Olga Duncan finds career, love of cooking in Opelika

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1965

By Ann Cipperly 

When Olga Duncan moved to Opelika in 2003 with her husband, Dr. Bryan Duncan, she could not speak English or cook. The couple met in Olga’s homeland of Brazil, and she never thought she would come to America. Olga adjusted to being in this country with the help of ladies from Trinity Presbyterian Church, who treated her like a daughter, taking her grocery shopping and inviting the couple into their homes to teacher her about southern dishes. 

Born in a small city in Brazil, Olga was seven years old when her family moved to a city the size of Atlanta on the southeastern side of Brazil. Growing up, she spent her summers with her aunts and uncles on big farms in the country.
Her relatives’ farmhouses did not have electricity. There were huge kitchens with wood burning stoves, and every dish was made from scratch. All of the social activities revolved around food. Olga helped plant the gardens and harvest the vegetables, including tomatoes, okra and squash. Since Brazil is a tropical country, they had many varieties of vegetables and fruits. Guava is one of the fruits, which has a green covering and is red inside. 

With bountiful fruits, many people made jams and fruit-based desserts. Fruit with sugar, such as mango and papaya, were popular throughout the year. One of her favorite desserts was pumpkin and coconut with sugar.
When Olga was 18 years old and getting ready to start college, her father, who was a businessman, gave her a small pizza place. This prevented her from having to work for someone else while attending school. 

Olga received a bachelor’s degree in pedagogy from the Federal University of Minas Gerais, Brazil. When she graduated, she began working for an American organization called the ChildFund, formerly Christian Children’s Fund, which sponsors poor kids with a monthly fee. Olga would go to poor areas to teach teachers how to take care of kids and trained community leaders. 

Olga met Bryan, an Auburn University professor in the fisheries department, when he was visiting Brazil. He traveled to different countries for Auburn University. In order to communicate they both spoke Portuguese.
After they were married in 2003, they moved to Opelika. Olga studied English as a second language at Auburn University. She then received her master’s degree in adult education and a Ph.D. at Auburn. 

Before she began coaching college students at the Academic Support Office and the Office of Accessibility, Olga taught success strategies and study smart seminar courses at Auburn University. She also worked at Auburn University at Montgomery, as the seamless admission tutoring coordinator and advisor. 

Two years ago Olga started her coaching business to help students with ADHD or learning disability. She enjoys working from home since her husband has retired.
“As a coach my focus is to help students develop academic skills and strategies that will help them live more productive, balanced and fulfilling lives,” she said. 

The Duncans have three children: Anita, 13; Lucas, 10; and Isadora, who is married and lives in South Carolina. Their family also includes three grown children from Bryan’s first marriage. Bryan was attending Trinity Presbyterian Church before they married. The ladies in the church knew they were getting married and that Olga could not speak English or cook. They were expecting her and began right away inviting them for dinner and taking Olga out to lunch. 

She remembers Rae Weissinger and Terry Plunket taking her to the grocery store to show her how to shop in America. Mary Jane Teague would take her everywhere like she was a daughter. Other ladies in the church invited them for meals.
Since Bryan had been close to international students, they began inviting international students to their home.
“When I was going to Auburn University, I felt God had a purpose for me. It was so hard. I thought maybe God wanted me there to meet these international students. To be in another country and being so young can be hard,” Olga said.
A few years ago, Olga and her Brazilian friends cooked a dinner for 150 international students. She opens their home for international students to cook their favorite meals. She will ask what they want to cook, and then grocery shop to have the ingredients ready for them to cook. The students enjoy preparing their native dishes.
When Brazilian students visit, they will cook together. Generally, they prepare rice, fresh beans, chicken and pork, fresh vegetables and salads.
In addition to students, Olga enjoys having their friends over for meals and making them feel welcome. “We enjoy conversation around the table,” she said.
While she starts cooking early, she is generally still in the kitchen as guests arrive. She enjoys cooking fresh ingredients and keeping them simple. Her favorite menu is salmon, rice, green beans or asparagus with salad and Brazilian Cheese Bread.
She serves appetizers and wine while she finishes up in the kitchen.
Olga also enjoys cooking for her neighbors in the Collinwood neighborhood. “I like to help people,” she said, “and cook for neighbors when there is sickness.” She shares meals with elderly neighbors who do not enjoy cooking for one.
When the Covid-19 virus hit Brazil badly this spring, Olga and Auburn University Brazilian students decided to help poor families in Brazil who lost their income because of the virus. Olga and the students held a fundraiser by preparing Brazilian meals to sell. They were able to raise $2,000 to send to the families.
Her daughter Anita has picked up her mother’s love of cooking and enjoys making American desserts. Pumpkin pie and pumpkin bread are their favorites. 

