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Category: Life’s Bits + Bobs

The Rekindled Friendship of A Dreamer in Paris {And Blanquette de Poulet à l’Ancienne}

Foreword, from La La Land

My aunt used to live in Paris
 
I remember, she used to come home and tell us these stories about being abroad

And I remember she told us that she jumped into the river once, barefoot

She smiled
Leapt, without looking
And tumbled into the Seine

The water was freezing
She spent a month sneezing

But said she would do it again
Here’s to the ones who dream

Foolish as they may seem
A bit of madness is key
To give us new colors to see

Prologue, A Visit 13-Years in the Making 

Sometime in 2016…

“We’ve had twelve years of foreplay; it’s about time we see each other, don’t you think?”

Months later …

“Happy new year to you too. I wish you a happier 2017 than 2016. I also wish you the opportunity to travel to Paris!”

Some days later …

“Are you free on the weekend of …. ?”

“I am no longer free because you are coming?” (Isn’t that just the most perfect line for a story?…)

Day One, Uneaten Croissants in the 16th 

“It’s good to have you finally here.” And somewhere in his greeting, I believe he mentions the twelve years of foreplay again.

I look at him, and a smile runs away from my face. His audacity has always humoured me. We’ve been nothing more than just friends, but he’s invariably poking in a bit of picaresque when he can, which is so typically French. He was learning back on his futon, looking at me through mischievous eyes. His gaze was intense, provocative, sexy, and slightly languid, like Paris itself one could say.

I’ve never been in this apartment before but somehow it seems familiar… I think I’ve actually dreamt about being here. And I have divined where the expansive, bright window to the street is. I recall tip-toeing to peak out and take a glimpse of the marvelous city outside.

I walk over to the window now, open it, and look out. The air is brisk and pleasant. It’s early Saturday morning and the street is still quiet. I have just landed a couple of hours before, more or less at the same time that the terrorist attack took place at the other airport, I learn from my friend.

As if daring me not to stare straight at it, beaming right at me is one of those ornate 19th century, quintessentially Parisian buildings, the kind one sees in postcards and illustrations, which My Little Paris is known for. The pretty rooftop seems to be calling out to come crawl up onto it with a bottle of red wine in one hand and a good book or a fashion magazine in the other. I imagine myself sitting up there and wasting the day away, wistfully enjoying the grey skies and watching Parisians pass by down below, being part of the city yet being detached from it as well. I cannot help myself and I gawk at the façade, trying to get a glimpse into each and every window within my view, guessing how people are coming back to life today, what dreams they may have, what adventurous plans they will engage in, or simply what their daily routine might look like today … things that maybe in Paris may seem a little less mundane … and that on this day they might share with me, the unobtrusive observer.

I reluctantly pull myself away from the scene and tip-toe, stretching to see what lies ahead to the right. I know what’s there – my friend has sent me pictures. But even so, oh my! To have this as one’s daily view is quite impressive. I wonder if I could ever be blasé about it…. la Tour Eiffel feels close enough to touch with my fingertips. She beckons me; and if it weren’t because it’s hard to stand there leaning out of the window, I could just dillydally here all day with the fresh breeze in my face and Paris below my feet, looking at her, conjuring up enough day dreams to fill a book.

“My neighbors and I respect one another.” My thoughts are abruptly interrupted and come to a screeching halt. Opps..he must have noticed my lingering observation of the building across the street.

Slightly embarrassed, but not wanting to show it, I enquire, “And what does that mean?”

“Oh, you know, like in New York. One doesn’t look into someone else’s windows.” The French don’t beat around the bush, do they? By the way, if you’re interested, there’s an intriguing book, titled Ventanas de Manhattan, by Antonio Muñoz Molina, which is precisely about the all the different lives “hiding” behind the windows of New York. 

As my friend keeps talking, my mind wanders to East 81st Street. A lot of things have happened since we shared the same address. I got married and divorced. Both my parents have passed away. I’ve moved from the US to Europe, back to the US, and then back to Europe. I am not the same person who moved to NYC to become independent.

I look at him. He now has longer hair. It suits his eccentric personality and somehow brings out his blue eyes… Back in that other cosmopolitan city, we both had lived on the same floor. I try to remember how we met. My first thought is that it must have been in the elevator…but that would be too cliché for us… no, I correct myself, it was one day as he was taking clothes to the dry cleaners across the street and I was arriving home. Now I can recall his face, his flirty smile, and how he stopped me to chat with him and made me laugh as he kept the door open for me. That chance encounter lead to a friendship; and I remember being entranced by our philosophical conversations. And now, here I was sitting in his Paris apartment, half a world across the globe, almost thirteen years later.

He’s a teacher now. We were both in finance back then. The role befits him like a smooth, pliable glove. His deep voice – something I did not remember – is sensual. No wonder his female students all have crushes on him. There’s a only a trace of an accent, but one would never say it’s French. His English is impeccable, as it should be for an English teacher. Yet, he cannot be more Parisian. His family has lived here for generations. His great-grandfather made the lamps of the Pont Alexandre III. You can see them when facing the Grand Palais from the Quai d’Orsay. I won’t share which side, but they are there. Or so he tells me.

In my little studio on the Upper East Side, he would pop over unannounced all the time. We had a common friend, another neighbour, who took his cue and also came over unexpectedly often. Kimmie and her little black dog, Lulu, were also our companions.

At first, it flustered me a bit; but I later grew used to it and enjoyed having both or just one of them over. I’ve always wanted those types of friends à la-Briget-Jones-Diary or like those depicted in Love Actually that say what they think, do things impulsively – like coming over on a whim, making themselves right at home – and with whom we build bonds that are unbreakable even if we disagree, especially if we disagree.

Back then, he and I would sit on my futon for hours, talking. He was going through a crisis that eventually lead him back home, to Paris, and to his dream job. We used to also go out on the town, although less frequently. One of my last memories of us was at a bar with a French couple, friends of his who were visiting the city, and my Taiwanese friend from my MBA program, who had been visiting me. I had had on a bright, chartreuse green sweater and tight, bell-bottom jeans. I remember the bar we were in, some tucked-away gaunt on the Upper East Side; it was dark with red walls and we were the only people there, but we had philosophised the night away, trying to fix the world I’m sure…

“So, I’m thinking we don’t eat breakfast at this point and wait it out for lunch, which by French standards is not too long from now.”

I’m brought back from my reverie from another world, another life. “Sure, sounds great.”

The croissants and pastries that he had purchased for us remain on the glass coffee table untouched. By now, I’m sipping a warm cup of coffee with milk to keep me alert – he has had to rush down and cross the street to the corner shop to purchase the milk for me. I’m famished, but I’d rather wait for a hearty lunch than make do with a typical flaky and unsatisfying, French breakfast, about which I’m not keen at all and would cause my blood sugar to go up unnecessarily.

We continue to chat, a little uneasy at first after all these years, although we’ve never really lost touch. As the conversation progresses, it starts to get fluid and comfortable; yet, there’s an underlying current of excitement as we get to know each other all over again. Or maybe I’m confusing it with the fact that I’m back in Paris in a real Parisian apartment.

He calls the restaurant, the little bistro that he’s been patronising since he was a toddler with his family he tells me, and makes a reservation for half past twelve.

“What plans do you have, what would you like to see or do?” he asks.

“I don’t care, I just want to walk the streets of Paris, eat good food, and be a local. Plus, I’m here to see you.”

“Good then. Let’s go.”

Le Scheffer is perfectly charming, with a bunch of tiny, square tables with red-and-white checkered tablecloths. There’s almost no room between table and table, but everyone seems to somehow manage to get in and sit down without knocking anything over or bumping into one another. On the walls, there are art-deco posters with scenes of Paris life or famous artsy Parisians.

We’re a little early for the French lunch crowd. But slowly it starts to fill up with couples, older ladies, and elegant gentlemen. They know him well here; so we are warmly greeted, and it feels cozy. I decide I could eat here every day.

Before looking at the menu, we order a bottle of red wine; neither of us are connoisseurs but it turns out to be a great combination of body and flavour, with no acidic after taste, and perfect for our meal selections. The waitress cannot figure out if she should give me the menu in English or French, as I keep confusing her by addressing her in some French and talking to my friend in English. She finally settles on the French version, while I preorder some escargots as an entrée. I’ve been longing for them since the last time I was in France a couple of years ago. On every single trip to or through France, it’s my must-have dish, whether they are in season or not. I chose a duck confit as my plat principal; and my friend orders a salade de fromage and les côtes d’agneau (the dish of the day).

“You know, in New York, there’s a bar dedicated to Josephine?” I say, as I look up to the poster of Josephine Baker hanging on the wall to the left behind him.

He looks back and remarks, “Ah, yes, that Josephine.” (What other Josephine could I be talking about? … Like there’s another one in French- pop – history, right?)

“I used to go to it all the time. It is on 42nd Street. It’s owned by Jean-Claude Baker, ‘the thirteenth of her adopted Baker’s dozen’,” I try to enlighten him, but our conversation quickly changes subject as we are trying to catch up on all the things we’ve missed these past thirteen years.

We bring each other up to date from our chance meeting in 2004 to to-day; we cover my parents’ untimely deaths, my complicated life with my ex-husband, the existential crisis he was going through when we met, and his now content life as an almost-forty-year-old bachelor in Paris. I begin to feel like not a day has gone by since we last saw each other and like I’ve always been part of the scene at this little neighbourhood bistro.

“What’s the name of the coffee with milk that the French order after lunch?” I know it’s not a café au lait. That’s a mayor faux-pas in France.

We each order a noisette to finish off our meal, while we linger at our table a little longer. The restaurant is now packed with couples and groups of three or four, all involved in lively conversations. I’m falling in love. With Paris. And with life. There’s not quite another place in the world where I could feel like this, this content to be alive. At least, not today.

“You know, I wanted to go to the Sorbonne when I was young,” I say. “An old friend of my parents’, who had lived through World War II had studied there. He would tell me magical stories of Paris and his university life. And he used to fuel my dreams of living here.”

