Saturday, September 5, 2009

Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel

This joint review has been posted on The Zen Leaf.

Recipe: Gignac Tiramisu

Ingredients: 24 Milano cookies, 5 egg yolks, 1/3 C sugar, 1/2 C
heavy cream, 2 tsp REAL vanilla (no extract!), 14 oz cream cheese, 3/4
C expresso

Jason: So... this isn't exactly a book you can synopsize... I
suppose the closest I can come is that this is a book of magical
realism following a woman who is the inheritor of her family's legacy
of cooking, as she falls in love with a man she's not allowed to be
with. And, the book is told in the form of a cookbook, the story being
woven into a series of 12 recipes. Did I miss anything? Do you want to
talk about Magical Realism? This was my first Magical Realism novel...

In a heatproof bowl, beat eggs and 1/3 C sugar on high, until thick
and pale yellow. Put the bowl in a skillet of barely simmering water
to make a bain-marie, and whisk until the mixture begins to thicken.
Remove and let cool for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. It's
important that the bain-marie not be too hot, because the eggs will
curdle, much like Jason's face when he reviewed 'Lair of the White
Worm' - but luckily not today, today his face above the steam of the
bain is shining and glossy just as the yolks.

Amanda: I think this might be my first Magical Realism book,
too. At least for modern times. I mean, there were a lot of elements I
recognized from old-old literature: stories from the Arabian Nights,
ancient Greek stories, even some of the older stories from the Bible
(like Lot's wife turning into a pillar of salt). I'm not sure I even
knew what magical realism was until I read this book. It was
really hard for me to classify it altogether. Historical fiction,
cookbook, a bit of romance, a bit of the fantastical... thrown
together, that made it all very unique. At least for my experience.

Mexican vanilla is the best kind, with a lower alcohol content and
a much purer taste. It also comes in a wine-sized bottle with a
convenient long neck that Amanda grasps onto as she takes several
quick, greedy sniffs after the bottle is opened. This leaves her
brain-drunk and giddy for several hours, proving the good quality of
the vanilla.

Jason: I wasn't sure how to think of the magic when you
described it to me, before I read it. In the experience, though, it
was part of the real power of the book, sort of this metaphor for the
bubbling, powerful energy that lives in the woman, her family, in
love, in the world, in food, etc. The entire conflict between the
bubbling, earthy magic, that comes from the old 'pagan world' (the
cook, the protagonist, the Navajo mother) and the cold necromantic
magic of religion (her mother and her mother's ghost, her older
sister) felt like one of the real themes of the book. But then, I know
you weren't sure if you thought the book was supposed to be symbolic -
what do you think, now, after a few days of reflecting?

The cream and the vanilla - together, and alone, they are like a
very thick glass of milk. It is the whisk that changes them; you whip
and they thicken - but it's not like a sauce. A sauce thickens when
you make it heavier - flour or corn starch or roux. The cream is akin
to the clouds, and when it is reintroduced to its old friend air, the
two intertwine themselves into a powerful, pale nimbus.

Amanda: It's not that I didn't think the book was symbolic so
much as it had symbolism woven in, rather than being a single
metaphor. It wasn't like a fable, where everything stood for something
else, but it definitely made careful use of symbolism. I can't
honestly say what the overall symbolism stood for, though. In some
ways, the book's message was really confusing to me because I'm so
unused to the genre. In others, I think it's fairly straightforward:
love is the essence of life; a strong, powerful, burning force that
can't be controlled or put out. Not without a lot of work, at least.
Any symbolism beyond that, someone would have to teach me and point it
out. I'd love to learn some of the deeper layers of this. Right now
I'm too ignorant to see them alone.

The cream cheese must next be beaten until whipped and fluffy. Fold
this and the yolk mix into the vanilla-perfumed whipped cream. This
must be done as lightly as possible, to keep the custard airy, else
the Tiramisu will be flat and heavy with disappointment.

Jason: See, one thing that I thought was interesting, there was
a sort of cosmic conflict going on it: good versus evil, chaotic
energy versus ordered apathy, domesticity versus high-flown religion.
In fact, it's interesting to me, that there was a sort of
Christ/Buddha/Orpheus symbolism surrounding the antagonist the whole
time (think of, for instance, her being pierced by thorns, and then
her sister eating the food that had her blood in it, and being
redeemed by it, in a way...). But what was really GREAT about it was
that it WAS a very normal story - girl wants boy, girl can't have boy,
girl fights for and pines for boy. If she was a real person, she would
seem ordinary, even boring - she's just a girl who lives with her mom
and likes to cook, you know? But, the magic in the story reveals the
real power of the everyday and the domestic, versus the phantasmic and
eventually illusory power of the opposing force. There is more power
in rolling out tortillas then in a mass, that was the message, I
guess, that I got. How did the book make you feel?