When Olga looks back on coming to Opelika, she feels thankful. “Some people dream about coming to America,” she said. “I never thought I would move here or marry an American. I love the Opelika and Auburn area. From day one I always felt welcome.
“People have been so good to me,” Olga added. “I have been blessed by everyone I have met here.” 

Ann Cipperly can be reached at recipes@cipperly.com.

Lemon Butter Dill Baked Salmon

4 (8 oz.) salmon fillets

2 Tbsp. melted butter

1 tsp. salt

1/2 tsp. cracked black pepper, 

1 Tbsp. minced garlic

1 Tbsp. fresh chopped parsley

1/2 Tbsp. dill

2 Tbsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice

Heat oven to 400 degrees. On a rimmed baking sheet, arrange salmon down the center. Rub salmon evenly with the ingredients listed above. Bake until the salmon is opaque throughout, (about 12 minutes).

Pour coconut milk over the fish and vegetables. Bring soup to a simmer, reduce the heat, cover, and let simmer for 15 minutes. Taste and adjust seasonings. Garnish with cilantro. Serve with rice.

Brazilian Coconut Style Flan 

1 cup caster sugar

4 eggs

1 (14 oz.) can sweetened condensed milk 

1 (14 oz.) can unsweetened coconut milk 

Preheat an oven to 350 degrees. Melt the sugar in a saucepan over low heat, stirring constantly. Once the sugar becomes a golden brown syrup, pour it into a round baking dish, swirling so that the syrup coats all sides of the dish. Set aside to cool.

Place the eggs, condensed milk and coconut milk into a blender and blend on medium for 5 minutes. Pour egg mixture into the baking dish and cover with aluminum foil. Place baking dish inside roasting tin, and place roasting tin on oven rack. Fill roasting tin with water to reach halfway up the sides of the baking dish. After 30 minutes check the level of water and add more water if needed.

Bake for around 55 to 60 minutes. The center of the flan will still be soft. Allow flan to cool before un-molding onto a plate. Refrigerate before serving.

Easy Brazilian Cheese Bread

(From Brazilian student Ana Carolina)

4 cups tapioca flour

1 cup milk

1 cup water

3/4 cup vegetable oil 

1 1/2 tsp. salt 

3 or 4 eggs 

2 cups grated Parmesan cheese 

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Lightly grease a baking tray. Bring milk, water, oil and salt to a boil in saucepan. As soon as it starts boiling, add tapioca flour all at once. Stir constantly until it forms a dough that pulls away from the sides of the pan. Remove from heat and let the dough cool a little bit. Add eggs one at a time, and then add in all the cheese and beat the dough until ingredients are mixed.

With greased hands, take small pieces of dough and form balls the size of a golf ball. Place the dough 2 inches apart on a greased baking tray. Bake for about 20 minutes or until puffed and lightly golden. Serve warm.

Sautéed Collard Greens or Kale

2 large bunches collard greens or kale, stems removed and finely sliced/shredded

2 Tbsp.  olive oil

2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced

Salt to taste

Heat a large, deep skillet over medium-high heat and add olive oil and garlic. Add collard greens and sprinkle with a little salt. Stop cooking while collard greens are still bright green.   

Brazilian Style Chicken with Okra Stew

8 oz. trimmed and sliced okra (fresh or frozen) 

2 1/2 lbs.  chicken pieces (such as chicken drumsticks or thighs)

1 lime (juiced)

2 Tbsp. olive oil 

1 cup chopped onion 

1 Tbsp.  minced garlic 

2 chopped tomatoes 

1 cup water 

Salt and pepper to taste

2 Tbsp.  fresh chopped parsley

Remove some of the skin and excess fat from the chicken pieces. Sprinkle the chicken with salt and black pepper.

Place a large heavy pan over medium-high heat. Drizzle  olive oil into the pan and add chicken. Cook for 10 minutes, or until the chicken is golden brown. 

Add garlic and onions to the pan and sauté for 3 minutes. Stir in the okra into the stew and the rest of ingredients above, cover the pan, and cook for 10 minutes, or until  chicken is cooked through. Serve with rice.

Olga’s Chicken Casserole

5 cups chopped cooked chicken breasts  

2 cups sour cream

1 can (10.5 oz.) condensed cream of chicken soup 

½ cup melted butter 

1 can heart of palm, sliced 

1 tsp. garlic powder 

Salt and pepper to taste

1 cup Ritz crackers, crushed, plus 1 cup for topping   

Heat oven to 350 degrees. 

In a large bowl, mix all ingredients. Spread creamy mixture evenly in bottom of ungreased 13 x 9-inch (3-quart) glass baking dish. Spoon and spread extra Ritz crackers evenly over chicken. 

Bake 30 to 35 minutes or cracker crumbs are golden brown and thoroughly heated. 

Slow cooker Feijoada (fay-ZHWA-dah) Brazilian Black Bean Stew

Typically, this is an all-day Saturday cooking in which families and friends get together around the table to share a good feijoada served with rice and garlic sautéed collard greens and sliced oranges. 

