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Category: spring

(Re)Discovering Rota, Spain & Costa Ballena {Arranque Roteño}

If someone would’ve told me years ago that Rota was worthy of being considered an international tourist destination, I probably would’ve looked at them with incredulity. It never occurred to me during all those years going to school on the Rota Naval Base that Rota was anything more than a little, sleepy agricultural and fishing town, situated in a strategic location for the Spanish and American military and the neighbour of my little Chipiona. Of course, I knew there was some sort of history there seeped in the stones of the old castle, in the walls of the main church, and in the rocks of the corrales. But from kindergarten through high school, I never really gave it much thought.

Rota for me, like for many other kids who grew up with me, was a beach playground and a place to go bar-hopping and disco dancing with friends. (Yes, I actually said disco.) And Costa Ballena, now a golf and residential resort, was where I used to hang out on a farm that belonged to family friends. A large portion of the land used for the golf course and the resort belonged to a cousin of the former King of Spain from the House of Orleans-Borbón. The rest of the land belonged to this family, who are our friends. On these grounds, I used to go horse-back riding, play in the hay stacks, and catch erizos de mar (sea urchins), which we would cut up right there on the beach and eat raw with a squirt of lemon juice.

After leaving Spain in 1997, it was many years before I came back to visit the area. In fact, the last time I went to our friends’ farm, I got lost because the roads had ‘changed on me’! Part of their farm remains the same as when I used to hop inside the pigsty to pet piglets and carefully feed the mommies or walk amongst the cows in the stable. I used to also feed the geese, although I was terrified of them because I knew their bites could hurt. And it was from this farm that I got my beloved little Marilyn, the bunny rabbit who was my pet until she grew into too much of a nuisance to have at home and we had to bring her back there. Our friend Francisco bit off the top of one of her ears so that we could tell her apart from the rest of the bunnies when I would visit. It turned out that the tiny act of cruelty had been unnecessary since little Marilyn used to come hopping to see me as soon as she heard my voice calling out her name. I don’t know what ended up happening to her.. or maybe it’s better than I don’t remember. But Luisa and Juan’s farm was my animal haven growing up. And Francisco’s older brothers were probably my brother’s first local friends.

So maybe you can imagine my astonishment when I now visit Rota and Costa Ballena and find an entirely different world from what my memory holds true. But just like when the Americans ‘landed’ in Spain and the Base was opened in 1953, the changes that come with this development progress have been more than positive for the Villa de Rota and Costa Ballena.

A few weekends ago, I had the privilege of rediscovering Rota at the hand of Descubre Rota, Rota’s tourism office. I was invited on a blog trip by my good friend Teresa, who pens the travel blog El Faro de la Jument and is one of the original members of the Andalucia Travel Bloggers Association.

I invite you to read on, to get acquainted (or reacquainted for some) with this lovely seaside town, maybe learn a few not-so-well-known facts, and discover Costa Ballena with me.

The Necropolis. Long before the Americans arrived in Rota, even before the Spanish Conquistadores landed in what is now the Dominican Republic to claim the discovery of the Americas for Spain, way long before then, there were other peoples who made this land their land. Who knows where they came from, maybe Northern Africa, or maybe they were the Phoenicians who sailed from the eastern most regions of the Mediterranean Sea and settled in the Iberian Peninsula. Whoever they were, they lived and died here. And some of them built a necropolis sometime during the Atlantic Bronze Age. During the construction of the Naval Base (which is actually a Spanish military base), the necropolis was discovered. It is the oldest archeological find in Rota; and because the the building of the Base had to continue, the artifacts were relocated. Some can now be seen at the Rota City Hall, inside the Castillo de Luna.

Corrales de Pesca. For a long time, it was thought that the Phoenicians – those savvy, commercial, sea-faring people –  had been the designers of the fishing corrals that shape the Rota and Chipiona coastline. But it seems like historians cannot agree on the origins of this sustainable form of fishing. So, although they are ancient, we cannot discern whether we should be thankful to the Phoenicians, the Romans, or the Moors for creating a way of life that continues to this day. Between Rota and Chipiona, there are eight corrales still in existence. To-day, they have been declared as a natural monument, the first in Andalusia; and hence they are now also protected. Many species of fish and mollusks live inside the walls and many others find their way in when the tide is high and get trapped when the tide recedes. The corrals were made with sandstone and lumachelle, a type of limestone containing fragments of shells and fossilized animals, which is commonly found in the area. It is not unusual to see house façades in Rota and Chipiona decorated with piedra ostionera, which is local name for the lumachelle. In fact, our former house in Chipiona has an outside zocalo made of piedra ostionera. One can learn more about this type of aqua-culture and visit the corrales by booking a guided tour with the tourism office of Rota.

Castillo de Luna. Rota’s more modern history is closely linked to that of Moorish Andalusia and the Christian Reconquest of Spain. Rota’s castle was first constructed on top of the remnants of a Moorish Ribat, which gave the town its Moorish name Rabeta Ruta. In 1297, after the Moors have been expelled from Spain, King Fernando IV of Castille grants all the lands between the Guadalquivir and the Guadalete rivers to Don Alfonso Pérez de Guzman, otherwise known as Guzman el Bueno, for his heroic efforts defending the city of Tarifa in the name of the Crown. These lands are comprised of Sanlúcar de Barrameda, Chipiona, and Rota, where Guzman erects his castle and settles. A few years later, in 1303, Guzman’s daughter marries a Ponce de León and becomes part of the Spanish royal family. As her dowry, she is given the entire Villa de Rota, including of course the castle. In 1477, King Fernando and Queen Isabel, better known as the Reyes Católicos and as the unifiers of Spain, visited Andalusia and stayed at the Castillo de Luna. Since then, the castle has passed through various hands and has served various functions, from being the family seat of the Casa de Arcos, to being the summer home of the Marquis of San Marcial (who purchased it for 15,000 pesetas in 1909), to housing a school and hospital owned by the “Marquis of Villapesadilla” (who purchased it for 200,000 pesetas in 1943). In 1982, the religious community in charge of managing the school and the hospital abandons the building and it falls into disrepair. In 1999, after 11 years of renovation, it reopens it doors as the municipal palace. Today it houses the City Hall of Rota and the Office of Tourism. The Castillo de Luna can be visited by booking a guided tour at the tourism office inside.

Muralla. The remnants of the wall that surrounded the town at one time are still standing and visible facing the municipal marina, not too far from the central market, facing Calle Pasadilla. One could almost miss noticing the wall, if it weren’t for a small sign on the side facing the street. The town has planned to open a walking street alongside so it can be properly enjoyed. In the meantime, one can view it from behind a metal gate of sorts. But it’s definitely worth a stop and a look. The wall was constructed with lumechella, the same type of limestone used for the corrales and the many façades one sees in the town of Rota. The old wall used to separate the town and farms of Rota from the port and is thought to have been first constructed by the Tartessos. But it’s also been said that it could date from the 12th or 13th century making it Medieval and probably built by the Moors

Iglesia Parroquial de Nuestra Señora de la O. The day we visited Rota, there was a wedding at the Parish Church of Our Lady of the O. Roteños love to get married here, as it’s a very pretty venue; and the palmtree-lined plaza, which borders with one of the stone walls of the castle, creates a beautiful and romantic backdrop for any picture. One of my friends from high school got married here and I’ve been inside numerous times for various events. But I had never seen it from above as on this trip. One can visit the castle and walk on the rooftops, which provide an excellent vantage point of the church’s plaza, the Rota lighthouse, and the iridescent turquoise waters and white sand beaches. The construction of the parish church was finalised in 1537, during the reign of Emperor Charles I. The Ponce de León family paid for the building, which has been an icon of Rota ever since. Inside one can see various architectural styles ranging from Gothic, to Isabelline, to Plateresque and Baroque. Also inside, one can find the patron saint of Rota, Our Lady of the Rosary, whose festivities are celebrated in Rota in October.

Torre de la Merced. This tower is the only architectural remains of the old convent of La Merced, which had been founded by Don Rodrigo Ponce de León in the 17th century. With its brilliantly coloured blue and white tiles, it’s clearly visible from many parts of town and is another cherished symbol of Rota.

Las Playas & La Bandera Azul. Now that we’ve travelled through some of Rota’s most important history, let’s not kid ourselves. Most people today, including the Americans from the Base, come to enjoy the beautiful white sand beaches. Rota is surrounded by 16 long kilometers of beautiful beaches and turquoise waters that look like the Caribbean. From the urban beaches of El Rompidillo (old Garbage Beach to many of my friends) and la Costilla (the most famous and the one that brings back cherished adolescent memories) to the more ‘wild’ El Puntalillo and Punta Candor, which are protected by the pinewood forests, Rota’s coastline is a paradise for beach-goers, swimmers, and wind-surfers. Rota’s clean waters and excellent beaches are usually awarded every year la bandera azul (blue flag) by the European Foundation of Environmental Education. Beaches and marinas that offer a series of environmental conditions and whose infrastructure and installations meet certain standards are distinguished with this prestigious award. This year, Rota’s beaches and marina have been bestowed with a total of ten blue flags!

