Daily Archives: February 3, 2010

TLC Book Tour: Paula Butturini, author of Keeping The Feast, Guest Post

Many thanks to TLC Book Tours for inviting me to tour Paula Butturini’s new memoir: Keeping the Feast (read my review). I love books that center around food in foreign countries, and Butturini’s story of illness and recovery in Italy reminds us how the ritual of food is a symbol of survival.

About Paula Butturini:

Paula Butturini has worked in overseas bureaus in London, Madrid, Rome, and Warsaw for United Press International and the Chicago Tribune. She is now a writer based in Paris. To learn more about Buttuirini and her work, visit the author’s website. Listen to the author’s podcasts here. Read Buttuini’s Keeping the Feast blog.

About Keeping The Feast:

Publisher: Riverhead Hardcover
Publication Date: 2/18/2010
Pages: 272

A remarkable story, gorgeously told. We reflect, relish, grieve, and heal our way with Paula Butturini, who is wise about so many things – family and place; depression, religion, and love; the disastrous long-term fallout of a single bullet fired at a loved one; and the immediate restorative pleasures of an Italian meal. This book evokes life at its most serious and dire, and at its most mysterious and delectable. Read it, and be deepened and refreshed. – Krista Tippett, host of the public radio program Speaking of Faith –

I was really happy when Paula agreed to write a guest post for me. What follows is one of Paula’s childhood memories of her Hungarian neighbor and the amazing garden which produced the homegrown ingredients for stuffed peppers. Enjoy!

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Until I was nine, my family rented the sunny, ground-floor flat of a two-family house in a neighborhood of Fairfield, Connecticut, that had lots of Hungarian immigrants. Our Hungarian-born landlady, Grace Madaras, lived upstairs from us until she and her husband had a little house built next door at the front of their enormous vegetable garden.

I loved their garden in every season but winter, and when I was really young, I liked hiding among the plants where I wasn’t supposed to be playing in the first place. The garden produced all sorts of herbs and vegetables — like fresh, feathery dill and rows of red and white cranberry beans, whose foliage was big and lush enough to hide me if I crouched down low — that my own grandparents never grew in their Italian-style gardens. Every once in a while, greed would get the better of me and I would split open one of those enormous red and white cranberry pods while hiding among its leaves. I wasn’t interested in eating the beans; l just liked to look at them, in all their perfection, lined up cozily inside their pod. For some reason, they made me feel safe.

When our landlords moved next door into their new little house, it meant we no longer got to smell the wonderful aromas — so different from my mother’s Italian cooking — that would waft down the stairs when Grace was preparing the dishes her family used to cook back in Hungary. At some point though, Grace gave my mother her recipe for Hungarian stuffed peppers, sweet, green bell peppers from her garden that were filled with meat, rice, and onion, then simmered in a mild, glorious sauce made from tomato juice enriched with sour cream and fresh dill, straight from the garden.

To this day, I can still smell and taste this dish, and writing about it now, nearly fifty years later, makes my mouth start to water at the thought of it. I think the dill plant I have in a corner of my herb garden today stands there more in memory of Grace and my childhood than it does to flavor any of the dishes I use it for today. I wrote Grace’s recipe down on a file card when I set up my own household, and though I rarely make it, just seeing it in my recipe box makes me feel safe, like seeing those beans in their pod so long ago.

Grace Madaras’s Hungarian Stuffed Peppers

  • 8-12 green bell peppers, depending on size
  • 1 pound ground beef
  • 1/2 pound ground pork
  • 1 cup uncooked rice, cooked as package directs
  • 1 large onion, thinly sliced and sauteed until soft in 3 tablespoons butter
  • 2 eggs
  • Salt, pepper
  • Tomato juice
  • Fresh dill
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • 1 cup sour cream

Wash peppers and place them standing up in a deep kettle. Pour enough boiling water into the kettle to thoroughly cover the peppers, then let stand, covered and off flame, for 40 minutes. Drain pot, then using a sharp knife, cut a circle out of the very top of the pepper to remove the stem and a circle of pepper flesh surrounding it. Scoop out seeds, and drain well.

