Tuesday, June 14, 2016


Journalist Daniel Perl, brutally murdered by Islamic radicals, used to say, jocularly, before he went to work,
"Let's commit journalism."
It is highly doubtful that he intended his work to be the kind of news aggregators such as The Huffington Post publish. For those who honour their profession, the commitment to commit journalism does not involve creating headlines laden with qualifiers, copy that reeks  with partisan bias.  Honourable workers who  make editorial decisions at do not consign journalistic ethics to the waste bin.They bolster their stories with facts and they allow their readers to come to his own conclusions.They do not pander to prejudices, political preferences, personal animosities.  Such journalists still exist, but their work is rarely seen in The Huffington Post or  its conservative counterpart, Fox News.
Clearly, both of these news outlets have a strong bias--one is purportedly liberal, the other conservative. They are, in essence, both sides of the same coin.
The mistake the members of the editorial board of these two sources of news make  is that their audience prefers pandering to objective  reporting. As a Liberal who reads The Huffington Post, I find all bias repugnant. I think that a news organisation that attempts to manipulate the political beliefs of its audience  insult it demeans it when it assumes that they  are incapable of distinguishing between legitimate reports and  copy unsupported by facts.
It is not legitimate journalism, in anyone's book, to lower the tone of a  of political discourse that has already  reached astonishing lows. To deify a political figure North Korea's Kim Jong-un, Russia's Vladimir Putin or own  Donald Trump  is not journalism.It is sycophantism. To  praise President Barack Obama for idiotic utterances, such as those that reflect  his dislike of the   words "radical Islam" is patronising and unacceptable because it involves the assumption that readers cannot form their own opinion. It is to act on the assumption that being a liberal means blind admiration of liberal politicians. It means suppression of critical thinking.
The thing is, that being a liberal demands that one use one's brain. It demands a clear vision and actions that are in  accord with  democratic principles. It is being an egalitarian without being a tool. It is thinking critically rather than following blindly. It is uniting rather than dividing. It is reaching for a consensus rather bludgeoning others with one's ever so admirable goodness and superiority.
The United States  is an increasingly divided nation. It is hard to believe that members of the  editorial board of blatantly partisan media outlets  can go home at the end of the day and claim that they did their bit to heal the fissures in American  society. Providing unlimited airtime to an idiotic presidential candidate who opposes one's own choice of representative is the job of political hacks, not the duty of honourable journalists.  Such work is not a service to the nation. It is simply  keeping alive what caricatures such as Donald Trump represent--hatred, racism, obscurantism. Who gains from that  work? Is it useful information or a silly game devised at newsroom where workers have lost touch with real people?
The role of the media is to inform. Opinion columnists do have more  leeway--I was one of them not too long ago--but that does not entail passing off bias as objective reporting.Being a journalist is to have a privileged position. It an opportunity and a challenge, not just the means to earn a living. When a journalist fails, society is at risk of seeing reality through a damaged prism.  When a journalist panders to a political group, be it liberal or Trumpist, society  suffers as much as it does under a dictatorship that chokes off the free press.
Bias is bias. It is evident in  blatant appeals for approval of whatever a  president. I know. I am a voter and I chose Obama for reasons other than an unexisting perfection. I do not find his refusal to utter the words "radical Islam" particularly admirable. I do not find his  support of a Rightist regime in Brazil very comfortable, In fact, it makes it a hell of a job to explain to my Brazilian family why I voted for an imperialist. I do not find it  admirable that my president engages in verbal fisticuffs with   Israel's Bibi Netanyahu. Te Huffington Post seems to think so. A democracy where voters are sufficiently adult to understand that all humans are fallible does not seem to be part of the vision of its editorial board. Yet  I labour under the illusion that  the US is a place where one  does not need to subscribe to the cult of personalities.
As an immigrant who lived under a dictatorship, it grieves me   to see workers at American news outlets squander the freedom  democracy grants them. My saying this will change nothing.In a democracy. journalists can lie, pander, manipulate and still claim to be objective.  One is  free to continue to flaunt the best principles of journalism. That is a matter between each one his conscience.But having said,  publicly, that honourable journalism admits no pandering,  I feel that no one who reads this  can claim that he never knew what it is to commit journalism


Saturday, March 26, 2016


Breakfast or dessert? You decide. These are low-fat, sugar-free oatmeal muffins  that are perfect with tea or coffee. Bon appetit!



  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup 2% milk
  • ripe plantains (Large bananas are an acceptable substitute)
  • 1 teaspoon almond extract
  • 2 tablespoons coconut oil
  • 1/2 cup almond flour
  • 1/2 cup unbleached flour
  • 2 cups oatmeal
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 cup grated coconut
  • 1 cup golden raisins
  • apples, peeled and chopped
  • 1 cup crushed pineapple

Preparation Method

  1. Preheat oven to 350 F. Grease two one-dozen muffin tins. Place plantains, milk, eggs, coconut oil, and almond extract in blender. Process until smooth. Pour into mixing bowl. Separately, mix almond flour, unbleached flours, and baking power. Add coconut, raisins, crushed pineapple and chopped apples to egg, milk, and plantain mix. Add flour combo. Mix thoroughly. Place half cup batter into each muffin cup. Bake at 350 F for 30 minutes.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016



Marajoara chicken

Geoffrey Holder.