(Roger and I had been on a first-name basis, although over 60 years separated us. I have always loved talking with the elderly, as their stories – of bygone eras that are brought to life and become palpable through their memories – are fascinating to me. Roger was a tiny, old man with white hair when he came into my life. His wife, Maria, a friend of my mother’s, was a lawyer with an aristocratic background, much younger but just as erudite as her husband. Her tales, however, were nowhere as captivating as his. I remember him fondly, wrapped up in cloud of sweet smoke coming off his pipe, and telling me stories on our back patio at home in Chipiona. Paris back then seemed a million miles away, but as he talked about the second Great War, most of which he had spent in France, of sipping coffee on the sidewalk of a Parisian cafe, of listening to Marlene Dietrich sing Lily Marleen, of walking amongst the artists in Montmartre, of Manet, Picasso, of the Louvre…and of the Sorbonne, I had been transported to the grand avenues, I had envisioned myself elegantly dressed, spending hours at a little cafe, sipping coffee whilst sitting on a wickered, bistro chair, I had dreamt of walking the hallways of the university with my paint brushes in my case….)

“What happened, why didn’t you come?”

“I think I was too young and too scared to move away from home back then.”

“You’re still in time to do this. And most importantly, you’re free to do so.” He continued, “Why not live your dream? Why not study at the Sorbonne and live here?”

“I don’t know. I don’t want to study art now. I want to pursue other goals I think…”

Well maybe we can convince you to move here, I believe he said. Or maybe I imagined he voiced that. If the weekend continues like this, Paris, I think to myself, doesn’t have to work too hard to persuade me.

“Are you ready to go?” I nodded. “L’addition s’il vous plaît,” he told our waitress.

“Bien sûr, monsieur.”

He gallantly paid for our lunch and he said his goodbyes to the staff. We walked outside to a cool afternoon under a cloudy, melancholic sky. It was starting to drizzle and neither of us had an umbrella.

“Do you mind walking in the rain?”

“No, not at all.” Maybe I would even end up dancing like Gene Kelly. What a glorious feeling that would be, in Paris.

“What do you say if we just walk around and I show you my neighborhood, where I’ve grown up, gone to school, and still live?” It wasn’t really a question.

We walked up Rue Scheffer and turned left on Rue Cortambert, as he pointed out the pretty facades and shared that a friend had lived here, and another had lived over there, and he used to play in the apartment on the top floor of that building at his friend’s house…

What is it about a place that envelopes you and creeps into your being? Some people love New York City; I have a few friends, including my host in fact, who are fixated on it. But for me, I think I’ve always been a Parisian at heart.

I saw the open door to what seemed like a quaint church and wanted immediately to enter and explore. But I felt that I would be imposing on my friend’s tour if I seemed too pushy to go in. So, we started walking away, when some meters down the street, I stopped.

“Do you mind if we go in?” My tourist alter-ego trying to inch its way into this affair and getting the best of me, of course, no matter how much I was determined to repress it.

“No, not at all. This is my neighbourhood church, where I used to go since I was a little child. But I’m no longer religious.” …. sometimes it is very rewarding to be as annoyingly curious as I am.

Religion, spirituality, and existentialism became a recurring theme throughout our weekend. Ah.. philosophical dialogue, tu m’a manqué. Since my father died, except with my best friend who lives in another timezone making our daily rapport less immediate, I’ve not had profound discussions with anyone on a regular basis. So this was a welcome breath of fresh air.

We walked into the foyer of la Chapelle de la Communauté des Soeurs du Saint Sacrement and went up the stairs on the left. It’s not an elaborate church. But the interior is full of light making it seem very modern and welcoming. The floor is rustic, covered with red and beige tiles depicting scenes of birds and flowers. And the nave is populated with golden-coloured, wooden benches. We each walked a few steps inside, but turned around quickly to not disturb the few churchgoers that were there after lunch. Normally I would’ve been taking pictures at different angles, not caring about anyone else. But here, I just looked around and enjoyed the peaceful silence.

“The nuns still live here,” he informed me, as we were leaving after our brief peak inside. I nodded and smiled in acknowledgment. Maybe it was the lack of sleep, the red wine, and the intoxicating feeling of being back in Paris, or all three-in-one, that I was becoming shrouded by this neighborhood, my friend’s life here, his memories. It created an intriguing sense of belonging in a part of Paris I had not been acquainted with before.

“It’s so beautiful,” I kept saying about almost every building, every street, and every corner on our walk.

I have never previously strolled around the Seizième Arrondisement. It’s above all, elegant and sophisticated. With its embellished, 19th-century buildings, sprinkled with some art-deco here and there, its large avenues and tree-lined streets with names of writers, poets, and influential people, statues of important historical figures, and the Bois de Boulogne, it’s the quintessential, upper-middle class Parisian neighbourhood, the homologue of the Upper East Side, where he and I had met. Yet Paris is Paris, and honestly one cannot compare the City of Lights (and Enlightenment I would add) to any other place.

The afternoon culminated with a creamy chocolat à l’ancienne for me and a beer for him at a corner cafe on a tiny plaza. We sat outside on the sidewalk, at a little round table with two faux-bamboo, wickered chairs, and watched people go by, like a true Parisian. (Roger would be proud of me.)

The drizzle had stopped long before, but a chilly wind was starting to pick up, so we headed back to his apartment to warm up and take a break. After another warm beverage at home, I took off on my own, leaving my friend to grade some papers.

My first stop was Trocadéro on my own to properly greet the grand lady.

It had been about five years since the last time I set foot in Paris and saw the Eiffel Tower. What does one think standing there admiring the symbol of France, surrounded by a crowd of people, yet being alone, feeling strangely lost, and at the same time unbelievably at home somehow?

My mind wandered to the past three, toughest years of my life. The first times I had been to Paris had all been with my parents. On the last occasion together, I was old enough to remember. And now, the memories were fresh again.

My parents and I had been in transit from the US to Spain and were stranded in Paris because of a bad connection. Tired and all, as my father stayed in our hotel to sleep from the red-eye flight, my mother and I had braved the cold morning and walked to the Champ de Mars. That’s just on the opposite side of where I now stood. We had gone up the tower, admired the view whilst shivering in our summery clothes that were appropriate for Seville, but definitely not for Paris in May. She and I were so much alike. My beautiful mom. We loved travelling, seeing new places, fueling our curiosity, reading, eating new things, trying out new recipes, cooking together, and talking for hours about everything. On that serendipitous layover, we saw Les Invalides, we visited the Louvre, and I vividly remember going inside Notre-Dame and being awed by the stained glass windows. She loved art – as I do – and was a collector.

“No, she only bought from local artists. Some are now well known in Spain. But nothing on the world market.” I shared with my friend, one day during my stay.

He had asked me as we walked around his neighbourhood and discussed his father’s art collection, which includes a Pissarro that is locked up somewhere.

“What use is it to have a Pissarro and not see it every day?” I asked, hoping to stimulate a thoughtful discourse.

“I don’t know. But you know, it’s an investment, maybe to keep it safe,” he responded.

Coincidentally, a few days ago, I heard an art critic on the radio say that art doesn’t exist if it cannot be seen and admired. 

On my friend’s advice, I ended up visiting the Musée de Marmottan Monet. This used to be a private collection, and it’s now open to the public as a museum. There was a special exhibit of Pissarro and there is an extensive permanent collection of Manet and Monet amongst other Impressionist artists.

But I digress … as I stood there facing the Eiffel Tower, part of me couldn’t believe I was there in the flesh. I tried to capture the entirety of what stood in front of me, to store it into my memory and not lose any little detail of what I was seeing, experiencing. But another part of me felt like it was living a daydream, like all this was unreal.

I thought back to when my friend first invited me to visit him and Paris. I always knew deep inside I would make this trip happen.

Now, I was really here, on a cool, early evening in March, surrounded by tourists taking selfies or posing for pictures and a bunch of street vendors trying to sell their tricks and their wares. The humming of the city and the music being played by the street artists didn’t bother me; they kind of lulled me away to a fantasy, as I stood there in my little space with what I imagined could be the spotlight shining just on me…

It’s hard to believe that this tourist attraction, and such an iconic architectural wonder, was once viewed with aesthetic skepticism. It was even given the moniker of the ‘metal asparagus’! Yet, today it couldn’t be a more iconic symbol of one nation and people.

It was getting late and chillier though, so I finally began to retreat and walked back towards la Place du Trocadéro. I felt like I was in a film – all I needed was a song playing in the background – as every few steps, I turned around to catch another glimpse. I wanted to never to stop this moment, to never leave, to be able to see her just a little bit longer. To be a true local.

Reluctantly, I left and walked round a bit to eventually go back up the hill, where I again crossed paths with a majestic Benjamin Franklin and headed home.

“Everything in Paris is near,” my friend said later on that evening as we discussed the plans for the next day.

I’m not sure I would agree, especially when one sees the city from Montmartre.

Day Two, A Fugacious Bike Ride 

“I’m going to give you the grand tour of Paris on my bike!” And with that, the night before, I went to bed naively thinking it would just be another day in the city.

There are days in life we wake up thinking we know who we are, but somewhere during those 24 hours, we realise we aren’t exactly who we thought we were …

In my case, a fugacious bike ride on an early Sunday morning on the sleepy streets of Paris could be named as the culprit.

We had gotten up early as planned, showered, got dressed, and went downstairs, helmets in hand, in the tiny glass elevator barely wide enough for one, much less two. The bike was waiting for us, unlocked, just down the street.

“You keep it unlocked? Here in Paris?” I ask with incredulity. It wouldn’t stand a chance in Spain.

“Yes. I’ve never had it stolen in all these years since I’ve been back. And besides, if I put a chain on it, the dogs pee on it, and it’s not nice smelling that when I bend down to take it off.” Sensible of course.

“You’re wearing the perfect shoes.”

“Of course. What do you think?!” In my anticipated elation, I wasn’t trying too hard to not sound priggish, I’ll admit.

I had had enough foresight to pack my black, short boots, the kind that in Spain the moteros wear. The bike ride had been part of the grand scheme of things all along. So, now I was perfectly outfitted for the adventure, although I really had no clue of what I would feel.

He got on the bike, whilst I adjusted my helmet and then hopped on the back. We took off slowly driving up Rue Vineuse and quickly passed good ole’ Mr. Franklin – we were becoming regulars he and I. A group of what we tried to guess were Spanish or French senior citizens, with their tour guide holding up a thin pole with a little flag on top indicating the path to follow, slowly made their way across the crosswalk in front of us, as I was adjusting to being on the bike. The light turned green and off we went.

Oh! How can one describe the fresh, crisp breeze in one’s face, the early morning silence, the almost empty, sleepy streets, and the elegant scenes we were passing by without sounding utterly sappy?

