Bridges DelPonte has published three non-fiction books and numerous articles in the legal, travel and business fields as well as two novels and short stories in the science fiction, fantasy and mystery genres. When she is not writing, she teaches law courses, creates educational game apps, and lives happily in sunny Central Florida. Learn more about Bridges and her writing at her website.
The Sweet Aroma of Memories
Aromas or scents hold undeniable powers to trigger deep emotions and to stir up long-held memories. We can all recall times when a momentary whiff of a scent instantly transported us back to specific places and times in our lives. The sweet fragrance of a fresh gardenia in spring. The earthy smell of a campfire. The salty tang of an ocean breeze. The sense of smell often trumps our other senses in its ability to tap into our long-term memories and emotional responses because it is so closely connected to those pathways in our brains. Hence, in our writing, scents or smells play a vital role in setting a scene or establishing a mood.
For me, the aroma of baking bread often spins me back to childhood visits to my grandparents in East Cambridge, a closely-knit Portuguese neighborhood across the river from Boston. My paternal grandmother Angelina and her sister Maria would sometimes roll out snakes of dough onto a vinyl red-and-white checkered tablecloth in their kitchen. They would twist each doughy coil into smooth round circles, like small ring tosses, and press them together at the ends. As they baked, an egg wash gave a glossy sheen to these crunchy biscoitos or cookies.
At other times, they would show us how to form fat dough balls for airy malasadas. These dough balls were lightly fried in oil for a crunchy outer shell and a soft, fluffy center, then tossed in powdered sugar. To this day, I cannot resist funnel cakes when I catch a hint of their aroma at a fair or carnival because they remind me so much of malasadas.
My favorite Portuguese baked good is massa or sweet bread with its delicious skin-like crust and yellow soft bread center. Toasted or untoasted, I love it with a dollop of butter or peanut butter. Most home cooks leave it up to the professionals with their red-hot commercial ovens to bake massa. Any trip to East Cambridge ended with a visit to the bakery to stock up on massa. We used to send massa to my sister when she moved to Chicago and could not find it there. Later massa made its way to me when I moved to Florida. When I opened a package, the aroma of sweet bread brought back a rush of family memories.
When putting together my new Marguerite “Monty” Montez mystery series, I knew that a family-run Portuguese bakery would be an important feature of her story. The family bakery becomes the setting for personal and generational conflicts between Monty and her widowed mother who operates the business. Mrs. Montez is unhappy that Monty chose the law over the bakery in a clash between “old country” and modern values. Despite her secret pride in her daughter’s accomplishments, she wants Monty to give up crime-fighting and settle down with Manny, the bakery’s delivery man from the neighborhood.
The bakery also provides a nice opportunity for readers to learn about some delicious Portuguese goodies from a heroine with a “curvaceous body, shaped by a lifetime of bakery treats.” Monty wisely brings along a box of fresh baked goods to pry open lots of doors around the courthouse and police station, and even persuades some witnesses to tell their story while munching on baked goods. So the aromas of Portuguese baked goods are intertwined throughout Monty’s story in Deadly Sacrifices.
Be sure to try out the biscoitos recipe below that my sister Christine translated into English from a hand-written family recipe. These buttery cookies are great when dunked into your favorite cup of coffee or tea while curling up to read my new mystery, Deadly Sacrifices.
(Pronounced - BIZ – KOYTS)
2-1/2 cups flour
7 or 8 tsp. baking powder
1/2 cup corn oil
1 stick butter
1 cup sugar
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
In the bowl of an electric mixer, fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the flour, sugar (set aside a tablespoon of sugar), and baking powder and mix well.
Add three eggs and mix until thoroughly combined (set aside a few tablespoons of the egg mixture).
Add the butter slowly and blend until the mixture forms into a smooth dough that pulls away from the sides of the bowl.
Lightly grease 2 large cookie sheets.
Working with 2 tablespoon portions of dough at a time, roll the dough with your hands against the counter to form snake-like lengths about 5 inches long and ¾ inch thick.
Bring the edges together and press to seal so that you have a small donut (or ring toss) shape.
Place the dough circles on to the prepared cookie sheets spaced about 1 inch apart.
Mix remaining egg with remaining tablespoon of sugar to form a glaze. Brush the top of each cookie with some of the glaze.
Bake for 20 to 22 minutes or until the cookies are light golden brown on top.
Cool completely then store in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks.
Serve with tea or coffee.
Deadly Sacrifices, A Marguerite Montez Mystery
You always remember your first time. Monty's first happened in St. Stephen’s church, directly beneath a statue of the Virgin Mary, right after morning mass. A local soccer mom is bludgeoned to death in her suburban parish chapel outside of Boston. In her first homicide case, prosecutor Marguerite “Monty” Montez endangers her life digging up evidence that shows the police nabbed the wrong man. Monty’s investigation uncovers disturbing memories and fresh leads in an unsolved murder of a childhood friend in her close-knit Portuguese community. Her dauntless search for the true killer is a wild thrill ride into a dangerous world of lethal secrets.