Painting by Geoffrey Holder.
Geoffrey Holder.

Port of Spain, the capital of the Trinidad Tobago island nation, is a blur in my mind. I was there in my early twenties. That was the first time I left Brazil. I was terribly disappointed that rather choosing tMilwaukee, Wisconsin, as base camp, my employer, the Westinghouse Teaching Corporation, decided that the Caribbean as the best place to train prospective Peace Corps Brazil volunteers Fool that I was, I did not think that little islands near small Spanish speaking countries were sufficiently different from coastal northeastern Brazil where I lived the time. I wanted a big change, not another day at the beach. Luckily, the friend with whom I traveled had family in Belem do Para, at the edge of the Amazon. She invited to stay with them for a couple of days before flying to Port of Spain. It was then that I begin to discover my own country. Other discoveries would follow.

In Belem, I saw Native Brazilians for the first time. In my profound ignorance, I assumed they were Asian. It never occurred to me that Marajo Island, where a pre-Columbian civilization flourished between 400 BCE and 1600 CE, was a skip and a hope away. I made no effort to go to the Goeldi Museum which houses splendid Marajoara artifacts. Whatever did I do with myself amid such cultural wealth? I visited with my hosts, walked around in the daily drizzle that falls daily at the edge of the Amazonia. I ate crimson acai juice with manioc flour, tasted a few of the myriad of flavors of ice cream made with tropical fruit and gazed at the glorious examples of the florid architecture made possible by the Rubber Boom .
I must have been singularly unobservant to keep no clear memory of Port of Spain. Tere I was, a stranger in paradise, wondering blindly amid crowds that included descendants of African, Chinese, Indian, Japanese, Syrian, Lebanese and Tamil immigrants. All that I remember clearly is having ordered the wrong to go with red snapper. By comparison, the couple of months I spent in Charlotte Amalie left a more lasting impression. I was aware that Blackbeard’s Castle—formerly Skytsborg Tower--and Forth Christians were remnants of a Dutch and Dano-Norwegian past. What I missed entirely, was the Saint Thomas Synagogue, the second-oldest in American soil. I also missed any evidence of Camille Pisarro’s presence in Saint Thomas. Many years later, after I saw his paintings at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC, his connection with Charlotte Amalie came as a surprise. It am not sure whether he attended the local synagogue. His father, a Portuguese Jew, broke with Jewish tradition when he married his uncle’s widow. In the ensuing scandal, the Pisarros were banned from worshiping at the synagogue and their four children declared illegitimate. It took twelve years for the Beth Din to relent. By then Camille Pisarro was on his way France where eventually chose art over commerce.

In Charlotte Amalie I saw none of Pisarro’s luscious paintings of food. I frequented no Sephardic households and consequently missed out on an introduction to Sephardic-Caribbean cuisine. The cooking staff hired by Westinghouse was from Guadeloupe. Its repertoire was heavy on French classics. I recall, particularly, the chef’s splendid Canard a l’Orange. Meals I had at a local restaurant were not memorable except for conch, a delicacy previously unknown to me. Many years later, after I moved to Fargo, North Dakota, I discovered Caribbean cuisine through GEOFFREY HOLDER'S CARIBBEAN COOKBOOK. A spicy roast recipe from that cookbook would become one of my dinner party specialties after I moved to West Virginia. My circle of friends included college students from India, Pakistan, Syria, Iran, Morocco, and Paraguay. Few of us ate pork and some did not eat beef. Other than that, we had many recipes in common. When met for  monthly for potluck dinners, we astonished each other with dishes that replicated themselves in distant parts of the world. For example, pasteis, meat or cheese turnovers popular at Brazilian celebrations, were identical to Indian samosas and not all that different from Syrian sfiha. Iranians, Pakistani, Paraguayans all made  rice dishes not that different than those we Brazilians enjoyed. The world seemed much cozier then, at least around the dinner table.

 I've used Geoffrey Holder’s recipes more often after  I settled for good in a small town that  is only a couple of hours to Washington, DC. That makes the Kennedy Center part of our neighborhood if one thinks in big city terms. That is not too long a distance to travel for capital  entertainment. That is how  I was able to see Geoffrey Holder dance in  a performance of "Kismet."  Eartha Kitt was one of the principals, but the  enormously tall--6’6” tall—and supremely graceful Holder stole the show. , Today he is better known for his Seven-Up—the Uncola--commercials and his film appearances as Baron Samedi in “Live and Let Die,” as Punjab in “Annie,” and as Nelson in Eddie Murphy’s “Boomerang.” He had many other talents, such as choreography, painting, photography and writing. I remember him as a marvelous presence on the stage and as  the author of a wonderful cookbook in which he collected recipes from his native Port of Spain.

Click on link for my version of Geoffrey Holder's roast.

Note: Leftovers make excellent sandwiches. 


