My Year of Living Backwards – Red Queen to White Queen, Part 12: Tamarind Kisses

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Over the next year, on Mondays and Thursdays, I will introduce consecutive passages from my new novel, Red Queen to White Queen. The book explores how a Colombian matriarch came to exert a lifelong dominance over her family, until a newcomer threatens her reign. At the end of each chapter, you will find a recipe from the book.

Cast of Characters:
Magdalena (Magda): Already in her 80s when the book begins, Magda is the most powerful figure in her family. Flashbacks explore the life that made her who she is
Rosalba: Magda’s daughter, who has devoted her life to the care of her mother
Immaculata (Imma): Magda’s lifelong servant
Dante: Magda’s husband
Seňora Moreno: Family friend of long standing
Desiderio: Magda’s son
Don Claudio & Don Cosimo: Italian brothers, friends of the family
Father Martens: Magda’s Belgian tutor
xxx Click here for Part I.
****************

Five days later, Magda was trudging along beside her guardian. She had finally succumbed to the old woman’s pleas to visit the Church of Santo Domingo. After so many days, she was confident they would not encounter the young Señor Gaviria.

“You should be ashamed of yourself, wanting to see the devil’s work.”

Taking jabs at her duenna helped alleviate the tension that had building in her all week.

As they neared the church, they saw a slender, white-clad figure leaning against the church door. Hat in hand, he approached Señora Rodriguez to hand her a paper sack. Delighted, the old woman lady peered inside at the wide selection of offerings from the candy arcade. She seized a large white cocada and immediately bit into it, closing her eyes as she savoured the sweet coconut flavour.

I thought you’d be in the park,” said Magda. Appalled at having spoken her secret thoughts, she pressed her lips together.

“I’ve been here every day for five days,” whispered Téo. “I would have been here every day for a year, if need be.”

His words did not surprise her. The country’s folklore was filled with romantic tales of young men undertaking such lengthy vigils, growing melancholy and wasted in the process. They were almost a rite of passage for Colombian youth. What did surprise her was the excitement she felt.

Lips outlined in sugar, Señora Rodriguez leaned back, shadowing the sun with her hand and peering up at the church tower.

“The story is true, it’s twisted!” she announced triumphantly. Magda rolled her eyes, Téo laughed.

Faster than she had moved in some years, Señora Rodriguez headed for the church door. Magda had no choice but to follow. A moment after she stepped from the heat of the square into the building’s cool, shadowy depths, Téo reached for her hand.

Magda pulled away, moving toward her duenna. The old woman was genuflecting deeply at the pastel-tinted altar. Its gentle pinks and shadowy violets flickered in the light of a hundred votive candles, kept aglow by the prayers of the faithful. Señora Rodriguez lumbered over to them, searching for a coin in her reticule.

“Allow me,” said Téo, dropping a peso into the donation box.

“That should keep her busy for a while,” he whispered to Magda.

She stared back in disbelief. Pesos were reserved for the purchase of miracles: a plea to spare the city from sudden attack might warrant a peso or two. An old woman’s prayers were scarcely worth two pennies.

“Your money is wasted on Señora Rodriguez. She’ll just pray for more cocadas.”

Téo laughed low and grabbed Magda’s hand to pull her into the colonnaded aisle. Screening their faces with his hat, he drew her close and kissed her. Magda felt sensations in places she barely acknowledged and never spoke of.

Every heroine in every tale would have seized the opportunity to slap him. But Magda was no ordinary heroine: she leaned closer.

Later, in her room, she inhaled the light scent of coconut oil which still lingered on fingers that had wound themselves into his black hair.
****
Cartagena was a small city, with only a few places where a young lady and her duenna might venture. A young man with long strides could check all of them in half an hour. Browing for leather goods in the shopping district, the girl would be stopped mid-pace by a tug on her skirt. Sipping a glass of iced carrot and orange juice beside the quay, they’d find him watching the banana and coconut boats.

At first, Señora Rodriguez narrowed her eyes when she saw him; but the young man made himself useful by carrying packages, fanning them when the heat grew unbearable, and leading them to delightful, shaded gardens.

This morning, Magda was escoring a puffing Señora Rodriguez up the series of stone steps leading to the Castillo San Felipe. After their first kiss, Téo was careful to ensure the duenna received the greater share of his attention. Magda was brushed aside as the young man offered a gallant arm to Señora Rodriguez . She wandered along behind as the two trudged up the long approach to the castle, Téo dragging the older woman.

