November 23, 2005 | By: Terri McLean

With a mother from Thailand, a father from Ireland and close friends from Sri Lanka, Switzerland, Kenya and Australia, Marisa FitzGerald has acquired quite an international palate in her 28 years. Now, the Jessamine County Extension agent for family and consumer sciences is hopeful she can help others broaden their food horizons.

Through a program titled “Desserts around the World,” FitzGerald is exposing participants in at least seven Kentucky counties to a variety of foods from other countries. At the same time she is helping them better understand the cultures from which those foods are derived.

“I think one of the best ways you can actually learn about different countries is through their foods,” said FitzGerald, who is widely traveled and well-versed in the foods of several countries. “It’s an opportunity to connect with a country that maybe they aren’t very familiar with or even to try a new recipe from a country they are very familiar with.”

FitzGerald told those gathered at the Woodford Countyoffice of the University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service that as the world becomes “smaller,” it’s important to know more about our neighbors.

“Food is the best way to reach people,” she said.

That is exactly what appealed to Jennifer Klee, FitzGerald’s counterpart in Woodford County. When Klee found out about FitzGerald’s program, she jumped at the chance to invite her to make a presentation in Versailles .

“Woodford County is more diverse than most people realize,” Klee said. “We always want to provide more exposure and a better understanding of different cultures.”

FitzGerald begins her informational program with a bit of “bribery,” offering samples of desserts from six countries. Each dessert is created from a recipe given to her by friends who are natives of those countries.

“My father was director of international students at Berea College, so I was always around people from different countries and lots of different foods,” she said. “I really wanted them (the desserts) to be authentic, things people in the countries actually eat on a regular basis.”

Things such as fried bananas from her mother’s native Thailand, plantains in coconut milk from Kenya, ambrosia from Australia, milk rice from Sri Lanka, dulce de leche from Mexico, and fondue from Switzerland.

“I’ll be honest with you, my favorite is the ambrosia,” she said, describing the concoction of marshmallows, berry yogurt, frozen berries, heavy cream and chocolate chips.

FitzGerald cautioned them, however, about the “different” taste of the plantains in coconut milk. The plantain, which is a staple in Kenya and much of Africa , is a type of banana that is more starchy than sweet. It must be cooked before being eaten.

“But give them a try,” she said.

Larry McCabe, from Versailles, was quick to crown the Swiss dessert – strawberries in chocolate fondue – his favorite.

“Anything that is chocolate-covered has to go to the top of the list,” said McCabe, a frequent traveler.

“We have been to several of the countries she (FitzGerald) talked about,” he added. “That’s a large part of the enjoyment you get from traveling, trying the different foods.”

Other Kentuckians who want to experience “Desserts around the World” won’t have to travel too far. FitzGerald plans to present the program in Garrard, Anderson, Boyle and Jessamine counties. In addition to Woodford, she’s already visited Franklin and Madison counties.


Writer: Terri McLean 859-257-4736, ext. 276

Contact: Marisa FitzGerald, 859-885-4811

Jennifer Klee, 859-873-4601