As Valentine’s Day approaches I’m busy with red and pink related chores:
- Decorating boxes to hold the charming notes they will certainly receive (check);
- Planning our family dinner and purchasing one of the, tempting looking, heart shaped desserts from the neighborhood bakery (check and check);
Having finished the list above, I found myself perusing through my copy of “French Cooking” by Julia Child in search of her famous Boeuf Bourguignon recipe, the perfect dish for a cozy evening, and ended up revisiting her adventures in “My Life in France”. One of the most romantic non-fiction books I ever read. Even though I’m quite sure you won’t find it in any The Most Romantic Books Ever Written list, I simply adore the absolute intimate relationship she had with her husband, Paul Child.
The book starts with their arrival in France in 1948. From the first meal they have in the restaurant La Couronne in Rouen (which still exists and is in my list of places to go), and all through the book, you will find sensuous descriptions of lavishing meals perfect for two. “…A sensational briny flavor and smooth texture that was entirely new and surprising,” could describe so many things, but in this case she’s talking about oysters. A simple green salad is salade verte and it’s laced with its sauce. Laced, I blush just imagining the closeness of the leaves in their bed, I mean, plate.
Julia and Paul didn’t only share fabulous meals; they also stood by each other in trying times. Like when Paul was investigated by the USIA in 1955 during the period Julia calls McCarthy’s terrible witch-hunt, when everyone was easily accused of communism. Not to mention Paul’s unwavering support during the eight year period it took her to write “Mastering The Art Of French Cooking”.
Being an expat turned immigrant, I can relate to many experiences she describes. Not speaking the language, and desperately wanting to communicate, is truly frustrating. Learning to navigate the cultural differences is a major challenge. And experimenting with a new cuisine is really fun. At every move Julia and Paul’s relationship seemed stronger. Facing challenges together united them, and I feel exactly the same with my husband. As we moved from Brazil to the US, back to Brazil, back to the US, then China, and finally settled in the US, we learned to rely on each other and grew closer, and that’s very romantic.
The year is coming to an end, and lists of 2012 “best” and “worst” everything dominate news papers and magazine covers in most countries of the world. Retrospectives of the nearly finished year share the lists of topics of TV variety shows with resolutions for the new year.
To me, the best thing that happened in 2012 was reading a letter from a New York editor saying she is interested in my work. The worst though, that overshadowed everything else, was learning my father was diagnosed with a very serious disease that is deteriorating his quality of life really fast. He’s battling the insurance company to get the treatment he needs, and the whole thing is ghastly. Anxiety rules in my house nowadays. I never felt the weight of living far from my family so deeply.
2012 was a roller coaster that kept me on my toes.
I wish that in 2013 good times outweigh bad ones.
One of the traditions I enjoy every Christmas is cooking with my family. Usually on December 23rd we spend hours in the kitchen prepping for the next two days. We make all the desserts, and everything else that can be done in advance.
This year I baked a pumpkin pie and my daughters made red velvet whoopie pie. We’ll also have fresh berries with a selection of cheeses and nuts for dessert. For dinner my kids asked me to make lasagna from scratch, “Like grandma makes,” so I made the red sauce in advance. My little one loves roasted chicken, hence a big roaster already marinating in white wine, lemon juice and herbs in my refrigerator. The kitchen gets quite messy, but we clean everything up before going to bed.
Tomorrow we’ll also make rice, steam plenty of asparagus sprigs, and assemble a salad. It’ll be a feast, and the best of it all is the time we spend together. The idea is to enjoy the whole process from going out shopping for ingredients, all the way to the final result of a beautifully set table. I hope the red velvet batter the girls dripped all over the place don’t stain anything, or I might remember this one better than most for the wrong reasons.
In Brazil the night of December 24th is celebrated widely. It’s on Christmas Eve that Brazilians gather to share a beautiful meal with their families and exchange gifts. And we wait until midnight to toast the birth of Jesus. Some families without small children only dine after midnight. And many families dine and go to the “Missa do Galo – Rooster’s Mass” a special mass celebrated at midnight on Christmas Eve, after all, over 70% of Brazilians are Catholics, even if mostly Cultural Catholics. The next day we sleep until late, wake up, and go straight to a lunch prepared with Christmas’ diner leftovers. Here in the U.S. traditions are different. Some families get together for an especial meal, others go to Mass, but for the children the big celebration happens on the morning of the 25th.
When our daughters were born we decided to celebrate Christmas the Brazilian way. So in our home while the girls believed in Santa Claus, we dined late, my husband sneaked out of the dining room to dress up as Santa, and when I took the girls to the living room he was already there, sitting on an armed chair and sweating profusely. When the girls were small we lived in Florida, where winters are as hot as in Rio de Janeiro. He would then open his gift bag and call the girls who sat on his lap delighted; they didn’t even notice dad’s absence. Over the years they began to ask, “Where’s my father.” Until one day when they sneaked behind his chair, removed his cap and fake beard. Now the whole family is Santa Claus for the children of the entities that we help every year.
