[On Saturday, January 25th, David’s beloved dad, Manny, died after a tough battle with mesothelioma and congestive heart failure. All of us at LC are deeply saddened. To honor the man who taught David so much, we’re rerunning his Father’s Day essay about Papa Leite.–ed.]
My father is a good man. Just ask my mother. Actually, if you spend enough time with her, she’ll tell you anyway, blurting it out while watching TV or holding out a bag of mini Milky Way bars to you. “Manny Leite’s a good man,” she’ll say.
The measure of a good man is calculated by many yardsticks. For my father, it was being a provider. It began with a home. First with a floor, eventually covered in the lightest of oak—“Only three-quarter-inch will do,” he’d say—that supported us, two-by-fours that became walls that surrounded us, and, finally, a roof that protected us—all built with his own hands.
Then there was sustenance. He cut a garden from what has to be God’s rockiest half-acre, situated behind our house. A grape arbor appeared first. Beneath it, we lingered over many long, lazy meals, just we three. Plump bunches of grapes hung heavily, and my father would pluck some and feed them to my mother. The shaded table grew crowded with our expanding family my father brought over from the Azores. First my grandfather, then my uncle, my aunt, another aunt, and finally my grandmother and the youngest aunt of all. And, in time, their spouses and later their kids gathered round. It was understood back then that this half-acre was on loan: It was meant for me, my wife, and my children—a family that would never come to be. Read more “The Garden of Him”
I get all kinds of responses when I tell people where my family’s from. My favorite reply was uttered at a party by a young woman swathed in a gauzy, tie-dyed dress who was eating an alarming amount of hummus.”Oh, your family’s from the Azores?” she gushed. “You know, they’re the remains of the lost city of Atlantis. I lived there in a past life.”
Most people, regardless of what they think, know surprisingly little about my family’s homeland. And even less about Azorean food. And for good reason. The Portuguese islands—São Miguel, Faial, São Jorge and six others—are strewn some 1,000 miles off the coast of Portugal and are happily marooned in the middle of the Atlantic. Unfortunately, so, too is our distinctive cuisine.
Geographic isolation is only one conspirator contributing to the invisibility of Azorean food. Like most peasant cuisines, Azorean cooking is home-based and frugal. Economics prevent most families from frequenting restaurants. My ancestors were so poor that açordas—brothy soups brimming with chunks of crusty leftover homemade bread—were sometimes all there was to fill bellies. Read more “Lost in the Atlantic: The Azores and Its Hearty Cuisine”
For a long time, every year when it came to the interminable turkey-eating season—November to New Year’s Day—I stood there holding a meat thermometer, hands trembling, face twitching, wondering if this bird would be the one I actually cooked correctly. You see, it seemed no matter what I did, I missed the thickest part of the turkey thigh so spectacularly that, for a while, I left the protein-cooking part of the day in The One’s hands and I took up the immensely less intimidating baking portion of the entertaining program.
But not before one memorable Thanksgiving when I had to call our friend Matty, a former butcher, into the kitchen to salvage the bird, not to mention my flagging self-esteem. (To his great credit, Matty, a man who’ll use anyone’s misfortunes as grist for a few minutes of hilarious stand-up cocktail chatter, never breathed a word of it to anyone. At least, never in my presence.) Read more “Where is the Thickest Part of a Turkey Thigh?”