El Pinar. If there is one characteristic feature of the southern Atlantic coast of the Iberian peninsula, from Spain to Portugal, it’s the forests of the pino piñonero, or the pine nut pine tree. These pine trees grow along the coast and protect the beaches and the sand dunes typical of the region. Rota’s pinar is part of the Natural Park of the Almadraba and has a unique micro-climate, offering a reprieve from the heat during the summer months and protection from the winds coming off of the Atlantic. One can walk or bike through the park along the many walkways made of wood and breathe in the pine-scented fresh air. And if one is lucky, one could find a pinecone filled with pine nuts to take home and eat. My friends, cousins, and I used to go pinecone gathering in the pinar when we were young. We would also pick up palmichas (the fruit of the palmito – Chamaerops humilis – a palm-like plant that grows at the foot of the pine trees in the forests). The palmichas we usually ate in situ under the shade of the pine trees, savouring the fresh, earthy flavours of the white fruit, after cutting off the green leaves with a sharp knife. Needless to say, we were usually accompanied by adults. The pine cones on the other hand we could gather on our own, although we had to take them home to enjoy. Once home, we roasted them in the fire place, letting the sweet aroma permeate the house and fueling our anticipation of enjoying the little cream-coloured nuts, which we could only access after breaking each shell one by one.

Camino Natural Vía Verde De Rota. Rota is a haven for outdoor sports, from swimming, to wind-surfing to horse-back riding, to golfing, to cycling. The town has recuperated the old train tracks that used to go from El Puerto de Santa Maria to Sanlúcar de Barrameda and has converted them into a green way for cyclists. Within the municipality of Rota, one can enjoy 7,8 kilometers of this green way. By the way, rental bikes are available in Rota and Costa Ballena at the Hotel Barceló Costa Ballena from Bicicletas Valdes

Intervenciones por RotaLiterally translated as “Interventions Around Rota”, this initiative founded by a few local artists is very unique. Their mission is to enhance the town with art in unexpected places at unexpected times. The art is permanent, but when it will appear on the streets, the façades of houses, or on any given wall is totally a surprise for the townsfolk. It’s street art in a sophisticated and serendipitous format. We got a tour of all the “interventions” around town. They all have one common denominator: they represent a part of Rota life and intend to make the viewer think deeper. There are ceramic pumpkins, giant snails, two summer lovers separated, a representation of the different people that have made up Rota, a fishing boat filled with rocks (to represent all the refugee children crossing the Mediterranean), and even a street named “bésame en esta esquina” (kiss me on this corner). I dare you to find all 20 of them!

Costa Ballena & Costa Ballena Ocean Golf Club. The Whale Coast takes its name from the beach called Playa Ballena, who in turn was named by fishermen who used to tell a story about what was probably a stranded whale. Legend has it that there was an old whale who circled the world in search of the most beautiful beach and chose these waters off the coast between Rota and Chipiona as its sanctuary. From time to time, whales and other cetaceans have been stranded along these coasts, but none other has been so influential. Costa Ballena, whose lands as I mentioned in the beginning belonged to a family who are our friends and the Duke of Orleans-Borbón, is now a touristic complex and golf course.

Unlike other golf courses in Spain, Costa Ballena Ocean Golf Club was first built as a golf course, and later surrounded by housing and the rest of the complex. The course has 27 championship holes, a 9 hole par3 course, and the best practice facility in Europe according the the PGA of Sweden. The Club was built in 1995 with Spanish Masters champion José María Olazábal as the head of design for golf company Integral Golf Design. The course, which is all Bermuda grass, officially opened its doors in 1997 “to house all levels of competition, starting with the European Tour Second Stage Qualifying”. The Cuadrangular Internationals at Costa Ballena, King’s Cup, and Queen’s Cup have been contested here; and it is the official training base for National Teams during the winter months.

Friends of my father play golf at Costa Ballena on a regular basis; and my father played a couple of times before we left Spain. But I had never even stepped foot inside the complex until the other day. I was very pleasantly surprised. It’s a mini-paradise that reminds me of parts of the coast of Málaga, which has traditionally been the jet-set coast par excellence. It has a beautiful park, with waterfall and lakes included, a 4-kilometer long strand of white sand beach, 4 hotels (Hotel Barceló Costa Ballena and Hotel Playa Ballena have great views of the course), bars, restaurants, pubs, and a number of beautiful housing complexes. One could live or stay at Costa Ballena and never have to leave … but then one wouldn’t delight in all the pleasures the Villa de Rota has to offer …

Food & Wine. For a food blog, I couldn’t possible neglect one of the great pleasures of life, now could I? Visiting or living in Rota can be a delight for all senses, and for the palate there is plenty to discover.

Rota is known for its fresh, wild caught seafood, its succulent tomatoes, its calabaza roteña (a native pumpkin variety), and other fresh produce. After all, this town has always been known for its fishing and agriculture, two trades that thankfully have not been lost to progress.

There is an old-timer and a new-kid-on-the-block I would like to highlight and which we had the privilege of visiting on our tour.

Bodegas El Gato. Rota’s oldest winery. It turns out I’ve walked by this winery probably a thousand times, and yet I had never noticed it before. When the Americans arrived in the 1950s, the lands where the Base is located were all farms. Many of these farms were vineyards, some of which cultivated the local grape variety Tintilla. Tintilla is a small, purple grape, from which the sweet, syrupy varietal Tintilla wine is made.

Juan Martínez Martín-Niño, colloquially called “El Gato”, used to have a vineyard on the lands of the Base, where he only grew Tintilla grapes. When the lands were expropriated by the Spanish government, Juan found himself without his vineyard and without a job. Instead of abandoning his profession and passion however, he asked his father to help plant a small farm he had in town with the same grapes. Little by little, Juan’s vineyard grew and eventually in 1957, he opened up the winery, as the only producer of Tintilla wines. It wasn’t all a bed of roses nonetheless, and he had to supplement his income as a taxi driver – a profession that thrived thanks to the Base – for a number of years, until the winery took off.

Today, Juan is one of the few producers of Tintilla wine, a local art form that could’ve been lost if it had not been for his tenacity and perseverance. In his winery, several generations of his family and friends – who are considered extended family – work to keep sustaining this craft. They produce other wines as well, many of which are organic, all are aged in their bodegas, and some of which are still bottled artsinally by hand!

The wines can be purchased directly at the bodega; and they also offer guided tours in English, wine tastings, and flamenco shows. It’s worth a visit and a taste!

El Bucarito. For someone like me, El Bucarito is pure bliss. Where else could I visit an old, working farm, pet newborn kids, play with the mommy goats, watch black-hooved Spanish pigs happily romp around in their sty, have a close up stare down with a golden foal who was a little too timid to let me pet him, and eat organic, raw goat’s cheese and organic, salt cured meats? At El Bucarito, I was transported to my childhood within moments of arriving.

But there’s more to the story and this quaint farm, whose owners started this venture only about 20 years ago with the mission to produce artisanal cheeses in the heart of the Rota farmland. It’s a sustainable, organic farm that makes a variety of cheeses, most of which are raw, with a few of them made from pasteurised milk. They grow Florida goats, Iberico pigs, and horses and donkeys. The old, original farmhouse has been renovated and they offer buffet-style breakfasts, children’s parties, and cheese and cured meat tastings. They also have mini classes on how to make one’s own cheese. It’s a true delight for all ages, and most especially for one’s taste buds.

Back in the town of Rota, there are more places to shop and eat, too many to name in one blog post. But El Mercado de Abastos (the local market) is worth a visit, with its mixture of food stalls and bars (restaurants). We stopped there for a break on our tour and ate some salty, crunchy chicharrones (pork cracklings), sampled some cheeses from Dora’s shop (all organic and raw), and tasted some local, white wines.

The last leg of our weekend was at the Centro de Recuperación de la Mayetería, an educational working farm. Rota farmers used to be called mayetos because they harvested their produce and brought it to market in the month of May, an entire month earlier than most in the region of Jerez. It was an agrarian way of life, that probably originated during Moorish times, when in the 15th century Rota is segregated from Chipiona and becomes its own town. Farmers were given small parcels of land, a choza (thatch-roofed house), and an animal, in return for preserving and exploiting the land as mayetos. The produce they cultivated and harvested became synonymous with Rota. The calabaza roteña (Rota pumpkin), the juicy, red tomato roteño, the green cuerno cabra peppers, the Spanish melon, and the local watermelon were prized produce in the markets of the region. They still are to this day, even as far as Sevilla.

The less fortunate mayetos lived in thatch-roofed wooden huts, whilst those with a little more money could afford a thatch-roofed house made of more sturdy materials. They worked from sunrise to sunset, nurturing and caring for their farmlands with constant love and attention. In addition to this complete dedication to their land, there are a few other factors that aided the mayetos to be able to bring their produce to market earlier than most. The long hours of sunlight, the moderate climate, their peculiar form of irrigation, and an earth rich in silica aided these agriculturists as much as the many hours they spent bent over the fields. Because the land is not very fertile and the silica is very permeable, they watered their carefully tilled liños (rows) by only wetting the surface of the ground and repeating this various times during the day. They carried the water in pointy jarras de barro (clay jugs) that are called jarras de riego.  The mayetos were known for spending most of the day bent over; and many suffered from a deviated column in old age. In the area, this health issue is known as anquilosis vertebral roteña, which goes to show how prevalent it was amongst these farmers from Rota.