There is no telling how halwa made its way from the Middle East to my part of northeast Brazil. Quite possibly  it travelled with  Sephardic Jews who fled Europe or who were sent into exile. There is also a chance that it arrived with Christian  immigrants whose culinary repertoire included dishes from Islamic Iberia. Either way, by my maternal grandmother's time, its Arabic name had been changed to an abbreviated form of the  Portuguese word for spices, especie, from especiarias. The original recipe itself underwent a transformation to  include manioc flour, the byproduct of the poisonous manioc plant, Manihot esculenta,  that African slaves brought  to the New World along with the formula to make it edible.

My grandmother needed no recipe to make the Brazilian version of halwa.  Most probably she memorised it when  she watched former slaves prepare it in her father's kitchen. Quick digression--slavery ended in 1888, in Brazil. My grandmother was born two years later. She neither took part in exploiting Africans nor did she profit from slavery. As for her father, this is neither the time nor place for his story. Well then, back to halwa and its romantic associations with  an Islamic Iberia so many ing contemporary historians paint in pretty pastel colors. Allow me to join them in ignoring  Moorish rulers' stringent rules for  those they conquered. Let me dwell on the fuzzy-wuzzy view of unpleasant events and leave out these rulers'  occasional massacres of Christians and Jews, their contempt for women. Rather, let me talk about feasts in the gardens of the Alhambra. Let me envision an assembly of guests dressed  in fine brocade--men only except for women musicians and dancers, people  too low on the social scale to matter much.  But who cares about inequality when the music of the oud harmonizes with the song of water fountains and  the perfume of roses and carnations fills the air?    Unless the current ruler is a fanatic recently arrived from a goat skin tent city in the desert, there is probably wine to go with pastilla, the chicken and almond pastry  that best represents  Ibero-Arabian fusion   cuisine. Let me focus on that. Let me picture doe-eyed men with falcon profile,  listening to such entrancing muwashashat  they remain oblivious of the succulent bits of  pastilla filling they hold in the perfumed fingers of their right hand. Let see that  when slaves--slavery is not a European invention--cleared away the remains of chicken pie,  after the men washed their hands in rose water, perhaps it was time for veiled Circassian captives  to bring in gold  plates heaped with sesame seed  halwa. It all sounds like a fragment from a romance novel, doesn't it? Such is the real  history of  Iberia.

Though she did not know it, my grandmother held much of Islamic Iberia in her memory. Grandmothers often are the transmitters of memories. Their role includes link past and present generations.  But my grandmother did not think in such terms,  For her, cooking, praying, and singing ancient songs were simply part of her family tradition. I doubt that she ever took the time to question any of them.  Past and present merged in her as naturally as the rain falls and the crops mature. There was no symbolism in the   halwa she sent me when I was away from home. There was no reminder of who we had been five centuries earlier,  in Toledo, Spain.  My grandmother did not know that her family whose name she shared had a name in Aramaic. All she knew was a sweet way of comforting a grandchild far from home.
Halwa is a marvelous comfort.  Mine arrived in a clear glass jar that made its  promise of sweetness a visual experience that expanded to include the familiar  scent of clover and  cinnamon. To dip  a spoon into the rich mix of tahini, sugar and manioc flour was to recall the flavors of childhood--smoky  roasted sesame seeds and brown sugar. Sadly, I did not honor the family tradition of memorizing recipes.  Many years after I left school, I traveled to another continent. But  I did not forsake halwa in my travels.  I ate it in Fargo, North Dakota where it was popular with German-Russian immigrants. I ate it in  Georgetown, Maryland, where Middle Eastern diplomats shop. I ate at the Rue des Rosiers, in Paris.  None of it tasted exactly like my grandmother's. None of it had the taste of home.


Mexican molinillo, in forefront, is used to stir chocolate.