I was so immersed in the daydream that I didn’t realise I kept sliding into my friend and was risking falling off. At a stop at one of the lights, I finally readjusted my position, squeezed my thighs as if I were on a horse, and regained some sort of backseat composure. I packed my hands into my friend’s jacket pockets and started to sway with the movements and enjoy the view on both sides. The air was brisk, but not cold; yet I was glad to be sheltered from the wind by my friend’s body. Every few seconds, it seemed, I kept switching my head from side to side, trying not to miss anything we are driving by.

After some turns here and there, we were in Montmartre.

The streets were just barely coming to life and the cafes were not even open yet, creating the sensation that Paris belonged only to us. As we passed la Place du Tertre, a couple of artists were starting to trickle in to set up their stands. The scene couldn’t have been more picturesque, right out of a movie.

Everything was peaceful and invigorating. And on the bike, I was exhilarated. We rounded our way to the Sacré Coeur, first from behind, and later from the front. The doors were firmly closed, but we had had no intention of going in. We stopped to admire the city from the cliff. From up here, Paris is immense, a little overwhelming. I almost could not comprehend the view, as there was so much humanity spread out in front of us. Too many lives waking up. Too many stories being unfolded. Too many old souls from times past wandering through the maze of streets below us…

After what seemed like a very long moment, my friend turned the bike around. I continued to hang on with my hands inside my friend’s jacket pockets, now with my gloves on, and silenced a few squeals of delight as we sped through some streets with hardly a human in sight, making our way back down the cliff.

“No, I’m not scared. Au contraire, I love it!” I kept having to reassure my friend. I was thoroughly enjoying myself, every bit of the ride, from learning how to keep myself balanced, leaning into my friend without hitting my chin on his shoulders, to breathing in the fresh, unadulterated morning air, to losing myself in the speed and the city passing by. I had not remembered how much fun riding a bike is. And riding a bike in Paris… well, I guess you’ll have to try it…

We stopped on the corner of Rue des Saules, and behind us to the right was the Au Lapin Agile, the famous, historical cabaret. And to the left was another gem, the Clos de Montmartre, a winery in the middle of Paris! Both of these sights I had never seen. So a few obligatory pictures ensued and even a couple of selfies since there was no one in the vicinity to ask to take a picture at such an early hour. After our brief interlude, we made our way down Rue Caulaincourt to head back downtown and drive by L’Arc de Triomphe.

“I’ve been up the Arc,” I yelled out, as the wind threatened to swallow my words and my bangs kept getting into my eyes underneath the protection of my helmet.

“I have too, surprisingly.” There was an emphasis on the last word because as he’s explained to me already, he’s never been up the Eiffel Tower.

We made our way through Avenue George V to the river and drove by le Pont Alexandre III (just behind, one can see le Grand Palais and le Petit Palais), le Musée d’Orsay (I was supposed to see this later in the day – but decided against it in favour of a quiet afternoon at home watching a movie), la Place de la Concorde… les Jardins de Luxembourg…my friend’s high school is on the side street of les Jardins… so many grand buildings, so many Parisian icons, and so much history, all in one sweep. I was feeling drunken and I wanted to do it all over again, although we were not yet done!

We cruised a bit longer and drove behind the Musée d’Orsay, where we parked the bike. As I stood on solid ground again, I felt a little wobbly, just like when one gets off a horse after a long ride. With our helmets on our arms, we walked into the corner cafe, Les Deux Musées, to find only a few early-bird tourists and a couple of Parisians starting off their day. My friend ordered a tartine; and I didn’t know what to order. In my opinion, I know I repeat myself, but the French do not know how to do breakfast. I realise I may be a bit exaggerated with my breakfast meal selections, which invariably include a lot of vegetables, eggs, and no bread. But one must understand that a croissant just doesn’t cut it for me. Nevertheless, I succumbed to the circumstances and ordered a pain au chocolat. When both our plates arrived, I couldn’t believe I had not ordered the tartine, which at least came with a good serving of healthy French butter. I tried to get the waiters attention to order my own, but generously, my friend traded with me. However, he barely ate.

After warming up inside and out, we hopped back on the bike, eventually making our way back home. The day was still young and I took off on my own again. As I walked on Avenue Paul Doumer towards le Jardin du Ranelagh, I stopped a few times to check out real estate listings. Just like I like to buy dictionaries on my trips, I enjoy learning how properties are valued locally and getting a glimpse of real people’s dwellings. At one of the windows, a nice old gentlemen asked me if I was looking to buy. I stifled a giggle and responded in fairly good French that I was only looking. After an exchange of pleasantries, I found myself being invited to tea! Ah, Parisians! I politely declined and continued on my merry way with a huge smile on my face.

Le Jardin du Ranelagh was filled with families and children playing, with people walking their dogs, and with the rhythmic chanting of Gabonais protesting something in front of the Embassy of Gabon. Behind le Jardin du Ranelagh are a number of elegant grand houses, one of them is now the Musée de Marmottan Monet, which I mentioned before having visited. As I had been there the day before as well, I took a bench and sat in silence observing the relaxing scenes. I later strolled past the museum on Rue Louis Boilly to encounter the Embassy of Monaco, the Square des Ecrivains Combatants Morts, and the Bois de Boulogne. The chilly air was refreshing; and I almost went into the bois for a walk, but I was getting hungry for some lunch. So, I headed back to meet my friend. On my way back, I stopped at Pierre Hermé to pick up some macarons, discovering a flavour new to me: a fois-gras-chocolate combination, whose name I don’t remember, but whose delicate taste, a perfect balance of savoury, sweet, and umami, I’ll never forget. (Or could it be that a macaron tastes more sublime when enjoyed in Paris?)

That evening, I became just another city dweller, disrobing my tourist exterior; we watched The Shawshank Redemption with Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman, cozily lying on the futon at home. Day two came to an end with a few tears and a couple of kleenexes. (Needless to say, I’m a cry-baby with emotional stories.) And with the budding knowledge that Paris, somehow, somewhere in just the right time, was the culmination, the turning point to something.

The Last Day, More Croissants and The Seine

Apparently the croissant-tartine fiasco of the day before had left an impression on my friend, for on my last day visiting, he insisted I should have eggs for breakfast. We walked down to Place du Trocadéro and settled on Carette. The place was bubbling with people. It was just a hair too chilly to be outside, although the little round tables and pretty woven chairs on the sidewalk were mostly full. We thus took a seat inside, with me facing the street and all the action coming in. If Carette is not your typical, fashionable Parisian cafe, I don’t know what is. Even the waitresses are nicely dressed and a little bit aloof. The good thing about being with a Parisian native is that other Parisians are not condescending and actually turn helpful once they discern you’re not a ‘real’ tourist. Through my foggy, pre-coffee haze, as we waited for our meal, I pleasantly engaged in some people watching, observing the string of classically Parisian people parade in. My friend pointed out that as it was Monday, one can tell just how many people lead a leisurely life in this arrondissement.

One in particular comes to mind: a tall, thin blond woman in her late 50s (I guessed), who would’ve turned heads in another less-cosmopolitan city but here she’s a normal sight, came in. Her long legs were dressed in opaque, black tights, ending in rather high heels, maybe a little too high for a Monday morning cafe au lait. A golden, loosely fitting mini dress and a fluffy, fur vest completed her essentially elegant look, albeit in a rather ostentatious way. Hanging from one arm was what for sure was an expensive bag, although I didn’t pay close enough attention to check out the brand, since the rest of her was too alluring. Completing her attire were her permanent pouty lips on top of the rest of her surgically enhanced face.

A few Asians also trickled in, also in quintessentially Asian-Parisian looks, like those depicted by Kaneko, my favourite whimsical, Parisian illustrator. They have a sophisticated way about them, which they know exactly how to couple with a hip, quirkiness that makes them so unique and recognizable anywhere. One can always tell them apart I think, even from behind. It’s something about their slender figures, the well-fitted clothes, the elegant coats, the pretty shoes…

Our breakfast arrived almost all at once, creating a bit of havoc for us as our waitress and we tried to fit everything onto our very tiny, round table. I had to remove the salt and pepper shakers, the little flower in a pot, and a few other items to make room for the many dishes. My friend had ordered the Brunch Carette for me (I had let him take over without qualm) and the ‘regular’ Petit Déjeuner Carette for himself. I honestly didn’t want so much food, or bread for that matter, but there was no other way to get my desired eggs, as the difference between the regular and the brunch is literally just the eggs. These came delicately plated with crunchy croissant sticks, which,  yes, I ate.

After filling up our stomachs and sipping a few strong coffees, we walked around a bit and decided to drive into ‘town’. We took an Autolib electric car to Saint-Germain. One can become a member for a monthly fee and then drive the cars, paying only the minutes used. It’s an innovative and smart way to keep the city a little cleaner and greener. There are parking spots that can be reserved sur la marche around the city. It took us a few times passing by Sonia Rykiel’s before we settled on our free spot to drop off the car, which we found near the river.

We walked along the riverbank on the Port des Saints-Pères for a while, admiring the Seine, the few boats that were docked, and crossing paths with other strolling couples and a runner or two. At the Pont du Carrousel we came back up to street level and crossed over to the grounds of the Louvre. It was windy, and as we fought against the gusts blowing our hair around and opening our coats, we entered through the arch at Place du Corrousel. I had never entered through this side of the Louvre and somehow I had never noticed the mini Arch de Triomphe on the left.

We observed the queue outside the pyramid, and my friend remarked that it was good to see that tourism in Paris is still going strong. I agree; not even all the terrorist attacks are stopping people from coming here to see everything this magical city has to offer. My friend works near the Bataclan, where the last major attack took place over a year ago. I was still in the US back then; and I remember texting him enquiring if he was ok. Thankfully, he was, as it took place at night and he was not anywhere near. But many of his friends had been inside and some had gotten injured and others had seen their friends die right in front of their eyes.

I mentioned the galleries near the Louvre, and although I didn’t really care about seeing them (it was a mere curiosity to know their location), my friend took me there. At the Palais Royal, there are a number of interesting shops, including a few luxurious ones, like Stella McCartney. At one of the windows, we admired some very unique gloves, of which I correctly guessed the pricing (all were over 300 euros). I wasn’t in the mood for shopping, but as my friend said, “On your next trip, you must get a pair, so you can say ‘these gloves are from the shops at the Palais Royal in Paris’.” So, it’s unofficially on my agenda for next time…

As we strolled, I wondered what it would be like to live here and have all this at one’s fingertips, on a whim on any given day… When one is surrounded by so much beauty, so much history, so much culture, and so many intriguing gems to be discovered, it’s like being in a living museum. I’m guessing it would be like living in that dream that Roger had conjured up for me.

