Monday, December 27, 2010

Saving the World vs. Hot Dogs

I got this email from Isabel last week. (Sorry to say it has taken me until now to get this ready to post.) Next week I hope to post something about her mother's 90th birthday party. So much has happened in Chile since Isabel has been visiting there…This is a highlight of her trip:

Hi Sarah

Today I went with Lori (the Executive Director of the Isabel Allende Foundation and Isabel’s Daughter in Law) to visit one of our Foundation´s pet projects: Un Techo para mi País. It means Roofs for our Country, but I am afraid the soul is lost in translation. Please check it out. You won´t believe what these young people are doing:
   Techos was founded in the late nineties by a charismatic priest, Felipe Berríos, who wanted to build houses for the poor. He probably never imagined that his dream would catch fire and in little more than a decade the organization would eliminate the slums in Chile. The devastating earthquake in February left thousands of people homeless.  In just four months, however, Un Techo built more than 24,000 emergency houses. Nowadays Felipe Berrios is working in Burundi among the poorest of the poor, while another priest, Cristián del Campo, has taken his place. (What is it about the Jesuits that they recruit so many handsome dudes?)  Un Techo has grown and expanded; now it operates in 19 Latin American countries, with hundreds of professionals and more than 200,000 volunteers, mostly students. The main cause of poverty in Latin America is not lack of resources but injustice: few people have too much and many people have too little.
  Un Techo para mi País is solving the housing problem for millions of people. It empowers homeowners, builds communities, and also offers young students—who will eventually be in government and public service—the opportunity to learn about the hidden reality of their countries.  Most of us, especially the young, want to do good, to serve, to help, but are too busy or too lazy to pay attention to that longing in our hearts.  I was blown away by the energy, passion, commitment, and joy of those young people, not to mention the fabulous work they are doing.  I wish I were 50 years younger!  And I wonder why on earth my own grandchildren are not working with a hammer and a saw in some remote village, instead of texting about the hotdog they had for lunch.
Love Isabel














This photo above shows number of temporary houses built for the homeless. 33,000 of the 57,503 built in Chile were built in 3 months after the earthquake. All by volunteers!

Marisol Alarcon, Isabel Allende and Cristián del Campo




























This is Luis Ortiz. He was so pleased to be able to give Isabel HIS book instead of vice versa–it's an amazing project he created.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

In Chile It Is Summer

Isabel sent me an email this week en route to sunny Chile:
As you can see, Isabel travels light.


Sarah
I am preparing to travel to Chile to see my parents. At my age, I still have parents, 94 and 90 years old, both lucid, healthy and with enough energy to fight among themselves frequently. 
I had prepared a big suitcase full of Christmas presents for the extended Chilean tribe and in the confusion of getting in the van and setting the alarm and crying over the fact that we would not see Olivia for three weeks, I left the suitcase in he garage.  As a result, I just learned that nobody expects or appreciates gifts.  Most people feel they have to reciprocate and that creates a never-ending servitude of useless gifts.  All my life I have had a trunk full of renewable objects that I keep buying just in case I "need" to make a gift.  Can you imagine how stupid that is? I have dragged the damn trunk from country to country, first as a traveler, then as a political refugee and eventually as an immigrant.  When I return home I will soak it in gasoline and burn it with all it's contents.
Alvy after a bath...
It's summer here, hot and beautiful.  I miss Olivia and Alvy.
Isabel

Alvy, by the way is my dog, and he loves Isabel's dog, Olivia. I grimace as I write that since he has not yet managed to work his way into my heart and I am reluctant to mention him. He has been described as the illegitimate offspring of an extinct meerkat-type animal and a terrier in need of orthodontics. Isabel really likes him, and if it weren't for my young and fickle daughter who LOVES him and a pesky contract that states I cannot give him away, I would accidentally "leave" him at her house. However, Alvy was adopted from a rescue organization that forbids any transfer of one of their animals; I would have to give him to them first. Google “Ellen DeGeneres” and “dog” to see what she went through in a similar situation. Or just click here.
This is a photo of Alvy. If you can guess how we came up with Alvy's name, post it in a comment and Isabel will send you a signed copy of her latest book. (Just kidding. That won’t actually happen.)

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Damn Cookies!