It was pure permaculture farming, but with a life full of hardships that we cannot romanticise today. However, The Centro de Recuperación de la Mayetería is trying to ensure this important part of Rota’s history is not lost, that we learn from it, and learn how to collaborate with our environment for the benefit of all of us, including Mother Earth.

Arranque Roteño

From this way of life, a traditional cuisine developed that is still enjoyed today. One of the most iconic dishes known almost exclusively in Rota is arranque roteño, which has a similar base as gazpacho andaluz or salmorejo. This dish, although not really a soup like the gazpacho or a thicker sauce like the salmorejo, is made with tomatoes del tiempo (seasonal fruit), pimientos de cuerno de cabra, garlic, sea salt, extra virgin olive oil, and bread. For the bread you can use gluten-free bread, just make sure if it’s homemade that it is has a neutral flavour like regular bread has. The following recipe was shared by Pilar Ruiz Rodriguez-Rubio, who has her own local food blog, Aprendiendo a Cocinar, where she cooks with her mother, Cristina, and shares traditional recipes from Rota. (I met Pilar during the weekend, since she works at the Rota Office of Tourism; as serendipity would have it, she’s a good friend of a good friend of mine!)

You’ll need a lebrillo (or something similar in which to make the arranque) and pestle-like instrument. This can also be made in a food processor, but it won’t be as traditional, and the flavour may vary somewhat.

Ingredients

1 kilo red tomatoes, preferably of the plum variety (not overly ripe), peeled and roughly chopped
2 or 3 green peppers, preferably of the cuerno de cabra variety (or Roman in the US), torn by hand into small pieces
1 or 2 garlic cloves, peeled
Spanish or French bread, one telera or about 1/2 kilo
extra virgin olive oil
sea salt, to taste

Method

In the lebrillo or mixing dish, using the pestle, crush the peppers, the garlic, and some sea salt. When the peppers are throughly mashed, add the tomatoes. Continuing mashing and mixing until you achieve a homogenous, smooth texture.

Start adding the bread, broken up in small chunks, and continuing mashing. Little by little, add the EVOO to soften up the mixture and the desired consistency* is achieved. Add more sea salt, to taste if necessary.

*The type of bread used is typically a telera, which is a golden loaf of bread, very crusty on the outside with a dry migajón or inside crumb. It can be found in Spanish bread shops and usually weighs about 1/2 kilo. The desired consistency or texture of this dish is much, much thicker than gazpacho (which is really a soup). The arranque is almost like a thick paste and it is eaten with pieces of raw onion or raw peppers used as spoons.

Buen provecho!

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!

Ditch the Wheat {Book Review + Recipe, & Flash Giveaway!}

The Cookbook

Ditch the Wheat, 120 Paleo Recipes for a Gluten Free Lifestyle by Carol Lovett, the author of the Paleo blog Ditch the Wheat (ditchthewheat.com).

First Impressions & The Book’s Offering

As Carol states, this is a cookbook with a simple mission: “To encourage and empower everyone in their journey to find good health, good taste, and to enjoy each bite along the way.” She further emphasises that as you flip through the pages of Ditch the Wheat, “I want you to laugh with me as you read stories, feel inspired as I offer advice, and know – above all – you do not have to sacrifice. With every page I want you to feel as good in your body as I do…[even though]…that wasn’t always the case.”

Carol battled health issues for many years; and it was thanks to her doctor who one day said to her, “Why don’t you ditch the wheat?” that she finally took charge of her own health journey and changed her life forever.

[Read more…] »

The Most Comprehensive Paleo Cookbook in Print, The Ultimate Paleo Cookbook

The Cookbook

The Ultimate Paleo Cookbook by Arsy Vartanian, author of The Paleo Foodie Cookbook, The Paleo Slow Cooker, and the Paleo recipe and lifestyle blog, Rubies and Radishes, and nine other Paleo bloggers: Rachel Ball (Grok Grub), Jenny Castaneda (Paleo Foodie Kitchen), Hannah Healy (Healthy Eats Real), Katja Heino (Savory Lotus), Nazanin Kovács (Naz Kovács, previously Cinnamon Eats), Rachel McClelland (South Beach Primal), Vivica Menegaz (Nourished Caveman), Caroline Potter (Colorful Eats), and Kelly Winters (Primally Inspired).

[Read more…] »

Lemon Honey-Mustard Chicken Thighs

Inspiration can come from anything. Anything at all.

I’m such a reluctant planner, and oftentimes I have hardly any patience in the kitchen. I want to get in and out as quickly as possible. Sort of contradictory, as I love to cook and it relaxes me and makes me lose myself in creative thought.

But lately, with everything that we have going on, including an imminent move, it’s hard to concentrate for too long. Plus, I’m trying to prove to my father that he too can make all these dishes I’m making for us. They really are that easy and simple to make. We’ll see if I am actually successful in my endeavours and he’ll cook for himself…

So the other day, I made this chicken dish which couldn’t be easier to put together and make. I had leftover dressing from a salad (which I’ll share soon) and decided that was the going to be the flavour of the day! Instant inspiration! It includes a slight modification from the salad dressing with the addition of butter and honey to add a little bit of depth. And it uses ingredients that probably most of you regularly have on hand.

Simple. Easy. Quick. Delicious. Father Approved! No planning required. Keeper!

Lemon Honey-Mustard Chicken Thighs

Ingredients, serves 2 or 3

6 organic chicken thighs
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons butter, melted
1 tablespoon wholegrain mustard
juice of 1/4 lemon
coarse sea salt
raw honey
2 scallions

Method

Preheat to 380F (190C).

Rinse the chicken thighs and place in an ovenproof dish. Sprinkle with coarse sea salt.

In a bowl, with a spoon mix the olive oil, melted butter, lemon juice and mustard. Pour over the thighs. Peel and cut the scallion diagonally and place over the chicken. Drizzle with some raw honey.

Bake for approximately 50 minutes, turning over twice. Towards about 5 minutes before removing from the oven, slice another scallion diagonally and place over the top of the chicken things.

Serve with your favourite sides.

Sweet Potato Savoury Tart

Sweet potatoes are something I’ve grown to like more since I started with the Paleo lifestyle. I used to equate them with one of my grandmother’s sweet treats. She was a Type II diabetic developing the disease sometime in her late 40s, and attributed acquiring the disease from all the raw honey and sweets she consumed when she lived in Portugal.

She was rail thin, ate like food was going out of style (my father thinks the same of my appetite), and was relatively quite healthy otherwise. She died at the young age of 90. Bless her soul, she was the funniest person I’ve known and had a huge influence on my life… but that’s a story for another day.

Back then, between school and friends and going out, I didn’t pay attention to learning more about how diet affected her illness. I thought it was incurable, one more malady that called for medical treatment. She wasn’t overly strict and only required one small pill of insulin a day to maintain her status quo. But I do recall that she avoided refined sugar, some fruits were off limits such as bananas and the plump, juicy oranges from our orchard, white potatoes were an infrequent side dish for her, and she also limited her intake of bread, picos and regañada (all three which she loved – picos are round breadsticks and regañada is a form of flat bread used to accompany tapas and meals in Spain).

Fortunately for my grandmother, my mother was an excellent home cook, who made sure we ate a traditional Mediterranean diet, which for the most part is very healthy. If my grandmother were alive today, I would be advocating the Paleo lifestyle to her, of course.

I was really into baking as a teenager growing up in Spain, so I used to make desserts without sugar for her. And as she would say, her eyes would go after all the delicious foods she wasn’t supposed to eat. One of her favourite treats was baked sweet potatoes, boniatos, with a drizzle of raw honey and a sprinkle of ground cinnamon. I wasn’t particularly fond of this dessert as I found it too rich. Too everything really (my youngest niece seems to share this predilection – she hates sweet potatoes).

Fast forward many years… and they are a staple in my kitchen. Funny how that happens with a lot of foodstuff, no? Nonetheless, I don’t use them that often as I still find them too sweet. But I do see the benefits of consuming them every once in a while.  The other day, I saw a recipe for a sweet potato and apple pie and loved the concept of the dough being made with this vegetable (and no refined sugar), especially since I had three sweet potatoes kind of just hanging around waiting to be used. And we’re clearing out the kitchen since we have to move soon.

So, I created a savoury tart instead with which to better appease my palate. I hope you enjoy! Que aproveches!

