine in one hand, having finished up a wonderful meal, and discussing food, recipes, flavors. Since it is not possible to get everyone in the same room to have this remarkable sharing experience, I created the next best forum: A Harmony of Flavors Blog Site.

About My Cooking and Baking Journey

My name is Chris Rawstern and I have been on a cooking and baking journey for nearly 50 years. My ethnic background is Slovakian on my mother's side and Yugoslavian (Vojvodina in northern Serbia, today) on my father's side. All my grandparents came from Europe to the United States to make a better life for themselves and their families. I know there are many direct relatives still living in Europe, though I do not speak the languages. My ethnic cooking influences began at the cradle! I grew up eating Chicken Paprikas, Machanka (a gravy other than is described in most internet sites) and Holupki for dinners, and Bobalky, Kifli and Kolach Rolls at Christmas time. My Grandma's chicken soup, redolent with saffron, gave me a lifelong love for that expensive spice.

I began my cooking career in Guatemala, in 1970. I moved there as a naïve 20-year-old, and set out to learn everything I could about cooking in a foreign land - from scratch. This process was complicated by the fact that I could not speak or read the language. In Guatemala, in the 1970s there were no such things as frozen foods. There was very little of canned goods, and those few that existed were not very tasty. The way it worked there was the majority of people (and more often their maids) traveled to the market each day to buy everything fresh, including meats. They didn't use cans or pre-packaged foods, but cooked and baked from scratch at a very early age. Six-year-old girls were already proficient at patting out corn tortillas by hand (no tortilla presses there). This experience set a remarkable pattern for the rest of my life, as I learned to prepare healthy simple meals and snacks at home, from scratch, on a tight budget.

While my Mom tried to show me a few things to cook at home, pre marriage, and while I loved to watch her cook and bake, I just didn't have an interest in learning to cook as a child or teen. What she could instill in my young and stubborn brain was mostly how to open a can of this or a box of that. Don't get me wrong - Mom cooked delicious meals, and many things were created from scratch. It was just becoming "the thing" at that time to use ready-made food products. In Guatemala, where those pre-packaged items were not available, I had to learn to recreate from scratch, for example, a healthy and homemade replacement for a can of soup for a casserole. Complicating things further, I had no oven for many of the 12 years I spent there. An electric fry-pan became my "oven." Necessity is truly the mother of invention. 

I learned to use less known things like chayote squash, loquats, cardamom, tamarind and black beans - complete exotics to me at the time. I mixed up cakes with recipes from my trusty "Joy of Cooking" and a copy of a "Better Homes and Gardens New Cookbook" ("new" back in 1970). Another twist I dealt with was baking at high altitude. Guatemala City is at about 5,600 feet. I learned to compensate. On top of all that, when I did finally get an oven, its dials were in Celsius, and I tried to "guesstimate" what the temperature should be. For a young newlywed, these should have seemed insurmountable odds. Looking back, I wonder why they weren't? I guess youth is indomitable. I proceeded to learn all I could, especially from my mistakes and I feel that all these lessons cemented a firm basis for me in cooking, baking and using recipes. This was my first adventure into ethnic cooking.

I gardened. I grew fresh herbs and used them. I learned that I had a fairly green thumb. I grew broccoli, cabbage, sweet potatoes, a variety of squash that when young, resembled zucchini in flavor, and when allowed to mature, was the closest thing I had for making a pumpkin pie! Chayote squash, leeks, radishes, carrots, tomatoes, peppers; you name it, if I could find seeds, I tried planting it! I learned to cook all the typical Guatemalan dishes I could, and in doing so, established my lifelong love of fresh herbs and spices, baking from scratch, and a complete love of learning to cook recipes that has continued to this day. I am blessed to have the ability to read a recipe and be able to "taste" it in my mind, so more often than not, the recipe turns out exactly as I anticipate.

Moving Along . . .

Once back Stateside, moving on with my life, I discovered an interest in all things Indian. India holds a strong fascination for me, and the foods all sound so wonderful. Having already discovered a love for herbs and spices while in Guatemala, this was a natural progression, discovering new spices, new flavors, and new ways to combine them. A Harmony of Flavors, in every sense!

In this website, I hope to pass along recipes that I have been making for 40+ years, as well as many brand-new ones. All of them, hopefully, will be ones I have already tested, and so pass on any tips or notes with things to watch for, things I have changed, and what just plain works better. I have amassed huge quantities of recipes over the years, and recently have begun giving classes locally. During these classes I encountered a number of people suffering from gluten intolerance. This condition affects millions of people throughout this country and the world. I needed to educate myself on what is gluten-free. I have learned so much and have decided to dedicate a portion of my site to educate and help share recipes and tips to deal with this condition. So far, I have prepared many gluten free desserts and a few other items, and my family and my classes cannot tell the difference between them and the version made with regular wheat flours.

I love food. I love new recipes. I love to create new recipe combinations and try them. I hope to inspire you to follow me!

My passion is to teach people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and help pass along my love and joy of food, both simple and exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, trying new things weekly. I would love to hear from you, to help me continue my journey to explore diverse culinary experiences and hopefully to start you on a journey of your own.