With subtle wit and irony, Abad gives practical advice on how to eschew sadness, attract joy and retain delight.
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Recipes For Sad Women
By Hector Abad, Anne McLean
Steerforth PressCopyright © 2012 Héctor Abad Faciolince
All rights reserved.
Nobody knows the recipe for happiness. At the moment of misfortune the most elaborate stews of satisfaction will be in vain. Even if sadness stimulates some women's appetite, stuffing yourself on days of distress is not advisable. Anguish prevents nutrients other than fat from being absorbed. The healthiest concoctions give off venom when imbibed by a woman who's upset.
Fasting during days of sadness is a healthy habit.
However, through long familiarity and practice with fruits and vegetables, with herbs and roots, with muscles and viscera of various wild and domesticated beasts, I have on occasion found consoling paths. These are simple, not very risky procedures. Take them, however, with caution — the best remedies are poison to some. But put them to the test, try them. It's not good to caress your unhappiness passively. Sadness constipates. Try to find the purgative of tears, do not avoid sweat, after fasting try my recipes.
My formula is hazy. I've found that in my art few rules apply. Don't trust me, don't cook up my potions if a shadow of a doubt crosses your mind. But read this false attempt at sorcery; the spell, if it works, is nothing more than its sound — the cure is in the air the words exhale.
On afternoons of fine, persistent rain, if your loved one is far away and the invisible weight of his absence overwhelming, cut twenty-eight fresh leaves of lemon balm from your garden and put them in a litre of water on a high heat to make an infusion. As soon as the water boils let the steam moisten your fingertips and stir it three times with a wooden spoon. Take it off the heat and let stand for two minutes. Do not add sugar, drink it sip by sip from a white cup with your back to the window. If halfway through the litre you don't notice a certain relief behind the breastbone, heat it up again and add two spoonfuls of grated sugarloaf. If the afternoon ends and the feeling persists, you can be sure he won't be coming back. Or he'll come back some other afternoon and be much changed.
You tumble and flip, bodily and in your imagination, to elude sadness. But who said you're not allowed to be sad? In reality, there is often nothing more sensible than being sad; irremediable things happen daily, to others, to ourselves, that we can do nothing about or, rather, about which we can do nothing but turn to that single old remedy of feeling sad.
Don't let anyone prescribe cheer, like someone might order a course of antibiotics or spoonfuls of seawater on an empty stomach. If you let them treat your sadness as if it were a perversion, or in the best of cases as if it were an illness, you're lost — as well as being sad you'll feel guilty. And it's not your fault you're sad. Is it not normal to feel pain when you cut yourself? Does your skin not sting if you're whipped?
Well that's how the world is, the vague succession of things that happen (or those that don't happen) creates a melancholy backdrop. The poet Leopardi put it like this: "as air fills the spaces between objects, melancholy fills the intervals between one pleasure and the next."
Experience your sadness, touch it, pull its petals off, soak it in tears, wrap it up in screams and silences, copy it into notebooks, jot it down on your body, note it in the pores of your skin. For only if you don't defend yourself will it flee, at times, somewhere else that is not the centre of your private pain.
And to taste your sadness I must also recommend a melancholy dish — cauliflower in the mist. Take this sad, white, solid flower and steam it. Slowly, with that same aroma that comes from a mouth spouting laments, it softens as it cooks. And shrouded in mist, in its steaming vapour, add olive oil and garlic and a little bit of pepper; salt it with your own tears. And savour it slowly, biting it off the fork, and cry some more and more still, so that in the end this flower will gradually soak up your melancholy without leaving you dry, without leaving you tranquil, without robbing you of the only thing that's yours at this moment, the only thing that no one can now take from you, your sadness, but with the feeling of having shared with this flower unable to wilt, with this absurd, prehistoric flower that brides never request from florists, with this flower no one puts in vases, with this anomaly, this sadness in bloom, this flowered melancholy, your own cauliflower sadness.
The weight of the years, like an ancient stone, will one day fall from unfathomable time to your feet. Sit up if you're lying down, stand if you're seated and run to a stream (if you can find one) of clear and pure water. Lean down and drink from your cupped hands until you feel an inverted thirst, an irrepressible need to vomit. Do not sully the stream, rinse your face without dirtying its source. Return home and fast until the following dawn. Save all the night's urine and, very early in the morning, use it to water your basil. While not recovering your youth, you'll be younger.
You'll occasionally want your austere guest to loosen his tongue and pronounce hidden words, for reasons you and I both know. I must warn you that if you want him to make such an effort, you'll have to make an effort yourself and you'll have to use blood.
