Sunday, May 01, 2005

Year of Gastronomy in Spain

April was the month for an unexpected journey. On the 20th an old customer called with a question. She was invited to go to Spain as part of the Year of Gastronomy promotion sponsored by the Spanish Tourist Office. They wanted her for her travel writing experience, but she called me to ask if I could bring her up to speed on the food part of the trip. (Many of you don't know that I write a regular column in the local newspapers (both) - often food-related.) She happened to remember one in particular, on the Spanish dish, Paella, that opened with a steamy paragraph about harvesting the reproductive organs of the autumn crocus for the principal spice. Her (and everyone's) initial reaction was shock at the salacious writing, but I was just having fun, and pulled it off without crossing any lines or offending any sensibilities. It was a reminder that eating is a sensuous experience, and everyone enjoyed it. Here - judge for yourself ---

"Beneath a diaphanous, azure covering, there, lying naked and inviting before me, was the prettiest beauty I'd ever seen. I gently lifted what was so blue it could have been the reflection of the perfect October sky, and deftly slid my caressing hand down onto the now exposed genitals. My mind was in turmoil. One part was shocked by the violation I was about to perform, but, the other was so excited that I could barely control my emotions. There has to be a first time for everything, I reasoned. I started to salivate as my trembling fingers circled the swollen p--
Before I go any farther, I'll share the advice an author once included at about this point in the first chapter of his book. He said that to get a reader's attention and really hold it, the opening paragraphs should be so hot the pages almost burn your fingers as you turn them. And, while I certainly want to hold your attention, I am torn about the salacious writing used to accomplish that. It's just that I was struck by the sexuality of my actions as I - well, never mind. I'll just back up a little bit and finish the sentence so you'll see what I mean.
. . . as my trembling fingers circled the swollen pistil and ripe stamens of the Crocus sativus, the autumn flowering, or saffron, crocus. Then I plucked them. Yes, a momentous event occurred today. I harvested my first crop of saffron! For those of you who don't know, saffron is made up of the tiny little reproductive parts of the diminutive fall crocus. It sells for around $200 a pound. Most recipes call for a half teaspoon, or less, so my efforts this morning are enough for two, possibly three meals of -- Paella."

See? That wasn't so bad, was it? Anyway, all the culinary information I offered her was very well received by the tourism office, and she was set to go on the tour.
Unfortunately for her, she became very ill the next day, and had to decline. Since the trip left on the 23rd, this was a very last minute cancellation, leaving the tourism office in a bind. She told them of my assistance, and suggested I go as a replacement. I was stunned when they asked me. In fact, I am still in a state of disbelief that it happened at all. It was such a last-minute, impetuous thing to do, but I accepted. Could you say no to an all expense paid, week-long gastronomy tour of Spain? I couldn't!
So - now you know why the shop was closed and I was unavailable. My apologies for disappointing so many customers, but a week of being treated like visiting royalty in four-star hotels, with chefs of international renown preparing an endless succession of nouvelle cuisine recipes, using all native ingredients, was the experience of a lifetime (and then some!!) But now, exhausted and stuffed to the gills, and with a cholesterol count in the stratosphere - I'm baaack!

Read all about it and see some great photos -