Sweet Potato Savoury Tart 

Ingredients, for a large 9×11 tart

1 3/4 cups cooked and mashed sweet potato (about 2 medium)
2 large eggs
1 1/2 cup almond flour
1 tablespoon thyme
1 teaspoon fine sea salt (optional)
1 large onion, chopped
2 small leeks, sliced
1 tablespoon butter
1/4 cup extra virgen olive oil
prosciutto
tomato slices
freshly ground pepper

Method

Heat oven to 375F (190C). Pierce the sweet potatoes with a fork and place on a sheet of parchment. Bake for about one hour or until done. (Check with a fork for tenderness.)

Place another sheet of parchment inside the ovenproof 9×11 tart pan/baking dish.

While the sweet potatoes are baking: In a medium skillet, over medium heat, melt the butter in the olive oil. Add the onions and leeks and poach until they are translucent. Set aside.

Once the sweet potatoes are baked, scoop out the pulp and mash. Spoon into a food processor. Add the eggs, almond flour, thyme and sea salt. Blend well. The mixture will be thick. Spoon onto the parchment inside the tart pan and spread evenly.

Top the sweet potato base with the onions and leeks. Then add some prosciutto and tomato slices. Sprinkle with freshly ground pepper and an additional generous pinch of thyme. Bake at 375F (190C) for approximately an hour or until done. (Check with a toothpick; if it comes out clean, it’s ready.)

Makes a delicious side dish for lamb, veal or poultry. We ate ours with lamb steaks.

Coconut Milk or Basic Flan Recipe

There are times that one forgets how the simple things in life are the best. Flan is one of the easiest desserts to make and always tastes good and looks impressive on a plate.

We were invited to lunch by my parent’s friends the other day and my father accustomed to my mother’s cooking and social habits, suggested that I make a flan. A custard as our English friend told us. In the US, whenever we had parties or social gatherings, my mother was known for her delicious flan, paella and other traditional Spanish dishes. My sister-in-law’s is also renown for her culinary talents amongst our friends. And oftentimes, flan is her star dish.

So, I acquiesced and indulged my father with a flan, albeit dairy-free, which didn’t make him too happy. (He much prefers regular milk flan.) Our friends enjoyed it too and because I was feeling guilty, I made it again yesterday, this time with cow’s milk just for him.

Whenever a recipe calls for just a few ingredients, you know that what is important is the quality of such ingredients. Pasture-raised, organic eggs and the best quality milk and honey make this dessert a special treat that is not only delicious, but also very healthy.

I personally love the flavour of coconut flan, but for a more neutral flan, I would suggest using cow’s milk. I’ve tried using almond milk in the past, and find the texture too granular, granted it was homemade. Also, you can be creative and add some fruit or other flavourings and come up with your own special recipe! Like I did here.

This is the basic recipe for flan; and it can be made with any type of milk you prefer, although remember it should always be full-fat for better results and taste.

Coconut Milk Flan

Ingredients

6 large eggs
750ml coconut milk (preferably canned)
1/2 cup raw honey
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/3 cup raw honey
1 tablespoon water

Method

You’ll need a large ovenproof dish in which you can place another ovenproof dish or bowl or individual molds for baking the flan au bain marie.

Preheat the oven to 350F (180C).

On the stovetop, in a medium pan, bring to a boil over medium-high heat the 1/3 cup raw honey and 1 tablespoon water. Cook, stirring constantly until caramelised but still liquid, about 4 minutes. The mixture will bubble up quite a bit and also turn brown as you cook. Do not over cook, however, or you’ll end up with hard caramel in the pan. Pour into the flan mold/s and coat the bottom. Set aside. Place the pot immediately in the sink and fill with warm water. I do this to make it easier to clean later.

In a mixing bowl, whisk the eggs and raw honey. Once they are well blended, add the coconut milk and vanilla extract and mix well. Pour into the mold/s. Place the mold inside the ovenproof dish, large enough to hold the flan mold and be filled with water. Fill the outside glass dish to about 1/2 of the side of the flan mold. Do not over-fill, or the water can boil over inside the egg mixture and ruin the flan.

For a large mold (one flan), bake for 55 minutes or until an inserted sharp knife comes out clean. For individual molds adjust the baking time (less).

Remove from the oven and allow to cool at room temperature until the mold/s are cool enough to place in the fridge. Cool completely in the fridge before serving. When ready to serve, with a sharp knife cut away the edges of the flan from the mold. Place the serving plate on top and quickly turn over, giving it a jiggle if necessary. The flan should come out easily and look pretty on the plate.

Top with fruit, mint or edible flowers if desired.

 *****

Flan de Leche de Coco

Ingredientes

6 huevos grandes
750ml leche de coco (preferiblemente de lata)
125 ml miel cruda
1 cucharadita de las de te de extracto de vanilla
80ml miel cruda
1 cucharada grande (de las de sopa) de agua

Metódo

Nos hará falta un recipiente para el horno lo suficientemente grande para poder poner otro dentro o varios moldes/flaneras dentro al baño maria.

Precalentamos el horno a 180 grados.

Sobre la hornilla a fuego medio-alto, calentamos en una cazuela medianita 80ml de miel cruda y la cucharada de agua para hacer el caramelo líquido. Removiendo continuamente tarderemos unos 4 minutos en conseguir la textura y color deseados. Vertimos el caramelo dentro del molde/flaneras que vayamos a usar. Ponemos la cazuela dentro del fregadero y la llenamos de agua tibia para que luego nos sea mas fácil de limpiar.

En un bol, batimos los huevos y la miel. Cuando estén bien incorporados, agregamos la leche y batimos otra vez. Vertimos todo dentro del molde/flanera. Echamos agua dentro del recipiente grande, siempre teniendo en cuenta que queremos que sobre unos dedos sin agua para que cuando este en el horno no rebose al molde o la flanera estropeando el flan. Para un flan grande, horneamos unos 55 minutos o hasta que este hecho. Yo lo compruebo con un cuchillo afilado en el centro del flan.

Sacamos del  horno y del baño maria y dejamos que el flan se enfrie a temperatura ambiente hasta que podamos ponerlo en la nevera para enfriar del todo. Para servir, utilizamos un cuchillo afilado para desprender los filos del flan del molde. Le ponemos un plato por encima y le damos rapidamente la vuelta.

Se puede servir con fruta fresca, menta o incluso flores comestibles si deseamos.

Revivals… {Pan-Seared Scallops with Nectarines and Balsamic-Honey-Mustard Reduction + Broccoli Rabe with Golden Garlic}

I drove into town the other day specifically to buy more yarn for the snood I‘m making just finished for myself. The woman at the yarn store said I would have enough with one skein, but well obviously I didn’t quite follow her instructions….

I’ve become completely obsessed enamored with the beautifully produced television series Outlander and its costume design. The Starz original (I sound like an advert) is very truthful to the books – I’ve read five of the eight already – and quite possibly better! While the executive producer Ron Moore is fastidious about keeping all the details from Diana Gabaldon’s novels, he’s also very astute and perceptive by incorporating the personality of the actors and making small modifications, as he did in one of the last episodes where Caitriona Balfe does a singing and dance performance to the tune of Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy, which was a very popular 1940s song. Apparently Cait does a lot of humming and singing when off the set and Ron thought it was a perfect way to include her own personality to enhance the drama. In the books, one knows what Claire is thinking because she’s narrating most of the story. But in the television series, there’s a lot less of that. So, by adding these scenes, we get to experience what it feels like for Claire to be caught between her two worlds, post WWII and the mid-18th century. In my opinion, the result is an improvement on this seductive and mystical story.

I won’t get into the storyline to not spoil the suspense for those of you who are watching the show and haven’t read the books, although I believe they were written something like twenty years ago. So, it’s really a revival. In fact, I read somewhere on the internet that when the story was originally going to be taken to Hollywood, they were thinking of casting Liam Neesen as Jamie. I’m so glad they waited… I have nothing against Mr. Neesen,  he’s a fantastic actor. But Sam Heughan is Jamie. He’s captivating, elegant, regal, yet rugged. And so beautiful to look at. And his acting is impeccable. Can you imagine that Diana Gabaldon thought he was grotesque when she first saw him? That’s simply scandalous. A sacrilege. And my nieces will find that tidbit of Hollywood gossip rather upsetting. They are completely obsessed smitten with Sam (and Jamie). In fact, they are rooting for Sam and Cait to get together!

Anyway, back to what I was saying. My snood. Claire’s wardrobe is fetching, even the every day outfits. And she wears a number of knitted pieces which are so in to-day. I have to say that the costume design is magnificent!

According to the Outlander customer designer, Terry Dresbach, the costumes for the series are as authentic as possible, including what’s underneath. “No Velcro, no zippers, not a lot of shoes, and kilts are worn as kilts are supposed to be worn – with absolutely nothing underneath. These are true Scots! What’s not authentic are the effects of war and journeying through the highlands. To achieve the look of well-worn clothing, the costumes are attacked with cheese graters, burned with blow torches, and aged by tying them up with string and baking them.”

We have a saying in Spain: el habito no hace al monje, which means that the habit doesn’t make the monk. Nonetheless, I do think that what we wear greatly influences how we are perceived, and more importantly how it makes us feel and act in a certain manner befitting of our ensemble. Think about it: You most certainly act and feel differently in a long, ballroom gown versus a pair of jeans or a mini skirt. There’s something magical about wearing a long dress. It’s grand. Feminine. Sensual.

