Cooking up Conversation

I’m sifting through recipes, some handwritten, some typed, some with my editing marks. There are instructions for Kisir (Turkey), Cod Mousse and Chicken in a Pan and Cantucci (Italy), Chicken Tarragon Cake and Apple Pie (France), Orange Cake (Azerbaijan), Tart of Sintra (Portugal), and Lomo Saltado (Peru). I’m looking at the recipes with a smile, thinking of the women who contributed them…

english conversation

It’s a highlight of my week. I meet women and promote talking–about families, about cooking, about holidays and vacations (which apparently can be the same thing), about books and movies, about personality bonuses and blemishes. Because I can talk at length and listen fairly well,  it’s my privilege to facilitate the English Conversation group along with my British sidekick, Paula, at the American Women’s Club of Luxembourg.

know how hard it is to learn a new language, especially now that I live in a land of trident tongues spewing French and German and Luxembourgish. It’s encouraging to me to see these women screwing their courage to the sticking point as they speak, write and read in a language that’s foreign to them, without familiar vocabulary and grammar, without ordinary spelling and cadence. We’ve read about professions, then discussed our favorite jobs and those we were glad to see end. One woman spoke of a tutoring job she had when we was young, of a student who was “both lazy and stupid, a bad combination!” We’ve read about travel, then cited our best and worst vacations. When one member suggested her most disappointing holiday experience was in Rome, another chimed in (with a bit of an Italian accent)  “that’s not possible!”

And now our project is sharing our favorite recipes in writing for an international cookbook for the American Women’s Club. I’m learning so very much and tasting amazing food. I now know what a knob of butter is, that pearl is a type of sugar, that apple pie is delicious not only with coffee or tea but also with Champagne! I’ve grasped that to the tooth is the translation of al dente and can be used for food other than just pasta. Then there’s the realization that cantucci is not just any biscotti: this delightfully crunchy biscuit with almonds is served at the end of a meal, not with espresso but with vin santo, a dessert wine. How could I not have known about cantucci all my life? I’ve smiled as I remember that unlike French and Italian and Portuguese and many other languages, English grammar doesn’t assign gender to nouns, so  phrases like, “make the chicken into strings not before having hit him with the meat tenderizer,” or “add the sugar to the butter and beat him until he’s fluffy,” make me laugh as I think fondly of these dear women.

Though our course in English conversation may be suspended for a summer break, ideas are simmering for meaty chats in the fall. For now, here’s hoping the promises of tutoring in cantucci and meeting for  chats and coffees is, like all good pasta,  al dente.  Buon appetito!

 

 

 

 

My Sunshine

We missed it.

My amateur astronomer, brilliant scientist husband would have been over the moon to see the eclipse that was a bigger news flash in the U.S.  yesterday than Donald Trump’s latest social media post. Our kids messaged us at various stages of the path of the moon, in various stages of excitement and anticipation. My fluency in “nag” kicked in, as I reminded my adult children to beware the dangers of looking straight at the sun, to which my offspring replied, in less than stellar fashion, “Don’t worry, Mom. We used protection.” Even today, as my daughter posted her views of the eclipse on Facebook, tagging her dad and asking him to chime in, that celestial alignment drew us closer, despite the ocean between us, the miles between us, the years and differing stages of life between us.

We’ve missed a lot. We’ve missed the funeral of a beloved cousin, a beloved aunt. We’ve missed the funerals of some very old, dear friends. We’ve missed the celebrations of retirements and graduations. The opportunities that slipped through my fingers…spending more time with my grandson, shopping with my daughter and daughter-in-law as we sip Starbucks and solve the social ills of the world, cooking with one son who recently loves my recipes, listening (in the same room) to a son who composes, watching a son who passionately builds retro projects…loving them all, up close.

Here’s what we’ve gained: the undeniable knowledge that our kids are great adults, smart and kind, deep thinkers about the hard things in life, appreciative of the pleasures and challenges of living and loving. Even if they weren’t my flesh, I would want to be friends with them (though I’d give them a good warning before I dropped by so they could clean up first!). We’ve gained the world–friends from EVERYwhere, travel here and there, and a sprinkling of a new language.  It doesn’t take the planets aligning, or whatever an eclipse is (sorry, honey!), for us to realize the opportunity we have here in Luxembourg is astronomical. The distance, the time, the heavenly occurrence…can’t take my sunshine away.

Music performed by my very sweet daughter!