Once you've made up your mind, ask the butcher for a slightly cured loin of beef from an adult steer (at least three years old). Slice the meat as thick as the four fingers of your hand, excluding your thumb. Leave the steaks in the open air in the shade from dawn to dusk, covered with nothing but a mesh to keep the flies off. You'll also need to obtain lots of black pepper, which shortly before the appointed hour you'll grind not very finely with a mortar and pestle.
Use the bones and offal to make a strong stock. Each slice of beef will receive a tablespoon of ground pepper.
With your guest already at the table, kept busy with a lettuce leaf or two, you'll put oil and butter in the pan and delicately place the pieces of sirloin without moving them, not even touching them, over a hot flame, for a minute and a half on each side. After three minutes, remove from the heat and arrange on a plate and sprinkle the previously mentioned amount of pepper on top.
Pour a full snifter of brandy into the frying pan, and a bit of the very strong prepared stock. Settle the pieces of sirloin back in the pan and let the liquid simmer for another three minutes. When the time's up add a spoonful of cream for each slice of meat and let the sauce thicken without allowing it to boil.
Put everything on a deep serving platter and carry it to the table. It should be accompanied by bread and mashed potatoes. The wine must be red from grapes harvested between the fifth and third years of the vine's life. This red liquid along with the very red blood of the beef will loosen the tongue of the most prudent and taciturn guest.
The recipe is sure-fire. But there's one condition you have to keep in mind for it to be infallible — the cream for the sauce must be made from the milk of the same cow who gave birth to the sacrificed steer. If not, the guest will still talk, but he might not say what you're hoping he will.
If you want other lips to be generous, open your own as well.
Few women are unaware of the art of the eyes — the gaze. You either learn it from watching or it's innate and you've known it since your mother's womb. To brighten the gaze I must give you a recipe of probable effectiveness and improbable harm. It consists of bathing your eyes in a solution of two pinches of salt per litre of boiled water. I know something so simple won't sound magical to you. Simplicity inspires distrust; this is the reason that witch doctors, folk healers and physicians spend their lives inventing quite high-flown words and spells — no one believes in simplicity. Bathe your eyes in the aforementioned solution, then, and as you do so recite this mysteriously bewitching prayer: Innocuous guise, innominate cries, give me bright eyes!
The colours of your irises will become clearer, your corneas more transparent, your eyelashes freer, whiter the whites that frame the most brilliant prisms of your crystalline lenses. And your gaze will illuminate so that those who manage to glimpse your pupils for a moment will be able to do nothing but blink in astonishment.
If one day you become sick of words, as happens to us all, and you grow tired of hearing them, of saying them; if whichever you choose seems worn out, dull, disabled; if you feel nauseated when you hear "horrible" or "divine" for some everyday occurrence — you'll not be cured, obviously, by alphabet soup.
You must do the following: cook a plate of al dente spaghetti dressed with the simplest seasoning — garlic, oil and chilli. Over the pasta tossed in this mixture, grate a layer of Parmesan cheese. To the right of the deep plate full of the spaghetti thus prepared, place an open book. To the left, place an open book. In front of it a full glass of dry red wine. Any other company is not recommended. Turn the pages of each book at random, but they must both be poetry. Only good poets cure us of an overindulgence in words. Only simple essential food cures us of gluttony.
May you not be seized by the miserable custom of sobbing. Cure yourself with portions of white rice. One cup will be enough. Rinse it three times until the milky water turns faint and soft like a nursemaid's breast. Add twice as much water and a pinch of salt. When the water comes to a boil stir it once. Cover the pot and turn down the heat. Ten minutes later turn off the heat without removing the lid. Wait for a quarter of an hour with the rice covered. Then you can eat it.
If you have a very fresh yolk of a duck's or chicken's egg, you can mix it into your plate of rice. The colour of the yolk in the rice will dispel your sobs and suppress your weeping. At most, somewhat later, you'll be left with the intermittent, almost jocular, involuntary embers of hiccups.
The only night, someone once said, is the sleepless one, the night you don't sleep a wink. We don't store up memories of the nights we slept through. Love's like that too — the most unforgettable is the one that never was.
There are syrups and potions for oblivion, just as there are for insomnia. But the remedies for both are undiscerning. One will put you so soundly to sleep (dreamless and not even drowsy) that it will be like death. With the other you'll not forget, if you take it, only what you want to forget — you'll forget everything, no matter how edifying or shattering it may have been.
I won't reveal, therefore, my concoctions for sleep and forgetting. They have the same effect as hemlock.
