I had my hair colored today in a local peluqueria. Like most salons, the place was sleek, with gleaming mirrors, complimentary tea, and lavender infused conditioning treatments. The woman who cut my hair is a madre from my oldest son’s classroom. As she twisted and parted, we discussed the horrors of new math and the unique pathology of the second grader.
The words were gentle and easy, hitting the backboards and swishing into the hoop.
An older woman named Carmen sat two seats down. It looked like she was in for her once-a week styling. Charo curled her hair into a stiff, but lovely helmet.
Carmen asked me if I had ever made puchero–a traditional, absolutely transcendent version of chicken soup. It involves a base of bones, meat, and fat, along with vegetables and garbanzo beans.
I smiled. I love talking about puchero. I had been taught how to make it once by my friend Maria. Hers melted on my tongue, and reminded me of fireplaces, snuggling with my mother in bed, warm puppy breath, and porch swings. Comfort in a bowl, homely and breathtaking.
And then, I tried to make it on my own. I did something to the fat, making my bowl a salty, lardy abomination. My husband broke through the congealed top layer with his spoon, gamely tried a swallow and told me, “I love you, but I just cant’t do this.”
I regaled Carmen with my story, and her laughter echoed through the space. “What did you put in it?” she asked.
I unwrapped my next word like a present, “Ajo.”
She exploded, wiping tears from her face. Putting garlic in puchero! That’s like putting chocolate syrup on pizza! Or beer in ice cream! It simply isn’t done.
Her laughter washed over me, and I relaxed in my chair. My friend twisted my hair up, and set me under the dryer.
My new cooking instructor pulled up a chair, her own styling complete, and walked me through the process of puchero. She named the best places to buy vegetables and meat, offered to let me borrow her special cooking pot, and pressed her phone number into my palm.
“Me llamo,” she said. Call me. When you are ready, I will teach you to make puchero.
Andalucia is not a perfect place, but it is an open place. But to walk through open doors, you must be willing to push them.
I will call her this week. Another flavor will enter my home.