To digress again a little, growing up in Spain, we used to go to an annual pilgrimage called El Rocío. Most of the two-week long event takes place outdoors, in nature, as pilgrims from all over Spain make the journey on foot, on horseback, in carretas, and aboard horse carriages or in 4×4’s, traversing the countryside and marshlands of Western Andalucía. We sleep out in the open, sometimes inside carriolas, sometimes in tents or sometimes on a blanket under a tree. Very Outlander-like. It’s like going back in time with no need of crossing any ancient stones! And as it’s a traditional Andalusian festivity, women wear flamenca dresses, which are typically long and more flowy than the style worn during ferias. Wearing a bata rociera or a flamenca dress transforms you. It makes one feel special, all women become extra pretty with their colourful dresses and flowers in their hair. And it also connects one with traditions and a simplicity otherwise unattainable in today’s frantic urban world. Preparing meals and eating out in the open nature is also transforming. One must keep things simple and organise dishes in advance, so that they can be quickly and easily prepared and cooked during one of the stops or at night for the evening meal. We rely on blocks of ice to keep things cool and we cook on charcoal, wood or gas stoves. There’s a camaraderie that develops from sharing one’s food with others, as happens every day during the Rocío. And although the hardships are different than in past times (civilisation if necessary is really only a car ride away in most cases), the experience of being outdoors surrounded by nature with none of the modern comforts is invigorating, relaxing, healing and restorative to the soul. It’s also a lot of fun!

So, back to Claire. And the snood. Inspired by the series’ costumes, I’ve already made myself a snood with the leftover yarns from a sweater my mother almost finished for me. It’s a special piece because the yarn will always remind me of my mother. But something happened as I was making it: I was reminded of how fulfilling it is to create something with one’s hands like people did in the old days, albeit then out of necessity. Knitting is making a come-back, even in unexpected circles. I’ve seen quite a few posh fashionistas sporting snoods on social media and encouraging their friends to knit. I think influences such as the Outlander series and a return to nature are the culprits of this revival of sorts. I learned to knit when I was a teenager in Spain. My mother taught me and throughout the years, I’ve made sweaters and scarves for myself, for family members and friends. So picking it up again feels natural, like coming home. And that’s therapeutic.

Revivals are a funny thing. We pick up something long forgotten and usually do so with more enthusiasm and sometimes more knowledge as well.

Home cooking is also making a comeback and with a vengeance I think. And so is healthy eating, something I’m very passionate about. I’ve recently discovered a number of websites and magazines that are dedicated to inspiring and encouraging readers to become home cooks and to realise that home cooking is not a daunting task, but something that brings us closer to our food and to nature. And that can be very fulfilling.

In the Outlander novels, I have a number of pages whose corners I’ve turned marking recipes or interesting pieces of information. Diana Gabaldon’s imagination is impressive, and so is her accuracy for details. One is truly transported into the 1700s especially with such things as food, food preparation and small tidbits about health and medicinal practices. We’ve come a long way from the 18th century, and now it seems like we are trying to recapture what we left behind and the forgotten positive aspects of life in the past.

Many are going back to learning how to grow our own fruits and vegetables and rearing chickens for pasture-raised eggs. We are learning to respect the environment and sustainable farming and fishing. And with all that, we have come to appreciate that it all ties together with home cooking. For me, that’s the definition of Paleo, sourcing and preparing one’s food. And nothing can be more satisfying than going to the market to buy seasonal produce and come home to invent a dish or create something traditional that is nutritious, healthy and pleasurable.

A couple of days ago when I bought the first skein of yarn for my new snood, I also picked up some seafood at our local fishmonger, Seawell on Mason’s Island. We’ve been patronising them since my brother recommended that we should. And it’s always an exciting experience. I love that they are trustworthy, one knows what they sell is the freshest of the fresh (we have insider information of course as the owner is a good friend of my brother’s), and I like that they label everything letting one know whether the seafood is wild caught, farmed (rarely, mostly the salmon when it’s out of season), and where it’s from. I also love to be surprised with what is in season and available on the day I visit. For those of you familiar with TJ Maxx (my favourite store), the surprise element is not disimilar. You know you’ll get something, but exactly what one will come home with is an exciting mystery to be uncovered only on the day of purchase. Farmer’s markets are also like that.

I only buy wild caught and try to stick to local as much as possible. On my last visit, I got some fresh Stonington mussels, which I made immediately, following a version of this recipe, as you can see on  my Instagram feed, halibut filets with skin, some wild-caught Gulf shrimp (the woman before me was lucky to buy the last of the Stonington red shrimp), and some beautiful sea scallops.

Scallops are lovely on their own. But today I wanted to enliven them a bit. I did so with some nectarines, whose season is just commencing. And I served them with broccoli rabe, a favourite of my mother’s and mine. I hope you enjoy! For other scallop recipes, please see here, here and here.

Pan-Seared Scallops + Nectarines with Balsamic-Honey-Mustard Reduction

Ingredients, serves 2-4

1 lb (approx. 500g) sea scallops
2 nectarines
1 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1/2 cup raw honey
1 heaping tablespoon wholegrain mustard (I use Moutarde à l’Ancienne from Delouis fils, which doesn’t include sugar)
sea salt and freshly ground pepper
olive oil

Method

Prepare the reduction first. Pour the balsamic vinegar, raw honey and mustard into a small pan. Over medium heat, bring to a bubble. Lower heat and cook until reduced to about half, stirring frequently.

In the meantime, rinse the scallops and pat dry with a paper towel. Salt and pepper on both sides. Set aside.

Rinse the nectarines and cut into 16 slices. Sprinkle with some freshly ground pepper. In an iron skillet, over high heat, add a drizzle of olive oil. Once the oil is hot, sauté the nectarines, stirring only to turn a couple of times, about 2 minutes. Remove the nectarines from the skillet and place on a serving dish. (If you have a BBQ, they are also delicious made that way.)

Now to cook the scallops. Make sure the skillet is clean. If needed, allow to cool, wash and dry (unless you have another iron skillet to use). Drizzle a little bit of olive oil into the skillet and heat over high heat. Once the oil is hot, add the scallops, cooking about 1-1 1/2 minutes on each side. I like my scallops almost raw inside. If you cook them too long, they will become dry and tough.

To plate: Place scallops over nectarines and drizzle with the balsamic reduction. Garnish with fresh parsley if desired. We ate them as lunch with broccoli rabe.

Broccoli Rabe with Golden Garlic

Ingredients, serves 4

1 bunch broccoli rabe (enough for 4)
8 cloves garlic, sliced
olive oil
sea salt

Method

Cut the ends off the broccoli rabe and rinse in cold water.

Pour water and a couple of pinches of sea salt into a large pot and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Place the broccoli rabe into the water and cook for 5 minutes. Remove from heat and drain.

While the vegetable is cooking, in an iron skillet or pan heat a drizzle of olive oil. Put the garlic slices into the pan and cook until golden, stirring constantly. Remove immediately from the skillet so as to not burn. (Burnt garlic turns sour and is not very palatable.)

To plate: Simply place the broccoli rabe on a serving plate, drizzle with olive oil and place the garlic over top.

*****

*Note: The images of Jamie and Claire of Outlander I have downloaded from the blog of Terry Dresbach. The images of El Rocío, I have taken off the internet. 

Courgetti {Zucchini Noodles} Without the Need of a Spiraliser

Courgetti! What a cool sounding term. One of those neologisms that simply clicks from the moment one hears it. Paleo (and the culinary world) has a lot of them, since many recipes have been adapted or paleolised (that being a newly invented word in itself).

I first heard the expression coined by my friend Ceri, who is a natural chef and the author of the Natural Kitchen Adventures blog and I just couldn’t get over how easily it rolled off the tongue. Why hadn’t I thought of it? I kept calling them courgette noodles or zucchini spaghetti. How dull and uninventive. Coincidently, Ceri just celebrated her fourth year of blogging by sharing a courgetti recipe!

I’ve been meaning to share this recipe for some time now, but every time I’ve made it I’ve not been able to photograph the dish. My mother requested it often; and I love how easy and simple it is. It can be whipped up in literally less than ten minutes from start to finish. And it always comes out perfect; so it’s a great side dish or something really quick to make in the mornings for breakfast with eggs!