The name the Europeans gave to the cocoa bean,  Theobroma cacao, food of the gods, is a splendid spin on the Nahuatl word used throughout the Aztec empire where Cortez found it, xocolatl.   Imagine the frisson that went through  the Spanish court when the Conquistadors talked about this seed that was so valuable it served as currency in  New World. Imagine the PR person for  Amalgamated Spanish Plunderers saying to Queen Isabella,
  “It’s  as precious as gold, Your Catholic Majesty. Why over there five beans will buy a rabbit, ten will buy a night with a prostitute–begging your pardon, Your Catholic Majesty, they are heathens, but a taste of the Inquisition’s strappado will fix that–and a hundred buys a slave.”
Imagine the queen’s reaction when she sipped the cold bitter drink made with ground up cocoa beans, cornmeal, chili,  and cinnamon. I do not know the royal Spanish equivalent of “yuck, this is vile” but I suspect the queen uttered words to that effect. It took twenty years for the Spanish plunderers of Mexico to learn that the Aztecs fermented cocoa beans, to lessen their bitterness and that they often added  honey and vanilla to their xocolatto  made it more palatable. This discovery coincided with the arrival in Spain of sugar from the Caribbean. The rest is history.
What intrigues me in  the history of chocolate is the relative obscurity to which it relegated the Portuguese  Jews who played an important role in bringing it to Europe. It is only recently that the chocolate manufacturers of Bayonne, France  decided to  highlight the contribution of these Sephardim. Now the Bayonnais talk openly about these Jews who,  in flight from the Iberian Inquisition, turned  Bayonne into France’s foremost center for chocolate manufacture.   Sadly, a century the good Bayonnais had acquired the skills needed to take over the chocolate industry. Encouraged by the   anti-Semitic propaganda of members of  the chocolatiers guild, they thrw out the Jews. For the latter,  it was  “deja vu all over again.” .
This historical footnote  has a special meaning to me.  Sephardim who fled to France early to avoid the Portuguese Inquisition,  are among my maternal ancestors.They  settled in northeast Brazil some five centuries ago. When the Dutch invaded that part of the world in  1630–a century after my Sephardic ancestors’ arrival in the New World–Jews were able to reestablish contact openly with branches of their European families.They were active participants in the sugar trade. Some of them traded in  cocoa beans as well. It is possible that this imagined relative was  among those to bring to  France and Holland  Maya and Aztec stories about the aphrodisiac qualities of  the cocoa bean But that is purely  speculative. However, it is a matter of record  the belief in chocolate as a sort of proto-Viagra took roots in the European imagination. Casanova is said to have fortified himself with it prior to amatory bouts.   Louis XV, the well-loved, relied on  a mixture of chocolate bars dissolved in boiling water and thickened with egg yolk to enhance his lovemaking with Mesdames Pompadour and du Barry.  He was only one of many westerners to believe a legend that, so far, scientific research has failed to legitimize.
Though chocolate trading  is not part of the documented history of  my family, I cherish the thought that somewhere in the family tree there lurks a cocoa bean  trader. Never mind that my childhood was devoid of chocolate treats. That strikes me as very peculiar.  Brazil happens to be the  sixth largest producer of cocoa beans in the world. Surely there was plenty to go around when I was little. Did its association with the bad habits of old roues keep it out of my menu? I doubt it.  Maybe it was a simply a question of transportation. Roads linking my little town in Ceara to large urban centers were not the best. Consequently, most of the town residents  led lives of utter self-sufficiency.  Having no cocoa trees meant having no chocolate. Or did it? My parents happened to be economically comfortable. They traveled and shopped in larger  places  than my hometown. Why did they not  bring home chocolate? I have no idea. All I know is that I only became a chocolate eater the year I turned thirteen.   That year, I left home  to go to school in the cool, verdant Cariri hills, miles away. That was my first solo voyage.   At thirteen, I was thought to be capable of  handling new privileges, new responsibilities.I took with me a secret Yom Kippur prayer my maternal ancestors had been passing on  to their eldest child for five hundred years, school uniforms, and the burden of parental expectations. For the first time in my life, I had enough pocket to spend in candy shops. Was all this pure  coincidence? Jewish girls that age become bat Mitzvah, but that is an innovation in terms of Jewish history. Besides, five centuries after Spain expelled its Jews,   my family no longer connected with normative, Judaism. Ours  is the memory of Jews in hiding. It records through a glass darkly.
Fact–at thirteen, I left home in the dubious company of my family’s driver, a murderer my father had sprung from  jail–my father often hired clients from his law practice for jobs he alone thought they were qualified for. Presumably, he thought  a murderer was a safe person to drive a sheltered teenager school. But my father and his endearing quirks are material for another post. Chocolate is the allegedly the topic du jour. Chocolate as in Sonho de Valsa, the cashew stuffed bonbons I savored  along with Catholic novels of morals  such as Henry Sienkiewicz’s QUO VADIS, Florence Barclay’s THE ROSARY, and appallingly sugary romances by M. Delly, such as  MAGALI, Only Saint-Exupery and Jacques Prevert stood between me and complete idiocy
Besides halwa–especie, in northeast Brazilian Portuguese–made by maternal grandmother,  I do not recall eating sweets other than  chocolate while I was away from home. Delightful as my memories of weekends with the relatives who occasionally liberated me from conventual dreariness,  I have no recollection of the food we shared. I only remember clearly the chocolate ice cream we would have  at a little shop facing the  cathedral where my teachers compelled me to attend mass every day. Chocolate then was the last sweet note of freedom from a regimented routine. Ever since no treat  matches the nostalgic  flavor of semi-sweet cocoa with a top note of vanilla. In my mind, it blends, exquisitely,  with the sounds, scent, and  sights of a Sunday  kermess that brought the largest town square to life–the carousel that blared the Moulin Rouge song, the rustle of freshly starched clothes, the perfume of  jasmine  and red of tree blossoms, the glow of paper lanterns,  the smell of buttered popcorn.
Years later, in the United States, I acquired a more sophisticated taste in chocolate. Thanks a friend whose relatives had a long lasting relationship with  Viennese makers of bespoke chocolate, I graduated to artisanal treats. Later, in my food journalism days,   I tasted Bolivian, Belgian, British,  French, Italian Mexican, Swiss, and Venezuelan chocolate. I ate chocolate made in Vermont by a former White House chef, sampled  handmade chocolate truffles in Italy, France, Spain, Switzerland, Hershey, Pennsylvania, and  Martinsburg, West Virginia. Could I choose a particular brand over another? Yes. In the United States, I would choose Peter’s chocolate, occasionally available at King Arthur Flour, in Vermont. In Europe,  I would choose the Austrian chocolate made for the Hungarian aristocracy, but the friend who used to share it, died a few years ago. I never bothered to find out the name of her Austrian chocolate makers. All in all,  I am not one of these folks who swear by Caillebaut, Cote d’Or, or Varlhona.  I do not crave truffles made in the light of the new moon is some remote Oaxacan kitchen. Only rarely do I miss the hot chocolate I had in Spain, a concoction so thick one could stand a spoon in it–Spaniards thicken their drinking chocolate with cornstarch. I can live with American hot cocoa.  I am OK with British and Swiss  imports I can buy in most discount stores in the United States. As a rare treat, I indulge in   Brazilian Sonho de Valsa bonbons. Thing is, to me,  all chocolate is divine. I am grateful to the Sephardim for helping make it available to mere mortals.
Note: My immediate family has no ancestral recipes for chocolate. I hope someday to duplicate the chocolate halwa I had at the Rue des Rosiers,  in Paris, years ago. It was a heavenly  mix of Old and New World flavors.


