I walk out into the living room, a little unbalanced.
“The black ones or the white ones?”
“Los blancos.” The white ones.
I’m not surprised. The ivory heels are significantly higher. “Okay. Let’s go.”
We buckle Tessa-pup up and drive off into the late Sunday morning. We have an hour and a half ahead of us. An hour and a half before we’re back in D-Man’s hometown for one of those rambunctious family meals that leaves you full for two days afterward and drunk by the end of the first hour.
Not that any of us mind – my mother-in-law’s cooking is legendary.
We arrive and there are 10 heaping plates of food, and 10 of us to feed, but first there are 20 kisses to give before we are made to sit down. So begins the art of eating a la española.
We begin with the usual appetizers – Iberian ham, cured cheeses, anchovies in garlic and vinegar, olive oil potato chips, boiled jumbo prawns, grilled jumbo prawns with lemon, spinach croquettes with pine nuts, and empanadas (stuffed pastries). There is a quiet ebb and flow of rioja, clinking glasses, beer-pouring, small talk, fizzing lambrusco, and laughter as everyone gets down to eating. Normally this would be more than enough for a tapa sort of meal, but not today…
The first of the plates are eventually cleared and my mother-in-law walks in with the second course. None of that soup and salad silliness. Instead we are having pimientos de piquillo – stuffed miniature bell peppers with bell pepper cream sauce. By the time everyone has heaped a few bell peppers onto their plates, the volume of the clinking glasses, small talk and laughter has risen considerably. D-Man and his brother have begun telling jokes, the rest of us are guffawing, and Tessa-monster is perched up with her front paws on the window sill, looking in from the tiled patio. The stuffed pimientos are so good I almost cry.
Before we know it, the plates are cleared again. We all comment on how full we are, how delicious it all was, and please, no more, for the love of God!
The third course is brought out, and everyone is going to eat it. We are presented with roasted sirloin pork fillets marinated in orange sauce, and before you can say ¡a comer! everyone has torn off pieces of bread from the bread loaves to soak up the juices with. The meat dissolves in your mouth.
The last of the rioja, beer, and lambrusco makes it round the table before getting replaced by a light fruit cocktail. At this point everyone is yelling stories, jokes, and politics across the table. My sister-in-law’s mother has unbuttoned the top of her blouse and I’ve kicked my heels off. The women are passing a flowery Spanish fan around because we are bright red and drunk. The men lean sideways, still telling jokes, in hopes of catching a breeze from the fan.
Then a homemade tarta is brought out – a massive beauty of a birthday cake for D-Man and his brother. Filled with custard, chocolate, and topped with whipped meringue and more chocolate. Everyone goes quiet as we are served heaping slices of cake. The whipped meringue is so good we almost cry.
¡Un digestivo, un digestivo! breaks the rare silence, and the liqueurs are brought out to accompany the cake. D-Man’s brother lethargically makes his way to the couch, where he wears my big sunglasses and tries to doze off, but not before my sister-in-law and I attack him with lipstick and blue clip-on earrings.
The ‘adults’ complain about how this family is full of boys, so we slather make-up on D-Man’s face, too. “Here are the daughters you never had!” We laugh and laugh til we almost die, before D-Man announces we should hit the road again before it gets dark.
And there are 10 empty dessert plates, and 10 stomachs filled, but first there are 20 kisses to give before we can all say goodbye.