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Teresa Justo Santos


Teresa and I met years ago, when we first started e-mailing each other about food. At the time, she was a reader of one of my now-deceased blogs where I wrote about what I cooked, ate and read. The first time we ran into each other on the street, I just yelled at her “OH, IT’S YOU!” (we were both in a hurry which prevented us from experiencing the awkward feeling of meeting someone, you only know online, in flesh for the first time). It took us months until we were finally able to meet over coffee. Luckily, we became friends.
When I got to her place, I hadn’t had breakfast yet so she offered me sourdough bread with mashed avocado and fresh coffee made on a Chemex (Millennials!) She squeezed the avocado out onto a plate, added a few drops of lemon juice, pinch of salt and pepper, and mashed it with a fork. And there was my toast, ready to be eaten.
More than anything, Teresa and I share a profound love for food and everything around it. Teresa, just like me and some of you, I hope, uses her hands like tools or, quoting Nigella here, like asbestos. Those who enjoy preparing food with their hands, unbothered by stained fingertips from beetroots or lemon juice on your cuts, are the ones who cook as an act of love. In times like these, where there’s an abundance of rules, artifice and judgement around food, seeing someone cook for you the way Teresa does, feels like a privilege.

Teresa has this kind of wisdom that only comes from experience: “if you want your vegetables crispy, slightly sprinkle them with water”; “it’s best to cut the avocado crosswise, reducing the amount of exposed flesh “; “Dukkah seems to save every bland tasting dish”.
As she began preparing our lunch, she searched her pantry and fridge for things to roast: we were going to have a roasted vegetable salad with a pesto made with carrot tops. She buys local produce and avoids waste. Her fridge is immaculate, everything in appropriately labeled Tupperwares, a sign of a handful of years working in restaurants. She first scrubbed off the dirt from carrots, beetroots and sweet potatoes. She removed the skins from previously cooked chickpeas. Picked out the yellowish leaves from carrot tops. Patiently, she deseeded a pomegranate. Everything in its own time, no need to be in a hurry. It’s interesting to observe the pace at which people cook. I am often in clumsy and noisy, but Teresa seems to be the opposite, her hands looks robust and her movements deliberate.
As she plated our dishes, and allowed me to take pictures of it, we could smell the sweet aroma from roasted vegetables and Dukkah. It was a simple meal, and yet so filling. We both had two full plates, eating it while we talked about future projects. We both seemed to be excited about 2019, but then again, it might just be tricky January and its fresh new starts.
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