Repaying the kindness of a stranger turned friend

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By: Rachel Shenk

Rachel Shenk/Flavor 574

November is leaving us with its chilling wind and stark landscapes. The month has been flying by, and as December approaches, I am thinking of what I have lived this year and what I am thankful for. And that takes me back to a warmer place where November means sunny skies, light Mediterranean breezes and flowering plants.

Jim and I took a trip to thank the man who, one year ago, eased us through the troubles of unexpected hospitalization. Francisco lives in Valencia, Spain. He grew up there and knows it in a familiar way.

We were living in one of Francisco’s apartments when Jim had to have emergency surgery. Since he was our only contact, I called him to give him the news and ask if we could prolong our stay in the apartment. “Unfortunately,” he told me, “I have already rented it out to another party. But I have another apartment down by the beach that is not being used right now.”

He proceeded to tell me where it was, then volunteered to drive me and our belongings there. After a ten minute ride from the city center following the palm tree lined boulevard, Francisco showed me through the ground floor apartment and pointed out where the local market was.

He walked with me to the city bike rental station, showed me where the bus and metro stops were. He gave me a tour of the neighborhood around number 10, Calle del Progresso. “The bakery is right around this corner and just across the way is the pharmacy, if you need it.” He pulled out a map so I could find my way to the beach.

He also asked about Jim and which hospital he was staying in, then reassured me that it was one of the best in the area. “They will take good care of him there. He will be in good hands,” he told me in his broken English. I made myself at home in this new place and used it as a good base away from the hospital for a couple of hours each day.

Then, Francisco came to visit us in the hospital. He brought the gift of a book and assurances that Jim would get better soon. And when Jim was ready to be released, we had peace of mind knowing that we had continued use of the apartment.

When I asked Francisco what the bill would be for this additional stay, he informed me that he was letting us stay there for free. “You have other things to worry about. Please use it as long as you need it. It’s yours!” We gratefully accepted, overwhelmed by his kindness. But with all the details of flying an outpatient home, we had no time to properly thank him.

So just a few days ago, we made good on our promise. We stayed again in his apartment. And took him out for an evening in the local neighborhood. This time, we paid the bill, then thanked him again for his generosity.

“It’s just one of those situations where you do what you have to do,” he said, brushing it off. In our book, it meant the world. And the outcome: we are connected to that place and to Francisco for life — and in this case, truly for life.

It has taken some words to tell this story. And, yes, there is a lot to be thankful for. Francisco’s name will come up again this week when we gather with family and I make my annual bourbon marinated turkey with all the trimmings, including a bourbon pecan pie.

Here is the recipe, if you want to try it. It goes well with the chestnut stuffing recipe of a few weeks ago.

Bourbon Marinated Turkey

Ingredients

  • ¾ cups maple syrup
  • ⅓ cup bourbon
  • 3 cups orange juice
  • 1½ cups vegetable bouillon

This will make enough marinade for a 16 lb. fresh turkey.

Directions

  1. Mix together the marinade ingredients the evening before you roast the turkey.
  2. Rinse off the turkey with cold water, then pat dry. Put the turkey in a oven bag, making sure to remove the heart, neck and gizzard from the central cavity.
  3. Place in a roaster. Pour the marinade into the bag. Let the turkey sit in the marinade overnight in the refrigerator, turning it every hour while you are still awake.
  4. In the morning, make several slits in the top of the bag. Bake at 350 degrees according to the directions per pound. Make sure the turkey has reached an internal temperature of 180 degrees.
  5. Carefully remove the turkey from the bag and let stand for twenty minutes before slicing.
  6. In the meantime, make gravy using 4 cups of the marinade drained from the roasting bag. Bring the marinade to a boil, then add salt to taste. Mix 3 tbsp. of cornstarch with 3 tbsp. of water and slowly stir the mixture into the marinade until thickened to your taste. Serve with the turkey.
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