Atlantic cod,  Gadus morhua.

Codfish and coconut milk soup.

Look up codfish on the web and you face a deluge of information of astounding similarity. You find out that the Basque were the earliest Europeans to fish for the Atlantic cod,  Gadus morhua in late 15th. century Newfoundland. They were soon followed by the Portuguese, whose Catholic faith  that forbade meat-eating on Fridays, Lent and other occasions. Dried and salted codfish thus became a staple in  Portuguese menus. So much so that it consumers named it fiel amigo, faithful friend. According to folklore, the Portuguese cuisine boasts a codfish recipe for every day of the year. Best known among these are Bacalhau à Gomes de Sá, a cod casserole that includes potatoes, olives, parsley , onions, and fresh lemon slices; Bolinhos de Bacalhau, fritters made with dried cod, mashed potatoes, garlic,  onions, and parsley; Sopa de Bacalhau com Tomates e Beldroegas, a soup that includes cod, tomatoes, and purslane.
Thanks to my Brazilian origins, my cooking repertoire includes not only  Bolinhos de Bacalhau, but one of my favorite dishes, Bacalhau com Leite de Coco, Cod and Coconut Milk,  an Afro-tropical take on the traditional European Portuguese recipe. There are many variations on this theme. Some call for carrots and  potatoes while others include green, red, and yellow peppers. Traditionally, Bacalhau com Leite de Coco is made with azeite de dendê, oil from the fruit of an African  palm tree, Elaeis guineensis.  but I have read recipes that call for olive oil  or soy oil. Having moved from Northeastern Brazil  to the Eastern United States decades ago,  I rarely found dried cod in local markets, let alone azeite de dendê  . Enter internet commerce, which  makes it possible  for me  to locate and buy the most recherché food products. That is how I lay my hands on two pounds of deboned salt cod packaged in  Brazil.
Portugal is no longer the world's prime purveyor of salt cod. That honor goes to Norway,  which exports it wherever there is a demand, such as in Goa,  Jamaica, and the Madeira Islands. Thus, the codfish I bought recently  was a well-travelled fish. Compared to the cod Portugal exported to Brazil years ago, this deboned, plastic wrapped product  was a tame beast, a pallid version of the Iberian product. Nevertheless, I soaked in hot overnight, as one did the extremely salty bacalhau of my childhood. The following day I drained it  and added it, plus  a cup of diced tomatoes,  to an onion and two fat cloves of garlic sauteed in olive oil.  Once the resulting sauce thickened, I added  a twist of freshly ground black pepper, a sprinkle of oregano, and  a tin of coconut milk. I let the mix simmer for twenty minutes prior to throwing in half a cup of whole wheat penne. Finally, I served it over a cup of fresh spinach and garnished it with  a handful of chopped fresh coriander.It was a good soup though mild and somewhat characterless dish compared to the food served at my mother's table. I suspect neither my seafaring Iberian ancestors nor my coastal Brazil relatives would not have thought much of it. But I live far from the sea. There are no palms in my adopted hometown. My olive oil comes from Tunisia and coconut milk comes from Sri Lanka. I do what I have been doing since I left my home country--I adapt, adapt then adapt some more. That is what immigrants do. That is, no doubt what my Iberian  ancestors did when they reached the New World.I may live in a global village, but  longing for  the salty taste of the sea is part of my ancestral memory. Soon I will try to duplicate my mother's Bolinhos de Bacalhau. But that is another post.


Squab from D'Artagnan.

 Supreme de pigeonneau--half a breast and wing of a squab.

Left--Maranhao red rice.

