If you ever find yourself in a Spanish grocery store, you should know “bicarbonato de sodio” is not salt. Don’t be misled by the salt shaped vessel it’s in or that it’s on the same shelf as the pepper. That superfine salt that you think you are buying and then dumping into a darling Moroccan salt container is actually baking soda. Baking soda in a never-seen-in-the-US- type consistency. (It looked like salt, really. You must believe me.)
We discovered this on Day 6 of our six day trip to Spain. Six dinners spiked with bicardonato de sodio. As you might expect, this substitution not only doesn’t season your food – it makes everything taste slightly off. Everyone noticed but the teenager. He appreciated whatever I did in the kitchen, as long as there was sufficient quantity and dessert to follow. When we outed our mistake (finally tasting the chemical substance in the lovely Moroccan container), Lawton tried to soothe the week of unsavory food disappointment by offering: “At least the pepper was good.”
Hrumph. All that good food wasted (or at a minimum not enjoyed in the way it was intended) because of one lousy ingredient. A lousy ingredient we kept pouring on in increasing amounts, desperate for a flavor pop. You can have all the makings of a perfect meal – the finest ingredients (our investments), the best cookbook (our education), a well equipped kitchen (our friends and family), cookery skills (10,000 hours) – but without a bit of salt (daily gratitude) – it’s all a bit flat, eh? Pepper (adventure) is indeed good, but we need a little splash of salt to bring out the flavor of what’s already there.
Beyond using Google Translate (which I do regularly when I grocery shop at home) or thinking back harder on my high school Spanish, I should have known about the bicardonato de sodio in another way. The baking soda was expensive, and sold in a much smaller container. Salt is cheap, and is sold in the big bags. Daily gratitude too doesn’t cost much, but it useful in so many ways than you’ll want to super-size it.
I almost lost my salt when we arrived in Spain. This was my first trip traveling with the boys in Europe by myself. To compensate for the solo parent travel jitters, I decided to go back to a place we’d been before – the small white village of Guaro in the mountains of Andalucia, Spain. We found some ridiculously cheap plane tickets on Ryan Air which happened to match up with the only available summer dates in my happy-place-away-from-home. Since Quinn had missed our trip in May, and we had all missed the sun that week, I resolved to follow Chris Stewart’s example of optimism and come back to Andalucia to “Drive Over Lemons” – this time in the heat.
The flight was smooth, the deplaning was not. Think cat and bull dog fighting in a sweltering 100% full airplane, with four carry-ons, and a preoccupied Master wondering how strict the Spanish are about renting a car to someone who forgot their driver’s license. Turns out they are very strict. There are details/excuses on how this oversight happened, none of which has yet to be received with a nod of “Oh yeah, totally happened to me too.” But before the Master completely lost it, she had the benefit of muzzled judgment by her loved ones, an available and helpful US DMV employee(!), and a soft-hearted, US friendly Hertz agent. Not sure if they Hertz guy took pity on my situation or was weakened by the 10 year old stare down, but I eventually got the car. Even better? I got the experience of having my 15 year old be the voice of calm. He is such his father’s son, and I am glad for it.
My intention for this trip was to relax, not go go. We had seen a lot of Andalucia on our May trip, and for this trip I wanted the boys to see the bottom of the pool. I was also a little timid about driving around too much - the whole not having a license thing combined with my natural navigation challenges. Marvelously, with the exception of one day trip to the thoroughly-researched Aqualand Torremolinos water park and another day trip to the beach town of Marbella, the boys were on my same page. It helped that the Tour de France was in full swing (and available in English on Sky TV!) and that the place just up the road from us was a B&B run by a Dutch Spaniard who happened to have a fleet of five rental bikes. Two of the five bikes fit the boys perfectly. The sun and hills zapped their energy pretty quickly, but it was a boon for them to be able to ride by themselves on the country mountain roads and for me to not have to figure out how to transport bikes on the rental car that surely had been flagged by authorities. (Not really, but so goes my imagination which also flares around noises in the night and snakes in my bed.)
The water park was an unexpected wave of fun for even me. My intention was to read in the shade, but instead I locked up my Kindle and bounded down (most) of the slides with my kiddos. Only one of my children did ALL the rides. It was not the oldest one; it was the middle one who had done the exhaustive water park research and also the ATV research in Greece. The beach was a bit of a letdown (in some cases two), but only because we were so spoiled by the beaches of Greece. The rest of the days – sidelined by a blister that prevented my hypochondriac Lawton from walking normally and kept him shrieking regularly – we stayed close to home. No one protested the pace.
The boys jumped in the pool about 25 times a day. We worked out on the terrace. We wore clothes sparingly. We read, we listened to audiobooks to keep the car quiet as I drove. We played games. No, that’s not right, I brought games. They played games on the iPad and their phones. They glued themselves to the Tour on the TV, while I glued myself to the couch on the terrace. They didn’t sleep enough, but who does in summer. We laughed and we all got along really well. We ate M&M’s and I drank Diet Coke because my husband wasn’t there. It was a little bit of Seattle summer by the pool, plus the view. In a different mind space, it could have seemed like a “boring” vacation but it wasn’t because we all CHOOSE to shake our salt shakers together.
We also ate every meal outside, and though they were tasteless, this view – and the relaxation of this happy place for all four of us – was better than a box of chocolates. And I really like chocolate.