These croquetas were really special to me for a number of reasons. Simply put, they represent my experience in Spain. They bring back a chain of memories that fill up a typical day as a student in Spain - from hunger pangs throughout morning classes, to that perfect first bite through the delicate crust into the warm, delicious gooeyness beneath. And then the feeling of complete and utter satiation afterwards and wanting nothing more than to lay down in a food coma. But, begrudgingly, I would walk back to class instead. And from these small moments, I reminisce about long lunches spent watching Karlos Arguiñano with Emma, spending 3 glorious hours in the morning speaking Spanish, running along the Mediterranean Sea, intercambios, and I fall into a straight daydream of those awesome 77 days.
After a semester of hearing Emma and I squealing with delight at the sight of croquetas on our plates at lunch, Maria Jose graciously invited us into her home to teach us how to make these fried balls of heaven. And what began as a cooking lesson turned into a 10-hour marathon of cooking, eating and sharing and my favorite day of the entire adventure.
Emma and I began our day early Sunday morning by getting quite lost on the way to Maria's house and asking several friendly but unhelpful Spanish people for directions. The Spanish are notorious for their direction-giving and they certainly lived up to their name that day! But at least they were friendly!
But we finally made it and were welcomed with open arms and besos. We met Maria Jose's kids and puppy, Honey, and then got right to work! We made the filling for the croquetas, canalones filled with spinach, tuna & pine nuts and smothered in homemade bechamel sauce, fresh mussels with lemon and parsley, and a simple salad made of romaine lettuce and covered in a sauce of fried garlic and olive oil - all before lunch! The whole time we were frantically copying down the recipes in Spanish and taste-testing anything and everything!
We enjoyed lunch with Maria, her daughter and her son, who have both been to the US and speak English wayyyyy better than I speak Spanish. They were all so friendly and welcoming and we feasted on the food we had just made - all with fresh ingredients and made with love. We talked for a bit afterwards as our tummies rejoiced with all of the deliciousness and it was back to the kitchen for us.
While the croqueta filling was still cooling, Maria shared some stories from her past, from her childhood, through heartbreaks, and finally her true happiness in life, her children. She shared some typical Spanish desserts over coffee and tea. She shared her photos and her philosophy for life. She completely opened up her home and made us feel like part of her family. We continued to write down recipes and just enjoy each others' company. After 10 hours of full bellies and great conversations, Emma and I reluctantly took said our goodbyes and headed home. We both sat in complete silence on the bus ride, physically and mentally exhausted from a great day of cooking with a beautiful and strong woman.
And even though they were nowhere near as good as Maria Jose's, they reminded me of that great day and the love that she put into everything she did. I'm sure there was no better way to spend one of my final days in Spain with such great company. It's a day I will never forget and now I'm so glad I get to share some of my life in Spain with my family and friends! And Emma has a great post about it that perfectly captures the day, filled with awesome pictures. Miss you, chica!