“I can tell Spaniards apart from the crowd. And I can spot Americans and Brazilians,” my friend, who dated a Brazilian girl for some time, voiced his thoughts as a group of Spaniards crossed our path on our way to Le Jardin des Tuileries. “The Spanish are always very loud,” he added. Yes, they are, I admitted.

Le Jardin was rather tranquil with a few groups of school children and not too many tourists. I had never been in it before, and it was a surprise to see all the statues strewn throughout the grounds. The park was originally created by Catherine of Medici as the garden of the Tuileries Palace in 1564; and it later was opened to the public in 1667 and became a public park after the French Revolution. I could imagine the elegant ladies and gentlemen that had strolled the park as I did now, preceding me by centuries past; I could envisage them in their grand outfits, their over-sized hats, and twirling their parasols, whilst nodding their heads from side to side, cordially greeting their acquaintances who were also there to see and be seen.

We crossed back over to the Rive Gauche and decided it was time for lunch. We settled on the first restaurant we saw on the corner which seemed nice enough, Le Fregate, just across the Pont Royal.

“It’s always fun having people over to discover places I’ve never eaten at,” he said, adding “Paris is a food-lover’s dream.”

We both enjoyed a typical Parisian dish, one of his favourite’s, a creamy Blanquette de Veau à l’Ancienne with rice. It was delicious. I accompanied mine with a glass of red house-wine, whilst in the background the music of George Bensen created a lovely mood. The waiter told us that the playlist belonged to the previous owners, but that the local crowd enjoyed it so much, they kept it on.

As we strolled back to get the electric car to go home, we stopped at Sennelier on Quai Voltaire for me to pick up some art supplies. We had been talking about art and the Sorbonne since I arrived. And I had shared that I had not picked up a brush since sometime in 2004 or 2005, shortly after he had left NYC; so naturally, I couldn’t leave Paris without stepping inside this famous store.

Sennelier’s on Quai Voltaire is not immensely big, but it does contain quite a lot of supplies displayed on three floors, all of which we explored. The old, worn wooden shelving all seems to be original, possibly dating from the late 1800s, and the staff are welcoming and helpful, although maybe just a little Parisian enough to not bother you as you peruse the goods. That suited me just fine. I ended up buying a little sketch pad, which I’ve not opened up yet…but I will soon. It’s small enough that I can carry it in any purse, and large enough to create something with detail on every page.

We dropped off our electric car near the statue of Benjamin Franklin, back in the 16th. We were headed home sort of with still a few hours to spare before I needed to go to the airport, when my friend said, “How would you like to buy an 800 euro photograph?”

“What do you mean?”

“Come. This guy, who is the younger brother of a friend of mine, has an exhibit at a gallery just up the street. He has over 100,000 followers on Instagram and is selling limited edition prints. Tomorrow is the vernissage. How do you say that?”

“Inauguration. Or Opening night.” I replied.

We walked up Avenue Kléber to the gallery to check out Guillaume Dutreix and his photographs. Months ago, I had dreamt of visiting a photography exhibit with my friend whilst in Paris. In my dream, I know the photographer’s work and we hit it off … so I prepared myself for some serendipity .. but in real life, I had never seen him or heard of his work before. Nonetheless, his photography is impressive. White backgrounds predominate creating an ethereal feel to each image. The angles and the details seem effortless, although I’m sure he’s fastidious about achieving them. My friend chatted a bit with his friend, while I admired the artwork. And then off we went. Time to go home, finish packing, and get ready to abandon Paris.

A couple of hours later, we were standing at Place du Trocadéro, awaiting the bus to take me to Charles de Gaulle. We chatted a little more, as I reflected that the weekend had gone by very fast, although also very intensely. I had lived out the three days as a real local thanks to my friend, who was a wonderful host and who has enabled me to feel Paris in a way that has revived something in me that had been tucked away and forgotten.

As my bus approached, he leaned over to say good-bye, rubbing his soft beard against my cheeks. We exchanged three kisses, looked at each other, and said ‘hasta luego’. I left my bag with the driver, hopped on the bus, and unwillingly turned to my right to look after my friend. He was already starting to cross the street, but also turned to face me, and waved good-bye.

I took a seat a couple of rows back on the left from the driver, buckled up, and aimlessly looked out the window; I was no longer soaking in the city. As we rounded the plaza, on the right, I caught a glimpse now of the opening between the two colossal wings of the Palais du Trocadéro and barely focused on the Tour Eiffel. On the radio a tune started to play.

I instantly thought about these three glorious days spent in this city. Nostalgia started to engulf me, although I hadn’t yet left. At that instant, I promised myself I would return again soon.

Epilogue

City of stars

Are you shining just for me?

City of stars
There’s so much that I can’t see

City of stars
Just one thing everybody wants

I don’t care if I know
Just where I will go

‘Cause all that I need is this crazy feeling
A rat-tat-tat on my heart

Think I want it to stay
City of stars

Are you shining just for me?
City of stars
You never shined so brightly

À bientôt mon ami; à tout à l’heure ma cherie, Paris. J’ai changé … merci pour tout. Quand je reviens, nous nous verrons avec nouvelle yeux …

Blanquette 

There are maybe other dishes more representative of French cuisine, but the Blanquette is Parisian; in fact, the recipe calls for Parisian mushrooms, which are none other than the button variety, but grown just outside the city. It’s a comfort food, for chilly Autumn or Spring days. And it can be made with veal or another meat. I prefer to use chicken, which is easier to cook and comes out less dry than veal.

I have found a local butcher who procures organic, free-range birds that are healthier, tastier, but also just a bit tougher. So depending on what type of chicken you use, you may have to adjust the cooking times.

Blanquette de Poulet à l’Ancienne

Serves: 4
Prep Time: 10 min
Cook Time: 40 min

Ingredients

2.5 – 3 liters filtered water
1/4 cup white wine
1 whole chicken, preferably free-range, pasture raised, cut into 10 pieces (ask your butcher to do it for you, if you don’t know how)
3 medium/large carrots, peeled and roughly chopped
1-2 celery branches, cut into medium pieces
7-8 French onions (baby onions)
2 strands of fresh cilantro
1-2 leeks, peeled and chopped
2 large potatoes, peeled and cut into medium pieces
2 cloves garlic, peeled and whole
10-12 Parisian mushrooms (button mushrooms)
50g of butter (I used unsalted Kerrygold)
2-3 tablespoons arrowroot powder
2 tablespoons coconut creme
1 egg yolk
sea salt
ground nutmeg

Method

In a large pot over medium heat, we’ll make a bouillon. Pour the water (start off with 2.5 liters and increase if necessary) and white wine, and add the cilantro, 1 tablespoon sea salt (more to taste later if needed), baby onions, celery, carrots, mushrooms, potatoes, garlic cloves, and chicken pieces. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 30 minutes.

Once the bouillon is made, take the chicken pieces out of the pot. Heat some butter in a saucepan over medium heat. And add the chicken to caramelize on each side. Set aside.

Now, make a roux with the 50g of butter over medium heat. Cook the butter, stirring constantly, until it reaches a golden brown hue. Add the arrowroot powder and stir well. Cook a few minutes longer. Then add a few tablespoons of the bouillon and a sprinkle of ground nutmeg, to taste. Stir to mix well. Pour everything into the pot and add the caramelized chicken pieces back as well.

In a small bowl, add some tablespoons of the sauce, the egg yolk, and 2-3 tablespoons of coconut creme. Stir to blend well. Pour into the stew pot, and stir. Simmer everything together about 10 minutes.

Serve with some freshly chopped cilantro, if desired, and cauliflower or regular, cooked white rice.

Bon appetit!

My Precious Dad {& I Finally Capture The Castle}

I’m having a lazy day at home, enjoying the fact that I can get up late and do nothing. It’s days like this that I have time to think, ponder about my life.

As I look outside through my patio doors, I see the bright blue skies of Andalucía. Even in the midst of winter, the hue is intense, almost blinding, and there are no clouds in the sky. I enjoyed similar days like this with my father in Florida …

I look up at his picture, at his sweet, precious smile and that peculiar glint in his eyes, and I find it so very hard to believe he’s gone. He’s only a memory now …

In the time we spent together – just the two of us alone – we shared stories, sometimes talked for hours (mostly philosophical and political discussions), we reminisced about my mom, watched National Geographic, history shows, and movies together, giggled together at Kiko‘s antics (Kiko is our mini schnauzer), and ate all of our dinners together. He repeated almost daily that he loved what I made and I cooked just like Mom. On occasion, I was almost embarrassed to hear my Dad repeatedly say how much he liked a dish. But I know he was grateful for sharing it with me. And it must have brought him closer to Mom as well.

Mom passed away in what will be two years in March. Dad was lonely and depressed (as I was too). He missed the love of his life tremendously. But he was making ’emotional ends’ meet…and having me with him probably kept him going. I know I wouldn’t have been able to get through these last two years without him either. And I’m glad I told him that many times. I’m glad I told him how much I loved him almost on a daily basis. I’m so glad I gave him kisses every morning and hugged him every day.

I spent over the last two years – most of the time it was just the two of us – living with him and getting to know him in ways I had never realised before. Dad was an honourable man, a sweet, humble, intelligent person whose moral compass was geared by a deep respect for the fellow person and a deep love for his family. He never raised his voice to any of us, until one day – and one  time only – after my mother’s death, when all of our emotions had us at the tip of our wits.

He was the most honest and trustworthy person I have ever known. He detested lies. He always said it was better to tell the truth, even if that got me in trouble, than to lie about something. That’s why for months after I eloped with my ex-husband, I felt miserable for hiding the truth from my parents…

He didn’t like to share his emotions though; yet contrastingly he couldn’t hide his dislike of things. He got very upset at the injustices of the world and was more empathetic than I ever gave him credit for. He was considerate and a kind-hearted man. He would frequently tell me not to criticize others, to see the positive side of things, and measure more by the good than the bad. The irony of it is that that’s how I am because of him and my mother’s teachings. But I felt comfortable enough to share all my thoughts with my mother always. She had never judged me. And although my father also didn’t judge me, he took all my words to heart literally; and he misunderstood my venting as something more serious. Because he was a very serious and literal person.

