Seeing Señora Ana in Sevilla

When I left Seville 8 years ago as a student I was contemplatively sad.  I’d spent a year there and was happy to be going home to see Gabe, my family and friends again, but I knew that it would be a long time before I’d go back.  Logically, I thought, as I’d spent a year there and seen so much of Spain and had such curiosity about the rest of the world, there would be at least 10 new countries I would visit before I’d backtrack.  This was sad as I’d grown very attached to my Señora Ana, my “host mother” who I furtively called mi abuela or grandmother behind her back.  Her youngest was only two years older than me, so when the director at my program heard me call her that to a friend she said, “Don’t let Ana hear you calling her that! She’s not old enough to be your grandmother.”  But the truth was she was at least 10 years older than my own mother and reminded me of my grandmothers who died when I was young.  She clucked like a hen around me force feeding me out of her enormous repertoire of dishes: lentils and chorizo, spinach and garbanzos, tortilla españolas, and paella.   She never forgot to leave a meal on the table for me and to ask me how my day was.  She even ironed my underwear and perhaps finding them a little too prudish added thongs to my wardrobe.  We watched the original Ugly Betty together on Tuesday nights and Spain’s version of American Idol on Thursdays.  She taught me how to make membrillo (my favorite Spanish delicacy) and asked me if I knew how to make those amazing “chocolate cheep cooookeys” that some of her previous students had baked.  For Seville’s famous feria she dusted off one of her daughters’ old flamenco dresses and had a friend, Juani, (who also suggested before a visit of Gabe’s that I get a bikini wax and a mani-pedi) tailor it to fit me.  We then went accessory shopping for the proper shoes, earrings, and shawls.  One night arriving back from the feria around 5 in the morning I was outside at a cart eating a churro and chocolate when 30 minutes later to my surprise she unfolded herself from the cab laughing and joined me in the street.  The shame of coming home from a party earlier than mi abuela! 

As I thought, it was 20 countries before I happened to backtrack to Spain.  Out flights had us going through Madrid, and it was impossible for my toes to touch Spanish soil without finding the quickest way to Seville.  When I called Ana to tell her I was coming she invited us to stay in her home and prepared the same bed that I’d slept in for a year, only this time with a matching bed for Gabe next to it.  When our cab pulled up to her apartment and I saw her face I burst into tears.  I was so relieved that she hadn’t aged too much in the intervening years, in fact her family seemed much the same although had been two weddings and four new grandchildren.  The grandchildren I played with as babies were of course 8 and 9 and looked at me curiously; the ones I knew as pre-teens took Gabe and me out for beer.  We spent a wonderful day along with her two cousins visiting the historic neighborhood of Triana, where Ana was born, looking at the sites, shopping for ceramics (another hobby we both shared) and eating tapas.  The rest of the visit was filled with visiting with her huge family and catching up on news. 

In the past year Gabe and I have been so busy making new memories and experiencing new places that it was sweet to revisit old memories with familiar faces and places.  Being with Ana reminded me of all the reasons why she was so special in the first place, how giving she is to her family and foreign students, sensitive to the horrors on the nightly news and so ready to laugh at anything funny.  After three days I think my stomach actually almost hurt from all of the laughing, until as we drove off in the taxi I saw her walking down the sidewalk with a little white hanky pressed against her face.  Sometimes I wonder if it isn’t better to have all of your friends and family in a tiny little town and to never move and have to experience heartache!


Sacrebleu! Paris at last

There’s nothing that I can write about Paris that wouldn’t sound like a complete cliché of anything that’s been said before.  It’s beautiful.  It’s civilized and felt more like home to me than the US.  The more I’ve lived, the more I’ve realized that my favorite things come from France, so it was no surprise to Gabe or me that I was completely enamored by the Parisians and the city.  I don’t care what people say about Parisians, I found them very friendly.  One man even stopped with his daughter when we asked for directions, typed them into his iPhone and handed it to us with the map properly oriented.  I should mention that he was as impeccably dressed as I’d imagined Parisians to be.  I gasped and sighed my way around the city and couldn’t find one fault.  I decided that if I were born alone on the planet and allowed to start my own civilization it would be French. 

Paris, je t’aime. I can’t wait to return.  Romantic strolls down the Seine and dazzling lights on the Eiffel aren’t cliché at all when you’re there, they wrap you up in je ne sais quoi and leave you full of life!


Meeting the Godmother of Jam in Alsace

Over the years I’d heard about Gabe’s French cousins in Alsace. They sent love and regards, some delicious foie gras and the Nice family contingency to our wedding, so I couldn’t wait to meet the rest of them one day in France.  Three years later we were pulling up to Nadia’s house in Uffholtz.  The entire Delforge family was so hospitable, we were never lacking for an invitation to dinner and they made sure that we saw and tasted the best of Alsace and France.  Alsace is known for its white wines, cheeses, cured meats and jams. 

I had known about the jams for years, but curiously had never tasted any.  My favorite cookbook author and chef, Christine Ferber, I knew lived in a tiny Alsatian village somewhere near Gabe’s relatives in Colmar.  I mentioned to Nadia that the one thing I’d always wanted to do was to find the tiny shop that she brewed her magic jams in, finally try one, and maybe meet Christine.  Nadia as it turns out, works for the tourism board in Alsace and was able to schedule me an appointment at the jam shop to make my wish come true!!!! Voila! Off we went to Niedermorschwihr, the cutest little village nestled in rolling vineyards, filled with 18th century half-timbered buildings.  The shop was everything I’d wanted to see, shelves and shelves of jams, pottery and pastries.  It was wonderful best of all, Christine’s sister-in-law gave me a tour of the kitchen.  They bake bread in the morning, pastries midday and jam in the afternoon.  It was bustling with activity.  I’d heard other tourists come in, also hoping to meet with Christine being told that she wasn’t there.  I’d also been told that she wasn’t there too, but then my tourist board VIP status got me behind the scenes. 

When we reached the jam area, there was Christine.  I recognized her from the back cover of her jam cookbook.  She was carefully ladling out the jam into each jar surrounded by helping minions.  She asked her sister-in-law who I was, if I was in the industry etc, and I replied that I was merely a big fan.  She wasn’t that interested in my being a fan and went on with the job at hand.  I didn’t mind, I’d met her and fulfilled that dream I’d always thought of while making jams in Seattle.  Someday, maybe I’d go to France and meet this cookbook author who loves the same ripe fruits, spices and mixes that I do.  Maybe I’d meet Gabe’s relatives and try some of that Alsatian white wine, see a stork and buy as many jams as I wanted….That’s what our year traveling is about: fulfilling all of those someday daydreams.  You can be sure I’m carting around too much treasured jam and French pottery for the remainder of our trip! 

Also, if you want to try Christine’s jam, you’d either have to bribe me (but my supplies won’t last long) or Daniel Boulud (the only US importer) or fly over to visit beautiful Alsace. 

Merci beaucoup Delforge Family!