Hearing God in the Wind and the Waves

A totally different world, that is the best way to describe it. Living in the United States, we have no concept of structures that are 500-1000 years old. But there we were, driving through a city in which you can be in a modern office building and walk across the street to a Gothic Cathedral or an ancient Roman wall that was built before the Spanish Inquisition. Imagine seeing a wall still standing that was built-in the 1300’s or a Cathedral that still holds mass and has been standing for 563 years. That would be our life for almost a year as my husband took a job implementing a software system near Barcelona, Spain.

I will never forget the day we left. Our children were 3-years and 5-years old at the time. It was the Saturday before Easter and we were getting ready for the biggest, most daring adventure that we could imagine. We tried to keep everything a normal as possible for the children. We took them to the annual Easter Egg Hunt in our community and then came home for lunch. Our bags were already packed, two per person and our carry-on bags. It was an overnight flight with hopes that the children would sleep through the majority of the trek overseas. The children got a bubble bath with bubbles overflowing and then put in clothes that were comfortable enough to sleep.

We would need to be at the airport by 5:00 pm for our 6:00 pm flight. Needing to leave home by 4:15 pm, my nerves were starting to show and I felt jittery all over. Would we be able to adapt to living in a foreign country? Would I find any friends? Would the children fit in to their new surroundings? I took French in college, would I be able to learn Spanish and communicate well? These were just a few of many questions I had. But there was no way that I would outwardly show my fear. I needed to be strong…

As we drove through the downtown area of Barcelona, tall buildings towering over us (we made a wrong turn and were lost), we drove past statues celebrating, or in memoriam, of someone or something. We would eventually have the time to learn about all of those statues but that night, we just wanted to get to the flat. We had left home 19 hours earlier and we were dealing with a seven hour time difference. As we drove past the Barcelona Zoo, I remember thinking how appropriate it was that this adventure begins on our 12th anniversary, the other great adventure of my life.

Finally we arrived to our flat. It was beautiful, the 5th floor of a six floor apartment building. We would live across the street from a high school on one side, a garden nursery on another side and the Mediterranean Sea was our balcony view. In fact, we were only 200 meters from the sea. In the evening we could sit out and look at the cruise ship lights in the distance and hear the crash of the waves. (This becomes significant in my story.)

Because we knew that our stay in Spain was temporary, we took as much free time as we could to visit the sights, see all we could see. My husband worked long hours and many times he left before the children were awake and home after they were in bed. As we would arrive in the spring, the children and I would have adventures during the day or go to the beach or pool and many trips to the zoo. They would eventually go to an English/Catalan school but the spring/summer was ours.

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I am a Foodie/Am I a Foodie?

I am a foodie. Or am I? Food evokes wonderful memories for me. Everything about food fascinates me. I relish in learning how foods are prepared, the background/history of a recipe and the experience of a new taste. I also am a food snob sometimes. I hate it when a person tries to place their recipe or restaurant in a category that just doesn’t fit. But….they think that some are not well-educated and they think they can get away with their deceit (that explanation later).

I am in no way a gourmet but I do appreciate the finer foods of life. When I have people over for dinner, I try to make a meal that will be memorable for them. I do try to stay away from traditional Midwest cooking, the standard rump roast with potatoes and carrots or chicken and noodles over mashed potatoes. While those are foods I will make for my family, I try to be more creative with guests.

This propensity may come from my upbringing. My grandmother and mother were/are great cooks. New recipes were always just a meal away. When my grandmother died, I was chosen to be in charge of all of her cookbooks. I now have hundreds of cookbooks in my home just waiting for me to peruse. I am to look through them to make sure there are no side bar notes in recipes or loose leaf recipes in the pages. My problem is I want to look at every recipe and see which ones I want to keep.

Family dinners were always something to which I looked forward.  In my family, there were certain foods that were only made during certain holidays. We only get creamed pearl onions on Thanksgiving. Same for mashed sweet potatoes with pineapple. A full turkey was only roasted at Thanksgiving and “real” ham (bone in smoked) was only done at Christmas. Pumpkin pie…only at Thanksgiving.

When I became an adult and was married, my husband and I began our own food traditions. Some from my childhood were gone away. Others were created. For instance, we usually purchase more than one turkey at Thanksgiving so we have one in the freezer for a later roast (or smoke), likewise with ham. No one time a year, for us. Same goes for pumpkin pie, we have it when we want. There are just some foods that are too good to have only once a year. If my family like creamed onions, I would make them. As it is, I have made them only once in the eleven years that we have celebrated Thanksgiving in our home. My husband likes sweet potatoes whole with brown sugar and butter only. No fancy, mashed with pineapple, sweet potato for him. That is fine. While I do like what I grew up eating, I am also fine with undoctored sweet potatoes.

