You know how, in movies, there’s always a character who seems to make banquets appear out of thin air for people? One minute, unexpected guests arrive in the middle of a thunder storm, the next, they’re being presented with hot drinks and a huge feast of freshly-prepared food? When you see that character on screen, you always think “people like that don’t really exist”. But they do! I met one: Maria Lawton, the Azorean Green Bean.
If you’re not yet familiar with The Azorean Green Bean, you’ll want to meet her by the end of this post. Maria was born in the Azores (Portugal’s “Hawaii”, as I like to refer to it) but her family moved to Massachusetts when she was only 6 years old. The women in her family kept Azorean traditions alive in their new country, namely through their cooking. Later in life, after Maria’s mother and grandmother had passed away, Maria spent quite some time trying to recreate the recipes that held such a special place in her heart so she could pass them on to her daughters. The result was not only years of practice in the kitchen through trial and error (and we all know practice makes perfect), but an impressive collection of the dishes Maria grew up with, which she turned into a book.
I went to meet Maria for the first time in her actual kitchen where all the magic happens. I was greeted with smiles, an adorable 7-year-old cockapoo named Gracie, and a blueberry-lemon pound cake with lemon glaze worthy of a magazine cover. Let me recap what I just said: Portuguese hospitality, a dog and cake. What more could I want? After meeting her husband and dog, I sat down with Maria to talk over some comforting Gorreana tea from the Azores (my regular readers already know I’m obsessed with tea) and the cake. The cake was still warm and it took all my self-control to eat it slowly and in a lady-like manner. Maria was so friendly and easy to talk to: it does, of course, help when you’re both foodies with a Portuguese connection.
We started cooking (but more on that in another post) and continued talking the entire time. I got to learn some cool new chef’s tricks from her, which I know will up my kitchen game. I should mention here that Maria doesn’t consider herself a chef – she’s a self-proclaimed “home cook”. Chef, home cook, whatever you want to call her, that woman can cook! By the time I left, I couldn’t put anything else in my mouth. I did, however, manage to leave with a lot of leftovers, and a copy of her first cook book. As well as an upcoming PBS show, which she’s currently filming, there are plans for a second cook book already being hatched… and somehow, she still finds time to feed random bloggers like me.
Maria surprised me by taking me to a grocery store called Portugalia Marketplace that sells delicious Portuguese food, drinks and home goods in Fall River, MA. I was like a kid arriving at Disney World. Even though my bag was already full of Maria’s sweet treats, I managed to cram a chouriço, a 7 month aged cheese from S. Jorge island, a mix for flan mix (it’s ok to get the mix once in a while, although homemade is always the best), a loaf of Portuguese corn bread and some black Gorreana tea in my backpack and purse.
I got back home and looked through her book in greater detail. I’ve already picked out the first recipes I’m going to make (I’m a big fan of soups and desserts and the book has some great options). Some of my readers may get excited to know that the book contains three recipes – three! – for Portuguese rice pudding (arroz doce). In a way, Maria Lawton’s book is a reflection on the kind of person she is: she’s authentic, homey, and leaves you blissfully full.