friday feast: arroz con leche/rice pudding by jorge argueta and fernando vilela


The best poems feel like they were written just for you.

I guess it’s no secret I’m a teensy bit partial to food poems that tease and tickle my literary palate with evocative sensual detail and juicy words I can roll around my tongue.


Last year, when Greg from GottaBook stopped by to share a poem and recipe at my Poetry Potluck, he mentioned Jorge Argueta’s new book about rice pudding. Since I loved Jorge’s Sopa de Frijoles/Bean Soup, I was anxious to taste his Arroz con Leche/Rice Pudding, another bilingual free verse Cooking Poem, this time illustrated by award-winning Brazilian artist Fernando Vilela.

I go a little crazy at the mere thought of a cooking or recipe poem; a bilingual cooking poem pretty much puts me over the top. Two meals in one! And when flavored with Jorge’s delightfully fresh and surprising metaphors and images, I leave the table wholly satisfied.

(click to enlarge)

The boy narrator begins by declaring his love for all kinds of rice prepared in various ways — but rice pudding is his absolute favorite. After gathering equipment and ingredients, the magic begins as he wields his wooden spoon like a wand: "The little white grains of rice rain music and sing as they fall . . . In the kitchen it is raining little white grain drops." Water splashing from the tap is a creek, the flames from the stove are "rainbow hands" hugging the pot.

(click to enlarge)

Step by delicious step, we are entranced by the metamorphosis taking place, as we hear the maraca music of bubbling water, see the grains of rice turn into fishies and white birds, marvel as the waterfall of milk cascades into the big pot, and smell the fragrant cinnamon sticks floating in the "pot’s sky sea." Then, my favorite part:

Don’t forget the salt and the sugar.
Take the salt cellar and dance around.*
Shake it until little stars come out.
Next it’s time to add*
more clouds and sugar snow.

It’s snowing.
It’s raining
in the kitchen.
Salt stars and sugar snow
are falling from your hand.

No olvides la sal y el azúcar.
Toma el salero
y bailando*
agítalo hasta que salgan estrellitas.
Después te toca añadir*
más nubecitas y nieve del azucarero.

Está nevando.
Está lloviendo
en la cocina.
Están cayendo estrellitas
y nieve de tu mano.

Oh, the poetry that is food! The joy that comes of preparing it! The singular satisfaction of sharing it with loved ones! Best of all, poetic ingredients that stir the senses and feed the imagination, illustrating the wonder of water, milk, cinnamon, sugar and salt turning ordinary rice into mouthwatering pudding.

*kisses fingertips*

Vilela’s vibrant folkloric illos, rendered in a palette of teal/grey/greens and spicy warm rust/oranges, amplify the joyous spirit of this heartwarming mother and son culinary adventure, perfectly illuminating Argueta’s magical realism. Amid the fragrant ribbons emanating from the kitchen and ultimately drifting off into the world, the young chef has conjured up an irresistibly enticing paean to his favorite pudding — a wonderful celebration of food, family, sharing, and budding independence.

Arroz con Leche/Rice Pudding has earned stellar reviews from Booklist and Publishers Weekly, is a 2011 Américas Award Recommended Title, a Northern California Book Awards Finalist, a 2010 Kirkus Reviews Best Children’s Book, and is on the 2011 USBBY Outstanding International Books Honor List. Imagine the fun of making rice pudding together (parts of the recipe marked by asterisks require adult participation or supervision). I highly recommend this handsomely produced gem — I loved reading the Spanish aloud and can’t wait for Jorge’s next cooking poem book, which, rumor has it, is about guacamole. *drools and swoons*

andaluza catalana/flickr

Muy delicioso!!

written by Jorge Argueta
illustrated by Fernando Vilela
published by Groundwood Books, 2010
Full Color Picture Book for ages 4-7, 32 pp.
Spanish/English text
Cool themes: Latino culture, social studies, cooking, poetry, families, sharing, independence

♥ The always lovely and brilliant Heidi Mordhorst (she of the beautiful smile), is hosting the Roundup today at My Juicy Little Universe. Today’s secret password: cinnamon.

Martha’s Kitchen/flickr

Have a great holiday weekend. Share the love. Be the love. ♥

*Spreads posted by permission, text copyright © 2010 Jose Argueta, illustrations © 2010 Fernando Vilela, published by Groundwood Books. All rights reserved.

Copyright © 2011 Jama Rattigan of jama rattigan’s alphabet soup. All rights reserved.