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Newburyport cook use map to explore global cuisine

April 12, 2014

NEWBURYPORT, Mass. (AP) — It all started a couple of years ago with a map.

When Newburyport resident Sheila Mullins offered to start cooking for the First Friday Socials at the Custom House Maritime Museum, she wasn’t sure what she would make. Then she noticed a map on the wall in the museum’s Bushee Gallery showing the ports of call of Newburyport ships from 1790 to 1890.

Inspired by the Spice Route, she has been taking Custom House Friends and their guests on a monthly Culinary Spice Trade Adventure ever since. For March’s social, she made Jamaican dishes. On Friday earlier this month, her recipes reflected the Caribbean island of Martinique.

“It is wonderful to explore this,” Mullins said. “Because part of what I want people to understand is to not be afraid of food. Everywhere you go, there is great food.”

Mullins, who is a personal cook and interior designer, has discovered through her research of the different regions that a lot of the food has evolved through influences from the local cultures.

“I can see the progression of recipes across the Mediterranean, into the Caribbean,” she said. “You’re going to find a lot of similar flavor profiles that get tweaked and twisted along the way based on what’s available. If you follow the food, it is the story of who we are as human beings.”

The Internet has proved a useful tool for finding the recipes every month. She selects dishes based on her budget, what she can accomplish by herself and what ingredients are available in the Greater Newburyport area.

“I’ve had to get really, really good at breaking down recipes in terms of all those different factors,” she said.

Exploring new dishes for the socials has also helped her add to her cooking repertoire at home. It also gives her the chance to go back and try a dish a different way.

“I don’t get the opportunity to do a trial run when I do the recipes for the Custom House, so I kind of have to nail them right the first time,” she said.

One recipe that Mullins has revisited a few times is a South African version of grilled cheese, braaibroodjie.

“I’ve also translated it into a pizza,” she said. “It works really, really well for a pizza.”

Mullins learned to love the art of preparing food as a child growing up with a Pakistani father and American mother.

“My mom will tell you I’ve been cooking since she carried me on her hip,” Mullins said. “I’ve always enjoyed cooking. I’ve always enjoyed just trying different things, experimenting, that doesn’t change.”

As someone who makes “three meals a day, seven days a week” most of the time, Mullins said she doesn’t really have a favorite dish.

“It’s going to come down to, ‘What am I in the mood for?’” she said. “There’s very little I can’t cook. I can make everything from mac and cheese to a dish from Senegal.”

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