BISCUITS AND PRESERVES FROM A FRIEND – anthology “THE GIFT OF THE MAGI”
The last few years I have been moved to tears on many occasions by the surprising presents from friends that live far and that I haven't seen for many years or we've never met in person. Their gesture was even more touching because it was unexpected and so much thoughtful. I also showered them with loving presents and I honestly hope they liked them.
Thinking gratefully of these gifts, a smile started to sneak on my face, as I realised more and more how our way of showing appreciation, friendship and love resembles the classic short story by O. Henry “The Gift of the Magi”. We are approaching Christmas and now I wish to share with you the stories of gifts from my friends from far and away, from people I knew from long ago and people I only know from recently and I never met… As I have discovered, a “friend” is a very expansive concept and always demands the presence of care and compassion.
Today my story is about the parcel I received from my friend Victoria Granof. For most of you, her name is associated with the great cooking books collection she has styled, the editorial and commercial work where she shines with her great and provocative eye of a food and photography stylist. Most of you remember Granof for her decade-long collaboration with the great Irving Penn. I admire her work, but we usually don’t discuss work; we are talking about cooking. We exchange old family recipes for preserves, some cooking techniques, mentioning new exotic ingredients. Then we talk about our kids, coping with their little tantrums, keeping up with the school homework, shaking off the seasonal cold and flu and; of course, we tell each other few dirty jokes to keep up the zest of life fresh… Chatting with Victoria is so much fun and it feels if we knew each other from our previous life. No wonder she calls me her long lost sister and that’s how I feel about her too.
So, one day, when the postman knocked on the door, wasn't it surprise when I received a parcel from her – homemade biscuits, shortbread cookies, and preserves with the most exotic taste I ever tried! When I opened the box, the first thing in my hands was the box with sesame Rosquitas. Oh my, oh God, the memories this taste brought... Back in Bulgaria we lived in the town's periphery, in a suburb known by a Turkish nickname “Küçük Paris”, which means “Little Paris”. But it should've been called "Little Babylon" as it was a melting pot of many religions and ethnicities, with refugees from neighbouring Thrace, Greece, Turkey, and even from Armenia. The sesame Rosquitas' smell reminded me of the local bakeries from my old neighbourhood. For some reason, all the bakers' shops were on the corner, between two streets and each morning on our way to school, we would stop by for a simit or two coming piping hot straight out of the wood-fired oven. When I saw the golden baked cookies, I couldn't also stop smiling, as they reminded me of my old favourite Baltic amber bracelet which I broke. Still keeping the shattered pieces of amber even though they will never be fixed or repaired. Victoria’s Rosquitas looked like a bijou from a jewellery box.
Then I opened the beautiful red box with the most amazing shortbread cookies I have ever seen or tasted - black sesame shortbread cookies with salty egg white glaze. My eldest daughter Apollonia got addicted; she let us try only just a bit and kept the rest for herself. I have to have the recipe! When we unpacked the black sesame shortbread cookies, Apollonia said: "Mamma, they look like your Chinese red box with domino". Well, I'll be damned! They really looked like that box - pretty, red and with rectangle pieces of cookies. As she said that, I instantly had a "light bulb" moment – have to take few shots before all is eaten and gone.
I banned the family from touching and eating till I finish with the impromptu photo session. Just allowed the girls to smell and have a spoonful of the preserves (ah, that was another moment of orgasm of the senses!). Beautiful jars of Pickled Melon Rind and Lemon-Coriander Applesauce were gently wrapped and tucked in the box and trust me, they are the most exciting thing to the taste buds as exotic and exciting they sound. Just look at them on the photos!
Then I took the shots of the Rosquitas together with my old and long-suffering shattered Baltic amber bracelet because I couldn't stop thinking how gentle like jewellery the Rosquitas looked. The black sesame shortbread cookies on the other hand were a wonderful visual parallel with the thought of them being an old family board game.
This parcel sprang some dear memories from my younger days, the things I treasure so much and miss even more – the time the family's matriarchate will get together and make some massive baking or the seasonal preserves. These are unforgettable times and I often think with mixed emotions how wonderful it was, and how much I wished I could offer the same to my own girls. But life is not always as we wish...
Ah, my dear long lost sister, you have brought me so much joy and delight that I didn't think I can get from a surprise parcel!...
Did I say "thank you"?
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