Those of you who have read two or more (or even all) of my novels may have noticed a common theme in relation to the heroines: each is immersed in a new culture.
In Burning Embers, Coral is returning to Kenya, where she lived in her early childhood, to take over her inheritance, a plantation. Since the age of nine she has lived exclusively in England – Kenya, then, is a strange and exotic new world.
In The Echoes of Love, Venetia has come to live in Italy to work for her godmother’s architect firm in Venice. She has grown up in England, but is looking for a new start removed from the heartbreak she’s known in London; mysterious Venice, city of mirrors, seems a good fit.
In Indiscretion, Alexandra has a mixed heritage: her mother was English, her father is Spanish. But she has been estranged from her Spanish roots ever since her mother left her father (and then, subsequently, died), and has built a life in England. When she is invited to Spain, to meet her Spanish family, curiosity drives her to accept. But the Andalucía of 1950 is so very different to all she has known before.
In Masquerade, Alexandra’s daughter, Luz, is centre stage. Her mother is half-Spanish, her father Spanish; she is rooted in Andalucía. But her travels – she was educated abroad, in England – have made her open to new cultures, and she finds that she is fascinated by the gypsies in the area, their history and culture.
Finally, we come to Legacy, the conclusion to the Andalucían Nights series. Again, the heroine is of mixed heritage; this time her mother was Spanish and her father is American. Luna has grown up in the US, but a job assignment sends her to Cadiz, where she is surprised to see just how much a pull her Spanish roots have.
Culture, then is a very important in my novels. I take a young woman and thrust her out of the comfortable, safe – a little staid – life she has always known, and plunge her into a brand-new culture, one that is colourful and vibrant and exhilaratingly exotic, but also, by its nature of being foreign, somewhat overwhelming. Emotions run high as this new environment challenges the heroine at her very core: Who is she? Where does she fit, in this world or the last? Where in the world will she choose to live – in what cultural landscape? Most importantly, what kind of man will she fall for, one from her past or one from this heady new place?
The journey that my heroines take is one with which I identify strongly. I grew up in Egypt, and because the government put my family under a sequestration order, we were not able to travel for many years. As a child that did not concern me too much; Egypt has much to offer to occupy the mind of a little girl with a big imagination. But by the time I was a young woman, with a degree in French Literature from the University of Alexandria, I had a deep-seated need to see the world.
I spent several years travelling in my twenties, predominantly in Europe, and I met my husband at a drinks party in London. Ever since we have lived something of a cosmopolitan life, between different cultures: this year, for example, we have divided our time between our homes in Ireland, England and France, and we have travelled to Egypt to see family and to the Greek islands, as part of research for a future novel.
For me, experiencing different cultures and their people is as essential a part of life as reading and writing (as Moroccan traveller Ibn Battuta said, ‘Traveling – it leaves you speechless, then turns you into a storyteller’). That is why all my novels are infused with a passion for travel. But not only travel, of journeying to an end point.
Each of my books is really about the heroine finding a home, wherever that may be, a place in the world where she belongs. For Alexandra, that means settling in Andalucía, with her Spanish family. But the ending, I know from my own life, need not be so simple. Coral, for example, decides to move to France with French-born Rafe and live there in his manor, because the Africa she loves (of the 1970s) is changing; but she will return each year to visit her plantation in Kenya, which will always be a special place because there she and Rafe fell in love. The place matters, of course, but it is what it represents – memories, emotions, connections to people – that is really of importance.
As American writer Henry Miller said, ‘One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.’
Are you thinking about Christmas yet? Are you getting in the mood for feasting and merriment?
No doubt if you’ve been to a supermarket recently you’ve noticed a proliferation of Christmas fare on offer, from mince pies to gingerbread houses, stollen to macaroons. But have you spotted the traditional confectionary from Cádiz, Andalucía, setting for my new novel Legacy? If you don’t live in Spain, you most likely haven’t come across this delicious treat in your local shops – which is why today I’m sharing a recipe so that you can try it for yourself at home.