My mother loved vegetables to the point that she could’ve almost been a vegetarian had she also not had an intense passion for all edible sea creatures. There’s a funny story my grandmother used to tell us about how my mother developed this taste for all seafood… something I shared with her and took a step further, having tried whale meat in Iceland. Granted that’s a mammal. I found it to be delicious by the way, a deep dark red meat, with an intense, yet well-balanced flavour of the sea, and a watery-like texture, resembling raw liver. One has a hard time discerning whether one’s eating fish or meat. But either way, it’s a delectable dish. Iceland’s relationship with whales is a long, historical and complex one, where whaling was once a small part of a sustainable fishing industry that helped maintain the population in this harsh land. Today, however and unfortunately, Iceland’s whaling industry is commercialised with many nations partaking, even though there’s a moratorium on whale fishing since 1986. When I tried whale meat in 2004 on my first trip to Iceland, I was not as conscientious (or informed) as I am today about achieving and maintaining a sustainable food industry both on land and from the sea. Therefore, I hope to not offend any sensibilities with the telling of my experience. (Although, I think I may have wounded more than just sensibilities with my parallelism of whale meat to raw liver. I may have grossed out enough of you so much so that we need not worry about moratoriums or sustainable fishing practices regarding whales…)

And on that note, I’ll simply dive into my grandmother’s funny anecdote about how my mother developed her appetite for all things seafood.

As the tale goes, my grandmother ate cat meat when she was pregnant with my mother. It was during the years preceding the Spanish Civil War and the economic situation in Spain was rather dismal with few resources available to the general population. Many people engaged in estraperlo (illegal commercial activities) and oftentimes certain things that one would normally not consume ended up in bars and restaurants and in one’s kitchen. Cats are one example. My grandmother was a seamstress, and a very good one I may add, having trained in the confection of menswear (where the money was according to her mom – my great-grandmother not being a great futurist as you, I’m sure, have guessed) and she had little interest in anything related to cooking. To make matters worse, she was an extremely picky eater as well and anything that remotely sounded like a mortar and pestle had been used made her stop in her tracks and turn around, going back to her workshop without lunch. (Traditional Spanish guisos – stews and “spoon dishes” like lentils, garbanzos, and pottages – generally use some form of ground up spices or garlic in a mortar. And although my grandmother liked spices and garlic, she detested stews. She was very un-Spanish-like in her tastes and actually one could argue a precursor to Paleo!)

However, all of her sisters – she had three of them and two brothers – were great home cooks and one sister in particular was renowned for her hand in the kitchen. It was this sister, the eldest, who set up a little tapas bar in Huelva, that had great acceptance, and which my grandmother used to frequent with full confidence in the cook of course. On a number of these occasions, she ate a variety of conejo dishes, or rather what she thought was conejo… but instead was really cat. Those in the know say that cat meat  has a similar taste and texture to rabbit (conejo). I’ve never tried it and don’t think I ever will, at least not with full consciousness, but I do know that rabbit is exquisite and can just imagine how much my grandmother enjoyed these dishes. During her pregnancy, she ate cat meat quite often unbeknownst to her and when she eventually found out, stopped immediately. In fact, she got violently sick when she discovered what she had been consuming. I’m surprised she didn’t have a miscarriage. On the contrary and notwithstanding the revulsion she experienced, it appears that all that cat meat had some interesting effects on the baby, my mom, whose love for seafood is unsurpassed in our family except for maybe by my brother, who is a fisherman in his spare time (spare translating to any time he can muster up an excuse to go fishing).

Throughout the past year during my mother’s illness, I’ve been the cook at home both for her (when she was still with us) and my father. And when she was in hospital, I got up every day very early to make whatever meals she had requested the day before. She was not happy eating hospital food and I wanted to bring some joy to her daily routine. Amongst all the seafood and vegetables she wanted more often were these courgetti. She really liked them. She loved all things novel and apparently this intrigued her as well as delighted her palate. She was not a picky eater like her mom, but definitely a sybarite in her preferences, liking simple yet delicious and well-made meals.

The way I make these zucchini noodles (or courgetti) is very simple, and anyone can make them at home even if you don’t have one of those fancy vegetable spiralisers. I’ve been keen on getting one to be honest, but the price puts me off since courgette is the only vegetable from which I make spirals. So, instead, I’ve been rather resourceful, a quality I express often in the kitchen and even more frequently in life. I first started making spirals with a little rudimentary, yet very practical, contraption that was gifted to me in Vietnam. And in the winter rental where we are staying, I’ve resorted to using a potato peeler. The courgetti don’t come out as pretty and thin as with the Vietnamese tool (or a spiraliser) with which I’ve made a number of recipes here, here and here.  But for those of you wanting a different look and texture, or if you’re like me and won’t invest in another kitchen tool that will be used infrequently and only take up storage space (plus have the added advantage of less cleaning to do), then this is great method to use – and the dish is quite tasty too! I hope you enjoy!

Stir-Fried Courgetti

Ingredients, for 4

4 medium organic* courgettes (for a side dish, I use one per person)
3-4 garlic cloves, sliced
2 tablespoons extra virgen olive oil
coconut aminos, about 2-3 tablespoons (coconut aminos are a soy replacement)
optional additions: mushrooms, peppers, chopped nuts

Method

Rinse the courgettes and cut off the ends and any ugly markings. Using a potato peeler, create flat zucchini pasta. Set aside on a plate. In a large saucepan or wok, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the sliced garlic, stirring constantly.  Just as they are starting to get golden, add the courgetti and stir fry for 2-3 minutes, stirring almost constantly until the courgetti starts to soften, but is still very much al-dente. If you’re using mushrooms like I did, add them at the same time as the courgetti.

Immediately drizzle with coconut aminos enough to coat all of the courgetti and reduce the heat to low. Simmer covered for 2-3 minutes, stirring frequently until the courgetti reach the tenderness you desire. I like them soft but still crunchy. (I never measure the coconut aminos, instead sprinkling directly from the bottle. So use an amount that you find palatable. Coconut aminos are not salty, but instead slightly sweet. So feel free to add sea salt should you desire. Also the courgette – and mushrooms – will release some water when cooking. This combined with the olive oil and the aminos creates a nice sauce.)

*Note: There are certain produce on the dirty dozen list and one of them is zucchini. When consuming this vegetable, I stick to organic to ensure I’m not eating any GMOs.

*****

Para hacer pasta de calabacín no hace falta un artilugio especial. Con un pelador de patatas también podemos conseguir una pasta que nos da unos resultados muy agradables con una textura diferente. 

Courgetti (Pasta de Calabacines) Salteados

Ingredientes, para 4

4 calabacines medianos orgánicos* (para hacer como guarnición, yo uso un calabacín por persona)
3-4 dientes de ajos, en láminas
2 cucharadas soperas de aceite de oliva extra virgen
2-3 cucharadas soperas de aminos de coco (sustituto de la salsa de soja)
opcional: champiñones, pimientos o frutos secos

Método

Enjuagamos los calabacines y les cortamos las puntas y les quitamos cualquier imperfección que nos resulte fea. Con un pelador de patatas, creamos pasta plana de los calabacines. Ponemos la pasta sobre un plato o recipiente y lo dejamos de lado mientras calentamos el aceite.

En un wok o sartén onda, calentamos el aceite de oliva a fuego medio-alto. Añadimos los ajos y removemos continuamente hasta que se empiecen a dorar. Agregamos inmediatamente los calabacines y salteamos unos 2 a 3 minutos moviendo constantemente hasta que estén blandos pero aún al-dentes. Si vamos a usar champiñones también como hice yo, pues se incorporan al mismo tiempo que los calabacines.

Inmediatamente, le echamos por encima los aminos de coco y bajamos el fuego a lento. Tapamos el wok o la sartén y cocinamos la pasta, moviendo frecuentemente, unos 2 a 3 minutos hasta conseguir la textura deseada. A mi me gusta que estén tiernos pero aun crujientes. (Yo no mido la cantidad exacta de aminos, sino lo calculo a ojo. Echo una cantidad para que la pasta quede bien cubierta. Pero hay que tener en cuenta que el amino de coco es mas bien dulce, no salado. Así que quizás os haga falta agregar un poco de sal marina, dependiendo de vuestros gustos. También hay que tener en cuenta que tanto el calabacín como el champiñón – si se utiliza – sueltan agua al cocerlos. Este agua combinado con los aminos y el aceite de oliva resulta en una salsa muy agradable.)

*Nota: Yo suelo utilizar calabacín orgánico solamente pues esta verdura esta en la lista de los “dirty dozen” transgénicos. 

Spring with Kiko {Chicken a l’Orange + Patatas a lo Pobre}

“Hi little guy. Are you walking your mistress?” asked our friendly neighbour who was raking leaves and preparing his garden for the summer season ahead. Kiko and I were walking by, with the little guy rather dragging me down the hill behind him. (By the way being called mistress was fairly enchanting especially since I’ve been reading the Outlander series, whose story takes place in the 18th century.)

Kiko is my parent’s mini schnauzer. He’s a very affable little thing, although quite prone to being fearful of people. On the other hand, he loves other dogs. Being rather small doesn’t stop him from wanting to greet, sniff and play with all the hounds we encounter on our walks, no matter how large they are. And while he’s generally fun and loving, he is also stubborn. When he digs in his hind legs, there’s no budging him until he gets what he wants, which in most cases is just a stop for him to bury his nose in the ground and mark his territory. Marking his territory takes place what seems like every two seconds though.

One would think our walks are bonding; and maybe on some level they are, as he does look forward to going out and shows his enthusiasm by putting on a jumping performance, which seems to be a characteristic trait of mini schnauzers. He can jump very high for a dog that stands only about a foot off the ground. In fact, he can jump about two times his height. It’s really quite impressive, and may I add amusing to watch.

