First-ever Blessings Dinner in Augusta aims to celebrate food, cultures from around the world

First-ever Blessings Dinner in Augusta aims to celebrate food, cultures from around the world

AUGUSTA — Mark Ambrose loaded a little bit of everything onto his plate, from Iraqi sambosas to turkey, macaroni and cheese, and pie, walking away with a dish that celebrated both the cultures and people that make up Augusta Adult and Community Education’s English Language Learner program.

His feast was part of the adult education program’s first-ever Blessings Dinner, held on Tuesday at the Buker Community Center.

Though Ambrose did not cook a meal for the celebration, his classmates brought dishes from their cultures — some that are typically eaten during the winter holiday season and others that are timeless favorites.

It was a Thanksgiving meal with a twist, since not everyone is familiar with the traditional American dinner of turkey, cranberry sauce and mashed potatoes, but most share a common love for food.

Guests greet each other Tuesday during a Thanksgiving meal hosted by Augusta Adult and Community Education for students enrolled in the English Language Learner program at the Buker Community Center in Augusta. Andy Molloy/Kennebec Journal

Kelli Gilzow-Stowell brought the idea of the Blessings Dinner with her from Lewiston, where it takes place every year.

“The focus is celebrating the blessings of the students,” she said. “Just allowing them to share their food and celebrating togetherness is a blessing.”

Most of the students in the English Language Learners course are from different countries — some of them hail from Mexico, Syria, Iraq and Mongolia, nations that were represented in the cuisines shared Tuesday.

Augusta Adult and Community Education Director Kayla Sikora did bring two turkeys, which were cooked and carved by workers at the Augusta Civic Center.

But for sides, students brought Kahafe — a sweet Syrian dish — vegan enchilada casserole, sambosas, macaroni and cheese, and ponche, among other homemade dishes.

“We wanted to provide a sense of community and show one of our traditions and hope (the students) would bring in food and their culture in,” Sikora said.

Guadalupe Santioemma made ponche, a warm, traditional Mexican drink made with apples and cinnamon typically consumed during Christmastime. Santioemma is a student in the program and said she decided to make a drink because it’s something everyone forgets to bring to a community dinner.

Aham Daaboul made Kanafeh, honey-soaked Syrian sweets, that he brought along with his granddaughter, Mariam, and great-niece, Shouq, who enjoyed running around the event and eating the samboas, or triangular puff pastries stuffed with meat and vegetables.

Mariam Daaboul was hesitant to try some of the new offerings, but said the dish her family brought, Kahafe, is “really, really good.”

Though many of the students will not celebrate Thanksgiving on Thursday, their attendance at Tuesday’s event meant having a “sense of community” and offered a way to be together and share their culture.

Bushra Nasif, left, greets Mariam Daaboul, 13, with a kiss Tuesday at the Buker Community Center in Augusta during a Thanksgiving meal hosted by the Augusta Adult and Community Education for students enrolled in the English Language Learner program. Andy Molloy/Kennebec Journal

Ambrose, who will attend a Thanksgiving event Thursday, decided to come as it was “something special” going on. This year, he said he is thankful to “be alive, for friends and for gatherings,” such as the Blessings Dinner.

“It’s great to come and be thankful, whether there is one thing, or a few,” he said.

With the event celebrating community and culture, closer to home in Augusta, the Capital Area Technical Center’s culinary program made an array and assortment of pies for the event and other people brought Russian almond cookies and cranberry bread for those who saved room for dessert.

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