We baked something like four thousand cookies at our annual Angels Baking gathering on Saturday. 
After it was over a flurry of emails went out saying how great the day was and how much fun it had been spending time with one another. There was a general patting on the backs of friends and the term "goddesses" was bandied about. 
Then came a final email from Isabel. It read:
Angels: I am getting a little sick with all your mutual praise.  We are “okay”—not “awesome,” “incredible,” “beautiful,” or “wonderful.”  Just five middle-aged women, two women in their thirties and one grandmother baking some damn cookies. What's so extraordinary about that??? Give me a break! 
-Isabel
That pretty much shut us all up and we went about our lives. As for the cookies, they went to friends and teachers and neighbors and local politicians...you know, the usual places. 
As a side note, you should check out this article written by Amanda Jones. It has a great list of shopping ideas that benefit developing nations. Click here to read the article.
I mention this because Amanda is invited EVERY year to the cookie party, only, she is too busy saving the world to attend.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Cookie Day Coming Soon!

Gearing up for cookie day is perhaps the greatest distraction any office could know. Practically EVERYONE likes cookies. Every year for the past five years we have gathered at Isabel's house to bake cookies for friends and family. The week prior is spent "working" but we cannot go for long without discussing the ingredients we still need to buy and checking on the varieties the others are planning to bake.

Isabel's house is perfect for this event since she has two ovens and a HUGE dining room table that ends up covered in platters of freshly baked cookies. I wish I could say I give the end result, which is dozens of boxes of beautifully packaged cookies, to orphans and the elderly. The fact is, I do no such thing, I usually lock myself in a closet and eat them all! No, not really. Isabel actually did that once and we had to call paramedics, too much sugar it turns out can actually kill you if left untreated. Here we are last year at Isabel's in the throes of baking. Next week I will post the final tally and some photos from this years endeavors. Here is a little suggestion, sign up for the cookie of the day newsletter from Martha Stewart, it is a good thing! click here!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Flantastic!

Isabel prepares the flan.
On the whole, Isabel Allende is just like any other loving mother, totally normal, if you count making flan for your kid EVERY day normal? I asked for her recipe and filmed this little movie of her preparing the flan:


Here’s my recipe for Chilean flan, my son’s favorite dessert and probably the only reason he still speaks to me.  I make it in a flan mold with a lid, in a pressure cooker, but considering that nowadays few people know what a pressure cooker is I will offer an alternative.


Nicolas’ Flan
Ingredients:
6 eggs
1 can of sweet condensed milk
4 cups of half and half
1 cup of sugar
1 teaspoon of vanilla
a slice of lemon


Melt the sugar in a small saucepan at medium temperature until it turns into a honey-colored caramel. Cover the interior of the mold with the caramel.
In another saucepan stir 3 cups of half and half with condensed milk and vanilla.  Warm it.  Test it with a finger; it should feel lukewarm.
Mix eggs and the rest of half & half in a blender, briefly.  Should not get too foamy.  Stir into the milk mixture and pour immediately into the caramelized mold.  Cover with lid.  
Place mold in the pressure cooker with 2” of water and put the slice of lemon in the water to avoid darkening of the steel cooker.
Cook on the stove at high temperature until it steams, then lower the heat to medium and cook for half an hour.  
Wait until it cools completely.  Refrigerate. Turn it over to unmold.


Alternative for those unlucky ones without a pressure cooker 
and a mold that fits into it:
Place the mold in a pan with 2” of water and cook in the oven at 350 degrees for 45 minutes. 
(Good luck!)
video



Thursday, November 11, 2010

Isabel Is Short

Remember I said that Isabel is short? Well, she really, really is. I am 5'10" on a good day and here I am standing next to her. She is standing on her books. I was supposed to crop that part out but I am going to pretend I didn't understand the Spanish. That ALWAYS works. 

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

What Isabel Reads

I once went to see Isabel talk, back when she was promoting Aphrodite. She was at one of the local bookstores in Berkeley. I didn't know her well at the time. Her daughter-in-law is a friend, and I hadn't yet gotten over the fact that she was famous. She would walk into a room and I would go into a stupor. That night, though, I managed to ask her what she reads when she isn't busy writing. She totally blew me off. Her answer was vague and calculated, as if she got the question often. I don't think she wanted to say. Perhaps her publisher forbade it; I was never sure. Luckily I am pretty sneaky and occasionally manage to peruse the stack of books on her nightstand.

