Celebrating Festive Mayhem 2 with Guest Rhoda Berlin

debbiejpruss is the winner of Rhoda’s book. Please watch for an email from her!

I’m so happy to welcome Rhoda Berlin to the blog today. We’ve had some delightful email exchanges about Festive Mayhem 2. Amazingly in her blog post below she mentions Buffalo, Iowa which is a small town near my hometown. I had to find out how someone from Los Angeles had heard of Buffalo. (It was through a friend.)

Rhoda: Many thanks to the Wickeds for the warm welcome!

I’m delighted to be here with some thoughts on holidays and culture. “Culture” means different things to different people. For our purposes, let’s define it as what goes into living our everyday lives. This includes how we speak, dress, celebrate, and – of course – what we eat. With this in mind, holidays and culture are tightly entwined.

During a recent wait at the post office, I overheard a woman and her young son discussing Thanksgiving. He asked, “Where are we eating?” (A boy after my own heart.)

His mom said, “Aunt Marisol and Uncle Derrick’s.”*

I could practically see the boy drooling as he said, “Oh, good! Yummy turkey, and I love lumpia!”

His joyful anticipation of both American and Filipino dishes whisked me back to the epicurean acculturation that I grew up with. In my Korean immigrant family, holidays initially meant kalbi, fresh off our little charcoal grill, rice, kimchi and lots of other side dishes. As my parents’ knowledge of both English and local traditions increased, American fare was added, making our table a bicultural smorgasbord. That’s how I learned the vital roles language and food play as you settle into a new community, whether you move from Russia to the US or from Buffalo, New York to Buffalo, Iowa.

Over time, I learned that fitting in goes deeper than vocabulary and diet. No matter how many generations ago they’d arrived, my friends’ families also struggled with culture clash. Blue collar and white. Baptist and Jewish. Urban and rural. Sixth generation Californian and Italian immigrant. We were all multicultural in some way, and dealing with the differences wasn’t easy, especially during the holidays. We relished comparing notes on how our families dealt with the conflicts and how we, heirs to the confusion, made sense of it all.

It was comforting to say, “You, too?”

I was jerked back into the present when the boy stopped naming Thanksgiving dishes. He got a frozen look on his face and said, “But what about –”

Before he could finish, his mother said, “Don’t worry. Uncle Todd’s not invited, not after last time.”

The boy smiled, and cheerfully planned his dessert.

Notorious Uncle Todd reminded me that whenever people gather, emotions can get whipped up, and events meant for pure fun and feasting can get downright explosive. In other words, celebrations – family or otherwise – provide the perfect opportunities for searing suspense!

That’s why, when an invitation went out for cozy holiday tales with a culinary bent, I couldn’t resist. Cross-cultural ideas blend in “Last Bite,” a story in which a young woman introduces her fiancé to her family, differences meet head-on, history plays a roll, and things happen.

*All names have been changed.

Readers, what holiday foods and traditions were passed down to you? And what cultural bridges have you learned to build?

In celebration of the multicultural experience, I’m giving away a hard copy of my non-fiction book Mixed Blessings: A Guide to Multicultural and Multiethnic Relationships. For a chance to receive it, please leave a comment below. (The giveaway closes at noon EDT, October 14, and is open to U.S. residents only.)

In addition, the Festive Mayhem 2 team is offering a multiple-item giveaway, one winner per item. To join the fun, go to our Rafflecopter page: https://www.rafflecopter.com/rafl/display/f0f9d74e25/

Festive Mayhem 2 blurb

“Last Bite” is in Festive Mayhem 2, a collection of seven cozy holiday mystery shorts by writers of color. The zesty tales stretch from 1921 to 2021, Halloween to New Year’s Eve, the US to the UK. Recipes are included!


Rhoda Berlin is a second-generation Korean American who enjoyed a thirty-year career as a marriage and family therapist. She co-authored the non-fiction book Mixed Blessings: A Guide to Multicultural and Multiethnic Relationships with Harriet Cannon. Now folding her knowledge of human nature into her writing, Rhoda recently completed her first novel,a multicultural mystery.

