{Smell the azahar … savour the slow life, eat well, travel often}

In a corner of the heartland of flamenco, caressed by the salty breezes off of the Atlantic and blessed with golden sunsets, lies the little seaside town of Chipiona. It is here that I spent more than half my life. Chipiona is not particularly special, unless one wants to talk about the tallest lighthouse in Spain (the 3rd tallest in Europe and 7th tallest in the world), but we were surrounded by ancient lands, lands that had passed the test of different inhabitants, who brought with them a diversity of elements that makes this region so rich in history, culture, music, food, and its people.

I grew up on a farm, close to the vineyards of the moscatel and sherry region and only about 45 minutes from Spain’s oldest, continuously-inhabited city. But I wasn’t always from here, having first seen the world with curious and inquisitive eyes in Cheyenne, Wyoming ~ an entire world away ~ and having arrived as a toddler, via Panama, by the hands of my American father and Spanish mother. Half of my roots are American from Germanic descent; and the other half stem from this area of Southern Spain.

And it is these Andalusian roots that are seeped in the contrasts of a land with duende (a ‘je ne sais quoi’ even the Spaniards have a hard time to describe but that’s unique to this area). Andalucía is the largest region of Spain, extending from Huelva, which borders with Portugal, and from where Columbus sailed to discover the Americas (and where my mother was born); through Seville, the capital of Andalucía and the seat of the largest Gothic cathedral in the world (its builders are known to have said that they would build a temple so colossal that ‘whoever lays eyes upon it when it is complete will think we were crazy’ – and indeed they succeeded); to the sandy, golden beaches of the millenary city of Cádiz, la tacita de plata, with all its white-washed villages and its gracia and salero; passing through Málaga (whose rugged coast reminds me of driving on Highway One in California) with its enchanting villages, with little white houses with blue doors and pink bougainvilleas decorating windows and walls, perched on the mountains above the Mediterranean Sea; to that glorious, breathtaking, and legend-inspiring Granada with its magical Moorish citadel overlooking the city on one side and facing the year-round, snow-capped Sierra Nevada on the other (we spent many Christmas vacations in Granada, enjoying amongst other things chirimoyas, espárragos trigueros – local ‘wild’ asparagus – from Huetor Tajar, piononos from Santa Fe, and refusing rosemary from the gypsies who are omnipresent on the side streets around the cathedral); detouring to the less visited (by my family that is) ‘most cultured city of Europe in the 10th century’, Córdoba, another Moorish enclave; following the interior route through Jaén’s never-ending rolling hills filled with olive tree after olive tree; to finally wind down the mountain roads to again reach the sea, where the unassuming arid desert is now the fruitful agricultural garden of Europe, Almería awaits the intrepid traveller at the eastern finisterre of Andalucía.

This is my land, a land as abundant in variety of landscapes ~ with Spain’s wettest region in Grazalema (in the province of Cádiz) to Spain’s driest in Almería ~ as it is bountiful in all sorts of fruits of the sea, the finest and most delicious jamón serrano, the most prized olive oil in the world, and arguably the best fruits and vegetables of all of Spain (and maybe Europe).

This is where I grew up. This is the culture within me; and this is where every Spring, the fragrance of azahar (orange blossom) awoke me in the mornings as it danced its sweet cadence with the salty air coming off of the ocean. Originally having been a vineyard, our farm was an orange grove the entire time we lived in Spain. My parents built our house ~ that’s a story I’ll leave for another day ~  and planted our homestead with citrus trees. Bordering our orange orchard was another farm, which belonged to the valencianos, a family from Valencia who had settled in the town many years before and brought with them the idea of developing the area into an orange-producing region. (The Moors had had the same idea long before them of course, to which the sour-orange-tree-lined streets of many towns and cities in Andalucía can attest. It is from these sour oranges that the British, Seville-orange marmalade is made.) Our grounds-keeper also worked with the valencianos and it is from them that he learned how to make real valencian paella, a recipe he later taught us and which is now a family heirloom.

Ours was (and still is) a multi-cultural home, with influences from my father’s American upbringing and a spattering of Portuguese elements from my mother’s time spent in the neighbouring country, where my brother was born. Although Andalusian and Spanish dishes predominated in our daily routine, come every November, we celebrated el día del pavo as my Spanish grandmother used to call it, a.k.a Thanksgiving. We had the turkey with all the trimmings, meticulously set the table in the formal dining room, and ate off of our good dishes. It was a huge event at home, and oftentimes we enjoyed it with fellow Americans, friends of the family, or with our Spanish cousins. To-day, it’s still one of my favourite holidays. From Portugal, we not only knew nursery songs and used Portuguese words for describing certain things that to Spaniards sounded funny, but we also enjoyed delicious dishes, such as pasteis de bacalhau, sopa juliana, caldo verde, and a family favourite, Bacalhau à Gomes de Sá (codfish steamed with potatoes, green beans, onions, and eggs, then drizzled with a generous amount of olive oil, raw garlic, and chopped cilantro). The pulsating heart of our hearth was our kitchen; and life revolved around the dishes that we made together from savoury meals to intricately decorated desserts for which I was quite well-known in my hometown.

My mouth waters and my heart flutters with the memories that are conjured up of my parents, my family and friends, and all the meals we’ve shared and all the places we’ve discovered together, and that later I’ve also savoured on my own. To-day, after a number of years living in the US, a couple of expat experiences in Germany and the UK, I’m back in mi tierra. For a long time, I thought I would never be able to say that again ~ Spain had turned into a dream destination, instead of a reality. And although I visited often throughout the years that I have lived elsewhere, I still felt like I would only ever be a visitor. Yet, now some angels have pulled some strings and the stars have aligned; I’m here, living the Spanish life once again, and I wish to share with you my culinary and cultural adventures.

I’m an ardent ambassador of Andalusian and Spanish cultures, of traditional Spanish recipes and American family favourites, but I also have an incurable thirst and curiosity for seeing other places, learning about other peoples, and eating delicious food along the way … And as a passionate advocate and activist for organic, permaculture farming, for protecting our environment for our generation and those who will come after us, and utilising nutrition to achieve good health, I follow the Paleo lifestyle.

It is here, at azahar, that I welcome you into my journal of stories about food, traditions, life, & travel. So, please take a moment to savour the ‘slow life’ … inhale the sweet scent of azahar (perhaps make yourself a freshly squeezed orange juice) and join me on this journey in Seville, through Andalucía, around Spain, and exploring the world.

azahar is a journal of stories of food, traditions, life, & travel. Of life at home in Seville and adventures on the road. And about eating luscious, nutritional, and healthy food.

Thank you for visiting! And I hope you come around often.

Debra xx

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