We take different routes almost every day, with me deciding the way… most of the time. If there’s a big bad monster (aka rubbish bin) lurking on our side of the road, Kiko makes a beeline for the other side, and consequently pulls me with him. Our walks are peaceful and invigorating. While he sniffs, stops, pulls and jovially prances ahead of me, I get to admire the pretty summer cottages (some are actually mansions), attractive gardens, eclectic architecture and the stunning water-views of where we are temporarily living.

Spring is definitely here, although the wind is still chilling, especially along the shore, and my hands feel like icicles on many days, by the time we arrive home. Daffodils are popping up everywhere even along the marsh where they have not been planted. I’m guessing it’s the result of birds dropping their seeds (or the winds blowing them over), just like the number of mussels and clams in their shells that we encounter scattered and broken along the path around the lagoon. The seagulls must be carrying them and dropping them on the ground.

The tulips are slightly more recalcitrant to come out yet, with only a few resilient ones actually in bloom. The magnolias are budding with the promise of their pink and white delicate blossoms coming soon. And the forsythia bushes are alive again with their bright yellow flowers. Everywhere one turns, there are signs of new life. I’m in awe of Spring; and I think I’ve never admired this season as much as I am doing this year.

I haven’t stopped to reflect why this is so, although my mind does a lot of wandering, soul searching, and de-stressing while we enjoy the outdoors. I sometimes think about food too. And how I want to develop the blog and bring a more enriching experience to my readers.

But since mom died, becoming enthusiastic about almost anything is terribly hard and finding motivation to cook has been full of obstacles and excuses. Fortunately for my father and me, I cannot fathom eating processed or junk foods. Therefore, I force myself to prepare healthy meals, even if rather rushed and haphazardly.

Making something quick, easy and effortlessly has become an obsession on most days. As Kiko and I were wandering around the other day, the bright sun and pretty flowers everywhere inspired me to make something that would echo this feeling of life, and I settled on chicken a l’orange (what says sunshine more than an orange?). In my native Spain, orange trees are now just starting to blossom, and the sweet fragrance of azahar will be permeating the streets with the intoxicating aroma. Having grown up on a farm with an orange orchard, we were lucky to have a number of varieties, affording us the benefit of having oranges almost all year round. Here in the US and almost everywhere now, oranges are available year round thanks to more tropical climates in such places like Florida.

To accompany the chicken, I made a traditional (and super easy) potato side dish, which my father loves and my mother used to make. Patatas a lo Pobre is something you’ll find in most family restaurants or ventas (roadside restaurants with home-cooked meals) in Spain. It’s an inexpensive dish, which requires only three or four ingredients and is very easy and quick to make. The traditionalists add green peppers, but as I don’t like this vegetable too much (or rather it doesn’t agree with me), I only use potatoes and onions, and sometimes garlic. And of course, olive oil. I also like to brown the potatoes a bit, which makes parts of them crunchy, adding to the texture of the dish.

Chicken a l’Orange

Ingredients, for 3 or 4

6 organic chicken legs
1 large onion, peeled and chopped
2 large carrots, peeled and sliced
1 large leek, rinsed and sliced (discard the green parts)
2 garlic cloves, sliced
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
cumin powder
1 teaspoon coriander seeds, crushed
1 cup freshly squeesed orange juice
1 1/2 cups chicken or beef stock, extra if needed
sea salt and pepper, to taste
fresh parsley, finely chopped

Method

Preheat the oven to 400F (200C)*. Rinse and pat dry the chicken pieces. Sprinkle the chicken with freshly ground sea salt and pepper on both sides. Lightly dust chicken on both sides with cumin powder. Place the chicken legs in an ovenproof dish and drizzle some olive oil over all of them. Bake for about 40 minutes or until chicken is done, turning a few times, so the chicken browns on both sides. (This temperature works for my oven. You may need to adjust for yours.)

In the meantime, squeese the oranges and set the juice aside. In a deep saucepan over medium-low heat, heat the olive oil. Add the onions and carrots and poach, stirring frequently about 10 minutes. Add the leek, garlic, coriander seeds and continue to poach, stirring frequently, another 10-15 minutes until all the vegetables are tender to an inserted fork. Reduce heat to low and add the orange juice and stock. Simmer for 10 minutes. Remove from heat and allow to cool. Once cool, pour into a food processor (you may have to do this in two batches) and purée. Return to the pot and simmer. If the sauce is too thick, add more stock. Keep warm while the chicken finishes baking.

You can insert the chicken pieces into the sauce if desired or pour the sauce over the chicken once it is plated. Serve with patatas a lo pobre.

Patatas a lo Pobre

Ingredients, for 2

3 large/4 medium potatoes, peeled and thinly sliced
1 large onion, thinly sliced
coarse sea salt, to taste
1/2 cup olive oil
fresh parsley, finely chopped

Method

In a deep and wide saucepan, pour the olive oil and add the potatoes and onions. Sprinkle with coarse sea salt (I used about three or four turns of the grinder, but a couple of pinches will also do). Over medium-low heat, allow to cook slowly, turning occasionally with a spatula, making sure you don’t break the potatoes in the process. I allow the potatoes to brown a bit before turning. Browning the potatoes is the trick to this dish, creating a combination of both crunchy and soft textures. Once they are tender, they are ready to be served. Sprinkle with fresh parsley on the plate.

*****

Muslos de Pollo a la Naranja

Ingredientes, para 3 o 4

6 muslos de pollo
1 cebolla grande, pelada y picada
2 zanahorias grandes, peladas y cortadas a rodajas
1 puerro grande, quitándole lo verde, se enjuaga bien y se corta a rodajas finas
2 dientes de ajo, en laminas
80ml aceite de oliva extra virgen
comino en polvo
1 cucharadita (de te) de semillas de cilantro, machacadas
250ml de zumo de naranja, recién exprimido
350ml de caldo de pollo
sal marina y pimienta fresca a gusto
perejil

Método

Precalentamos el horno a 200C. Enjugamos los muslos y los secamos con toallitas de papel. Salpimentamos por ambos lados y también espolvoreamos con comino en polvo por ambos lados. Ponemos los muslos en una fuente para el horno y le echamos un chorreón de aceite por encima. Horneamos unos 40 minutos o hasta que la carne este hecha, dandole la vuelta unas cuantas veces, para que se doren los muslos por ambos lados.

Mientras se hace el pollo, exprimimos varias naranjas hasta obtener 250ml de zumo. En una olla sobre fuego medio-lento, calentamos el aceite de oliva. Añadimos las cebollas y las zanahorias y pochamos durante unos 10 minutos, removiendo frecuentemente. A continuación agregamos el puerro, los ajos, las semillas de cilantro y seguimos pochando unos 10 o 15 minutos adicionales hasta que las verduras estén tiernas cuando se pinchan con un tenedor. Reducimos el fuego a lento y echamos el zumo de naranja y el caldo de pollo. Removemos bien y dejamos cocer unos 10 minutos, sin que llegue a la ebullición. Retiramos del fuego y dejamos enfriar. Echamos todo en la batidora y lo hacemos puré. También se puede hacer con la mini-pimer. Lo vertimos otra vez a la olla y lo ponemos a fuego muy suave para mantenerlo caliente mientras se termina de hacer el pollo.

Cuando los muslos estén hechos, se pueden poner dentro de la salsa de naranja o se le puede echar la salsa por encima una vez en el plato. Se pueden servir con patatas a lo pobre u otra guarnición a gusto.

Patatas a lo Pobre

Ingredientes, para 2 

3 patatas grandes o 4 medianas, peladas y cortadas a rodajas finas
1 cebolla grande, pelada y cortada a rodajas
sal marina gorda
120ml aceite de oliva extra virgen
perejil fresco, picado

Método

En una sartén amplia y onda sobre fuego suave a mediano, echamos el aceite de oliva, las patatas y la cebolla. Le echamos un poco de sal a gusto. Dejamos que se vayan haciendo las patatas poco a poco, dándoles la vuelta con cuidado para que no se rompan. El truco de estas patatas esta en que queden entre fritas y cocidas, ligeramente doradas (o mas si os gusta) y que su textura sea que se deshagan en la boca. Se sirven con perejil picado.

A Day of Fennel

At the risk of publicly seeming a bit unstable and disorganised, I’ve decided to split the post about my mother in two separate entries. For the inconvenience, I apologise.

I was feeling a heaviness and a certain weight about including recipes with a post about my mom, but this is a food blog and I didn’t want to separate the two, especially since my mother has been my greatest influence in my life and in my cooking.

But she deserves her own space. I struggled with myself about sharing everything I did, yet not writing about her, not sharing with all of you such a huge part of my life, was in many ways not acknowledging her and her life. We are living a fragile time… there are days it’s unfathomable to believe and understand cognitively that she’s gone. And then there are those brief moments when I question myself how could she exist and not be here now.