Website link: https://rhodaberlin.com

37 Thoughts

  1. Food and the holidays, two of my favorite things! I always enjoy visiting others for Thanksgiving dinner, not only because it means I don’t have to cook but usually there are at least one or two non-traditional dishes on the table. It’s always interesting to get a peek into other families’ traditions. (P.S. Is anyone else wondering exactly what Uncle Todd did last year?)

    1. Thanks for dropping by, Marla! Thanksgiving is all about good food and good company, right? There’s such richness in sharing traditions. And I’m with you – can’t help but think that whatever Uncle Todd did would make a great mystery!

  2. Welcome to the blog, Rhoda! The anthology sounds fabulous. My Celtic immigrant ancestors are pretty far back, but I love welcoming other cultures to my table. I have a Jewish daughter-in-law, a best friend who has lived extensively in several parts of Africa, a Jamaican friend who now has a boyfriend from Italy, and a four-year-old great goddaughter who will eat absolutely anything. All will join us for Thanksgiving (slightly complicated by the three three vegetarians in the mix). What could be better?

    1. Thank you, Edith! Sounds like you’ll have a lovely gathering at your holiday table. That’s one of the best results of the world becoming a smaller place – we get to cross divides (geographical and cultural) and get to know and appreciate people from backgrounds that are different than ours.

  3. It was always interesting with my mother’s relatives at holidays. A very opinionated group of people. I did a lot of tongue-biting.

    My paternal grandmother always made what she called ambrosia – real whipped cream mixed with fruit and nuts. I sorely wish my maternal grandmother had left her recipe for nut roll. My aunt kinda-sorta figured it out years after Grandma died and I made it, but it just wasn’t the same.

    1. Liz, all that tongue biting takes a lot of restraint. I hope it didn’t interfere with enjoying all that good food you mention! 😉 And yes, those lost recipes… That makes the memories even more precious. My mother’s recipes listed ingredients without measurements because she never measured. When I asked how much of whatever, it was always “use enough” or “you’ll taste it.” Best of luck to you if you decide to tinker in the kitchen, working on that nut roll recipe. I’ll think of you as I work on my mom’s!

  4. As you know, I love this post! One of my favorite things about my husband’s service in the Air Force was all the fascinating people we met. We loved our assignment in Monterey because it was truly an international community. Potlucks were filled with food from around the world.

    1. What a great opportunity to see new places and, as you said, Sherry, meet all kinds of people! Food is a delicious way to try new things and get out of our comfort zones. It gets me curious about different cultures (one way to rationalize way too much time on the internet). And hey, no matter how familiar a dish is to us, it’s foreign to someone else.

  5. I love almost all ethnic foods. We don’t have much of a multicultural family, but there are wonderful restaurants and festivals here and we really indulge!

  6. Hi and welcome! My grandmother and mother both passed down tons of Thanksgiving recipes. Mine and my kids favorite is the ambrosia salad! So simple to make and so good!
    Thanks for the chance!

    1. Hi! Thanks for your comment, and good luck with the giveaway. Yours is the second reference to ambrosia so far. I’ve heard of it, but never had it. Now I’m determined to find a good recipe. One more internet search won’t hurt…

  7. My family is multi-cultural. My Dad’s family is German, my mother’s French and Italian. Each has contributed to our holidays. Stuffed shells and turkey at Christmas. Stollen and Buche de Noel at Christmas. Oddly enough, when my mother married she embraced the “American” way and throughout my childhood broccoli with cheese sauce and corn pudding (both featuring Campbell’s Soup) made their way to the table and stayed. After my mother passed the torch to me, I made our first Thanksgiving feast – no soup based veggies need apply. My father shook his head and proclaimed that it wasn’t a holiday without the traditional dishes and he proceeded to make them. My parents are both gone now, but I confess – the broccoli and the corn pudding are still on the menu.

    1. Hi! And what a delightful blend of cultures – thanks for sharing. Isn’t it something how some foods lodge in our hearts (in a good way). I consider such family traditions that connect us to our pasts, our loved ones, and thus our identities, as the touches that make holidays truly meaningful.