When we were first married, we split our fall/winter holidays. If we spent Thanksgiving with one side of family, we spent Christmas with the other. Our small family started celebrating Thanksgiving with just us when we lived in Spain. We liked the time together and found that, after moving home, we missed not having that intimate time to celebrate in our own home. While we have never limited the number of guests in our home at Thanksgiving, we do not go to someone else’s home. There are some years when there are just four of us. Other years may find 8-10 celebrating.

Now I get back to my food snob designation. We lived in Spain just under a year. But in that time, our life was greatly impacted and changed forever. I cannot speak for my other family members, but I found that I am truly a Spaniard at heart. When I am here, I long to live in Spain. When I am in Spain, I do not long to be back here. I often tell my husband that if he dies before me, I will move to Spain.

We immersed ourselves in the Spanish life. Our children went to a local, private school, not an American school. We lived in a Spanish community, learned the language, ate the native food, ate fast food only rarely and learned as much as we could about the history of Spain while we lived there. For all intense purposes, I became Spanish. I actually have a hard time saying Spanish, because we lived in Catalunya where the language is Catalan and it is rather different from most of Spain. (for those of you who do not know, Barcelona is in Catalunya. We lived about 26 km up the coast from Barcelona)

When we moved home, we looked for Spanish wine, Spanish food, anything Spanish and it was not to be found. As the years passed from our life there, Spanish things began to show up in our area. We were so excited when a Spanish restaurant opened in Omaha. We went there one night and found out that the owner had an uncle that owned a restaurant in Catalunya. In fact, my husband would eat there every week on the day they served paella. We had a wonderful time. It was so good that when friends, who lived an hour away from Omaha, came to visit, we made reservations.

We made early reservations so they could get home to their young children at a decent hour. About an hour before we were to arrive at the restaurant, someone calls and says that we had reservations but that we would have to give up our table after an hour! That is unheard of in Spain! Once you are at a table, for the most part, it is yours. In Spain, an evening meal will last up to 4 hours and we had less than an hour to eat (taking into consideration the time to prep the food). I explained to the person that was not the Spanish way and how could they expect us to enjoy a traditional Spanish meal in an hour. They said they didn’t care and we would have to relinquish our table after an hour. I got know where with the manager either, so needless to say, we did not honor that reservation and never went back with that owner. We went back under new ownership and the food was just not that good so now we have never been back.

Years after that fiasco, a lounge opened that touted that they served tapas. My anticipation for a true tapas bar was dashed when I went online and looked at their menu. Now if you say tapas, you should think Spanish, just like when you see an Italian restaurant, you would think pasta. Not the case, this “tapas” bar had french fries, nachos, chicken wings on their tapas menu. Those are not tapas, those are appetizers. As someone who lived in Spain, I can tell you that I never went to a tapas bar that had nachos or chicken wings on their menu. Their menu would have pan con tomate (bread with tomato), aceitunas (olives) almendras (almonds), numerous types of fish/seafood but not nachos! I really was concerned that people in the area would actually think that what they were getting was tapas. Their definition of tapas did not give a proper representation of the true experience. I frankly, was offended.

That is how I knew that I had become a food snob. I believe that if you say that you represent a certain ethnic food, you should be loyal to that country. If you are Mexican, serve Mexican, not Tex-Mex. If you serve Tex-Mex, say so. You can have other items on the menu to appeal to the masses, but don’t say you are one thing and then not have it on the menu.

Maybe that is one reason why I have so many cookbooks because I want to be an informed cook. I would not say that I am a purest because there are many times that I make a modified ethnic food. My daughter says she loves my refrigerator Chinese. That is where I open the refrigerator and see what I have that is fresh and then stir fry it with rice, definitely not authentic Chinese. But I do not represent it as anything other than what it is, using what I have in the frig before it goes bad.

I think I have gotten myself into a food blog mindset so keep checking back for other thoughts on food or foods of thought. I already have streaming in my head thoughts of food from Spain, my “mini’s” theme on a Progressive Dinner in which I had the first course, cookies and oh the list could go on….

Latte’ for the day has no name. I combined some end of the bottle flavorings and ended up with chocolate, white chocolate, toasted marshmallow and coconut. Pretty tasty!