But he could also be funny and witty and even sarcastic at times. And he had a lovely, incredibly sweet smile and an infectious laugh. His whole face and his eyes would light up with glee when he smiled. He was genuine, yet oftentimes misunderstood by others who didn’t know him well enough and took his seriousness on face value.

Dad taught me to not only appreciate, but fall in love with classical music. Our favourites are Johann Strauss father and son. The Blue Danube, the Tritsch-Tratsch-Polka, and the Radetzky March will forever remind me of Dad; and as every year for many years now, I have entered the Vienna Philharmonic lottery in the hopes of getting admitted into the New Year’s concert in person. The concert was part of our new year’s day routine since I can remember when we first started watching it together when I was a little child in Spain; and his dream was to enjoy it in person with my Mom. I hope one day I can sit in the Vienna Concert Hall and clap to the tune of the Radetzky March just as we used to do together while watching it on T.V.  I’m sure tears will be rolling down my cheeks as they are now, but it will be incredibly exhilarating to do this in his memory. To do it for him. And to do it for us.

Dad was also an extremely private person … he probably would be slightly uncomfortable that I’m writing a post about him. And in all honesty, I have written, rewritten, and deleted numerous posts about him.

Since he died on November 12th, just 11 days short from his 78th birthday, I’ve been once more lost. I’ve been on a rollercoaster of emotions; just as I was beginning to heal – accept is probably more accurate actually –  from the loss of my mother, I now have to face the second greatest loss in my life. And this time, I’m home alone. I don’t have Dad to comfort me because he’s the one who is gone.

I don’t even have Kiko by my side. Kiko is staying with my brother, sister-in-law, and my two lovely nieces. They all love him very much and can offer him more company than I can right now. So to be fair to him, I cannot selfishly bring him with me to Spain. Little does he realise just how much I need him though, and need our daily walks, and miss his funny, quirky ways … but he’s better off with them.

And Dad I’m sure is smiling upon all of us knowing how much we all love his little guy. There’s an immense emptiness in my heart, in my every day – I can no longer wake up to a message from Dad or send Dad a message in the morning or talk with him every night – I can no longer share with him how our days went or discuss just how much of a cultural shock I’m having returning home to Spain … it’s the strangest feeling being an orphan.

Nonetheless, I’m grateful for my brother and his family. And I’m grateful for my uncle Manolo, who is like an extension of both my parents. We wouldn’t love each other as we do, if it weren’t for the amazing parents we have had. Dad and Mom, each in their own way, made us who we are.

There’s one more thing I want to share about Dad. He was an avid supporter and reader of my blog and of everything that I do. He was incredibly proud of me; and I owe it to him to continue writing and pursuing my dreams. Thus, I won’t delete this post. This time, like Mortmain, I am going to capture the castle since I’ve been a long time searching for it.

Dad, I love you with all my heart. And I will forever miss you and will always be thankful and proud to be your daughter.

Dennis Gilbert Dorn
November 23, 1932 – November 12, 2016

My Precious Mom

My mother and I a couple of Christmases ago.

Have you ever been lost? I mean really, really lost?

The kind of lost that every direction you look at seems foreign and scary?

There are shadows in the dark looming. Your heart is fluttering. Actually it skips a few beats and comes rushing into your throat. You know you need to take a step forward. To make a decision. But. You. Just. Can’t.

And I don’t mean the kind of lost where you whip out your GPS and ask Lucy how to get out of this mess kind of lost.

I mean your soul is gone. Passions have no colour. They have no texture. You can’t touch or feel them. You know they exist, somewhere deep down inside because they are part of you… they are who you are. But you don’t have the key with which to open that door again. But you really, really want to…

It’s been a while. In fact, too long. I stopped blogging on a regular basis since the end of 2013. And therefore, I’ve broken a number of rules of blogging. Like creating regular posts. Like amazing readers with mouth-watering photography (that, I haven’t mastered yet).

And the most important rule that I’ve broken is called {lack of} enthusiasm. My passion vanished…like petals of a dandelion dispersed in the wind.

I used to literally dream about food and go to bed with a plan of what I was going to make the next day or tackle on the weekend. Going to the market, reading a book, seeing a new flower in the spring, picking blackberries on my walks along the Thames, and talking with my mother and father every day were all inspirations.

But life outside the kitchen came rushing in and took center stage in December 2013. I’ve tried producing some bits and pieces, tried to keep my artistic and culinary side flowing and my readers engaged…. but it’s been tough. First, I found myself leaving London and moving back to Sevilla and filing for divorce. That was in March last year. And second, and most importantly, I came to the US to accompany and help my parents with my mother’s impending open-heart surgery scheduled in June 2014. When I arrived, Mom was her usual self, hugging me to bits and not being able to give me enough kisses all at once. And course, she wanted to share everything and wanted me to share everything, even if she had already heard it a few times before.

We hadn’t seen each other in person since Christmas, although we Skyped every single day and sometimes for hours. My parents helped me through the initial months of moving back to Spain. I finally shared with them many truths they had not fully been aware of. And we were finally all happy with the prospects of my new life.

The surgery was scheduled for June 12th. And my mother in her usual fashion was courageous and strong, although she was nervous and scared. She read all the pamphlets that the hospital gave us to prepare. And so did I. She was worried about her old scars from her breast cancer and how her sternum would be cut… but even so, we enjoyed about a week of beautiful weather and reconnecting with each other and the rest of the family before heading off to NYC on June 11th.

She and my father had these great plans to move back to Spain, her homeland, after her recovery and my parents put their house up for sale in anticipation. We all had great plans to be together. We were finally going home! But the universe conspired differently…

A month after the surgery, she almost died of complications… and from there on, over hill and trough, lots of hope and some joys and many disappointing moments, we lived one day at a time. She was a trooper even though she had to re-learn how to walk, she had edema on her legs and one arm, and was always very tired. But she maintained her enthusiasm. She gave us courage. She almost never lost her spunk, giving me pointers in the kitchen, eagerly helping me cut vegetables (albeit sitting or leaning on a chair), and even gave me recipes while in ICU when she was intubated and couldn’t speak. She never gave up… and took everything in stride and without complaining.

On December 4th, 2014, she was admitted into Yale-New Haven for a sternal wound infection and malnutrition (the infection had been eating away her protein and nourishment). She got better, then had four more surgeries, almost died during one of them, went through rounds and rounds of antibiotics and other medications, and seemed to be getting better, yet at the same time, wasn’t. She was transferred at the end of February to our local hospital in New London, where she was supposed to start rehabilitation. But the doctors told us she needed to regain some strength before going that route. However, their faces and body language were telling us something we didn’t want to see or hear.

And a couple of weeks later, we were asked a dreadful question, whether or not to put her on palliative care or prolong her life, knowing that her organs were going to continue failing, that her wound wasn’t healing and that all the nutrition she was getting was actually killing her instead of curing her.

It was a tough decision. But when there’s no hope and you see your loved one suffering so much and for so long, you know it’s the right one. We never told mom. We don’t know if she knew she was dying. Although she had always been a very intuitive and wise woman. Her eyes said a million things that she never voiced to us. And a couple of times when she was not fully awake, we gave her permission to leave. We told her we would be ok and try to be happy and to not worry about us.

Mom died on March 11th, not quite a week after palliative care started. We had just left the hospital an hour before receiving the phone call, and we were all eating dinner together, as we told her we would do, planning to see her the next day as we had been doing every single day since June 11th, 2014.

For the first week after her passing, we had a family friend visiting (who arrived just in time to see my mother alive for the last time) and we held mom’s funeral mass. I continued cooking. Our family friend, who is from my hometown in Spain, made some delicious Spanish meals. It was comforting to have her with us and we were sort of walking in a cloud. The second week came around, our friend left, and the next day I woke up with a fever and splitting headache. I was sick; and I hadn’t been sick in over three years… I had no energy to move, much less to get into the kitchen and all food was nauseating.  I resorted to eating bread and salted crackers to be able to keep something down. Two weeks later, I started to feel better, but still struggled with mustering any sort of enthusiasm regarding food. I was beginning to wonder if I would ever eat properly again, write a recipe and take a picture.

Eventually, I had no choice but to start preparing meals if my father and I wanted to have some sort of nourishment. He’s a BBQ man. That’s his territory. He knows how to cook to perfection salmon steaks or other large fish and meat on the grill. And he would do the cleaning up of the kitchen at home. But my mother, she, as a traditional Spanish wife, was the chef at home. And she was an excellent and intuitive one, who loved to share her kitchen and her dishes. Most of what I’ve learned has been from her. She inspired me to write this blog and to share traditional Spanish and Andalusian dishes, and dishes from my childhood, the ones I grew up on and she loved to make for all of us. She was my most ardent supporter and critic. And she wasn’t shy about giving me tips all the time, even teaching me how to use knives properly. She was a perfectionist, as a typical Virgo like me, and wanted me to be the best I could be. She had a wonderful (and very perceptive) eye for food styling, something I’ve yet to learn. She also couldn’t help herself and was always telling me to dress myself better, to wear makeup, to wear jewellry… in essence to always be arreglada (to be orderly and well presented at all times). It was her pet-peeve with me and my nieces. You wouldn’t ever catch her at home, and much less outside, in a frumpy state.

Mom and Dad in June 2014, a week before surgery.

Mom was elegant Luisa, as one American friend used to call her.  But for me, mom was my first love, my best friend, my compass and my pillar. She inspired us to appreciate art and culture, she fueled our passions, encouraged our dreams and taught us the most important lessons of all: to love, to love others, be forgiving and selfless, and to be empathetic and caring. And she embarked us on a journey, just as her’s before us had been, how to eat healthy whole foods, establishing a pattern for later in life, for which I’m very grateful. She was an extraordinary human being, beautiful inside and out. In fact, even more lovely on the inside than on the outside, and that’s already saying a lot because she was a very pretty lady to look at, even at 82.

And now, I’m lost without her. We all are.

There’s only silence instead of her loving voice. I long to hear her saying, “Debbie, bonita, como estas?” (Her usual way of greeting me or leaving me messages on the phone.)

There’s no one telling me, “arreglate, que no sabes quien te va a ver”.

There’s no laughter. Her witty and spunky humour is only a memory.

I have to think really hard to visualise her face. Her bright, wide eyes that sparkled with interest in and curiosity about everything. Her beautiful and sweet smile with those cute dimples, which she rarely showed in pictures as she hated posing. Her pretty hair, almost always coiffed to perfection.

Her smell.

