Having exchange students has been an adventure, to say the least. Learning new cultures, integrating them into my family, as well as parenting foreign strangers has had its ups and downs.

Sure, there have been a lot of laughs, but there have also been some stern discussions, especially where my Italian exchange student is concerned. He doesn’t misbehave, exactly, it’s more of his culture’s disposition that sometimes interferes with tasks and occasionally balks at the system, but he is a sweet kid and is easily corrected.

However, I don’t get nearly as many laughs as I do from my Chinese student.

Every year my church does a 21-day fast, in which we give up a food or foods, according to the prompting of the Holy Spirit, so that we can draw nearer to God.

This year, for the first time, my kids wanted to participate. Even my food-loving teenage boy wanted to give up all foods for a liquid-only diet, but my mother instincts said that probably wasn’t safe for him.

I had a conversation with them as we thought about what we could do as a family. Our church’s theme this year is #together, so it fit for my family, as well.

We decided that a Daniel-ish fast would be best for us. A Daniel Fast is all fruits, vegetables and whole grains. No dairy, meats or sugars, but the “ish” applies because we made some modifications.

I wondered what my exchange students would think of this, especially since my Chinese student, Tonia, is a meat lover; however, she agreed to try it.

On the first day, I copied a devotional, folded it in half and wrote their names followed by, “Read at lunch,” but sometimes the legs on my ‘R’ are a little short and can look like a ‘D’.

At the end of the day, we enjoyed some portabella mushroom fajitas, and a game of Phase 10.

Tonia, my Chinese student, announced that she was surprised by the note in her lunch box, and then she said, “I thought it said, ‘Dead at lunch.’” Poor kid, thought we were trying to kill her by feeding her nothing but vegetables and brown rice.

I haven’t laughed that hard in a long time. However, she has taken to the fast quite well and has not complained one time.

Sunday, we decided to sit down and have a family meal, including meat, that is from China. Hot pot, apparently is a popular meal in China, and one Tonia’s been talking about a lot, so I thought it would be fun to try.

I started by making a bone broth from pork bones, and then I prepared the meat. I took fresh shrimp and thinly cut sirloin. I seasoned them with lime, a garlic salt seasoning, and some soy sauce and let them marinate in the refrigerator. Next, I prepared the vegetables of fresh ginger, garlic, green onions, bok choy, mushrooms, carrots, sections of corn on the cob, and daikon. I added all the veggies to a separate pot and poured in some of the bone broth. Then, I added salt, pepper, a chicken bouillon cube, rice vinegar, and a tad of brown sugar.

Once the vegetables were fork tender, I moved the boiling pot to a portable burner we placed on our dining table. I portioned out the meats into individual bowls, and distributed them to everyone.

Starting with the youngest, working our way to the oldest, we took turns dipping the meats into the boiling broth and veggies with a large armed spoon.

The liquid was hot enough that it cooked the meats fast.

Of course, we had white rice on the side as well.

Talk about delicious! It’s our new favorite food and will be one we make most Sundays, but the best part was getting to sit with family around the table as we cooked our food.

We always sit at the table to eat, but by the time everyone has been served and everything is done, I’m usually left at the table to eat alone. This allowed us to stay a little longer, and really embraced the theme of #together.

Jennifer Watson is a Herald correspondent.

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