I taught the girls that Santa is a representation of the spirit of kindness and charity, that everyone who can, should have towards those in need, and not just during the holidays’ season. Thus, in addition to donations we do throughout the year, in December my daughters together with their classmates adopt a child from the orphanage supported by their school. It’s a very special place called My House, which cares for babies who are ready to leave the hospital but are homeless and have nowhere to go. The technical description of what they do is to assure that the medical and developmental needs of these babies are met. Many of the babies are actually taken from their families because of ill treatment, and are sent to My House because they are malnourished and with serious emotional problems. Every year each class takes the list of a baby’s needs and assembles packages that are delivered personally by the sixth graders.
The lists include basic items such as toiletries, pajamas, socks and slippers, and goes up to age appropriate toys. For some children with serious health problems, My House asks for money to purchase medicines and disposables, in those cases the girls decorate envelopes for the donation. Either way the children write letters to accompany the gifts. For those babies my daughters are Santa’s Elves spreading the Good Spirit of Christmas. And that’s how he remains very much alive in our home.
“Mommy Toribio Gomes!” Claire said.
“Excuse me, what?” I answered.
“Mommy Toribio Gomes, I called and called, and you didn’t answer because of whatever you’re reading. So I did like you do. And. It. Worked.” she said triumphantly.
“What do I do?” I asked.
“You know, like when I don’t listen to you, and you call all my names.”
“Mommy isn’t my name.”
“Of course it is. Silly mommy.” she said as if explaining the most obvious of concepts and hugged me tight.
“Whatever you say baby.”
Review by Flavio Luiz Gomes
In “The Spies” by Luiz Fernando Verissimo, an editor receives a manuscript that intrigues him to the point of becoming an obsession. He shares the story with his friends, and little by little the obsession is generalized and a mismatched group of “spies” is formed with the purpose of releasing the manuscript – and its author – from anonymity.
“The Spies” is another classic Verissimo – refined with a kind humor that exposes the human limitations in a generous manner. As in other Verissimo’s books there are intellectuals debating at a bar’s table, but this time they decide to take action. “Intellectuals” and “action” do not often appear in the same sentence, and the author takes advantage this oxymoron in all its amusing potential, but the human side prevails and reality settles ensuring a melancholic ending.
As always, I could not stop reading it until the very last word.
When I’m not writing or reading, or taking care of my family, you may find me cooking.
I learned to love the kitchen with my grandmother. She was the granddaughter of Italian immigrants and grew up in a rural “Italian’s only” community in Brazil. When I was five years old she gave me my first job in her kitchen. As she rolled the dough for gnocchi, I had to follow her cutting the little pieces of sticky potato dough over her immense, flour covered, wooden kitchen table. At the end of the process I looked like a snow man, a “as happy as can be” little snow man. I was sold. To this day my love for everything Kitchen is passionate.
To, Anelisa and Wendy, who asked for this recipe, and all my “amateur chef” friends out there.
Follow the recipe on this link bellow for the dough, but omit the sugar, and do double crust according to the instructions. If it looks to messy for you, go ahead and use the store bought dough of your preference. I like Immaculate all natural baking.
Now, the filling is the secret. Every time I make chicken noodle soup I cook two big breasts of chicken with skin and bone together with vegetables and seasoning for the broth (when in a hurry, you may use a pressure cooker). When the meat is tender, before adding the noodles, I get both breasts from the pot, remove the meat from the bones, discard the skin and cut into small cubes, 1/3 of it I return to the pot, add the noodles to be cooked in the flavorful broth, and that’s dinner. The remaining 2/3 of meat I place in the refrigerator for the next day.
Chicken and Cream Cheese Double Crust Pie
Sauté a small chopped onion on a tablespoon of olive oil, add the chicken, three shredded tomatoes, some flat leaf parsley and some basil, and when it is bubbling add 1 tablet of cream cheese (can’t be the light kind though, must be the real rich one). Mix often, and once the cream cheese is properly melted and incorporated, taste it and adjust the salt. Turn off the fire and let it cool down.
Heat the oven to 375ºF. Place one of the pie discs on the bottom of a pie dish (I like the glass ones), pour in the filling and cover it with the second disc. Use a fork to press the borders together. Whisk one egg and brush the top. Make some slits on the top to let vapors out and place it in the oven. When the borders are brown, about 15 minutes after you placed the pie in the oven, cover the borders with aluminum foil and return it to the oven for some 15 to 20 minutes longer. Voilà!
Even though I moved with my husband from Brazil to the US in December of 1997, during our first six years in the country we lived in Florida, where he worked for the Latin American division of the company; so most of our friends were Latinos. Therefore, our Thanksgiving Days were spent among Mexicans, Cubans, Puerto Ricans, etc., in a mix of various cultures and family traditions. Yes, turkey was served, but with a Latin flavor. And the side dishes ranged from guacamole and refried beans to choclo pie and fried platanos. And as we Latinos tend to exaggerate, someone always brought a roasted lechon, besides arroz con pollo and some papas rellenas. I learned a lot about Hispanic food during those years. Only when we moved to Atlanta in 2006, I attended my first traditional American Thanksgiving dinner.