Long before Tom Lehrer sang about poisoning pigeons in the park, Ernest Hemingway stealthily decimated the pigeon population of the Luxemburg Gardens, in Paris. The time was the mid-Twenties when poverty was romantic provided that you were an American writer married to a woman with a trust fund. That was when the budding novelist frequented  the Brasserie Lipp, La  Closerie des Lilas, Cafe' Flore, Les Deux Magots during the day and sipped  liqueur with Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas in the evening.Somewhere in between, he wrote  and tended his first child whom he would occasionally take  to the Medici Fountain at the Luxemburg for an airing. There when no one was looking, he would strangle foolhardy pigeons and stash their carcasses in the baby's pram for future consumption. It is possible--and anything is possible with American literary myths--that the stowaway pigeons inspired him to call his Paris memoirs A MOVEABLE FEAST.
My own pigeon-based repasts  had another setting. They happened in a huge double house  my parents shared with close relatives in the outskirts of a small town Ceara', Brazil. I must have been six or seven at the time and this house remains in my memory as a place of magical beauty. It was set next to woods where poisonous snakes and free range chickens lived in an entente cordiale and where I hid under a fragrant green dome of  velame, Croton campestris,  to read my father's copy of LES MISERABLES, of which I understood next to nothing.
All paradises have serpents. Mine had, besides real reptiles,  an intractable, somewhat mad second cousin who terrified me with his angry outbursts. He was, however, a passionate hunter who often brought home fat bags of quail and  rolinha caldo de feijao, Columbina talparcoti, which he roasted on an open fire.Woe to me if I glanced at him while he drowned his roasted birds in malagueta pepper sauce.
"'Are you spying on me," he'd roar.That was a grave accusation.
That was a grave accusation. Espiar, to spy had a double meaning in my part of Brazil. It could be understood as "ogling someone's food" which hinted at being hungry, therefore poor, something Ibero-Brazilians hated to make known.Only beggars had the right to flaunt their poverty. Everyone else  should have the decorum of the  bankrupt Spanish grandee so aptlydescribed in the  the saying, por cima tanta farofa, por baixo mulambo so' --so much fancy stuff on top and nothing but  rags underneathBut for people of means be as undignified as to display their hunger in public was shameful and demeaning. Such behavior in a child my age meant that was mal educada, badly educated, badly brought up,  ill-mannered.) An ill-mannered child reflected badly on her parents and to tarnish the parental image was serious stuff. Life was complicated back then. As for the other meaning of espiar, it was to spy. Again, serious stuff  for people of the Crypto-Jewish** * persuasion. One's choice of food was an indicator of one's religious practices and throughout centuries,  many a Crypto-Jew perished in the flames of the Iberian Inquisition for choosing olive oil instead pork fat or for refusing to mix milk products and meat at the same meal.
Whether my second cousin's paranoid fear of  spies had to do with hidden Judaism or not, I  do not know.  All I know is that his anger often went as suddenly as it came. In his calm moments, he was generous enough to share his food--roasted quail, boiled umari, Poraqueiba cericea nut, wild honey in the comb,  and once in a great while, squab from his dovecote.
Maybe one has to be a bit mad to kill four-week-old pigeons. They look so utterly helpless, so unfinished, so vulnerable in their huge-beaked, bright-eyed, sparsely feathered vulnerability.  But sympathy for members of  the animal kingdom was rare when I was little.   As long as they fit into Jewish dietary laws, birds  were for eating. In the Middle east, pigeons  had been on the menu since Biblical times. I imagine that while they lived in Spain where, allegedly, they were taken by the Romans after the fall of the Second Temple, my ancestors ate b'stilla, the Hispano-Moorish pigeon, almond, cinnamon, and sugar pie the recipe for which exiles from Iberia took to with them to Morocco following the 1492 Expulsion.
My folks did not make b'stilla. After  half a millennium in Brazil, their recipe for warka, the translucent, phyllo-like dough that envelops the filling of b'stilla,  must have disappeared along with their  Hebrew and Judeo-Spanish. Dona Julia, my parents' cook did not have the skill needed to replicate the food of Hispano-Jewish banquets. Even so, what she did with my cousin's squab, was brilliant.  She cooked them in an ample quantity of broth to which she added rice--Maranhao red rice, if I can trust my memory of that long-ago meal--to make a casserole.
I do not recall watching the transmutation of  squab and rice into a dish similar to the sopa seca of Spanish-speaking countries, but I have a vivid memory of how it  looked and smelled when it came to the table--fist-sized, golden birds lay on a bed of red  rice spangled with golden coins of fat. A pool of rich broth redolent of annato seeds, garlic, shallots, black pepper,  cilantro and chives encircled the rice. It was the food of dreams, infused with the evanescing  memory of Judean banquets, Roman feasts,  and celebrations in the  Moorish-Iberia of my maternal ancestors.

Should I decide to emulate Hemingway, there is a little park near my house where I can push an empty pram. There  should be no health concerns. According to James LeRay Morgan, author of CULINARY CREATION, " squab meat is regarded as safer than some other poultry products as it harbors fewer pathogens (than poultry) and may be served between medium and well-done." Trouble is, the local gendarmerie police patrols the park more assiduously than the guards of the Luxemburg Gardens did in Hemingway's time. It would be wiser to order squab from suppliers in California. D'Artagnan, for example,   offers the choice of squab with  head and feet still attached and the decapitated variety. I would go for the  headless and footless bird. As a person twenty-first-century sensitivities, I no longer care to be reminded the appearance of  live animals prior to their  arrival at my plate. I do not have access to a source of freshly harvested arroz do Maranhao, but I have a stash of red Himalayan rice that should be a good substitute.

Friday, February 5, 2016


DOWN BY THE OLD MILLSTREAM: TEN TIPS FOR JEWELRY MAKERS AND OTHER ARTISANS: Left--Earrings made with freshwater pearls, aventurine, chrysoprase silver and silver plated findings. Right--earrings made with Biwa pear...


