Editor’s note: This is the second in a series of Umpqua Food & Harvest stories about foreign exchange students sharing tangible parts of their respective cultures with Douglas County families.
Applying a fork to the dark batter layered on its vanilla counterpart in a Bundt dish, Leona Knoke said the only challenge to her favorite marble cake is getting just the right swirl.
Still, all is not lost if the pattern has a few wobbles in it.
“Even if it doesn’t look nice, it still tastes good,” Knoke said with confidence.
The otherwise easy-peasy recipe is one Knoke has been making since she was 7, about a year before she started learning English in her native Germany. Now 16 following her April 6 birthday, Knoke is still finding plenty of willing tasters among friends and host family members in Roseburg. She arrived in Douglas County in August, as did four other students who are attending county schools this academic year as part of the AFS International Student exchange program.
Not that Knoke’s culinary talents are limited to desserts. Her host mother, Tina Arredondo, said Knoke made a birthday dinner for Arredondo in November featuring bratwurst (naturally), curry sauce and a potato dish called Kartofflesalat. The marble cake made an appearance as well.
“It was all really good, and she’s also helped me make a couple of things,” said Arredondo, a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel. Arredondo wouldn’t be able to enjoy that menu today, as she recently decided to embark on a vegan diet. But she still has an appreciation for her host daughter’s contributions in the kitchen.
U.S. kitchens have held a few surprises for Knoke. She said Germans eat pancakes for lunch or dinner, not breakfast. She misses her homeland’s dark breads, such as rye and pumpernickel. And she was delighted to get a care package from her mother in Geseke, one filled with German chocolate.
One American treat she’s embraced is the chocolate chip cookie: “We don’t have that in Germany,” she said.
Knoke was eager to spend her AFS exchange year in the United States in part because she wanted to improve her English, she said. The Arredondos have been giving her plenty of practice. Besides Tina Arredondo and her husband, Roel, a pharmacist with the Roseburg Veterans Affairs Medical Center, there are host siblings Daniel, 22, and Margarita, 14. Victoria, 18, is on an exchange program herself, in Aachen, Germany. The family’s other five offspring have left the nest and maintain their own homes.
Agreeing with her host mother’s observation that AFS is a good way to spread peace and goodwill between nations, Knoke said she believes bridges are built between cultures whenever American students ask her about Germany. She added that she believes “Germans have a better idea of what it’s like over here because it’s one country, even though it’s so vast ... whereas there are so many countries in Europe” that Americans are probably less aware of what life is like in any one of them.
Even so, Knoke soon learned some of her ideas about living in the United States were misguided. She had to revise her earlier plans to bicycle to Roseburg High School from the Arredondos’ home in the Eastwood neighborhood.
“I didn’t expect that nobody here would ride bikes,” she said.
Two-wheel riders are plentiful back in the North-Rhine Westphalia town where Knoke lives. At about 20,500 residents, Geseke is comparable in size to Roseburg. Knoke this year will miss one of Geseke’s most notable occasions. The Geseker Gösselkirmes takes place the first Thursday in May. It’s a fair boasting a carousel, lottery booths food stalls and open-air activities, including a parade with vividly painted wagons.
Though Knoke won’t be joining fair fun next week, she’s found plenty of stimulation in Oregon and other states during her visit here. The Arredondos arranged trips with and for her to Astoria, Seattle, San Francisco, Amish country in Missouri and Los Angeles.
“L.A. was great; it was so pretty,” Knoke said. “(Especially) the palm trees.”
Before she returns home in September, Knoke said she is particularly looking forward to visiting the Grand Canyon. As for future studies, she said she might like to attend a university on the East Coast. She’s considering pursuing a career as a pediatrician.
Meanwhile, though, there has been much for her to enjoy in Douglas County. She enjoyed shopping for the dress for last weekend’s prom (“It’s black that turns white,” she says with gestures to mark the color change) and attending a bonfire to mark her birthday earlier this month.
The bonfire, she said before the event, would enable her to try another American innovation.
“I would like to have s’mores,” she said.
• You can reach Umpqua Food & Harvest Editor Tricia Jones at 541-957-4216 or firstname.lastname@example.org.