On our move to Atlanta we had the support of an old friend of my husband, who very kindly prepared us a folder with information about the area where we still live. As soon as we settled, he and his wife invited us for a Sunday brunch. When we arrived at their house I was delighted with our hostess care for detail, everything was so beautiful. The table was set with an embroidered tablecloth, fine china and silver cutlery, and over everyone’s plates rested a crystal cup filled with a fruit parfait layered with yogurt and cereal, everything was charming and delicious.
My oldest daughter was seven, and the little one only three. Do you think I was relaxed and enjoyed it all? No, I did not. I was on top of the girls throughout the visit. Our hosts’ kids were adults and there were no grandchildren yet, so not only the table was elegantly served, the whole house was fabulously decorated with tempting objects for chubby little fingers almost everywhere. I remember spending a lot of time following my three year old around their living room, while keeping an eye on my lively young lady who chatted with the hostess, but in the end everything worked out fine, both behaved well, and I returned home relieved.
We reciprocated the brunch with a simple dinner, because our things had been sent to China by mistake. Please, don’t ask me how the moving company played that, it baffles me still. Suffices to say that I returned an elegant breakfast served on fine china, with a dinner served on disposables. My husband insisted, and I agreed, that we couldn’t let much time pass us by before returning their kindness. In my defense I must point out that I did the best I could under the circumstances. The important thing is that during dinner here at home, we were invited for Thanksgiving dinner with their family. And they asked my older daughter if she liked turkey. And the adorable creature said, very emphatically, “I love turkey.”
By the care they showed when they served us brunch, I imagined how fancy Thanksgiving dinner would be at their house, and I wasn’t disappointed. The decor of the house had been amped up with autumnal touches, and the furniture had been rearranged to accommodate a giant T-shaped table that occupied their entire dining room.
Their family was very friendly, but all adults, there were no other children besides my girls, no one to empathize in embarrassing moments.
The first thing our host said after the usual introductions was, “Their older daughter loves turkey. Come baby, let me show you your favorite dish.”
And there it was, on the kitchen island, a magnificent roasted turkey ready to be served.
My daughter didn’t disappoint, she placed her hands on top of her tummy, smiled broadly and said, “I’m starving.”
As soon as the last guest arrived, we all started carrying trays filled with delicious side dishes to the table, mashed potatoes and baked sweet potatoes, gravy, sautéed vegetables, cranberry jelly, bread baskets, and finally the turkey. When my husband and I searched for our places around the table, we discovered that they had given us the base of the T, with two tall chairs for the girls at the end, and my husband and me by their sides, all very practical and well thought out. Therein, my older daughter was right in front of our hosts who sat in the middle of the table on the opposite side of where we were.
Our host stood up, carved the turkey, and all the dishes were passed from hand to hand family style, until we all had a plateful ahead of us. There was a beautiful prayer and we began to eat. My daughter attacked the mashed potatoes with enthusiasm, and in one of those magical moments where several things happen at the same time, precisely as they shouldn’t, everyone was enjoying their food in absolute silence, my daughter tasted the turkey, and our hostess asked out loud to be heard from the other side of the table, “Are you enjoying the food Giulia?”
And my lovely daughter answered, nearly yelling, “The mashed potatoes are good, but I don’t like the turkey, I prefer my mother’s.”
A novel by Deborah Harkness – first installment on the “All Souls Trilogy”
Published by Penguin Group
I’m not a big reader of Vampire novels. As far as literary metaphors go, I prefer mine a little less bloody. The more recent creations aren’t even literary. And for the sake of entertainment, I enjoy mysteries better. Still, my neighbor paid many compliments to A Discovery of Witches, and she’s an avid reader, so I decided to give it a try. To my surprise, I had a great time.
Diana Bishop finds Ashmole 782, a mysterious manuscript, and meets an extraordinary man in the magnificent Bodleian Library in Oxford. A promise of mystery and romance in a fabulous setting, but wait, there’s much more. Diana is a descendant of Salem witches, and Mathew Clairmont is a vampire. In Deborah Harkness novel, daemons, vampires and witches share our world, but they can’t either meddle on humans’ affairs, or have interracial-relationships – for lack of a better term.
The quiet life of a scholar, which Diana worked so hard to build, crumbles, as witches, daemons and Matthew seem attracted to her and to her ability to summon the spellbound Ashmole 782. The powers she tried to ignore all her life burst out without notice, but when she consciously wants to use them she can’t. And to make things more complicated she falls for the vampire, a love forbidden by the Congregation.
While fleeing the Congregation’s persecution, Diana and Matthew embark on a journey of self-discovery, and try to unravel the mysteries surrounding Ashmole 782.
I was immediately taken by the many mysteries in the plot, and as it evolved, I was delighted by Harkness’ ability to weave history, literary references, and her love of wine so naturally in the story.