Her touch. Her hands.

And her hugs. And her kisses. Oh, those kisses.

Her compassion and understanding. Her endless patience with all of us.

Her open mind and open heart that loved to listen to everything we wanted to share most of the times setting her needs aside.

All that is gone. Forever.

And being lost hurts. It breaks my heart.

My beautiful mom.

Te quiero mama, ahora y por siempre.

In my mother’s memory and honour, I dedicate this post to my greatest love.

A Frog in Boiling Water & Lamb Shanks

2014: My Annus Horribilis

I will never forget this year. From the beginning to the end, there has been little respite from health and personal issues. But all in all, I’m grateful that my mom is still with us, improving, albeit slowly, and things are moving forward (although currently she’s still in hospital and still in ICU once again). I’ve had the opportunity to spend more time with my parents than I have in the last 10 years, for which I’m grateful. Yes, unfortunately it’s been under a very stressful, painful and heartbreaking situation, but still I’m thankful to be able to be by their side and be able to help them every day.

This year has also marked the end of my 10-year relationship with an abusive husband. I am somewhat apprehensive and embarrassed to share this because there’s always the stigma attached to these type of relationships, where not only do I blame myself but I believe others think I’ve been blind, stupid and at fault as well. When I finally made the decision and shared my story with family and friends, a number of friends surprised me and told me about their same stories. I’ve come to realise that it was never my fault and that domestic violence doesn’t distinguish between levels of intelligence, education, social-economic status, backgrounds, nationalities, “races” if you will… it can happen to any one of us alike. And we all have one thing in common: we cover it up because it’s viewed in society as something shameful. We may not all be as lucky as Nigella Lawson to have the money with which to get out and reinvent ourselves quickly, but even in her case it would appear her decision also took time. And she’s an intelligent, beautiful, successful woman.

I compare the story of all of us who have endured this scourge of society with the tale of the Frog in Boiling Water. If you place a frog in boiling water, it will instinctively jump out. Naturally, it senses the danger. But if you place a frog in cold water and turn up the heat gradually, by the time the water is boiling, it will be too late for the frog to realise the deadly predicament it is in and it will be unable to jump out. Victims of domestic violence become trapped into these relationships in a complex array of psychological, emotional, and oftentimes financial abuse. The less fortunate also endure physical abuse. I was lucky. He never hit me although he threatened it often…

But that’s history now. I look forward to a new year and a new life, one where I will succeed Deo Volente because I am determined to so do. And this past experience both with my relationship and with my mother’s health situation has only made me stronger, more resilient. I’ve learned that I have a fortitude that I never thought existed or was possible. And I’m going to take advantage of that realisation to keep going forward.

My HERO

Since June, when my mother had her open-heart surgery to replace two valves and repair two arteries, we have been in and out of hospitals in NYC and Connecticut. My mother has endured multiple complications from a near death episode right after her first discharge to pleural effusions to mistakes made with medications to a sternal wound infection, which is now being treated. Throughout the whole thing, she’s been a trouper, showing all of us that her strength is admirable even to the doctors and nurses who care for her. They are constantly telling us this.

My mom was already my hero before this year. She is the most wonderful person I know. Yes, I am biased like most of you are with your parents and children. But my mother is the most selfless, kind, compassionate, empathetic, loving, understanding and honest person I know. (My father comes in a close second ;)). She has endured other hardships in life which could have made her a bitter person, yet she focused that energy in being a good person and ensuring my brother and I grew up in a loving environment never burdened by her previous suffering. For that I am grateful and for that she has my utmost admiration. And for that, she is my hero and always will be.

2015

I welcome this new year with open arms and am hopeful the tides will change for the positive in health and in happiness. I know we are not the only ones suffering for our loved ones. I have a number of friends battling cancer and other problems. I pray for them and for us so that the new year brings us all good health. 

I want to THANK YOU all for being here, for accompanying me on my journey through a Paleo lifestyle, and for not giving up on me when I’ve not been able to interact with you on a regular basis in the past year.

I wish you all a very healthy, happy, prosperous and love-filled New Year 2015!

With love,

Debra xx

PS: I was able to go on one walk in the past months. I now share with you some images of where we are staying in Connecticut and of my parents little buddy, Kiko, who cheers us up every day when we come home from hospital.

*****

In the last few months, I’ve “gone back to basics” in a lot of my cooking because that’s what my parents mostly enjoy. I share with you now a dish that they both love and have asked me to make a number of times.

It couldn’t be easier and simpler to make. It’s takes a little bit of planning to ensure you have 2 to 2 1/2 hours for cooking the meat, but other than that, there’s little else to it. (I’ve actually gotten up early to make this before leaving for the hospital.)

The natural flavours of the lamb, enhanced by the wine and a little bit of rosemary, don’t require more than some sea salt to come out. And the resulting sauce which is turned into a rich gravy is the cherry on the pie. You can swap the vegetables for others that you may like or that are in season.

Roasted Lamb Shanks with Vegetables

Ingredients (for 2-3):

  • 2 lamb shanks
  • 2 medium onions, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 6-7 garlic cloves, unpeeled
  • 3 medium carrots, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 60ml (1/4 cup) olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons grassfed butter or ghee
  • 250ml (1 cup) red wine
  • 1 tablespoon rosemary or 3-4 sprigs fresh rosemary
  • 1 liter (4 cups) filtered water
  • 3 medium potatoes, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 4-5 medium mushrooms, cut in halves, or 10-12 small button mushrooms whole
  • 1-2 tablespoons tapioca flour/arrowroot powder
  • sea salt and freshly ground pepper

Method:

Rinse the lamb shanks and season on both sides with sea salt and freshly ground pepper. Set aside while you prepare the vegetables.

Preheat the oven to 200C (390F).

In a large pot that is ovenproof, place the olive oil, butter/ghee, onions, garlic, carrots, and lamb shanks. Over medium heat, cook stirring frequently until the shanks are golden brown. Make sure to turn them the shanks over a few times. I like to use a spatula-like wooden spoon, so I can scoop from the bottom and not break the vegetables in the process.

Once the shanks are browned, add the red wine and simmer for 2-3 minutes to reduce. Add the rosemary, water and potatoes and give it all a good stir. Place the ovenproof pot in the preheated oven. Roast for 2-2 1/2 hours, checking every once in a while and turning the shanks over a couple of times.

Remove from oven and take the shanks and vegetables out of the pot. Set them aside on serving plates and cover, to retain the heat.

For the Gravy:

Place the pot over medium heat and bring to a bubble. Scoop out a few tablespoons of the juices into a glass and add the tapioca/arrowroot flour. Mix well so the flour is completely dissolved. Pour this mixture into the pot and stir well. Add the mushrooms. Cook, stirring constantly until the sauce is thickened and a gravy is formed, about 5-7 minutes. (I used 1 1/2 tablespoons of tapioca flour for a medium thick gravy. Adjust to your liking.) Season with sea salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste.

Uncover the shanks and the vegetables. Pour some of the gravy with the mushrooms over the lamb shanks and the remaining into a gravy bowl. Garnish with some sprigs of thyme if desired. Serve the shanks and vegetables immediately.

*****

Jarretes de Cordero al Horno con Verduras

Ingredientes (para 2-3):

  • 2 jarretes de cordero
  • 2 cebollas medianas, peladas y cortadas a trozos medianos
  • 6-7 dientes de ajo, enteros sin pelar
  • 3 zanahorias medianas, peladas y cortadas a trozos medianos
  • 60ml aceite de oliva
  • 2 cucharadas (soperas) de mantequilla de vaca o ghee
  • 250ml de vino rojo
  • unas espigas de romero fresco o 1 cucharada (sopera) de romero seco
  • 1 litro de agua
  • 3 patatas medianas, peladas y cortadas a trozos medianos
  • 4-5 champiñones grandecitos, limpios y cortados a cuartos, dejad aparte; o 10-12 champiñones pequeños enteros
  • 1-2 cucharadas (soperas) de harina de tapioca o harina de arrurruz
  • sal marina y pimienta fresca, a gusto

Como hacer los jarretes al horno:

Enjuagamos los jarretes y salpimentamos por ambos lados. Dejamos los jarretes apartados mientras preparamos las verduras.

Precalentamos el horno a 200C.

En una olla grande que se pueda meter al horno (como un Le Creuset por ejemplo), echamos el aceite, la mantequilla o ghee, las cebollas, los ajos, zanahorias y los jarretes. Sobre fuego mediano, salteamos moviendo frecuentemente hasta que los jarretes estén bien dorados.

Un vez que los jarretes estén dorados, agregamos el vino rojo y hervimos a fuego lento unos 2-3 minutos para que se reduzca. Añadimos el romero, el agua y las patatas y removemos bien. Ponemos la olla dentro del horno y asamos todo unas 2 a 2 1/2 horas, dandole la vuelta a los jarretes un par de veces.

Sacamos todo del horno y sacamos los jarretes y las verduras de la olla. Ponemos el jarrete en un plato para servir y las verduras en otro plato. Cubrimos los dos platos para que no se nos enfrie nada.

Para el Gravy/Salsa:

Ahora ponemos la olla sobre la hornilla a fuego mediano hasta que empiece a hervir. Sacamos un poco del jugo y lo echamos en un vaso. Le agregamos la harina de tapioca y removemos hasta que la harina este bien disuelta. Echamos esta mezcla dento de la olla y movemos todo bien. Agregamos los champiñones. Cocemos, removiendo continuamente, hasta que obtengamos una salsa espesa, como gravy. (Yo use 1 1/2 cucharadas-soperas-de harina de tapioca para un gravy de espesor mediano. Ajustad a vuestro gusto.) Salpimentar a gusto.

Destapamos los jarretes y las verduras. Echamos un poco del gravy con los champiñones sobre los jarretes y el restante gravy lo ponemos en una salsera. Decoramos con unas espigas de tomillo fresco, si lo deseamos. Servimos los jarretes y las verduras inmediatamente.

Only Count the Happy Hours & Rustic Tomato Soup w/ Seared Scallops

A Particularly Nonfacetious Summer with Musical Houses

Summer has come and gone, and I’ve barely noticed. First, “just the beginning” of the scorching summer heat came upon us in Sevilla from one day to the next. Once that happens, it’s generally hot (by hot I mean 40s and 40+ Celsius) for the rest of the season until the end of September. But I left in June, so I guess that I was lucky to escape the torture. Then, the humid air, fetid odours and exciting rapid lifestyle of NYC I had forgotten about enveloped me on my daily journeys to New York Presbyterian Hospital, all of June and July. And lastly, the serene and peaceful breeze of the Southeastern Connecticut shore, where we have been graced with some gorgeous Indian Summer days in the past few weeks, has finally brought the summer of 2014 to an end.