[Picture credit: Tamorlan]
First, a little background on Pan de Cádiz. The name translates to ‘bread of Cádiz’, but in fact it is not a bread, it simply looks a little like a loaf. It is also known as Turrón de Cádiz (Cadiz nougat) or Mazapán de Cádiz (Cádiz marzipan), which more aptly convey the content of the sweet.
Various varieties exist, but the core recipe for Pan de Cádiz always includes marzipan made with ground almonds, sugar, egg yolk and candied fruit, and it often includes sweet potatoes (and sometimes crystallised pumpkin). The Moors, who once lived in Cádiz, had much to do with the uptake of turrón, a nougat made from almonds, honey, egg yolks and sugar, and back in the nineteenth century the people of Cádiz would eat marzipan rolls with fruit. But it was a pastry chef named Antonio Valls Garrido put the two together and pioneered the Pan de Cádiz in his pastry shop, the Pastelería Viena, on the corner of San Miguel and Novena streets in the city.
If you’ve never tasted Pan de Cádiz, you’ve missed a treat: it’s sweet and flavourful, with a lovely moist and creamy texture, and the candied fruit within makes it fun and colourful. The people of Cadiz – and, indeed, in surrounding territories – eat Pan de Cádiz at Christmas, when it is handmade at home or bought from bakeries.
Traditionally, the process for Pan de Cádiz is as follows: Make a syrup with water and sugar – heat, and then cool. Add to well-beaten egg yolks and stir until thickened. Mix in ground almonds, sugar and cinnamon. Knead the ‘dough’ well, and form into the preferred shape (often a loaf), scattering into the layers the candied fruits. Brush with egg yolk and bake until golden. Then leave in a cool, dark place for several days to mature.
I follow a much simpler recipe when I make Pan de Cádiz, which incorporates sweet potato. You can use this recipe as a base and experiment with different additions, like your choice of candied fruit (I especially like to add the citrus fruits lemon, lime and orange).
500 grams almond flour
500 grams caster sugar
200 grams candied sweet potato (yams)
3 large eggs
- Preheat oven to 180 degrees C (350 degrees F).
- Mix the flour, sugar and two egg whites. Knead.
- Mix in the sweet potato and two egg yolks to one-third of the marzipan.
- Halve the remaining marzipan and roll out into two rectangles.
- Spread the sweet potato mixture onto one marzipan rectangle, and then place the other marzipan slice on top.
- Shape as desired (I favour the traditional loaf shape).
- Brush with the remaining egg yolk.
- Bake for 20 to 25 minutes until the loaf is a dark golden brown.
- Allow to cool, and then slice.
I serve Pan de Cádiz for guests over the seasonal period as part of a platter of sweet treats from around the world, with either tea or a sherry – which of course originates from Jerez de la Frontera in Andalucía, and so is the perfect accompaniment.
If, like me, you enjoy exploring different cuisines in your own kitchen, and the Mediterranean flavours of Spanish cuisine appeal, I can recommend this new cookbook by British food and travel writer Paul Richardson, which offers more than 100 easy-to-follow and delicious recipes that deliver authentic Spanish cuisine to home cooks everywhere:
First on my list to try? The authentic Spanish Hot Chocolate – perfect for the colder, darker nights.
I love the city of Cadiz, Andalucía, that ‘lively and luminous’ city known as ‘the Bride of the Sea’, so much so that I set not one but two of my romance novels there: Masquerade and Legacy.
Cadiz is the very oldest city in Spain, and one of the oldest in all of Western Europe; consequently, the city is steeped in history and legend, which of course is very appealing to a romance novelist!
Did you know that, according to mythology, Cadiz was founded by none other than Hercules himself, while on his journey to the end of the world to take on the monster Geryon (his tenth labour)? In addition, in ancient times a temple was erected there by the Phoenicians to honour Kronos, leader of the first generation of Titans, and father of Zeus, Poseidon, Hades, Hestia, Demeter and Hera, and it is said to have been the site of the pillars of Hercules.
The temple stood on a little islet that juts out from the emblematic La Caleta beach in the city. The temple is long gone, but what has been constructed there since has an interesting history.
Cadiz is the city of watchtowers, and one such tower has stood on the little island for centuries, to be used for defence (over the years the Phoenicians, Carthaginians and Romans penetrated Spain at this point), and also for protection, wherein the light cast by the tower acted as a lighthouse to warn sailors of the islet’s presence.