1 lb. dried black beans, soaked overnight in cold water

1 lb. thick-cut smoked bacon, cut into small pieces 

1 lb. boneless pork loin, cut into chunks

1/2 lb. fresh sausages, such as chorizo or Italian sausage

1 lb. smoked sausage, such as linguica or kielbasa

1 smoked ham hock, optional

1 cup chopped onion

6 cloves garlic, peeled and minced

6-8 bay leaves

1/2 Tbsp. nutmeg 

Salt and black pepper to taste

1 Tbsp. white or cider vinegar

½ cup orange juice

Enough water to cover all the ingredients in the slow cooker

Drain beans and rinse. Add to a 6-quart slow cooker.  

Cook bacon in a large skillet until lightly crisp.  Place on paper towel-lined plate and set aside. Return skillet to burner with bacon drippings still in it. Sprinkle pork with salt and garlic and add to skillet over medium-high heat and cook until lightly browned. Transfer pork to slow cooker, leaving most fat still in pan. 

Add sausages to skillet and cook until lightly browned, 2 to 3 minutes. Transfer to slow cooker.  Drain half the fat from the pan and return pan to burner.  

Add onions and all other ingredients to slow cooker. 

Cover slow cooker and cook on  low for 6 to 8 hours, or until meat and beans are tender.  Remove bay leaves before serving.

Peach Glazed Pork Chops

16 oz. can peach slices

1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce 

2 Tbsp. peach preserve

2 Tbsp. mustard

4 boneless center cut pork chops

Vegetable oil

Black pepper to taste

Stir together first four ingredients in small bowl. Set aside. Heat nonstick skillet over medium-high heat: brush chops with vegetable oil and season with pepper. 

Brown on one side (2 to 3 minutes); turn. Add peach mixture, reduce heat to low, cover and cook 4 minutes (or until done). Serve with peaches and sauce.

Smoky Orange Kabobs

2 lb. pork tenderloin, cut into ¾-inch cubes

2/3 cup smoky barbecue sauce

1/3 cup orange marmalade 

2 Tbsp. spicy mustard 

Thread pork cubes onto skewers. Stir together remaining ingredients for basting sauce.

Place kabobs over medium-hot coals. Brush with basting sauce. Grill 10 to 12 minutes, turning and brushing frequently with sauce. 

Brazilian Fish and Coconut Milk Stew 

2 lbs. fillets of firm white fish such as swordfish or cod, rinsed in cold water, pin bones removed, cut into large portions

3 cloves garlic, minced

4 Tbsp. lime or lemon juice

Salt

Freshly ground black pepper

2 Tbsp. olive oil

1 cup sliced yellow onion 

1 green, 1 yellow and 1 red bell pepper, sliced

2 cups sliced tomatoes

1 Tbsp. paprika 

Pinch of red pepper flakes

1 small bunch cilantro, chopped with some set aside for garnish

1 (14 oz.) can unsweetened coconut milk

In a bowl, combine the garlic, lemon juice and salt. Add the fish and turn the pieces to coat. Keep chilled while preparing the rest of the soup. 

In a large covered pan, add 2 Tbsp of olive oil and heat on medium heat. Add the onion, bell pepper, paprika and red pepper flakes and cook a few minutes until softened. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Stir in the sliced tomatoes and cilantro. Cook for more 5 minutes. 

With the stove off start to assemble the stew.  Use a large spoon to remove about half of the vegetables (you will put them right back in). Spread the remaining vegetables over the bottom of the pan to create a bed for the fish. 

Arrange the fish pieces on the vegetables. Then add back the previously removed vegetables, covering the fish. 

Pour coconut milk over the fish and vegetables. Bring soup to a simmer, reduce the heat, cover, and let simmer for 15 minutes. Taste and adjust seasonings. Garnish with cilantro. Serve with rice.

Bake 30 to 35 minutes or cracker crumbs are golden brown and thoroughly heated.

Pumpkin Bread or Muffins

From Martha Hill, a neighbor in Collinwood 

3½ cups flour

3 cups sugar

1 tsp. salt

2 tsp. baking soda

1 tsp. cinnamon

1 tsp. nutmeg

½ tsp. allspice

1 cup vegetable oil

4 eggs

2/3 cup water

2 cups canned pumpkin

Grease loaf pans. Blend dry ingredients in bowl until well mixed. 

Combine oil, eggs, water and pumpkin; beat until well blended. Add dry ingredients slowly and beat well. 

Bake in a preheated 325-degree oven for 60 to 65 minutes. Cool 10 minutes before removing from pans and continue cooling on wire racks. Wrap in foil and store in refrigerator or freeze. Makes three 8 ½ x 4 ½ x 2-inch loaves.

Bake muffins for 25 to 30 minutes or until test done.

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