Although we’ve had an intense season, not necessarily delightful and recharging as we all would’ve hoped, time has also flown by and I barely noticed the weather most of the time, or better said, I didn’t have the opportunity to enjoy it much. As summers go, mine has been chilly and basically without sunshine. In fact, I’ve been wearing sweaters most of the summer since I was indoors at the hospital taking care of and accompanying my mother, who had open heart surgery in June. After numerous complications, an almost near-death episode, transport in helicopter from New London to Yale, New Haven and then back to NYC, rehab a number of times, and another stint in the hospital in August, she’s finally home in Connecticut with us and doing much better. She’s still convalescing and there are still issues, but she’s thankfully getting stronger with each day.

Connecticut has welcomed us again. It’s like a second home for me, as I’ve spent the most time here after Spain, and my brother and his family live here. And after some house-hopping (truly it’s felt like musical houses) since March for me and since June for my parents who have been living in Florida until now, we are finally in a house which will be their home until next June. They are renting a place on Groton Long Point, where winter rentals come furnished and one can can have the beach to oneself, a luxury which I love since my days growing up in Chipiona, Spain. The seashore in Connecticut is highly sought-after in the summer months and rentals can go for as much as $20,000 a month. Thankfully, in the winter the prices are much more reasonable. This is our third time renting on GLP. The first time we were here, we had just arrived from Spain when my father retired. I decided to join them and look into graduate schools, as well as help my mother get over the sorrow of losing my grandmother. Spanish families are very tight-knit, and in my case, my parents are probably my best friends; and although I’m not an only child, the age difference between my brother and me is big enough to make me feel like one oftentimes. And maybe because I’m the “baby”, I’m also closer to my parents. So, it felt rather natural to accompany them.

I was still living with my parents when they decided to get a bespoke house in Mystic made and once again, we rented during the winter months in GLP while the house was being built. It was on that occasion that I recall witnessing the crazy tradition of the New Year’s dip in the frigid waters of the North Atlantic. I discovered that it’s not only the Dutch and Scandinavians who do this, but that there are also brave souls in America who enjoy an icy dip to welcome the new year.

I’m hoping the third time on this peninsula is a charm and brings us all good luck, which we need. I won’t be staying with them the whole time, but for now I’m still here helping my mother recuperate from the operation. She’s finally walking with more confidence, although still with the walker. And she’s also less depressed. This house has a good vibe, with lots of light and open spaces, which afford her the room to exercise.

Rainy Days, Scallops, & Happy Hours 

After the gorgeous Indian Summer, which the locals were cautiously praising, the rains finally arrived.  The day we moved into this house, it was pouring and my mother and I had to wait in the car until it was less intense to be able to maneuver the stairs.  Such ordinary things as a step or stairs are huge obstacles for someone who needs to learn how to walk again. We never thought that the aftermath of the surgery would be so difficult for her and us.

A few days ago on one of our medical outings, we made a small detour and visited Sea Well near Mason’s Island. Mason’s Island is an island on the Mystic River and part of the town of Mystic. It’s an exclusive community, maybe not quite as private as Groton Long Point, but also very beautiful. It’s here that Meryl Streep’s parents had their retirement home. And it wasn’t unusual to see the actress around town, although I never had the pleasure. Mystic is very popular with the NY crowd and one can sometimes spot a famous or well-known person camouflaged amongst the locals. I remember one day walking on Main Street and bumping into the talented Mexican soap opera star Nailea Norvind at one of the shops. She was with her mother, who I learned that day lived in NYC back then, and the two were speaking in English. So in an unusual gesture for me, I approached her to let her know I admired her acting skills.

Sea Well is a local fish and seafood shop. They have two stores, one in Mystic on Mason’s Island Road, and one in Pawcatuck. The seafood is delivered fresh daily from the Stonington docks and the last commercial fishing fleet in Connecticut. My brother and his family are patrons of Sea Well and sometimes even suppliers. My brother’s passion and main hobby is fishing. And he goes out often during the warm months and usually comes back with tons of tuna, some of which in turn he sells to the owners of Sea Well.

So, when my sister-in-law and nieces recommended buying seafood there, I didn’t hesitate. And naturally, we went for local scallops. I could only purchase three quarters of a pound, as that’s all that was left on Wednesday afternoon. And if I hadn’t arrived just in time, the lady who followed me in would’ve snatched them up. She seemed as disappointed as I would’ve been when the shopkeeper told her there were none left, that I had just taken the last bunch. I love scallops. And my parents do too. (By the way, Sea Well has delicious smoked bluefish and salmon that they prepare and smoke themselves. I highly recommend both.)

It has been an ordeal to get my mother enthusiastic about food. She’s been eating only for nourishment and she’s been forcing herself at best. The only food she has requested has been sushi! We’ve therefore had take out from some local restaurants a number of times… the rest of us savouring it as much as she has.

She simply has not been enjoying any of her meals. But with the move to this house, things have started to change in a positive direction and not only with food. The house as I’ve mentioned gives off a good vibe. It’s clean, with lots of white, blue and green furniture in a coastal decor, and tons of light. There are windows everywhere. In fact, at night I’m sure our neighbours are checking us out from their homes, until I remember to put the shades down. The owners have a number of watercolour paintings from local artists and many little wooden signs in pastel colours. Some are rather cute, like the one in the bathroom that says, “If you’re not barefoot, you’re overdressed.” The entrance of the house has a lovely sunroom, surrounded by windows on all three walls, again with the blue, green and white decor, and a bunch of rustic wooden signs, a few stating that life’s better at the beach, another welcomes the visitor and let’s us know we are on the porch, yet another says there’s no vacancy. And then there’s the one over the front door that reads, “Only Count the Happy Hours.” I like that, especially after the rough year we are having. I can’t wait to meet the owners as I already like them from how the house has influenced my mother’s mood.

My mother is walking on her own (albeit with the walker) and is more engaged in her rehab exercises. She’s talking more. And she’s been helping me peel and cut things in the kitchen. She’s a keen and excellent cook from whom I’ve learned most of what I know; and she keeps wondering out loud when she’ll be able to make meals for my father and herself again.  Thus her voluntary (and enthusiastic) involvement with the preparation of our meals is a good sign in her continued recovery.

She is also finally taking pleasure in eating and she’s cleaning off her plates! We had the scallops we bought at Sea Well yesterday. I dry-pan seared them and served them with oven-roasted rosemary and garlic potatoes (I must share the recipe when I make them again) and some broccoli. And today, I used up the remaining scallops with a light, tomato soup which was very appropriate for the wet and chilly day. My mother cleaned off her bowl and kept saying how delicious it was, which very pleasantly surprised my father and me. We are taking one day at a time, or maybe even one hour at a time, and counting only the happy ones…and relishing in each other’s company, sharing healthy and delicious meals and sobremesa (after-meal) conversations.

*A few days after writing this post, my mother had to go back to the hospital due to complications with her medications. Thankfully, after only a week this time, she’s back home and much stronger.

*****

With all the attention my mother needs and all the stress I’m going through right now, I cannot concentrate on one of my dearest hobbies, reading books, and I have a few new ones patiently waiting for me to pick them up and immerse myself in their stories. Instead, I’ve been able to muster just enough patience to read food magazines. This recipe is inspired by one in the August 2014 issue of Bon Appétit. My sister-in-law and nieces swear by this magazine and the owners of the house had a copy laying around. So, I am putting it to good use.

I like roasting vegetables and fruits, as the flavour is intensified and it gives any dish a rustic feel. For the recipe today, I roasted tomatoes, which I especially love to do for soups and sauces. When one adds roasted garlic, it becomes even more delectable. And if my mother wanted seconds, I think you will too…

This soup is very easy to make and can even be made ahead of time. It’s light enough for a starter yet filling enough for a main course, depending on how many scallops (or fish) you want to add.

RUSTIC ROASTED TOMATO SOUP & PAN-SEARED SCALLOPS

Ingredients:

(serves 4)

16 small scallops (4 pp, or more or less according to your preference)
4 medium organic tomatoes, cut in quarters
8-10 garlic cloves, unpeeled
4-6 fresh basil leaves for roasting, plus 4-5 additional for the soup and garnishing if desired
1/2 tablespoon dried basil
sea salt & pepper, to taste
1 ñora (or other dried, sweet pepper), soaked in water for about 20 minutes
olive oil, about 3-4 tablespoons, plus more for drizzle
2 cups water
raw milk goat’s cheese, crumbled

Method:

For the soup:

Preheat the oven to 400F (200C).

Place the tomatoes, drained ñora, and garlic cloves on an ovenproof dish. Sprinkle with dried basil and add 4-6  fresh basil leaves, season with salt and pepper, and pour olive oil over top. Mix with hands so everything is well coated. Bake for 30-35 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Remove from oven and discard the ñora. Separate the garlic cloves and peel; this is easily done by holding down one end and with a fork pushing the clove out of the peel. Transfer the peeled garlic cloves and the remaining ingredients including the juices into a pot. Add two cups of water. With a potato masher, mash to crush the tomatoes and cloves a bit further but not too much. Add additional 4-5 fresh basil leaves. Over medium heat, bring to a slight bubble, then reduce heat and simmer for 5 minutes. Taste and season with further salt and pepper, if necessary.

For the scallops:

Rinse the scallops and pat dry them with a paper towel. Sprinkle some sea salt and freshly ground pepper over the scallops.

While the soup cooks, heat over medium-high heat an iron pan. Grease the bottom with olive oil and a paper towel, and sear the scallops briefly on each side, about 1-2 minutes. Set aside. The scallops can also be made in advance.

To assemble:

Pour the soup into four bowls. Add 4 scallops to each bowl and sprinkle with crumbled goat’s cheese. Garnish with a drizzle of olive oil and some freshly ground pepper. Serve immediately.