Among the pile of books she always has on her nightstand I saw Great House, by Nicole Krauss (The History of Love, Man Walks in the Room) and Corduroy Mansions by Alexander McCall Smith, an author she says she often reads to reconcile her feelings about humankind.  Fortunately for her, she will never run out of books by this guy: he has written 57 novels and he produces an average of 5 books per year. She told me she met him at Book Passage in Corte Madera, which is located near here in Northern California.  It's Isabel's favorite bookstore in the whole world because they have made a shrine of her books.
 
When I last saw Isabel, she was curled up in her living room, completely absorbed in Man in the Woods, Scott Spencer's most recent novel.  Spencer is an author she says she follows faithfully (A Ship Made of Paper, Willing, etc.).  The protagonist of Man in the Woods is a self-made man—a quiet, moral, and solid human being.  One day he sees a man in the woods brutally beating a dog. He intervenes and his life changes forever. Suspense, fate, death, redemption, crime and regret—it has all the elements of a memorable story.

From what I can see, Isabel can't live without a story.  Preferably a good story.  She always carries an audio book in the car so she doesn't have to focus on the traffic.  She has crashed her car 36 times, surviving with minimal scars and only a couple of missing teeth.  One wonders how she still has a license.  Right now she is listening to To Kill a Mockingbird, beautifully read by Sissy Spacek in a Southern accent.  This Pulitzer-Prize-winning novel, the only book that Harper Lee ever wrote, is one of Isabel's favorites.  I am told she reads it, watches the movie (starring Gregory Peck), or listens to the audio at least once every decade.

I will try to sneak a peak at the books on the nightstand from time to time and post what I see. Just so you know: She won’t endorse your book here. I’ll simply report what I spy her reading or listening to.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Olivia and Quincy

Years ago Isabel and I were asked to write a brief story about our beloved dogs for the publication The Bark.
The illustrator Vivienne Flesher was hired to do a full page drawing of each dog. 
It is the only thing I have ever written that was published AND it was published NEXT TO a piece by Isabel Allende! Here is the final published version of each:

 
Olivia is a black hole of need.  She has Willie and me on a leash, she walks us twice a day. We have learned to sit and roll over at her command. We attack when she feels threatened. We follow her around all day. She sleeps soundly on a bench at the foot of our bed, so soundly, in fact, that she doesn’t wake up even when the alarm goes off. How on earth did we live before without Olivia? 
–– Isabel Allende

 
Quincy is my first love. I sometimes wake up in the middle of the night just to pet his ears and kiss his nose because it is hard to go for very long without these affections. Quincy came from the San Francisco city pound and cost me five dollars and change. I love him more than anything. He has a very deep and complicated soul. I save his whiskers in a tin. 
–– Sarah Kessler


Sadly, Quincy is not with us anymore, we had to put him down in 2007. It broke my heart.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Spend an evening with the Global Fund for Women

Join us November 11th for a thought-provoking conversation between acclaimed novelist and philanthropist Isabel Allende and Kavita N. Ramdas, former CEO of the Global Fund for Women.

Kavita and Isabel will explore the myriad ways women are building peace amidst increasingly militarized societies worldwide.

View the invitation by clicking here.

TIME & PLACE

Thursday, November 11, 2010 / 6:30pm
San Francisco Design Center
101 Henry Adams Street
(between Alameda St & Kansas St)
San Francisco, CA 94103

MAP

TICKETS

Purchase Tickets Online
$50 Regular
$25 Students
$250 Including reception with Isabel Allende to honor Kavita N. Ramdas*
*Reception 5:30pm-6:30pm


Thursday, October 21, 2010

A Visit to the Palace & Mario Vargas Llosa

Isabel sent me a photograph of her taken at El Pardo, the Royal Palace in Madrid, Spain, on October 13th. In the background you can see Queen Sophia, Princess Elena and Prime Minister Zapatero.
She was attending the annual meeting of the Instituto Cervantes, a governmental organization that promotes Spanish language and culture throughout the world. It was Isabel’s first time at the gathering, which was hosted by King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia. Click here for a mini Wiki crash course on that if you need/want to. 

 photo: Cristóbal Manuel, courtesy of EL PAÍS
Isabel describes it this way:
“The king has the impressive face of the Bourbons, double chin and slightly protruding eyes.  The charming queen was dressed in red from head to toe, very stylish. The princess was dressed in gray and beige.  The palace is large, sober, simple, elegant, nothing baroque or overdone, beautiful bouquets of flowers (blue and yellow) as main decoration.  Military personnel mostly for decoration, unobtrusive (almost invisible) security and a domestic staff of handsome young men in suits and women in black uniforms with white aprons and caps, like French maids in old erotic postcards, only with longer skirts.

