I am back from my moving hiatus and back in the kitchen, and a new one at that! Sorry to be MIA for so long, but moving has a way of throwing everything off kilter, especially your kitchen. Well my kitchen was the first room I unpacked in my new place so now I am ready to blog, even if I can't find my fall clothes! I am thrilled to be starting back with Barbara Kingsolver's The Lacuna. She is one of my favorite authors and her books don't come out that often, so I have been anxiously awaiting The Lacuna to come out in paperback. The book did not disappoint, both from the perspective of a reader and a cook! Food is an integral part of the book, as the lead character, Harrison Shepard, serves for many years as the cook to Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera. And the famous cameos don't end there, Trotsky also features in the book, which spans from the twenties to the McCarthy era 50's, from Mexico to Washington D.C. to Asheville North Carolina. For me it seemed quite different than other Kingsolver books, but I loved them and I love these books two. Since there is so much food here, I will cook for two weeks from this book. First sweet, then savory. I start with Pan Dulce, which Harrison was especially skilled at making and which was Diego Rivera's favorite. These are Mexican sweet morning buns - basically a challah bun covered in a thick layer of frosting. Yum. After I sampled my handy work I immediately scared down a second one. I felt ill afterward for sure, but who cares, these are irresistible!
The Lacuna is an engrossing, unique book. The narrative style is unusual - rather than a straight narration throughout, the book is pieced together from the journals, diaries, letters and notes of Harrison Shepard, as compiled by his "stenographer" Violet Brown. Sometimes Ms. Brown becomes the narrator of the book, with a very different voice than Shepard. Back to the beginning, the book starts when Harrison Shepard is a young boy who moves with his "flapper" mother to a small island in Mexico, where Shepard's mother has taken up with a wealthy Mexican oil man. Harrison is considered an outsider, since he is part Mexican (on his mother's side) and part American (on his fathers). He has no relationship with his father, a government worker living in Washington D.C. Harrison is alienated on the island and spends his time in the ocean, diving and communing with the fishes. He loves to read, and revels in the books he brought to the island from the states. Along with his love of reading, Harrison becomes a writer, carrying around a notebook all the time and writing everything down. This habit of writing documenting his life will carry with him his whole life, and will often cause problems for him. While diving one day, Harrison finds a Lacuna, a cave in the ocean, which seems to be a black hole but in fact leads to an opening in another location. This theme of the Lacuna - both the literal cave that Harrison finds and its other meanings obviously runs throughout the book. Wikipedia reveals that Lacuna also means a missing piece of text, which is an issue that figures into the story as well. Eventually, Harrison's mother (who basically moves from man to man looking for someone to support her, paying sporadic attention to her son along the way), breaks up with the oil man, and she and Harrison move to Mexico City. Harrison is then sent by his mother to live with his father in DC, who promptly drops him off at a military boarding school for wayward youth. Harrison is horribly out of place here, much more functional both intellectually and emotionally than the other students. At the school, Harrison forms a friendship with Billy Borzai, a boy who works at the school. Harrison falls in love with Billy, and eventually is kicked out of the school and sent back to Mexico City. What actually caused Harrison's expulsion is unknown to the reader, Harrtison destroys his notebook during this period. It is back in Mexico City that Harrison first encounters the striking Frida Kahlo in the market, and eventually goes to work for her husband, the famous muralist/painter Diego Rivera as a plaster mixer and then a cook and all purpose house servant. Harrison becomes part of the Kahlo-Rivera household, and this becomes the family he never knew. The narrative during this period switches to "reports" written by Harrison for Frieda, reporting on the goings on in the household. Kahlo and Rivera were ardent members of the communist party during this period (late 30's to 40's), and they offer their home as a refuge to Bolshevek Leon Trotsky. Harrison also becomes a close confidant of Trotsky, acting as both a book and a stenographer to the man. During this time, Harrison begins work on a novel about the ancient Mayans. Unfortunately, Harrison was present at Trostky's assassination, which was deeply traumatic and scarred him for the rest of his life. He leaves Mexico and heads to the U.S., settling in AshevilleKahlo, the depression, World War II, McCarthyism), but the reader experiences them on a personal level - from Harrison's perspective. Along with all the historical stuff is a deep character study of Harrison - an alienated boy who continues to become more alienated as he grows up, much of this alienation caused by his sexual identity. I will share some more thoughts when I next post and make chilles rellenos, Frida's favorite.
Adapted from joythebaker.com
This was a super easy recipe. Pan Dulce is a Mexican sweet roll. Next time I make this I will not dye the topping and flavor it with cinnamon or cocoa, which is common. For this first time I wanted to make the bright pink, flavored just with vanilla.
1 tablespoon dry yeast
1 tablespoon sugar
1/4 cup water
3 and 2/3 cups white bread flour
1 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup sugar
2 tablespoons shortening
5 large eggs
1/4 cup unsalted butter
1/4 cup sugar
1 cup powdered sugar
1 cup all purpose flour
1 teaspoon vanilla
Directions: For dough: In a small bowl, dissolve yeast and 1 tablespoon sugar in warm water. Let stand 6-8 minutes. Meanwhile, in a large mixing bowl, combine 3 cups bread flour, salt, sugar and shortening and blend thoroughly.
Add yeast mixture and two eggs. Mix completely. OK, forgot to say, I did this in a kitchen aid with the paddle attachment. This worked well. Add remaining eggs and mix. And remaining bread flour (2/3 cup) and mix until the dough forms a loose, soft, elastic dough. It will be a bit sticky.
Transfer dough to a floured work surface, pat dough into a 4 x 6-inch rectangle, about 1 1/2 inches thick. Cut into 16 medium or 24 small squares. Cover lightly with plastic wrap and let rise for 1 to 1/2 hours.
After the dough rises, shape dough into dome shaped circles and put on a greased cookie sheet, two inches apart (as you will see in a minute, I didn't really do this and they baked together.) To make the topping: You can do this in a food processor or in a kitchen aid. I used the kitchen aid, blade attachment. Combine the butter, shortening, powdered sugar, 1 cup flour, vanilla. Mix until smooth, then add cinnamon or other flavoring or food coloring, I used pink. Form the topping into a log and refrigerate till you are ready to use.
To finish the pan dulces, first preheat oven to 350. Cut about 2 tablespoons of topping off log, pat in your hand to form a circle, and place on the bread roll, completely covering it.
Use a sharp knife to cut a decoration into the dough, criss cross or shell pattern appear to be traditional. Let the rolls rise in a warm place for about 1 to 1 and 1/2 hours.
Bake for 12-15 minutes, until lightly browned. Buen provecho