Left--Earrings made with freshwater pearls, aventurine, chrysoprase silver and silver plated findings. Right--earrings made with Biwa pearls, faceted ametrine and sterling silver findings.


Professional silversmiths wear aprons. They do it because it helps them gather silver fragments and dust that result from trimming and polishing. All that can be recycled, sold  or traded . Usually the apron is attached to the jeweler's bench. All the silversmith has to do once he sits down is to pull it over his knees where it will collect whatever he cares to keep.
"You'd be amazed how much silver dust you can accumulate in a month," said an artisan who trained at a prestigious design school. "You really should not waste it."

Mine is not a proper jeweler's  bench. It is a table made from an recycled grate and a metal stand. A local iron smith put it together for me.  It is serviceable, sturdy, stable,and it did not cost much. I have used it for over fifteen years and I am satisfied with it. If there is anything,  it lacks the apron that usually comes with a store boiught bench.  It would be difficult if not impossible to attache cloth to its sleek metal legs. That may not seem critical because since do not generate that much silver dust or clippings. But it would be useful to contain the shower of beads and finding that falls follows the gravity imperative. It isn't that I am particularly clumsy. It is that that my  beads and findings have an abnormal affinity for the floor of my my little studio.They fly from my hands at the oddest moments.They usually do so as I am about to finish assembling a pair of earrings or adding a clasp to a necklace. The more delicate the pieces are, the greater the propensity of their components  to end up in inaccessible places beneath the baseboard heater, the built-in bookcases, the old Kazakh carpet that covers the floor.

Fallen findings do not sound like the most serious problem in the world. It it isn't.  It is, however, a time consuming inconvenience. Metal  is not cheap. I pay my suppluer for every lost crimp tube, crimp cover, and bead cap. Hunting them up once they vanish costs me time and  money.A lost crimp  might stop me me from finishing a project until my supplier replaces it for me. If the puece has been commissioned, the client might not be happy with the delay. Even  though these days I think of jewelry making as a  self-indulgent hobby, it is not too late to to give up inefficient habits. I have not participated in a crafts show for several years and I should I do so, I would  no longer expect much of a financial reward.. That is one of the most important  lessons a crafts person can--don't do it for the money. Do it for love or not at all.That is exactly how most artisans  opperate.

In many cases, jewelry making is a fool's errand. At best, the artisan recovers the amount invested in each piece. Forget the cost of labor. American artisans compete with highly skilled Third World people who get next to nothing for their work. Most American  consumers are conditioned to judge the monetary value of a piece of jewelry by the price of what he sees in discount stores that feature the work Third World artisans and Chinese political prisoners.  Some of the best musueums in the United States stock their gift shops with jewelry, clothes, quilts, metal and woodwork from China and India.  Can American artisans hope to to become solvent solvent in face of global ecomic shenanigans. I don't don't know. WhatI do know is that he can take steps to make sure he does not go broke while he pursues his passion.I speak from experience and this is what I would tell myself if I could rewind the clock
1.Be sure that this is what you want to do. Know its risks and rewards.  If you want to be a full time crafts person, inform yourself about the economics of your region. Mine is not a rich part of the world. Many local people undervalue handicrafts as the kind of think theat granny did. Many find "store boughten," that is, mass produced stuff far more desirable that local handicrafts.  For one thing, mass produced stuff sold at discount store costs less than the work of American artisans.Be aware of this flaw in the system.  Talk to local craftspeople. Ask them about the pluses and minuses of being self-employed.Join online forum for artisans,   seek out people in your  field work.You don't have to despair. But don't be delusional about your market. If locals won't buy, think of other venues.

2. Educate yourself about your target market. Whom do you want to reach--college students, thirty-something professionals, senior citizens? Learn about the buying habits of those you  wish to attract as clients. Jewelry often is an impulse buy. Do you know what sort of design is most likely to sell to impulse buyers?Yes, I know know it seems sordid to think about profit when all you want to do is make pretty things, but face it, artisans have to be business people if they do not wish to go bankrupt.
3.Once you decide to take the first steps to set up your jewelry making operation, proceed with caution. Hurrying to set up your studio can lead you to buy cheap equipment you will have to replace. That is expensive.Of course there are Navajo silversmiths who have have no more than a handful of tools and a whole in the ground where they smelt their silver. Yet they make exquisite jewelry. If you come from generations of Navajo silversmiths who started training at age thre, by all means stick to six tools and hole in the the ground. Otherwise prepare to shell out equipment--the bench designed for professionals, the best torch, the best dapping tools, hammers, mandrels, pliers, best safety equipment and much, much more.

2.Once you set up your studio, see whether it included features that will allow you to work efficient. What have you done to .minimise waste, for example?Chances are you will be mail ordering some of your material. Factor in shipping costs.Can you afford to keep losing micro-sized findings and beads? They are the very devil to find once they slide from the bench. Treat them accordingly. Corral those crimps. Keep hold of those 3 mm ruby beads.Never understimate the power of a bench apron.I did and I am sorry.