After a report of the activities of the Institute in 2009, given by it's president, Carmen Caffarel, and a homage by the king to Mario Vargas Llosa for his recent Nobel Prize in Literature, their majesties offered a lunch to the members of the Patronato Cervantes and all the ambassadors from Spanish-speaking countries.  Long white linen tablecloths, ornate silverware (real antique silver, of course), white plates with a gold trim, five crystal glasses for wines and champagne.  Menu: vegetables wrapped in a pancake floating in tomato soup, (tasted much better than it sounds) filet mignon, white chocolate mousse.  I met interesting people and drank too much of an excellent Spanish red wine.
 
After lunch I picked up Willie at the hotel and we went to the airport for our flight to the Netherlands.  Willie is wonderful!  He accompanies me on these trips without complaining, all dressed in black, with a Borsalino hat, like a Sicilian godfather in mourning.   He is never bored and he has friends everywhere in the world, so while I work he socializes (unfortunately, most of his friends are good looking women), or he writes on his PC.  He is now working on his fifth detective novel, The Halls of Power.”

On the 14th Isabel has two events, one in Utrecht and another in Amsterdam, both organized by the Cervantes Institute and both very well attended in spite of being in Spanish. That was when I got that email from her about the porn shops and coffeehouses; see post: Porn shops and Marijuana 

The next day she has press and TV interviews and two book signings, one in Utrecht and one in Bussum. 

She writes:
“It was raining but my faithful readers waited patiently in the rain.  The lines went around the block in both cities.  I like the Dutch!  They have bought 120,000 copies of The Island Beneath the Sea in four months. According to my Dutch publisher, they have sold 3 million copies of my books. Considering that the Netherlands has only 17 million inhabitants, we can assume that one in every three families has a book of mine.  Wouldn't it be nice if that were also the case in China?”

Coming home is an ordeal: Isabel and Willie get up at 4:30am and take a plane from Amsterdam to Madrid. Their plane arrives late, so they miss their connecting flight to Chicago.  Iberia's Customer Service is mobbed by dozens of angry, stranded passengers. (A bit of travel advice here: Be nice to customer service people. They hate you as much as you hate them.) They wait almost an hour to talk to a young woman whose computer is acting up, but finally she gives them boarding passes and they run a marathon to another terminal to get on the plane to the U.S.  Once they land in New York, Isabel and Willie realize that they have two tickets on Qantas to Sydney instead of on American Airlines to San Francisco. Sydney and San Francisco both start with S. Personally I would have flown off to Sydney for a week. Instead, Isabel comes home.

P.S. I mentioned there was a little episode in New York in early October. I had forgotten to post it and so I will briefly relay the story:
When Isabel learns that the aforementioned Mario Vargas Llosa is awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature she hastily buys a large bouquet of roses and heads off to his house in Manhattan to deliver them personally. (Remember, she is very short and the roses conceal her almost completely) When she arrives at Llosa's house she is greeted with skepticism and doubt that she actually is Isabel Allende. (Sometimes I question this, too, and that is WITHOUT roses.) The doorman tells her, "Anybody can say they are Isabel Allende!" To which Isabel replies, "Suppose YOU say it to Mario then!"

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Literary Luncheon at Book Passage

Coming up on October 29th at 12:30 pm join Isabel as she talks about her new novel Island Beneath the Sea. Lunch is catered by the outstanding Insalata’s Restaurant of San Anselmo. Tasty!
The ticket price of $55 includes lunch and a signed book.
Call (415) 927-0960 ext. 1 to reserve your spot.
51 Tamal Vista Blvd City
Corte Madera, California 94925

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Pornshops and Marijuana

Isabel sent this email from Amsterdam and as I read it I wonder why didn't she just go buy some quality porn, and a few special cigarettes and unplug the phone for the afternoon? Here is what she writes:

"We are in a strange, decadent, old fashioned hotel that has seen better days, on a
main plaza in Amsterdam, next to pornshops, marijuana coffee shops and
second-rate Argentinian restaurants.  We want to go home!  I have been
really busy–what's new–and I am beginning to feel just too exposed.
Journalists are calling me about the miners.  I am sure they think that the
Isabel Allende on the site is me.  My poor cousin doesn't get any credit."