Those who reproach you for your foreign dishes — hardened fighters for all that's indigenous — will have to be reminded that beans and spicy potatoes, ground meat and sausages are also imported. There were no swine, no green beans and no chickens in these parts of the far west. That we've been cooking green and ripe plantains for three centuries does not alter the truth that they were brought here, carried by the graceful bodies of slaves. One lifetime is very short in the course of history and if it's only been decades since we started eating, I don't know, orange cheese or steak with Béarnaise sauce, within a couple of millennia it'll all seem as old as sweetcorn, as indigenous as tamales, as ancestral as unleavened bread swallowed with bloody, carnal words. Barely a century ago, on days of unhurried Bogotá drizzle, drinking coffee was something done by snobs and locals were advised to drink only hot chocolate, if they didn't want to appear extravagant.
Fundamentalists of the stomach, limit yourselves to yucca, potatoes and tomatoes. Good things, if few. In any case, if they believe their past is unique, that they're not a miscellaneous mixture of American, European and African, then let them devote themselves to cultivating their limited horizons.
I, for my part, and you for another, consider ourselves each a multitude of all these, and like a fish in the water, at ease, wander freely, not feeling false in any of these three culinary traditions. More than that, don't feel distant from oriental cuisine. Everything human belongs to us all and just as rice delights our tongues, Chinese people should also find they might develop a taste for arepas.
Woman — relax, eat what you like since almost everything is good no matter where it comes from. Culinary regionalism is nothing more than a narrowness of outlook. Few verses are as silly as these by a poet of the race (what race are they talking about?) involved in a ferocious dispute in favour of corn, as opposed to potatoes:
Hail, second blessed trinity, Hail, beans, corn porridge, arepas! ... Oh, to compare potatoes to maize. What an atrocity, what blasphemy!
However, if you one day find yourself obliged to invite people who pride themselves on being very natural, very local and authentic, perfectly autochthonous, people conceited about never having visited a foreign land, then that day you'll have to prepare our most ancestral dish, our most representative food par excellence, a marvellous culinary discovery of the indigenous people native to these lands from around Citará. The recipe comes from a chronicler of colonial times and consists of frying some little worms that the Indians called mojojú and we still know as mojojoi.
"These worms," the traveller said, "are whiter than ermine, but better behaved, robust and solid, they have ruddy heads, and are called mojojú. For people who work in mines and all those located in the mountains, they are very appetising, for they say it's a very delicate snack, and I have observed they're nothing but pure fat for I have seen them very beneficial for frying. They break them in half lengthwise, take out the guts, which is nothing more than a subtle little pipe, they cut off the head, and slice them up like bacon, add salt, and put them in a pan over the fire. They yield a lot of fat, you can fry eggs in it, and whatever you want, and the crackling or roasted skin that's left is eaten with great gusto. Stewed, and eaten in a thousand ways, they're very useful, for several Negroes can be kept supplied for many days with these fat worms."
You'll see what success you'll have with the mojojoi. It's delicious and authentic food, for people with livers accustomed to our fat-assed ants from the cemetery of Bucaramanga. Just tell them they're native prawns or shrimp (from the land, rather), pure food from the guts of our very own soil. If they don't eat them, at least they'll shut up.
The white flesh of sole is a delicacy for ill people. You don't want to attract illness by eating sole yourself. Even though this is only superstition — a healthy person doesn't start coughing from eating honey.
It is beneficial, however, for the public economy, to leave remedies for those in need of them. When you are healthy and enjoying reciprocated love, eat raw food — bite into apples, drink fruit juices, place a wedge of hard cheese between slices of juicy pear. Cheese with pears nourishes fortunate love.
But don't eat cheese with pears when you're looking for love. Cheese with pears does not afford the necessary peace to the senses that attracts lovers. Men distrust any woman who seems very keen to strike up relations. They are very attracted, on the other hand, by a certain cheerful and alert indifference. Pay attention to the men you like, the ones you're attracted to, but not too much. Pretend to be distracted, interested in others, make him think he's one of many, one among equals. Wait for him to begin to show his interest, before your smile for him begins to seem much wider than for others. And when he makes his approach, if he does finally approach, to keep from being too disappointed, never forget the words of a wise woman from my lands: "All men are at least a few bubbles shy of a boil."
Never, except after the third anniversary of her burial, try to imitate your mother-in-law's recipes. It would be a grave error when she's still around, for your husband will say it's not the same, too much or not enough salt, that it's over- or underdone, the texture's not quite right, the colour's different. Moreover his mother, if she's alive, will feel even more replaced.
Excerpted from Recipes For Sad Women by Hector Abad, Anne McLean. Copyright © 2012 Héctor Abad Faciolince. Excerpted by permission of Steerforth Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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