  8. Love this! My mother is Italian, so growing up, every holiday featured homemade wedding soup, pasta, meatballs, bracciole, and on Thanksgiving, eventually turkey – which no one ate because we were too full from all the amazing Italian food!

    1. Ha! Thanks for sharing that mouth-watering picture, Ellen. I can practically taste it. You must’ve had great leftovers (including turkey!).

  9. Rhoda, thanks so much for visiting us today! I love this post! My family has a sort of a chicken pie recipe that involves shredded cooked chicken, pilot crackers, cream and butter all layered in a deep dish and topped with biscuit dough and baked. When I married my Brazilian immigrant husband, he introduced me to a version of chicken pie from his country, empadao, which features chicken, vegetables and a buttery pie crust. We love having both options on our table!

    1. Hi Jessie! And thanks again to the Wickeds. I’m having a blast learning about new things through these comments. I paused my search for ambrosia recipes to look up pilot crackers and empadao. Yum! What a gift to have space on your table for both!

  10. Hi Rhoda! I love this post and your story in Festive Mayhem 2. Visiting relatives for Thanksgiving can bring out lots of memories, both good and bad. Though I make it a point to always focus on the good. 🙂

    Unfortunately, I don’t have any family recipes that have been passed down from generations. I think I may have to start a new tradition. 🙂

    1. Hi Francelia! Thanks for your encouraging comments. Yes, the intense familial yin and yang that we all share. It takes determination and vision to focus on the good, and it’s well worth the effort. I really like your idea of starting a new tradition. What a powerful way to act on the positive!

  11. My family has two types of sweet potatoes at Thanksgiving, the recipe my family loves and the recipe my sister-in-law’s family loves. The first couple of years, I think we all ate both to be polite, but now, we all enjoy both of them. It’s weird, but after 17 years, it wouldn’t be Thanksgiving without them both.

  12. Hi Rhoda, culture and food have always interested me and you hit the note on all the emotions that ensures in the family gatherings. I loved your story in Festive Mayhem 2 and the ending. All the stories brought their own surprises and were a delight to read. The topping for me are the recipes. I cannot wait to try them!

  13. You and me both, Stella! Thanks for your note – it made me realize that anthologies like FM2 are multicultural short story collections!

    1. Thank you, Julie! I’m so happy to have had this opportunity. The support that you and your fellow Wickeds give to the mystery-loving community is SOOOO appreciated! And your enthusiasm is contagious.

  14. I love this post, Rhoda and your generous offer to give away a copy of your book. Our family has traditions that are constantly evolving because each generation adds different and new cultural favorites and experiences through their travels.

    1. Thanks, Barbara! Your comment on traditions evolving hits the mark. What a wonderful way to share life’s adventures with loved ones. Each contribution nourishes and adds to family lore, kind of like trees adding rings.

  15. Rhoda, I love the talk of food and culture. A childhood milestone in my family, is when a child is old enough to butter their hands and shape the homemade yeast rolls. It’s also a sign that we welcome you as family. Mere dating doesn’t get you a seat at the roll table, but once it’s serious or an engagement (and we like you), then you’re welcome to roll the dough. And if you get to marriage and you don’t yet know how to roll the dough, well that’s a scandal!! My favorite multicultural family moment was the year that my parents’ blended family of 23 gathered for the prayer before Thanksgiving. We had Jewish, Buddhist, Muslim, Native American, Presbyterian, old school Catholic, agnostic, Southern Baptist blessings….and the food was practically cold before we dug in. And we have a longstanding tradition in my immediate family of Catholic and Jewish that latkes are always served as an appetizer to Christmas dinner. Damn, now I’m hungry!! Thank you for opening the conversation, Rhoda, and congratulations on your contributions to the Wickeds. Can’t wait to read more.

    1. Hi, Julie! Thanks so much for sharing your family with us. Talk about multiculturalism! The food may have lost some heat during the sharing of those multiple blessings, but it must’ve tasted all the more delicious. And when a seat at the roll table marks family membership, who needs words. P.S. Did someone say latkes?

  16. Happy book birthday! I bake my Grandmother Roy’s Pumpkin Bread recipe every year. Thank you for sharing.

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