The email came last week and she is home already, I saw her today and will have some interesting stories about her trip over the next few days. She sure travels a lot! She was gone for most of September. Let's see: she was in Spain, Amsterdam, and Sydney, Australia....well, almost Australia. To the airlines credit, Sydney and San Francisco BOTH start with S. It could happen to anyone! More on the airline mixup tomorrow, as well as on the trip and the journey home.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Losing it

When I ask Isabel how she is doing, being home and all after such a crazy month, she reports that she is well, hyper and hungry. She is on a diet, trying to lose the 5 pounds she gained from staying in her parents’ house. Now, back home without a dozen scheduled interviews, at least for a few days, she paints furniture and works on other home projects, cuts her hair (don’t ask), cuts Olivia’s hair (that turns out OK actually), and wonders, how am I going to survive the sabbatical I have planned for 2011??


So Isabel, home now for approximately three days, gives me this brief update:   
"I have been very hungry and I have lost exactly 26 oz. Walked the dog, came back home; the gardener had gone and I found the gate closed. No cellular (I forgot it in Chile). No one is home. Climbed a tree, crawled on the wall, jumped down and almost broke a leg.  Olivia on the other side was wailing.  Managed to get back on my feet.  
That night, when I told Nico what had happened, he asked me why I hadn’t opened the gate using the code, as we always do.  The truth is that it didn’t cross my mind. I am truly losing it."


Let’s hope not. When Isabel has a bad hair day I want to hear about it, and when that short lady climbs over walls that could easily be opened with a simple code, I definitely want to hear about it. I am going to keep stalking her and jotting down what I learn. Isabel inspires me, makes me laugh and sometimes makes me cry. Have you read Island Beneath the Sea yet? Stay tuned for October and beyond.... 

Home is where the DOG is

When Isabel and Willie finally fly home on the 26th, Nicole (Isabel’s granddaughter) informs her that in her absence a tall blonde, a beautiful German journalist, slept at the house. “Did you know about that, Mai?” she asks, using Willie’s nickname and looking at him with a scowl. Can Isabel trust Willie?  He always calls Isabel his tall blonde. 

Olivia is Isabel’s dog and, possibly, Isabel’s tall blonde. She came to her with the name “Princess” but Isabel changed it. I am not sure why, because the dog is a princess: she has velvet cushions, turkey niblet toppings on her meals, toe massages, and three treats, twice a day. I know for a fact that Olivia misses Isabel and Willie horribly because I have seen her when they leave the house. She hides in their closet and literally cries. I have to take her little bowls of water and chicken to coax her out. Only after three days will she appear, and then only for a few minutes before disappearing into the closet once again...Here she is looking beautiful for the camera:


PORT-A-POTTY

The next morning: The National Book Festival on the Mall.  Isabel uses a Port-O-Potty and almost gets locked in.  One of my worst fears.  The big tent is packed, almost 2,000 people. There is a long line of people waiting for Isabel to sign their books. One lady faints twice; it is hot and she’s pregnant. At a certain point, Isabel has to leave or she will miss her flight home, so Willie puts one of those signs on a guy about ten people out that says “lane closing,” like in a supermarket, and that is that.


Read more about it here:
National Book Festival

And Another Award

OK, that whole shindig is on the 21st, and on the 22nd Isabel flies to Washington D.C.!  Willie meets up with her there.  Wonderful husband that he is, he crosses the continent to be with her for just two days.  This is why I have a little thing for Willie—well, one part of why... Isabel is here for the 10th Anniversary of the National Book Festival.  Some 130,000 people are expected on Saturday.



On September 23rd Isabel receives the Creative Achievement Award from the Library of Congress. Lunch is in the stuffy Cosmo Club where, until recently only men were allowed.  It is a lovely gala with music and a great buffet, very elegant.    Isabel meets up with some interesting people like Ken Follet and his wife Barbara, who was Minister of Culture in England, and Dennis Kucinich, whom Isabel said looks younger and shorter in real life. 


