The Joy of Sharing
When Sharmini Rogers moved from Malaysia in the ‘90s to join her new husband, Marvin Rogers, in the United States, she needed a bit of guidance in the kitchen.
“I didn’t really know any Western cooking,” she says. “The only thing I had done in college was roast a chicken.” So for their very first Christmas together in Columbia, Marvin bought Rogers The Joy of Cooking.
Rogers quickly picked up American cooking, but for special occasions like Christmas, she wanted to craft something uniquely hers. “My husband said, ‘You build our own traditions,’” she says. “And so I did,” incorporating many cultural influences from her childhood in Malaysia, from global travels and from life here in Columbia.
The Rogers’ celebration begins on Christmas Eve with Italian Pannetonne bread and a glass of eggnog, a tribute to her late Italian brother-in-law. For Christmas breakfast, poached eggs and Atlantic smoked salmon atop lightly toasted sourdough bread are accompanied by a glass of sparkling wine and often a piece of dense coffee cake. For many years, a simple tomato bisque was all the lunch needed to get the family through to dinner. Since their daughter started culinary school, “she’s incorporated her special grilled cheese sandwich with it,” Rogers says.
The morning’s intimate family gathering gives way to a dinner reminiscent of holiday gatherings in Malaysia.
“For the Hindu festival, our Christian and Muslim friends would come visit us, and we’d have an open house with lots of food,” she says. “So for Christmas and other holidays, they would also have an open house with all kinds of delicious food.”
Marvin, a former MU professor, knew many international students, faculty and others who couldn’t get home for the holidays. He had the perfect solution: “We invite people in who have nowhere else to go,” Rogers says. “That has become a big tradition of ours. If they are here, they always come to join us.”
She serves a leg of lamb with mint jelly, a nod to British colonial days in Malaysia, and her mother’s special pickled vegetable relish with peanut sauce. Rogers usually makes the relish at the end of summer when she is able to find fresh beans from the Cambodian or Korean vendors at the Columbia Farmers Market. Rogers and her daughter craft one other culinary tribute to her mother, a 10-pound fruitcake. “You wouldn’t want to know how many eggs or how much butter is in it!” she says.
About a decade ago, the couple added figgy pudding to the menu after attending the Charles Dickens Christmas at Stephens College.
“Oh my goodness, your figgy pudding is to die for. It is so delicious!’” she says she told the chef. “And he said, ‘Do you want the recipe?’ And so I’ve been making that ever since.”