Amiga Mia

A beautiful painting or an elegantly turned piece of poetry may the nourish the soul, but you cannot eat them to sustain life. The only piece of poesía that nourishes both soul and stomach is a good meal when it is created by a passionate and loving cook who can wield a spoon as well as a painter can wield a brush or a poet a pen.

I witnessed the aftermath of her cooking only a moments before I met her. Lina's kitchen was in a tumultuous state. Pots and pans filled the sink and overflowed on the counters. Almost every cabinet door was thrown wide open as if an unseen force, perhaps a small tornado, had blown through. Whoever her sister was, she was one exciting and furious cook. And if the smell of her food was any indication, then her recklessness in the kitchen made me sorry I couldn't stay to savor the results. That is when I knew: whatever she was, whether a crazy woman or an artist (or both), this girl was going to be my friend.

That was how I was introduced to Carla—not a mean crazy woman at all, but certainly an artist at heart, especially when she created her untraditional but always dios mío de mi vida delicious food! She had a childlike (though never childish) simplicity about her, a way of looking at the world, and food, with a kind of playfulness (and sometimes, abandonment), a necessary thing if one is ever to be a good cook or a good artist or even a good person. And she was that. No, she was, like all of us, far from perfect. But she was gentle, spiritual, hospitable to a fault—even when life was too much for her. Even as she lay on the bed from which she was never to arise.
I came to stay with her one August. Her thick lovely hair was gone. And for those of you who have ever lost a friend or a family member to cancer, I don't need to elaborate on the terrible things it can do to a person. There were secrets Carla wanted to keep, so I won't reveal them here. I will say the sadness at our impending goodbye was heartbreaking, the love in that room, intense. It filled every corner of the house with a cinnamon and chocolate aroma that stuck to our clothing and lingered long after Carla was gone.
When I see her again, we will cook and cook and cook until there's a pure explosión de pasión y sobrosura—a deliciousness that will blow the doors off their hinges--for the biggest la vida es un carnaval fiesta, ever.
Descansa por ahora, amiga mía. Un día nos miraremos a los ojos.

Perhaps you are wondering where agua de tamarindo—tamarind punch—fits into this story. Well, it doesn't. There are times when I just can't write about food just for food's sake. I can most times . . . but not today. Inserting agua de tamarindo in this memoir of my friend would have been too forced. And yet, food is the reason why you are here, and I would be a terrible host if I didn't at least offer you something to drink, especially on this hot August day. Carla wouldn't have had it any other way.

(I dedicate my painting of this mighty hibiscus, above, and story to my brave friend, Lina. Never has there been a more loyal and fierce defender or loving friend to a little sister.)
Agua de tamarindo
(Tamarind Punch)
In an act of culinary cross pollination that came via the sea, first from tropical Africa then to India and the rest of Asia, and onward to the shores of Mexico and the Caribbean by Spanish sailors in the 16th Century, tamarind is just an other small link in a chain that binds together all the cuisines of the world in one way or another. And after you taste its unique sweet and sour taste, I dare you to drink another Coke or Pepsi with carnitas tacos.
This agua fresca is a little strong, but with plenty of ice and giving it a few minutes for it to dilute just a bit, it will taste just perfect when you are ready to serve.
6 ounces of tamarind pods (approximately 10 pods)
6 to 8 tablespoons granulated sugar, or to taste
6 cups boiling water

plenty of ice
a large pitcher

Peel away the outer shell and the woody membranes from each of the tamarind pods. Rinse them and place them all in a large bowl Pour the boiling water over them, add the sugar, stir, and let them sit for about two hours or so.
Then, use your fingers to squeeze the pods until the water turns amber colored. Make sure that no large pieces of tamarind pulps remain. Strain the water and discard the seeds. Pour the water into a large pitcher and add plenty of ice. Drink when the punch is ice cold and perfectly diluted. Stir just before serving.
Serves about 8 persons.


Gloria said...

I'm so sorry for your loss.:( I love though that you are celebrating her life in the best way possible, time in the kitchen. Take care.

Clementina said...

Gracias, Gloria
She disappeared from our lives, but not our hearts.

Leslie Limon said...

What a beautiful tribute to your friend! We should all be so lucky to have a friend like you. Saludos, abrazos y que Dios te bendiga!

Tera said...

Such a beautiful post. Your words paint a lovely portrait. My sincerest condolences.

Ruby said...

Thanks for sharing such a heart warming post. I love agua de tamarindo!

Anonymous said...

so sorry for your loss. you have a wonderful tribute to your friend. my condolences.

Clementina said...

GRACIAS TO ALL OF YOU for your very kind words and condolences.
Se los digo de todo corazon.

kobico said...

Such a sweet homage to Carla. It's beautfiful, Clementina.

(I have to admit I use the packaged tamarindo.)

S Lloyd said...

This is a touching, moving ode to that kitchen. I enjoyed reading it and if I was Carla, I would be moved.

Clementina said...

Hola, S. Lloyd,
Merci for your kind words. Yes, I miss Carla, and if she were around we'd hightail it to Montreal and taste that Francais/Latino food you so deliciously wrote about.

Mary C said...

What a beautiful way to say goodbye to a dear friend. She has the same name as my beloved grandmother, Lina, who passed on almost 50 years ago and who also will never be forgotten. Thank you for your post. When I make your Tamarind Tea I will raise a toast to wonderful women named Lina who will live on forever.

Sra. López said...

This is a beautiful tribute to a person anyone would be lucky to know.

Anonymous said...

I had not checked in recently and I just read your last two posts. Tres leches is great when done right, but like most great foods, it is easy to do wrong. Agua de tamarindo, on the other hand, will never be my cup of tea. As for the writing, it is, as always, wonderful and flowing. My condolences for your friend. We are now at the age when friends are leaving us, much too soon.

Clementina said...

Hols, Anonymous,
Right you are on both counts, making Tres Leches is harder than it looks--and losing friends is something one will never, ever get used to. Life is so beautiful, we never wish to leave it.

Anonymous said...

Hola, chiquita linda.
Thank you, from the bottom of my heart, for your beautiful tribute to my beloved sister. The time you spent at her bedside, holding her beautiful, delicate hands and speaking words that were so tenderly compassionate, meant very much to her. She well knew her days were drawing to a close, yet the kindness of many friends - and the ability to offer them hospitality when they came to see her in her little bed - brought her such joy. "It's my gift to them; my way of thanking them for coming to see me." (sigh...)
Sleep now, my beloved girl... pero, I'll see you soon, I promise.

Su hermana

sweetlife said...

beautiful tribute and wonderful agua!!


Apron Senorita said...

Hi, I'm a new visitor and new follower to your blog. It is fun and inspirational. I look forward to reading more of it.

I am sorry for your loss. There are friends that are threaded in our hearts for a life time.


Diana's Cocina said...

Beautiful tribute.

Clementina said...

Hola, Diana
All I can say is muchisimas gracias.