Have I mentioned Isabel’s height yet? She is very short, so short I think at times I could take her in a fight...but then I rethink it and move on with life. Isabel mentioned that she thinks that Mr. Kucinich is possibly the only person in the world she could dance cheek to cheek with, and that is saying something.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Stupid American Moment

September 21st, Isabel got some other medal, something from the Chilean Congress. Here, by the way, is a little news blip I noticed whilst I researched this award: 
“Internationally acclaimed novelist Isabel Allende, winner of Chile’s 2010 National Literature Prize, used the word “terrible” to describe the situation of the Mapuche hunger strikers. “They could die, several of them are already on the edge of dying,” she told reporters after receiving the Bicentennial Medal from the Chilean Congress.”
So that must have happened at the elegant cocktail party following the ceremony...I, being a Stupid American, know NOTHING about the indigenous peoples’ hunger strike...so here is what I found out: hunger strike.
Pretty heavy.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Praying for the Miners


Then, on September 19 Isabel goes with President Piñera and some of his staff and ministers in the presidential plane and then by helicopter to visit the 33 miners who are trapped in a copper mine in Copiapó. The men have been essentially buried alive since August 5th.  After a week, the rescuers were ready to give up, but the miners’ women (wives, mothers, sisters, daughters) camped out near the site and demanded that the search continue because they KNEW their men were alive.  On the 17th day the rescuers heard tapping and knew the miners were alive. Rescuers and family members now communicate with the miners through a narrow pipe that has been drilled half a mile down into the cavern.   On an earlier visit to the mine the president had received their first message, written on a piece of paper torn from a notebook: “Estamos bien, en el refugio, los 33.”   “We are OK, in the refuge, the 33.” It’s a perfect haiku!   Since then the whole world has become aware of their plight. The miners can both see and be seen via a TV connection, and on this day President Piñera shows them a baby girl, born a couple of days before, named Esperanza (Hope), for obvious reasons.  Isabel shows them 33 T-shirts she brought with her and explains that 33 swimmers had “escaped” from Alcatraz, the former island prison in the middle of the San Francisco Bay, swimming in honor of the trapped miners. She told them that just as the swimmers had escaped from Alcatraz, the miners would eventually escape from their prison underground.   Each T-shirt has the name of both a swimmer and a miner.  One of the swimmers is Isabel’s son Nico, “the light of my eyes,” as she calls him.

Nico and Isabel

Bad Hair and Some Serious Stuff

What else did Isabel do in Chile this September? 
I will tell you, but let me warn you that some days her hair was not so great. Usually it is STUNNING but the heat—it can really bedraggle a person. And with all the interviews…It is hard being famous, and it is especially hard to keep your hair looking stunning under certain circumstances.
On the 17th, for instance, there is this big ceremony with the current president, Sebastian Piñera. The ceremony is to raise this massive flag. It is sunny and hot and Isabel wears a lovely purple frock with high heels. Everyone is greeting her and there is all this fanfare because she just got awarded this huge prize! There are many press interviews but really scant time for personal grooming. If you saw her that day it was a bad hair day, so just cut her some slack. It’s tricky sometimes.

Empanadas


On September 16th, Isabel attends a reception in her honor. Former President Michele Bachelet hosts, and everyone congratulates Isabel for her National Literary Award. At the party, Isabel enjoys—surprise—a little more red wine and empanadas!  


Isabel’s former husband, Michael, is there. He is always invited to these events and he always attends.  “His support warms my heart,” Isabel tells me. “He should hate me.  I was a horrible wife.” Michael is another hottie! Great eyebrows amongst the Chileans, I have noticed....
Here is a recipe for empanadas that Isabel once made for me:
Dough for empanadas – makes about 25 
3 cups flour
1 egg yolk
½ cup of grasa – lard or butter or mix of both
¾ cup to 1 cup of warm milk
½ tsp salt

Mix the flour and salt in a food processor; pulse until well combined.
Add the lard or butter, blend well.
Add the egg yolk and the milk in small amounts, pulse until small dough clumps start to form.
Make a couple of balls, flatten into disks and chill in the refrigerator for about 30 minutes.
On a lightly floured surface, roll out the dough onto a thin sheet and cut out round disc shapes for empanadas (use round molds or a small plate).