*****

SOPA RUSTICA DE TOMATES HORNEADOS CON VIEIRAS A LA SARTEN

Ingredientes:

(para 4)

16 vieiras pequeñas (4 por persona, o mas o menos según guste)
4 tomates orgánicos, cortados a cuartos
8-10 dientes de ajo, sin pelar
4-6 hojas de albahaca fresca para hornear, mas unas cuantas adicionales para la sopa
1/2 cucharada sopera de albahaca seca
sal marina & pimienta fresca, a gusto
1 ñora, puesta en remojo unos 20 minutos
aceite de oliva, unas 3-4 cucharadas soperas, y un poco mas para rociar la sopa
500ml de agua
un poco de queso de cabra, desmoronado

Metodo:

Para la sopa:

Precalentamos el horno a 200C.

Ponemos los tomates, la ñora, los dientes de ajo, y las hojas de albahaca en un recipiente para el horno. Espolvoreamos con la albahaca seca, salpimentamos y echamos el aceite de oliva por encima. Removemos con las manos para que todo quede bien cubierto. Horneamos unos 30-35 minutos, removiendo unas cuantas veces.

Cuando saquemos la bandeja del horno, nos deshacemos de la ñora y pelamos los dientes de ajos. Pasamos los ajos pelados y los demás ingredientes, incluyendo el jugo, a una olla. Agregamos el agua y con un machacador de patatas, machacamos para deshacer un poco mas los tomatoes y los ajos. Agregamos unas hojas de albahaca fresca. Sobre fuego medio, llegamos a una ebullición, bajamos la lumbre y cocinamos unos 5 minutos a fuego lento. Probamos el caldo y salpimentamos de nuevo si fuera necesario.

Para las vieiras:

Enjuagamos las vieiras y las secamos con un papel de cocina. Salpimentamos.

Ponemos una sartén de hierro a calentar sobre fuego medio-alto. Cuando este bien caliente, engrasamos el fondo con un papel de cocina y un poco de aceite de oliva. Doramos las vieiras, 1-2 minutos por cada lado. Apartamos las vieiras y las conservamos en un plato, sin tapar, hasta servir con la sopa.

Para presentar:

Dividimos la sopa en cuatro porciones. Colocamos 4 vieiras por persona en cada plato sopero, y espolvoreamos con los trozos  del queso de cabra. Rociamos cada plato con un poco de aceite de oliva, y echamos un poquito de pimienta fresca a cada plato. Servimos la sopa inmediatamente.

Lust for Life Reclaimed & Honey-Roasted Rosemary Pork Chops

A few months ago, I started reading Paradise Reclaimed, an Icelandic novel by Halldór Laxness.  I have yet to finish it…but today, made me think of the moral behind the tale in Laxness’ novel.

I was thinking about how sometimes we must take a long journey to get us where we want or should be and to give us that depth of palette, that we would not have achieved otherwise and with which we paint our canvas of life.  At times for some of us, the road can be tumultuous, full of bumps, twists and turns, and paths that maybe we wished we had not taken but from which we cannot turn around. And then other routes appear that we are afraid or unable to take; and yet, when we actually take the leap and grab the proverbial “bull by the horns”, we are lead down a path to magical places…places we have longed for…places that provide wings for our souls to soar…

I haven’t written on the blog since 14 February. Since then and some time towards the end of 2013, I have lived through some intense experiences and mixed emotions, which finally propelled me to take a decision that I should have taken long ago. But as we say in Spain, “agua pasada no mueve molinos” (water past does not move the mill), so regretting the past will lead me nowhere useful.

Today, I write from my lovely Seville, the city where my mother grew up, where many of my aunts, uncles and cousins live, where I am rekindling old friendships, and rediscovering wonderful treasures.  I have been here since the beginning of March, when my cousins went to London to bring me home to ensure I would be in a safe and protected environment.

At first, I experienced some culture shock. Yes! Truly! It’s a strange sensation feeling like an ex-pat in the country that saw me grow up. Plus my mind and body were fighting the idea of being forced into a situation that I had not planned. But slowly, just like the heat of the sun has warmed up my skin, the comfort and warmth of my family and friends have let the light shine in my soul anew. And I have fallen in love with life all over again. I’ve found the lust for life, which long ago dissipated and slipped through my hands, slowly, like the melting snow in the Spring sun.

I’m getting divorced.

I cannot and will not go into why now. Maybe one day I will be able to; and when that day comes, I know that I will be able to assist other women who are in similar situations to the one I have endured. In fact, I am thinking of setting up a foundation.

But for now, all I can say is that the path in front of me, although filled with uncertainties and a few more foreseeable twists and turns, as well as bumps, is also filled with enchanting and magical surprises and a lot of life’s little pleasures.

And maybe it’s very possible that Sevilla has been the perfect medicine for me! I guess things do happen for a reason…

And speaking of Sevilla, I am trying my utmost best to don the glasses of a tourist here. It may seem like an easy task.. but it’s actually a daunting one for me. And maybe it’s my state of mind and emotions. Or maybe it’s simply the fact that it’s hard to incorporate a freshness to my view that is only really attainable when something is new and untapped. Either way… I’m on a mission to rediscover old places and discover those I’ve yet to experience.

One of my new discoveries is El Mercado de los Jueves, on Calle Feria. It’s not a new market. In fact, it’s the oldest running market in Sevilla, dating from the 1400s. My mother was very excited when I shared with her that I intended to go. She used to work as a teenager on Calle Correduria and made a point every Thursday after work to head that way and explore the market. But I had never been. And now, I’ve been twice. And I’m beginning to feel an addiction…

And quite possibly, I don’t exaggerate (exaggeration is a very typical Andalusian trait by the way). As the fact is that I plan on going back again. The market is full of interesting, and oftentimes valuable, antiques, handmade crafts, books, old flamenca dresses, collectible items, and embroidered linens. There’s also a spattering of quite a bit of junk from the 1980s and 1990s. But if you skip over that (unless that’s your thing), there are some good finds to be had.

On my second visit, I went with two friends from high school who are revisiting Spain after many years. So, we toured the market together and even bought some antique goblets and a primitive coal iron (for only 8 euros!) from a sleek but rather nice gypsy and some pan de oro mirrors (although these I think were just painted instead of made with gold leaf as we kept being told) from two artisan brothers who were arguing that they couldn’t offer us a deal on three mirrors because each brother sells his own wares, although they display them together. Sometimes Spaniards are as square-minded as Germans are known to be! 😉

We also saw quite impressive Meissen plates (the dealer said they dated from the late 1800s, but unless you’re an expert, who knows?), antique pieces from church altarpieces, old wooden picture frames, silver and alpaca ware…and the vendors are just as colourful as what they sell. There are gypsies, Portuguese art collectors, some hippies, a few pijos, and a lot of bohemians…you may even get a whiff of some hashish around a few of the stands! Overall, it’s a really fun and interesting way to spend a Thursday morning in the city.

From there, we ventured off into the Mercado de la Calle Feria, the street’s namesake food market, where one can purchase fresh, daily local produce, meats, seafood from Huelva and Cádiz, and specialty items.

As we exited the market through the back entrance, we were greeted by the beautiful mudéjar (Moorish) casa-palacio from the Marquess of La Algaba. The entrance is free, so we ventured in.

It was constructed during the XV and XVI centuries and although it’s gone through various owners and some periods of decadence, it is now fully restored to its original splendor and houses the Center for Mudéjar Art. As with all moorish palaces, the sensation of peace and tranquility, as well as exquisite quality of life, transpire through the pores of the ancient stone walls and sun-drenched interior gardens, offering a magical oasis to the visitor.

In Andalucía, the influence of Islamic and posterior Mudéjar and Mozarabe art, architecture, and culture still permeate today in our way of life, our food and even our language…. it creates that allure, the enchantment, and the duende that we all have a hard time describing, but which captures us all upon our first experiences. And it has recaptured me now and given me back that lust for life long gone.

Of course, my family and friends have been a huge catapult and essential part for reclaiming that joie de vivre too.

And anyway, today I wanted to share with you the reason why I have been absent, the current course of my life and to let you know that Inshallah – God willing, Ganesha willing, Santa Angela & San Nicholas willing ;), I’m here (whether that is London or Sevilla or another location only time will tell) to stay and will soon be sharing more Paleo recipes with all of you…

…the black cloud lingering over my head is not entirely gone yet, although the winds of change have started to blow it away and allow some rays of light to shine on me.

I’m going through a metamorphosis, which I hope and pray will allow me to come alive again with more strength, new ideas and above all, a much happier and healthier state of mind and body that will all positively influence my work and the things I share with all of you.

In the meantime, please bare with me, have a little patience, and don’t give up on The Saffron Girl… 😉

Love, Debra

PS: The following recipe is inspired by my Andalucía, and it’s equally good or even better made with lamb.

HONEY ROASTED ROSEMARY PORK CHOPS WITH OVEN BAKED POTATOES, A 30-MINUTE MEAL

Ingredients, for 2:

4 pork chops or more, if using lamb chops instead
3-4 medium potatoes, peeled and roughly sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
olive oil, about 1/2 tablespoon
rosemary, about 1 1/2 teaspoons
raw honey, about 1 1/2 to 2 teaspoons
coarse sea salt, to taste

Method:

Preheat oven to 180C (350F). In an oven proof dish, place the rinsed pork chops.

With your hands, add a few dollops of raw honey to each pork chop. Sprinkle with rosemary, the minced garlic and sea salt. Add the potatoes to the dish and drizzle olive oil over everything. Add some additional sea salt over the potatoes, as well as a sprinkling of additional rosemary.

Bake for 25-30 minutes. Serve with another vegetable if desired.

*****

CHULETAS DE CERDO, AL HORNO CON MIEL Y ROMERO, Y PATATAS, UN PLATO HECHO EN 30 MINUTOS

Ingredientes, para 2:

4 chuletas de cerdo
3-4 patatas medianas, peladas y cortadas a gajos
2 dientes de ajos, picados
aceite de oliva, como 1/2 cucharada grande
romero, como 1 cucharadita y media
miel cruda, como 1 cucharadita y media a 2 cucharaditas
sal marina, a gusto

Como hacer las chuletas al horno:

Precalentamos el horno a 180C. En un recipiente para el horno, ponemos las chuletas, ya enjuagadas. Con las manos, le echamos unas gotitas de miel cruda por encima de cada chuleta. Espolvoreamos con un poco de romero, le echamos un poco de sal y los dientes de ajos, previamente picados.

Agregamos las patatas al recipiente y echamos un chorreón de aceite de oliva por encima de las patatas y las chuletas. Espolvoreamos con un poco mas de romero y sal por encima de las patatas.

Horneamos unos 25 a 30 minutos. Se puede servir con otra verdura, si lo deseamos.

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