Category Archives: Food for Thought

It started at the dinner table…

Dinner table post pic

By Kristen A. Hammer

It started at the dinner table in our home in Guatemala – the same dinner table that Dad (Dr. Steven Hammer) and some friends had made years earlier out of two sheets of plywood. At that dinner table, Dad began pulling bits of paper out of his shirt pocket. Those bits of paper held his notes about words or folk medicine practices he had learned from his patients that day. As he read his jottings to us, some made us curious and ask questions, some made us groan, and some made us laugh.

You see, while Guatemala’s national language is, of course, Spanish, twenty-some Mayan languages are still spoken there as well. During the nine years Dad spent in Guatemala, he served many patients who spoke Spanish as a second language and, thus, used some words differently or mixed with their Mayan tongue. Combine that fact with an average education level of second grade and you have a recipe for some pretty interesting health ideas! Throw in Guatemalans’ love for slang, and your conversations are bound to be as flavorful as a Christmas tamale.

I personally found those mealtime conversations intriguing. After all, I was the girl who had considered becoming a brain surgeon and a writer. Dad’s stories from the clinic melded my interest in science and my love for words and people together. Those mealtime conversations were the start of Understanding the Guatemalan Patient: A Glossary of Spanish Medical Terms and Folk Medicine. More importantly to me, they and other conversations with the many visitors who ate with us are among my favorite Guatemala memories.

In the 21st century, many families find it hard to gather around the dinner table together. However, the benefits – like healthier eating habits and lower incidence of drug and alcohol use in youth – make it worth the fight. The healthier eating habits associated with family meals may especially benefit Hispanic youth and other minorities who face a higher risk of diabetes.[1] So, whether you are getting into your school-year routines in the US or heading toward school vacations like our friends in Guatemala, why not make the effort to gather around your table often with family and friends? Since September 15 started National Hispanic Heritage Month, you may even want to include some Hispanic food in your bill of fare. Whether it’s quesadillas, tacos, platanos fritos, chiles rellenos or mole poblano, enjoy the time together. Who knows? Someday you might even be saying, “It started at the dinner table…”


[1] American Diabetes Association, “Overall Numbers, Diabetes and Prediabetes”  (accessed 21 September 2015).

There are many articles online about the value of shared meals. Here are a few that I read in preparing this post that you may find useful as well:

Amber J. Hammons, PhD, Barbara H. Flese PhD Is Frequency of Shared Family Meals Related to the Nutritional Health of Children and Adolescents?” 

Sarah Klein, “8 Reasons to Make Time for Family Dinner”,,20339151,00.html 

Jeanie Lerche Davis, “Family Dinners Are Important: 10 reasons why, and 10 shortcuts to help get the family to the table.” 

“What’s a Masako?”: A Moment in the Life of a Missionary Doctor

"What's a Masako?"

Part of being a missionary doctor is that lots of people want to get to know you. Maybe they’ve heard good things about you. Maybe they just want to check you out before they need your skills. Maybe they know you’re going to need friends. Whatever the reason, you’ll probably get invited to a host of social events.

Of course, when you’re still adjusting to the country where you’re serving, there’s a lot to learn: new words, new customs, new foods, new locations, new faces and new names. Mix all of that together with a social event, and you might get a story like this…

A young missionary doctor in Guatemala was filling up his plate at a party when his wife came up behind him. We don’t know exactly what she said, but, we do know that the doctor replied without looking around. “What’s a mah-sah-koh?”

Then he turned…and realized what a “mah-sah-koh” was or, rather, who is was: the  Japanese animal-rescue worker! Thankfully, she was more than gracious and even became a friend.

But, ah, yes, the embarrassment of being the new guy on the block! Do you have a story of a misunderstood new word? What about tips for graciously mending cross-cultural miscommunications?

Here at Understanding the Guatemalan Patient we can’t really help you with Japanese names, but we do hope to save you potential embarrassment when it comes to Spanish/Mayan communication. Check out some of our archived “Word(s) of the Week” posts to get a flavor of the terms found in the book!

A Taste from Guatemala: So what makes an avocado smoothie awesome?

Avocado Smoothie pic

It all started at Las Puertas, a restaurant once located on the island of Flores in Lake Petén Itza. There they served the best smoothies – or licuados as the menu called them – in town. Along with traditional licuado flavors like melón, they offered a more exotic choice: aguacate! You read that right…avocado it was! Thanks to a Japanese friend who was living in Guatemala, this smoothie became a new favorite.

Not convinced that an avocado smoothie could be good? The idea may make American taste buds tremble, but an adventurous person like yourself will surely give it a try!

Here’s the recipe.

Awesome Avocado Smoothie

Yields: 1 generous serving

Add all of the following ingredients into a blender. Blend until smooth.  Enjoy!                 

10-12 ice cubes

1/2 cup plain or Greek yogurt

1/2 cup milk (almond milk if you prefer)

3 slices from 1/2 of an avocado

1 teaspoon vanilla

sweetener (to taste)

Everyone has their own “sweet scale”. Do what you like, but you may find that you enjoy this treat without any sweetener, especially if you have more European tastes. It’s all thanks to the final ingredient, which is…

1 teaspoon lime juice

Yes, the sweet tang of lime makes this licuado awesome! Without knowing about the lime, this smoothie would be…not the same.

Sometimes it’s like that with words, isn’t it? Knowing just the right word can really flavor up a conversation. That’s what Understanding the Guatemalan Patient is here for – to help you take your conversations with Guatemalans from adequate to awesome.

If you already own a copy, don’t forget to send us your feedback via the contact us page or post a review on Amazon. We’d love to hear from you! And for all of you spunky smoothie sippers, let us know your thoughts on the licuado de aguacate as well!