How does one say goodbye to a town? This is a question I have often asked myself. It might seem like a strange one to ask, unless you have had to try. Many years ago, when I left my hometown of Genval, Belgium, I did not think about saying goodbye. I just assumed that I would see it again, not knowing I would not get back there for fourteen years. But just like a friend I’ve known forever, towns can feel the same way.
I walk its streets and know every turn as the road rolls down to the valley and back up again. I recognize the iron gate at this house, the shutters on that one. I know the shortcuts and the scenic routes. I recognize the bench under the horse chestnut tree and the words I hear spoken around me. I sniff in the familiar scent of baking bread and beer. I seek out its hidden treasures and find its new ones. I watch its people as they go about their daily lives; some unaware of what surrounds them, others proud. All of this, I take in just as I breathe its air. Sometimes it’s only when I leave and then come back that the familiarity hits me.
When my daughters were young, I read with them a book by Uri Shulevitz called “The Treasure.” It follows a man who is looking for a treasure he has been told about. He travels far, over mountains, over rivers, through woods and arrives in another town only to find out that the treasure is back under his own house! When I read this story for the first time, it made me cry. Back then, I thought that I had left the treasure behind in my hometown of Genval. But then it dawned on me. I am always carrying the treasure inside myself.
Today, I leave Girona, Spain—maybe for the last time. As I let my eyes roam over a familiar sign, a stone arcade, as I peer out the window to the river below, as I walk through the plaza, the smell of frying food and coffee in the air, I choose not to say goodbye. Instead, I accept the gift of this place and its mark on my heart. And I will add it to the treasure I keep inside myself.
Food is also a way of recreating those places left behind. When I roll out and shape croissants or cook a paella or bake a meatloaf, I’m often remembering the treasures I carry. So whip something up that takes you back to that exact place and realize the richness you carry. To put myself back in Girona, I’ll soon be making some of these potatoes, served as tapas.
4 large potatoes, peeled and cut in bite-size pieces (I use Yukon)
Tomato sauce accompaniment
- frac12; cup crushed tomatoes
- Cayenne pepper to taste
- 1 tsp. paprika
- 1 tbsp. olive oil
- ½ tsp. sugar
- 1½ tsp. red wine
Garlic mayonnaise accompaniment
- 1 egg yolk
- 1 garlic clove
- 8 tbsp. olive oil
- 1 tsp. lemon juice
- 1 tsp. milk
- Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
- In a bowl, mix the potatoes with some olive oil, salt and pepper. Spread on a parchment lined baking sheet and bake for 40 minutes or until nicely browned and tender.
- While the potatoes are baking, put all the tomato sauce ingredients in a food processor and process.
- For the garlic mayonnaise, put the egg yolk and garlic in a food processor. Process until garlic is minced. Then, while processing, add olive oil in a slow and thin stream until incorporated.
- Serve the potatoes with toothpicks and the accompanying sauces. Wine would be a good complement.