Today for lunch I made a spinach lasagne, one of Rico's all-time favorite meals that I cook.
I asked Dona Lídia if she liked lasagne and she looked at me with a cocked eyebrow and a smile and said, "Do I like what?"
"What's lasa-, lasen- ?" Dona Lídia struggled to pronounce the new word.
"Lasagne," I repeated. "It's made with noodles, tomatoes, cheese, spinach and ground beef and you cook it the oven. It has lots of layers." I stacked my hands one on top of the other to pantomime what the dish looked like.
"No, I've never had la-sa-nya," she said, slowly rolling the sounds off her tongue.
"Well, you'll get to try it today. I'm making it for lunch."
I turned to go in the kitchen and Dona Lídia called after me, "Senhora, there's a surprise for you on the counter next to the oven."
"Really?" I could tell from the sparkle in her eyes that she'd brought me something special, perhaps as a way to say thank you for the lemon pound cake lesson last Thursday.
I went into the kitchen and found the tupperware container Dona Lídia had borrowed to take home part of the cake for her children, sitting on the counter and returned to me full of cooked manioc (cassava) root! I love manioc root and had a big piece along with my lunch, the flavor enhanced by the fact that it was an offering of friendship from a humble and beautiful woman.
Dona Lídia ate a big piece of lasagne for lunch, smiling as I explained to her that it was typical food from Italy, the place where my grandmother's family is from. "Aaaah," she hummed knowingly, "this explains why it is so good. When we cook the food of our family, of our ancestors, it comes alive with flavor because we are honoring tradition."
What a touching observation. I decided to keep quiet and not tell Dona Lídia that my grandmother has never once cooked lasagne for me and that nobody really eats it in the region of Italy where my family is from. It's the concept that counts, I suppose.