3.Value your work, value your creativity, value your time.Keep track of how many hours you spend on a piece and see if you can be paid for some of it.  In most cases, you cannot, but adding them to the cost will give you a better sense of how much you you donate to the cause

4. Honor what you make. Display it attractively. Invest in jewelry cases that signal to your clients that you are a professional, not a hobbyist playing at jewelry making..If you want to be be taken seriously as a crafts person, begin by taking yourself seriously. That will mean spending money, initially. Decide whether you want to commit a significant part of your budget on a venture that might fail. Every business is a risk, but in a soft economy the business of adornment is one of the riskiest.

5. Be a show-off. Photograph your best piece of jewelry and have it printed on your business cards. photo. Open an online storefront. Use the social media--Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, to publicise your work. Making crafts is not for the timid. I found that out when I got invited to show my jewelry on a television show. Publicity is one of the side jobs of every artisan. Go bold or go go home. Encourage your clients to mention your work to their friends. The worst that they can do is say no, right?
6.Reassess your goals every trimester. Have you met some of them? All of them? None at all? Why?

7. Remind yourself of the primary reason to commit to the craft.Do not be afraid to play devil's advocate. Is jewelry making the only you can find to express yourself? Do you have a discretionary account in a Swiss bank, a rich aunt who will pay your bills?

8.Be realistic. Accept that the work is hard and the profit margin is slim. Can you live with that?

9.Given all the economic minuses of jewelry making, could you be just as happy clerking at a jewelry store? You'd be selling someone else's work, but you would not have to run financial risks.You'd get vactions and insurance.

!0. If jewelry making so enhances the quality of your life, you do not mind working for free, embrace it. But be sensible, Plan to earn enough  an income to buy more jewelry making supplies. Sorry to say it, but that might require a second job.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016


Chicken coops under snow.

Snow capped birdfeeder on the lower left.
Chicken coop that shelters two Australorps, a Speckled Sussex and a Wyandotte.  

Paperwhite narcissi and snowdrop on windowsill.
Most residents of the Greater Washington D..C. metropolitan area have little experience with harsh winters. Snow storms that would not faze midwesterners, paralyse the nation's capital. The very mention of a possible storm drives hordes of householders to supermarkets where they fall upon groceries like crazed locusts. Typically, they grab all paper products before they move on to canned goods and perishables. Once they have ended the grocery shopping frenzy, many head to the hardware where, typically, there are never enough snow shovels. Pity the fool who manages to buy and then leaves outside. Enthusiasts of free enterprise liberate it within minutes.

Having lived in the Dakotas during my first three years in the United States, I  tend to scoff at this winter madness. After all, hereabouts there is rarely a storm that qualifies as blizzard. I stock my pantry as a matter of course. I hate driving and when I do venture out to the little shopping mall nearby, I buy enough groceries for four or six weeks. If absolutely necessary I make a couple of extra runs for perishables. That is the extent of my hoarding.  My snow shovel is tucked safely in my mud room. I have no reason to panic even though Saturday brought a whopping forty inches of snow  instead of the predicted twenty-some. I am calm even though by Sunday mornings I was properly marooned. By then, traffic stopped, the university, elementary and high schools closed, and a great silence descended upon the town. Birds stopped singing, There was no sign of the ubiquitous crows that patrol my backyard  and the Canada geese that  fly by my window at least twice a day, apparently cancelled  trips to or from the Potomac river.

I am  calm. Prior to  Snowmaggedon 2016 a good friend  brought me milk, eggs--my chickens rarely lay eggs in winter--and the matches I need in order to start my woodstove.At the advice of my who grew up in  Montana,  I  piled up logs by the front door and covered them with a tarp. I  fed the chickens and filled up their water containers. I cooked a large batch of tyrkey-beef kofta and another of brown rice. I deployed  four Andrea Camilleri novels around the house. What else can one  I possibly need?

I need the internet. It allows me to read newspapers and to catch up with friends and family. I also need cell phone service for emergencies. Luckily, I have both. Better yet, I do not anticipate any emergenciesI ave a clear path to my sidewalk, courtsey of my lovely next door neighbor.. It is good to to know I can make a quick geaway although my major outing is limited to a visit to the chicken coops. . 

Now, day five of Snowmaggedon, there is still no traffic on my street. Snow removal crews have been at work since Saturday night ploughing and trucking snow to whatever it is that snow goes to die. Some householders have shovelled their sidewalks and parking spaces. My own sidewalk is impassable and  my car remains tucked under a  little igloo.  I am fine with that. I have been planning my garden, reading, and cooking.  A couple of days ago I finished Andrea Camilleri's THE AGE OF DOUBT--review at www.richtexts.blogspot.com and I celebrated with a chicken coconut curry that did not fit in with the Sicilian background of the novel, but which was delicious all the same.

Tonight I will start another Camilleri novel, have some onion soup with homemade whole wheat bread, and dream of all the flowers and veggies I will be growing in spring. I have parperwhite narcissi blooming on my bedside table and an amaryllis growing in a pot on a windowsill. The snow is melting. The birds--wren and crows-- are back. The geese grumble mightily on the way to the river. My cat is snoring at mt feet. I am safe, I am calm, I am warm and for that I am grateful.