I don’t recall going through this pensiveness when my grandmothers passed away. It was painful then and I still miss both of them and think of them often. But trying to grasp a little bit of them was different, and maybe because I still had my mother as my biggest support. And she had me.

Now, the stark loss is distinct, unlike anything we’ve ever experienced before. Thankfully, my father and I have each other and my brother and the rest of the family. And life must go on…will go on…

And in continuation of my last post, here are the two recipes that I share with you:

To fuel my passions and inspire myself, sometime after arriving in the US, I purchased a subscription to Bon Appetit. I’ve only opened up one magazine. The rest are patiently waiting that I peel away the pages and explore them… but in that one issue, I found a recipe that I’ve done over and over again, and have changed a few times. My mom loved it. In fact, she requested it several times, when she had her appetite back.

As I’ve tinkered with it, it has evolved into something that my father praises and we both enjoy (and is now quite different from the original). He loved everything my mother used to make and usually likes everything I make too. But he doesn’t like experiments. And now, this soup recipe is ready to be shared, as is the special ingredient.

Fennel is something that I grew up seeing in Spain but have rarely eaten. Snails like to feed on fennel and those in the know say that they acquire a special flavour from the vegetable. And that was my main association with this intoxicatingly fragrant flowering plant, who’s bulb is not the only part that can be savoured and used in cooking.

As I’ve rediscovered fennel here in the US, I’m enamoured with it and buy it almost every week. Cutting up a fennel bulb is a feast for the olfactory senses. The burst of anise is fresh and inviting. And I could hold the bulb and the leaves up to my nose all day long….It was one of my mother’s favourite scents (she loved anise candies and would buy them on every trip to Spain). The leaves are delicate and the perfect whimsical garnish (and they can also be eaten). And the flowers, with which the bulbs are not sold in the market, are pretty and edible as well. And then of course, there are the seeds.

In addition to the delicate and delicious soup, today I’ve made a quiche as well. I hope you try and enjoy both!

The soup is made with the bulb only. But don’t throw away the leaves yet.. they are part of the soup too. Read on and find out how I’ve incorporated them.

Besitos,

Debra xx

PS: Please excuse my photo format. My computer went kaputt about a month ago; and I had to reinstall the operating system and lost all of my programs and files (therefore, Photoshop for the moment is gone, as is any attempt at graphic design). I hope to be reunited with them soon, as I do have an external hard drive waiting for me somewhere in Europe. Also, I’ve made this soup twice specifically to photograph (so we may be getting slightly tired of fennel). The first time, I used bacon bits, which my father and I concur is the best accompaniment, but I only took pictures with my iPhone and in the sun and on a bench! The second time, I roasted some diced carrot but ate them all at breakfast. 😉

Fennel & Potato Soup

Ingredients, for 6 servings:

  • 1 large fennel bulb and leaves
  • 1 large red onion
  • 3 medium russet potatoes, peeled and cut into medium chunks
  • 1/4 cup dry white wine
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 6 cups of water
  • sea salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
  • 1 teaspoon lime juice
  • garnish and accompaniment ideas: bacon pieces, fennel leaves and edible flowers

Method:

Cut the leaves off the bulb and set aside. Rinse the bulb and julienne. Peel and julienne the onion. In a medium pot, over medium heat, melt the butter in the olive oil. Add the fennel and onion.  Stirring occasionally, poach the vegetables for about 20 minutes until tender.

In the meantime, place the fennel leaves in another pot and add 6 cups of water. Bring to a boil and then simmer for 20 minutes, covered.

Once the fennel and onion are tender, add the wine and reduce for 3-4 minutes. Add the potatoes and 4 cups of the fennel-infused water. Reduce heat to low, cover and cook for 30 minutes until the potatoes are tender to an inserted fork.

Remove from heat and allow to cool. Once cool, puree with an immersion blender (or food processor). Add sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste. Stir and heat up. Add the lime juice and serve.

Garnish with some bacon pieces, fennel leaves and edible flowers, and a drizzle of olive oil, if desired.

Fennel and Onion Quiche (Strictly speaking, it’s Primal, as it has feta cheese)

Ingredients, for one 8-in pie pan

  • 1 large fennel bulb, no leaves
  • 1 large medium red onion
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil, and some more if needed
  • 3/4 cup feta cheese, diced
  • 5 large eggs
  • sea salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
  • 1 tablespoon dried dill leaves or fresh if you have them

Method:

Rinse and julienne the fennel. Peel and julienne the onion. In a large saucepan, melt the butter and olive oil over medium heat. Reduce heat and add the fennel and onion and poach for about 20 minutes until tender, stirring frequently so the vegetables do not burn, but brown slightly. Add more olive oil during cooking if necessary.

Preheat the oven to 365F (185C).

In a bowl, beat the eggs well and add the feta cheese and dill and mix well. Set aside. When the vegetables are done, remove from heat and allow to cool, about 10 minutes. Add the cooked vegetables to the egg mixture and stir well. Taste for salt and if needed add some sea salt, to taste. Also add some freshly ground pepper to taste. Pour into an 8-inch pie pan, spreading evenly.

Bake for 25 minutes and allow to slightly cool before cutting and serving.

Hoy os traigo dos recetas con hinojo, algo que he re-descubierto aquí en EEUU.

Sopa de Hinojo y Patatas

Ingredientes, para 6:

  • 1 bulbo de hinojo con hojas
  • 1 cebolla roja mediana
  • 3 patatas medianas, rojas, cortadas a gajos medianos
  • 60 ml vino blanco, seco
  • 60ml aceite de oliva
  • 2 cucharadas “soperas” de mantequilla
  • 1,5 litros de agua
  • sal marina y pimienta fresca
  • 1 cucharadita de zumo de lima
  • como guarnición: taquitos de jamón serrano, taquitos de beicón frito, zanahoria al horno cortada a taquitos, flores comestibles y un chorreón de aceite de oliva, si se desea

Como hacer la sopa:

Cortamos las hojas del hinojo y las apartamos. Enjuagamos el bulbo y lo cortamos en juliana. Pelamos la cebolla y la cortamos tambien en juliana. En una olla mediana, sobre fuego mediano, derretimos la mantequilla con el aceite de oliva. Agregamos el hinojo y la cebolla. Pochamos las verduras, removiendo ocasionalmente, hasta que estén tiernas, unos 20 minutos.

Mientras tanto, ponemos las hojas del hinojo con 1,5 litros de agua a hervir en otra olla. Cuando rompa el hervor, reducimos el fuego a bajo y cocemos unos 20 minutos, tapando la olla. (Esto lo llamaremos “agua de hinojo”.)

Una vez que las verduras estén tiernas, le agregamos el vino y reducimos unos 3 o 4 minutos. Agregamos las patatas y 1 litro del agua de hinojo. Reducimos el fuego a lento, tapamos la olla y cocemos unos 30 minutos hasta que las patatas estén tiernas al pincharlas con un tenedor.

Retiramos del fuego y dejamos que se enfrie. Después, hacemos un pure con la mini-pimer. Salpimentamos a gusto. Ponemos la olla otra vez sobre fuego medio y calentamos la sopa. Le echamos la cucharadita de zumo de lima, removemos bien y servimos.

Se puede acompañar con trocitos de jamón serrano, beicón, zanahoria cortada a dados y horneada, flores comestibles y un chorreoncito de aceite de oliva, si se desea.

Quiche de Hinojo y Cebolla (Tecnicamente hablando es mas bien Primal, que Paleo, porque lleva queso)

Ingredientes para un “pie” de 20cm de diametro:

  • 1 bulbo grande de hinojo, sin hojas
  • 1 cebolla mediana, roja
  • 2 cucharadas “soperas” de mantequilla
  • 2 cucharadas “soperas” de aceite de oliva, y algo mas si hace falta
  • 3/4 taza queso feta, cortado a daditos
  • 5 huevos, grandes
  • sal marina y pimienta fresca
  • 1 cucharada “sopera” de hojas de eneldo secas (o frescas si las tenéis a mano)

Como hacer el quiche:

Enjuagamos y cortamos en juliana el bulbo de hinojo y la cebolla. En una sartén onda, derretimos la mantequilla con el aceite de oliva sobre fuego medio. Bajos la lumbre y añadimos el hinojo y la cebolla y pochamos unos 20 minutos hasta que esten las verduras tiernas, removiendo frecuentemente sin dejar que se quemen las verduras, solo que se doren. Agregamos algo mas de aceite de oliva si hiciera falta.

Precalentamos el horno a 185C.

En un bol, batimos los huevos y le agregamos el queso feta, ya cortado a daditos, y la cucharada de hojas de eneldo secas. Cuando las verduras estén pochadas, apartamos la sartén y dejamos enfriar unos 10 minutos. Incorporamos las verduras a la mezcla de huevo y salpimentamos a gusto, removiendo bien. Echamos la mezcla dentro de un plato para pies de un diametro de 20cm, asegurandonos de que este todo bien distribuido.

Horneamos durante 25 minutos. Y dejamos que se enfrie un poco antes de cortar y servir.

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My breakfast, where the carrots ended up with the quiche!

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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