Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Review: Gypsy Curses Beatified Bearded Woman. The Gluten-free Chicano Cooks

Review: Alicia Gaspar de Alba. The Curse of the Gypsy. Houston: Arte Público Press, 2018. ISBN: 978-1-55885-862-6

Michael Sedano

Alicia Gaspar de Alba calls her collection of stories, The Curse of the Gypsy, a “deconstructed novel” which she explains is like a do-it-yourself meal, a literary sin sul lo or hot pot where the diners assemble their repast selecting tidbits from the lazy susan.

The author is no lazy Alicia, assembling ten stories and a novella (which is the subtitle). Given the strictures of print, she’s organized them and one reads from start to finish, the ten stories then the novella. Only then does a reader come upon the afterword, describing the banquet in store for a second reading.

Inadvertently, I took the author’s implicit advice and read the novella first. The narrative voice of that work is so different from the first of the ten stories that one's literary ear has to settle down after spending time in the dark ages.

Thinking of the disassembled novel, I might want to go to the funny stuff first. The YA third person voice in the teenage tattoo shop and the ribald humor of the cross-country bus travelers to start.

An amuse bouche with colloquial voices relating generally good-natured stuff, and settle in with the warmth of family reunion time, only to get gut-punched by a member of someone’s family running out of time and she knows it.

There are hard things in these lives, made harder by shifting perceptions a reader gleans in different stories. One story the voices write off a sister for being “deranged.” They’ve had to lock away the crazy sister. There's no reason not to take their side. Another story, a voice in a confessional relates a life of rape by her father, the family’s abject denial, labeling the child “deranged” and locking her away to hide her truth.

Gaspar de Alba usually rewards her readers with long, complex stories. A reader is so happy turning page after page following Sor Juana’s career, and equally pleased following Sister’s amanuensis from the convent to puritan New England. This time all you get is less than 220 pages.

The author makes every one of them count. It’s the voices of narrators in one set of stories, it’s the arresting tale itself in another story, holding a reader. Some stories spread over a dozen pages, others turn the page and it’s over. What makes a story a story? Read ten of them for ten different answers.

Look for the names of people. In one story, characters named X, Y, or Z play a prominent role. In another, a character thinks of a line of Marias in her heritage while she stares at indigenous faces seeking out her missing mother. She cries and her daughter Chole, Maria de la Soledad, comforts her.

I should specify look for name play in the ten stories. The novella is a pastiche of antique storytelling and a tour de force of vocabulary. It reads like a mild Decameron tale, or a low-key euphuistic experiment.

St. Wilgefortis is a real saint from a forgotten until now legendary Europe. Talk about names: Calsia; Domina, an honorific; Basilia Drusilla, called Sila; Wilge, Liberata Wilgefortis’ short name. There are the nine babies named in latin sequence, Quarta and Quinta, for example, who are harelips.

I suspect Alicia Gaspar de Alba, the English professor, had a lot of fun with this story and the sources it’s drawn upon. Indeed, there’s a researcher’s bibliography. The characters use a number of artifacts like lectus, cena, palla. One dries and eats an afterbirth. Another slakes her thirst then squats and takes a leak in public. It's nature, verdad?

Normally I’d rail against the author’s reliance upon appositional translation, but much of the time it works here. A Spanish or Latin phrase will immediately have a translation by the narrator, or the narrative itself makes clear the foreignism. In other instances, the author elects to leave the foreign terms to context. Set against the schism of native magic—one character need only think up a fire to produce a blaze—and emerging Christianity, context plays an important role for the reader not up on goetia magic and medieval history.

St. Wilgefortis’ people speak a lot of Italian or Latin, and a number of English words I had to look up. One character “bellows the logs in the fireplace” and gets burned. Darned if I know that use of “bellow.”

Vocabulary and Voice are but two of the elements that make The Curse of the Gypsy a delight. Another element a reader will want to revel in are numerous eloquent passages where the writer’s quill takes a life of its own from the scene. I found this especially in bullfighting paragraphs that echo the drama and intensity of Barnaby Conrad killing Manolete. Gaspar de Alba doesn’t kill her toreador, though the gore will be enough to give a PETA advocate night sweats.

The Curse of the Gypsy Ten Stories and a Novella is new from Arte Publico Press. Your local Indie bookseller can order it and get it to you as readily as the big internet retailer. Support your local independent bookseller, and GOTV.

The Gluten-free Chicano Cooks
Gluten-free Lemon Butter Shrimp Sauce on Pasta
Michael Sedano

Throwing all carbohydrate caution to the wind, the Gluten-free Chicano hungered for pasta.

The cupboard was also bare and the concièrge didn’t feel like going to the store.

The freezer held cooked shrimp, the pantry some noodles.