In a large mixing bowl, combine beef, pork, cooked rice, sauteed onion, eggs, two teaspoons salt, and freshly ground pepper to taste. Mix well, then stuff drained peppers with meat mixture. Placed the stuffed peppers upright in a deep pot. Pour enough tomato juice into pot to come 3/4 of the way up the stuffed peppers. Add a handful of fresh dill. Bring to a simmer and cook, simmering, for one hour. Toward the end of the cooking remove 1/2 cup of tomato juice and let cool. Thicken this cooled tomato juice by whisking in the flour and sour cream. Pour this mixture back into pot and mix well. Heat through but do not let it boil.

We always ate this dish — real comfort food — with mashed potatoes; I don’t know how it was served in Grace’s kitchen.

Contributed by Paula Butturini, whose book Keeping the Feast will be published by Riverhead/Penguin on Feb. 18.

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To see all the blog tours of Butturini and her book, visit TLC Book Tours for links.

Keeping the Feast: Book Review

Like memory itself, this book wanders back and forth between old recollections and new. Food is the thread that connects them, for food has always been my lens and my prism, my eye on the world. I may write about the smell of asparagus, the color of polenta, or the taste of figs still warm from the sun, but all of it is a personal shorthand for weighing hunger and love, health and nourishment, secrets and revelations, illness and survival, comfort and celebration, and perhaps above all, the joy and gift of being alive. – from Keeping the Feast, page 6 of the ARC –

When Paula Butturini and John Tagliabue met as foreign correspondents in Rome, they had no idea what the future held for them. Four years later, married and living in Poland during a time in Eastern Europe when communist rule was falling and violence was erupting, their lives were suddenly changed. As Butturini writes: ‘A single bullet started it all.‘ Recovering from a near fatal beating in Czechoslvakia only days earlier, Butturini was stunned when she received a phone call on Christmas eve that John had been shot in Romania, an event which led to a life threatening infection, repeated surgeries and months of hospitalization…and served as the catalyst for a slide into a debilitating depression.

Keeping the Feast, Butturini’s memoir of the years following the shooting, is a stunning, beautifully written celebration of how our traditions surrounding food, and the memories and comforts those bring, can speak not only to our physical cravings, but to our souls as well.

Italy still celebrates one of the most primordial rituals of the human community, the daily sharing of food and fellowship around a family table; what better place to take ourselves to heal? – from Keeping the Feast, page 15 of the ARC –

Keeping the Feast is not just about the horror of John’s injury and his slide into deep depression…at its core, this book is about the impact of our food traditions on memory, healing, and finding quiet comfort. Butturini begins each chapter with a childhood memory around food. Her descriptions are mouth-watering, consoling, and beautifully wrought. Who among us has not turned to a favorite childhood meal to find peace in a time of crisis?

To eat a food reminiscent of some childhood treat, to eat a food that nudges strong childhood memories, is to return to the country, town, neighborhood, and family – the very dinner table where we first encountered the edible world. – from Keeping the Feast, page 165 of the ARC –

For Butturini and her husband, a return to their genetic roots in Italy, where they had met and fallen in love, was the key to rediscovering peace and recovery. The simple ritual of getting up and walking to the local market to buy fresh fruit, vegetables, bread and meat was the balm for Butturini’s psychic wounds. The act of making a healthy meal of pasta and sitting down daily to share three meals a day proved not only a calming activity for Butturini, but also just what John needed to find his way out of the dark recesses of his depression.

I found myself completely engrossed in Butturini’s story. I have long found solace in food and its preparation. The first thing I wanted to do for my sister when she was diagnosed with cancer was to make her comfort food that would heal her body and soul. Food represents so much more to us than simple nourishment – it represents our family traditions, our nationalities, and the joy of being with others around a table. Butturini’s wonderful prose captures the joy and healing food can bring to our lives.

Keeping the Feast is an honest, heartfelt exploration of one couple’s journey from depression to wholeness. Its stunning depictions of Italy (and Rome specifically) will satisfy the reader who enjoys travel writing. Butturini’s love of food and her mouth watering descriptions of it will delight those readers who consider themselves “foodies.” It is Butturini’s ability to unite all three of these subjects into a cohesive, compelling story that will have readers praising this book.

Highly Recommended.

Read a guest post by the author (with recipe!) on my TLC Book Tour of this book.

FTC Disclosure: This book was provide by the publisher for a TLC Book Tour.