Cure

You’re welcome to listen to the Cure while you read this post – I won’t stop ya and besides I love a good pun.
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This past weekend my good friend Emily and I went to the rural town of Valdemanco, nestled in the Sierra Mountains outside of Madrid to learn the centuries old craft of meat curing. To say that I was excited would be an understatement – I’ve been on the waitlist for the course for over a year and at risk of sounding hip it’s true, I am a foodie! Chorizo, salchichón, morcilla, jamón, these are the meats that can turn a bad day in Spain right side up. I often find myself eating a little cured something with bread and wine for dinner. Food for me was one of the reasons I came to live here, and dammit I was not going to leave without learning how to cure a pata de jamón. So now I know, now I can leave (just kidding! Sorry Mom I love you).IMG_7639 (1)

Juan, our instructor/comedian led us through two days of dicing, slicing, mixing, salting, cleaning, stuffing, wrapping and hanging. We made the basics and then some, we learned how to commercialize our home operations and we learned how to take short cuts for faster home results. Cured meat, I came to find is a real waiting game and at its core is a way to preserve and feed through hard winters. It’s traditionally a woman’s craft, a knowledge base passed on from mother to daughter and characterized by the flavors and spices at hand.

Why November? Because it’s cold. Why paprika? Because they had it. Why cinnamon in salchichón? Because cinnamon hides bad flavors, it’s strong enough to mask whatever imperfections may arise during the cure. We learned Juan’s grandmother’s secrets and the recipes that have come to be the classics all around the country. In Asturias they put parsley in some of their sausages because it’s seasonal there…who knew?! IMG_7604

That evening Emily and I were pretty wiped out. We wandered back to the town where we were staying and posted up at an even smaller bar and had a glass of wine. Next thing we knew a guitar player showed up and what must have been every person that lives in Bustarviejo was at there to hear him. It was one of those moments for both of us, we said, that reminded us why we live here. The shared sense of history, the community and of course the culture. It’s something you can begin to miss in Madrid since it’s bigger and has so many expats. We had a glass of wine too many and yeah, we even danced – how could you not?!

At the end of two full days we tasted some of the most delicious charcuterie all together as a class. Venison chorizo, pumpkin morcilla, and of course jamón ibérico de bellota, Spain’s top tier hazelnut-fed Iberian ham. We exchanged numbers (I got some great restaurant contacts and ranchers/purveyors in my little black book now!) and headed home. The trip of a lifetime and I’m certainly out of my slump now. I’ve got a little morcilla hanging in my fridge doing it’s thing until January and when I slice it open I will absolutely share! For as many hard days as there are in Madrid looking for a job and getting with the hustle of the city there are absolutely times when I remember what a gem it is to be here. I learned a new thing. Spain is rad and this cooking adventure cured me, that’s a fact.

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imageWaiting for my trainI ride the metro in Madrid a lot. In fact, not a single day goes by when I don’t ride the metro. Most days I shuffle down into the damp and dimly lit rattling tube four or five times. Up and down the escalators, dodging dudes with too many bags and teenagers making out to reggaeton. I watch people look at their phones, sometimes people pan handle, lovers caress, kids drop yogurt and dads yell, even sometimes I watch the occasional person watching another person. It sounds drab and I’m making it out to be that way because today on the metro I’m writing and reflecting a little bit on what it is to me and what it all means. This is a philosophical article so get out now if you’re not in the mood.

I have had the insane privilege of growing up in an evergreen wonderland with parents who…wait for it…loved their jobs. To be realistic, they’re academics, so they’re lucky to get paid to do exactly what they love with their minds glued to a subject matter in pursuit of the greater common knowledge. Dreamy. They helped me with my homework. My sister and I worked summer jobs and by no means we’re we ever told that we deserved something special but we certainly learned that playing tough, playing fair and asking the right people for help would get you somewhere. My sister is now an academic. I’m still on the metro I’m not at my stop yet.

I got a spot so now I can sit down, next to a guy that smells like garlic and I’m reflecting on a pretty measly LSAT score and yet another Spanish company that can’t find the will to make a job contract for me. I’ve been in Spain for four years so you’re right to doubt me; perhaps I’m not trying hard enough or maybe my standards are too high or that I am simply unqualified for the jobs I want. There are plenty of Spanish people who might ask me what I’m even doing here and that if I want to complain about the job market I should just go home. I don’t know if this is complaining, per se but rather accepting defeat and maybe in a larger sense (since I’ve got the time, lord knows I ride this metro way to much) reflecting on what a job means to me. I want to feel a larger sense of purpose. I want a job that’s hard, a job that challenges me and that challenges my coworkers in the best and worst ways. I want to wake up in the morning and get to work and feel like the people I am with have faith in me and I want to trust them too. My train rolls into a stop called Velazquez and a bunch of folks wearing really nice suits get on. They’re trying to ignore the girl with the dreadlocks and the dog.

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Every summer I go home and for the past few summers I’ve worked immersed in the forest of the Pacific Northwest guiding children and adults through challenging situations of survival. Lots of my coworkers have dreadlocks, they’ll blow you out of the water with how articulate they are, how many edible plants they can positively ID, how quickly they can build a fire. When I come back to Spain I work with kids and adults outside of the forest but similarly aim to guide them; they choose the questions and I try to help them get to a reasonable answer. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t but we always ask ourselves why. I’m that chick that just can’t get enough Montessori in her life. Sue me. So am I hurting the people I teach? Am I actually doing them a disservice if the job markets they are destined for require, even need, them to do things that they don’t fully agree to? I’m only asking because yet another job fell through on me. This time it was a suit job, an office-9-to-5-make-friends-with-the-right-people job. I’m sitting here wondering why I even wanted it in the first place. Why I even wanted to work at a company with an HR team that really could not get their sh*t together. There are aspects of every job that we can’t always love, even if we love what we do. But I feel as though I’m scratching on the surface of a larger itch of mine, this messed up thing inside me that wants to actually sit in a desk, stop asking questions and never guide anyone to their own realizations. Not be academic. Wear a suit. Gotta get off my stop and I think this is getting rambly.

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Maybe it’s Spain. Maybe it’s me. Maybe it’s just today and tomorrow I’ll feel a little different. The train screeches to a stopped I push my way between an accordion player and a small child with her mom. I’m not sure how to finish this article and as I walk home (but first up the endless set of metro de Madrid stairs) it dawns on me that I don’t have to finish it. Maybe it’s just the beginning of something and I’ll let you know how it ends when I get there.