Lay the first layer of milanos, drizzle them with espresso, and
spread half of the creamy filling across the top, tucking them in like
a blanket. The milanos, before you spread them are like headstones or
bassinets, and when filled with bubbling energy of the coffee bean,
they leap and grasp towards the lips - the cream must lay down beside
it and wrap it in its arms, to soothe it back to sleep, to lay it down
again in its grave and rock it gently into the sleep. Now, do all that
again, with the other milanos, the other water-of-life, the other
blanketing custard.

Amanda: Interesting ideas - I love the idea that the domestic
woman taking care of her whole family is shown off as the one with
real power - the real head of the household, despite being held down
by the people around her. So often, the domestic person is the one
that is ignored, even by the writer, unless they break out of their
domestic role. In this book, however, Tita's role in the kitchen is
what influences everything. That isn't an ordinary statement.
Very refreshing. And very endearing.

I loved Like Water for Chocolate. It was not at all what I expected
going into it, and it's going to stick with me for a long time. I
really want to read more by Esquivel in the future. You?

The last layer of custard lies across the top of the pan like an
unsullied, creamy blanket. With a sifter, sprinkle a generous amount
of unsweetened cocoa evenly across it, creating a unique Rorschach
test that bleeds into the custard below.

Jason: Oh yes! I'd love to read the new book about Malinche,
particularly, and I'd really like to try some of the other giants of
this genre: Isabel Allende, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, etc. That's
interesting about the power being in being the 'housewife' not in
breaking out of that role. It was wonderful to read someone who loved
taking care of people, rather than who was being slowly destroyed by
it (you, know like The Awakening. Which I loved, don't get me wrong).
It was beautiful to read a book that glorified an 'art form' that we
usually ignore, like cooking, it reminds me of the art displays they
do now of old quilts, or incidental needlework. Overall, this was a
very warm, comforting book, one that glorified in small things, and
made you feel life has meaning for everyone, not just the famous and
the obvious heroes. Any parting thoughts?

The Milanos are wed to the custard, and laid down in their beds.
Their marriage is blessed by the pixie dust of cocoa across the top.
And now, cover it loosely with saran wrap, like a sly rose laid across
the nuptial pillow; set it away in the fridge; and leave it be. An
hour is fine, but a day is better - food, like love, takes time to be
at its best, and with time, the cream is filled with the invigorating
seed of the cookies, the cookies filled with the subtle transcendant
intoxication of the cream.

Amanda: Nothing much, just that I'm so glad to have read this
book. Plus, I didn't realize Marquez did magic realism and I'm now
looking forward to his books even more!

About the recipe:

Amanda: The first time we made Tiramisu was back when we were a
young couple in college. We didn't know where to find ladyfingers
(plus, our rundown grocery store in 3rd ward Houston probably wouldn't
have had them anyway), so we substituted Milano cookies, which worked
infinitely better in our opinion. We've used them ever since. We also
didn't drink coffee, nor did we know how to make espresso, so our
"espresso" involved hot water and some spoonfuls of instant coffee
granules. We also kept out the normal alcohol content for simplicity's
sake. Our version is not at all like the Italian recipe it comes from,
but it actually tastes far better and is always a hit when we serve

Jason: We've made this recipe a number of times over the years,
though, in classic Jason style, the recipe is a little fuzzy (nothing
I cook is ever the same twice, unfortunately). But, we hope you enjoy
eating it, as much as we enjoyed reading this book. It's at least a
LITTLE easier than some of the recipes in this book - holy cow, Laura

(Thanks for putting up with our poor attempt at replicating the tone
of the book in this review!)


L said...

Tiramisu is one of my all-time favs. I'll definitely try this one, and am looking forward to trying out the book too. I love good food reads!

Rebecca Reid said...

I just commented on Amanda's review, but maybe I should come comment here too. I'm glad you liked the book.

What is that picture? Is that the recipe with rose petals from the book?

Unknown said...

Ms Lula - It was a wonderful book for food - it made you feel how beautiful food is, without the slightest bit of sarcasm, which was nice.

Ms Reid - Oh, it's fine, I've been idly watching the comments there, as well. Yes, this is the quails in rose petals - I think. At least, as close a picture as I could find. Looks yummy, huh?

Trixie said...

I enjoyed this book a lot. I've never tried any of the recipes though.
Now it makes me think of the new movie - Julie and Julia - and how there's a connection between food and love. Haven't seen it yet myself though. Wonder if anyone knows where her blog is?
I've been looking for a tiramisu recipe to replicate the one we had at our wedding. I doubt they used Milano cookies in Italy, but this one certainly sounds delish.
Great review!

Julie said...

I think this is the right link to the blog you're looking for Trixie:

I think I have understood this connection between food and love - maybe a bit too much. :) I have seen the Julie and Julia movie and I enjoyed it. It made me want to learn more about Julia Childs, her life and her recipes - that's where it interests me.
I do think that this book Like Water for Chocolate is a great read although I admit I read it a while ago. This review makes me want to re-read it. As I remember it, its descriptions are enticing and a delicately woven messages intertwined within. So, I really liked your fun review and its conveyed tone, Amanda & Jason! Nicely done! Keep up the joint reviews. :)
I haven't yet had Tiramisu or at least not one that stood out to me. Can't wait to try it!

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