Beef  filling
1 lb ground beef
2 white onions, diced, about 3 cups
1/2 cup lard or butter
2 tbs smoked paprika
2 tbs chili powder or any ground hot pepper
1 tbs finely chopped fresh oregano
½ tbs ground cumin
1 bunch green onions, finely chopped
3 hard boiled eggs, sliced
¼ cup sliced green olives
Salt and pepper to taste
1 egg, white and yolk separated and lightly whisked

Combine the ground beef, paprika, red pepper, cumin, salt and pepper in a large bowl. Mix all the ingredients together and chill until ready to use.
Melt the lard in a large frying pan or sauté pan, add the onions and salt, and cook until the onions are soft, about 8 minutes.
Add the meat mixture to the onions and cook on medium heat until the meat is done. Stir frequently.
Let the meat mixture, or picadillo, cool down, and then mix in the chopped green onions and chopped oregano.
To assemble the empanadas, add a spoonful of the meat mixture to the center of each empanada disc and add a slice of egg and sliced olive.
Brush the edges of the empanada discs with the egg whites. You can also use water but the egg white is a good natural “glue” that helps seal the empanada.
Fold the empanada discs and seal the edges gently with your fingers; twist and fold the edges of the empanadas with your fingers. As a final step, use a fork to press down and finish sealing the empanadas.
Lightly brush the top of the empanadas with the egg yolk; this will give them a nice golden glow when they bake.
Let the empanadas rest in the fridge for about 30 minutes or until ready to bake.
Pre-heat the oven to 400 F and bake for about 25 minutes.

Red Wine and Sleeping Pills

I asked Isabel how she does with flying, since it takes something like 20 hours to get to Chile.  Apparently, and this is good to know, taking sleeping pills with a little red wine makes things in the air a little less gruesome. BUT seriously, consult a physician before YOU do this. We don’t need any letters from bereaved family members claiming Isabel Allende told us this great jet-lag cure!



Here’s something else about Isabel Allende. Her parents are STILL ALIVE! In fact, she stays with them when she is in Chile. Let me tell you, they are amazing. The old man is pretty hot actually, and P, as I will forever call Isabel’s mom, is stunning, like movie-star stunning.

Willie is NAKED


















When the call comes to Isabel from the Chilean Minister of Education on September 2nd, Willie is NAKED! He is in the shower when she tells him the news and he starts crying because, apparently, he is so happy. I suspect he is also lamenting that the quiet of the house is soon to be interrupted by a constantly ringing telephone. It gets so bad the number has to be changed! 


The fact that readers in Chile initiated a campaign in blogs, on Facebook and Twitter, and by writing hundreds of ACTUAL letters helped immeasurably. This year the jurors could not ignore Isabel! Four former presidents even wrote in her favor, and that is pretty cool. That would be like Jimmy Carter writing a letter singing your praises. I mean, he used to farm peanuts! 

THE Isabel Allende

I am one of those people who knows Isabel Allende, THE Isabel Allende, and has been lucky enough to be called a stupid American by her on several occasions. Let me just say that I adore her, I kind of stalk her, in a weird way, but I’m not entirely clear if it is Isabel or her current husband Willie whom I most admire....
So, here you go, a little Isabel fix for those who might want to know...

The office is buzzing about this Chilean award—The National Literary Award—that Isabel is supposed to maybe get. There is talk of the award going to her but then, according to Isabel herself, it only goes to non-best selling authors. Apparently, good literature is supposed to be obscure and hermetic. The National Literary Award is seemingly the most important literary prize in Chile. 












Read more about it here.

The REAL Isabel Allende Blog

My Invented Isabel is the REAL Isabel Allende blog. Others exist, but rest assured I actually KNOW her and she sort of approves of what I write. I say sort of because sometimes I am not sure what she is saying when she yells at me in Spanish. Initially, I’ll be posting quite a bit, since we have a lot to catch up on. September was a very exciting month around here and we want to share it with you. The Chilean miners, who have been buried underground since the summer, are scheduled to come out today, and Isabel is particularly thrilled, having just “visited” them while in Chile. Also, there are a bunch of awards floating about the office. It is hard to keep track of them all...There is a lot going on and the pace is picking up. The plan is to post updates every Wednesday, so stay tuned. Coming next week, a visit with Mario Vargas Llosa, the recent recipient of the Nobel Prize for Literature, and more about Olivia, the shy, dark creature that meanders through Isabel's life...