My memories of Spain are like a perfect dream. Fast trains, ancient villages and beautiful, sun-soaked countryside. Languid meals on stunning beaches, strains of flamenco music and the sound of my sister-in-law laughing. Always, the sound of Maria-Jose’s laughter. Then flashes to night time. Strolling from bar to bar in Almeria, nibbling on tapas and running in to every person she’d ever met. All of that is tumbled together with feeling warm and loved, Spain just does that. It’s a place that never fails to bring a smile.
When my brother married Maria-Jose, I’d only met her a few times. It was her easiness and quick smile that made me see why he loved her. She wanted to share the world – her world – with me. One day, that meant driving four hours along the Andalusian coast to a beach front restaurant for “the best” paella, before heading home to host 12 of her closest friends for a simple dinner of gazpacho, a tortilla, bread with tomato and ham, a large pitcher of chilled tinto de verano and patatas bravas. With a deft hand, in a kitchen no bigger than a coat closet, she stood, barefooted, making food, chatting and loving life. As people finished eating, my brother and the other boys brought out their guitars. The girls joyfully danced flamenco, before pulling me up to form in to a chorus line to sing mi manera in flawed harmony. Could the evening have been more Spanish?
When I left after that visit, she kissed my cheeks and promised to send me a recipe so I could make my home a bit more like theirs. This is that recipe, with a few little Southern California tweaks.