On hand always are lemon juice, butter, cornstarch, lactose-free whole milk, paprika, parmesan cheese.

I have a special Paprika. Chuck Braithwaite brought back from his travels for the University of Nebraska, Lincoln. The better your ingredients, the more your dish will please you and guests. Ditto the Parmesan cheese, which is not from Chuck but Ralph's.

I planned a side dish of canned spinach because I was antojado. I didn't have bacon (see lazy concièrge) so I used bacon grease I keep in the freezer to flavor up the greens. Use fresh spinach or chard with chopped garlic when the garden, or Ralph's, provides.

Preparing Lemon Butter Shrimp Sauce over pasta is really fast when using cooked shrimp, and richly elegant. Use half-and-half or add some cream for a super rich flavor. You could add sherry to the sauce.

What is less easy is the carbohydrate count. Some people exercise a  50g of carbohydrate limit per meal. The total count by measure tallies around 55g of carbohydrates. The gluten-free pasta and the milk are the limit-pushers here.

Small servings, such as a single gluten-free tagliatelle nest and a couple of ladles of the sauce, limit the carbohydrate exposure to reasonable.Making a cup of sauce will probably leave half of it in the pan for light eaters.

Making Lemon Butter Shrimp Sauce Over Pasta

1. Defrost the shrimp. Pull off the tail.
2. Get some salted water on to boil. Add a bit of olive oil.

3. In a shallow pan, melt ½ to 1/3 cube butter with a pinch of black peppercorns, sea salt, and Paprika. When it’s boiling, stir in cornstarch and boil for a minute until the color changes.

4. Splash in a bit of whole milk to make the buttery roux into a thick paste. Quickly stir in the rest of the milk to dilute the roux completely. Lower the flame, add juice of one or two lemons, adjusting taste. Stir in ¼ cup grated parmesan cheese.

5. Simmer five to ten minutes, stirring regularly. The sauce needs to be velvety and thick, it coats the stirring tool but flows easily. If it gets too thick stir in a tablespoon of boiling pasta water.
6. While the sauce thickens, start cooking the gluten-free pasta. A critical process easily mucked up. The noodle must be completely limp in the rolling boiling water. Pinch off the end of several noodles and give them the al dente test. The instant they all please your bite, dump the pot into the colander to drain. Don’t delay.

7. Drain the pasta. If you rinse your cooked noodles, use cold water to stop the cooking.
8. Add the defrosted cooked shrimp to the steaming white sauce and raise the temperature. This sauce holds its heat, so it the pasta takes more time than predicted, leave the sauce off the heat. Be patient with the pasta. Don’t serve crummy hard noodles.
9. Ladle a base of white sauce on each plate.
10. Place a noodle nest on the sauced plate.
11. Ladle a helping of shrimp in white lemon butter sauce on each pasta nest.
12. A salad or vegetable completes the meal. I wilted onions in bacon fat and heated drained canned spinach.
13. Serve.

Counting Carbs (link to carb counter) 
2 nest egg noodle, 86g - 43g carbohydrate per nest
¼ cup corn starch 7g / tbs = 28g
Milk ½ cup 11g
Butter ½ cube 0g
Spinach 1 cup 7g
Shrimp, .05 g per small

The Gluten-free Chicano On Gluten-free Pasta

The most successful wheat analogs in the gluten-free world are beer and pasta. Good gluten-free beers existed the last time The Gluten-free Chicano tested birongas. Nowadays, el G-FC avoids alcohol and can’t personally vouch for beers like he once did. (link) 

Gluten-free breads, crackers, pretzels, cookies, not a one of them is edible despite looking like their wheat product analog. Two restaurants serve delicious gluten-free pizza. This is in the entire world, to the limits of The Gluten-free Chicano’s dining voyages.

One, Baggage Room in Pasadena, serves only on weekends. Palm Springs’ Giuseppe’s serves pasta and pizza (link) day-in, day-out. Giuseppe's is the best restaurant in the world, for gluten-free Italian food aficionados, and demands at least two visits a year.

Noodles compounded from rice, corn, and quinoa all are adequately like wheat pasta. Ancient Harvest brand quinoa product has proved itself the most satisfactory for tooth and taste, but tends to overcook easily and is costly. Early in the product's introduction I heard pedo that quinoa exports were sentencing Andean natives to malnutrition, but that’s cooled off as U.S. domestic quinoa production ramps up, and people probably care less about Andean natives. Quinoa, by the way, is higher in carbs than a cup of corn pasta.

Way-out analogs are answers. There's the vegetable spaghetti; it's not bad and grows prolifically. Ask Ichabod Crane for a spiral cutter for halowe'en, use it to make pumpkin noodles. Or, skip the pasta altogether and serve over steamed broccoli or cauliflower.


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