Did she love him? One might escape sensations of love in cold Bogotá, but it was the very breath of life in this humid, flower-scented city. Love was exhaled through the very pores of the dark young women who sashayed through the streets, selling wares from the baskets on their heads and reaching up to steady them with one graceful hand.

A covy of guides huddled at the castle entrance, eager to offer their services. Waving them away, Téo ushered his charges into the building’s cool tunnels. The fortification, he boasted, had withstood a month-long siege with defences intact.

“Not even the brother of George Washington himself could conquer it. Here in these tunnels, it was impossible to surprise the defenders,” he said, pointing to the angled embrasures and sharp turns. “They would see the light of the attackers’ torches long before they appeared.”

“Señora Rodriguez and I will illustrate, by moving a little deeper into this tunnel … not far, certainly not out of calling distance,” he assured the timid duenna. “You, señorita, will remain here.”

Accustomed to his arm, the duenna let herself be led away without protest. Magda stood tapping her foot in the shadows. She peered at her watch: they had been gone six minutes. She heard the sound of a match being lit and saw a dim lit from around the corner. Why would Téo choose this moment to smoke, leaving her alone in this tunnel? Remembering the stories about explosive air in underground caverns, Magda shook off a frisson of fear. She was no Señora Rodriguez, afraid of her own shadow.

Magda slooked up to see a white suit moving towards her in the dim light. Putting a finger to his lips to silence her, the boy caught her up in his arms. Between kisses, he raised his voice and asked, loudly, “Did you hear the sound of the match, señorita?”

“Yes, but why…?” Too late: he had taken her lips again.

“You see, Señora Rodriguez,” he called out to the duenna. “The sound of a lit match can still be heard … even at this distance.”

After long moments with Magda in his arms, Téo reached into his pocket for another match. Lighting it, he again called back to the duenna, “Can you hear it, Señora?”

“Indeed, I can,” the woman replied. “And there’s no need to shout. I’m not deaf. But how is it possible for such a tiny sound to travel such vast distances?”

“It’s the acoustics, still another reason the castle’s defenders could never be taken by surprise,” Téo explained to Magda.

“Wait there, Señora, we’re coming for you.” Tugging Magda’s hand, he led her down the long, twisting tunnel, stopping often to take her in his arms. Each time she tried to speak, he closed her mouth with his own.

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Sugar-Covered Tamarind Balls

Tamarind Balls
A relatively unknown ingredient in North American cuisine, it is tamarind that gives Worcestershire Sauce its unique flavour. The flesh of its pod-like fruit resembles dates in appearance, but has a much sharper taste that is both sweet and sour. Here in the north, I finally tracked it down in a small, Asian market that specializes in imported foods.

Tamarind Balls are just one of the sweets on offer in Cartagena’s Candy Arcade (Portal de Dulces). You can easily make your own, however:

Ingredients:
1 package of tamarind paste; this looks almost exactly like a brick of date paste
2 tablespoons honey
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup water
2 tablespoons rum
coarse white sugar, for rolling, or
fine, unsweetend coconut and ground nuts, for rolling (optional)
Method:
In a small saucepan, combine the first five ingredients , cooking over low heat until the paste can be easily separated with a wooden spoon. Remove from the heat.
When the mixture is cool enough to handle, grease your hands with a little butter and shape into small balls. Roll in sugar, or a mixture of coconut and ground nuts. Enjoy.

Cocadas:

These are the Latin version of macaroons, made with a favourite Colombian ingredient: sweetened condensed milk! They can be shaped into balls or patted into a cake pan as a dessert.

Ingredients:

  • 1 small package of unsweetened, long flake coconut
  • 1/2 of a small can sweetened condensed milk (150 ml.)
  • pinch of salt
  • 2 egg whites
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar (optional)
  • Parchment paper, greased and lightly dusted in flour

Method:
Combine the coconut with the sweetened condensed milk. Add a pinch of salt. Beat the egg whites with the cream of tartar until they form soft peaks. Carefully fold the coconut mixture into the egg whites until the ingredients are well mixed but still fluffy. Bake at 200 degrees F. until they can easily be lifted out with a spatula (approximately 2 hours). The final product will be slightly chewy.

Check back on April 4 for Part 13. All text is protected under copyright to Susan Young de Biagi. Images are in the public domain.

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Susan Young de Biagi is a regular contributor to prdn.

As a trained historian, my twin passions are writing and teaching. In addition to Cibou – my first novel – I have written or co-written three books of non-fiction, and authored a number of digital, educational products.

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