In 1457, when the plague infected a boat from Venice, the crew were forced to quarantine themselves until they recovered, and while doing so the city of Cadiz permitted them to use the islet. There, the sailors built a chapel dedicated to Saint Sebastian, patron saint of the plague stricken.
In 1706, it was decided that a watchtower was insufficient defence for the city, and the San Sebastián Castle was built. The castle, which was further developed in 1860, is notable for its irregular shape, the outer walls following the lines of the island.
Nestled within the safety of the walls is the lighthouse, this iteration built on the site of the old Moorish watchtower back in 1908, when it was fabulously modern, being only the second lighthouse in the country to be run on electricity. It towers over the castle, some 41 metres above the sea.
Originally, the island was cut off from the mainland, but in the late nineteenth century a causeway was built. Today, visitors to Cadiz walk along the causeway, the Paseo Fernando Quiñones, out to the island and through the magnificent old archways into the fortress.
I did this walk while researching my Andalucían nights series, and was so inspired by the perspective I got of the city; the views really are worth the long and windy walk along the causeway. Because the fortress is not wholly restored and polished into a tourist attraction, I got such a strong sense of history and legend out on that little islet.
But it’s not just my imagination that’s been captured by this fortress on an island. If you’re wondering, having looked at the picture above, why San Sebastián Castle looks familiar, it may well be because you saw it in the James Bond film Die Another Day. Although the action is meant to be set in Havana, Cuba, that country has been off limits to film-makers since its revolution, and so Cadiz was chosen as a substitute. The iconic scene where Halle Berry walks out of the sea? That was filmed at La Caleta beach. The island with the clinic? That is the San Sebastián Castle.
Have you ever visited San Sebastián Castle? Would you like to? Do you enjoy exploring old castles – ruined or renovated? Do you find an air of romance within the old stone walls?
If there is one thing I know about the Spanish – having visited their beautiful country many times and set my most recent fictional works, the Andalucían Nights trilogy, there – it is this: they are fiercely proud of their culture and heritage.
That pride extends to cuisine, it has become apparent in the past weeks, when the Spanish nation united in outrage over a British chef fiddling with their beloved dish paella.
Newspapers have delighted in reporting on the backlash to Jamie Oliver’s simple tweet: ‘Good Spanish food doesn’t get much better than paella. My version combines chicken thighs & chorizo’.
Paella is a traditional dish in Spain, and while regional variations on the ‘pure’ Valencian recipe exist, they never extend past a core list of ingredients, which includes rice, chicken/ rabbit/snails/seafood, green beans, white beans, artichokes, tomatoes, salt, rosemary, paprika, saffron, garlic and olive oil. Nowhere in that list, as you can see, is chorizo.
Spanish respondents on social media were deeply unimpressed by Jamie Oliver’s tweet; reactions ranged from polite but irritated, through to downright vitriolic. So why the fuss? It comes down to pride and a sense of ownership. Paella belongs to the Spanish. It is their dish, made their way. ‘Putting a twist’ on the dish and still calling it paella is offensive and disrespectful.
One group feels so passionately on the definition of paella it set up a website called Wikipaella on which you can see the definitive recipe (Spanish dictionary at the ready). ‘Our objective is to have the majority of people know what an authentic paella from our region is,’ co-founder Guillermo Navarro told the Guardian. ‘We want it to be like pizza – where people can add in whatever ingredients they want, but that they know what a traditional pizza is.’
The comparison to pizza is interesting. It’s no secret that the pizza you eat outside Italy is quite different to the pizza you eat in Italy. How do Italians feel about that? Just as the Spanish do, I think. They don’t like to see their authentic cuisine misunderstood. Just last week Italian chef Antonio Carluccio was bemoaning the state of the spaghetti bolognese served in Britain. He told the Telegraph that spaghetti bolognese does not even exist in Italy. There, ‘it is tagliatelle bolognese, with freshly made tagliatelle and bolognese without any herbs whatsoever’.
So what is a food-lover to cook that won’t offend a nation? May I suggest this:
Les Diners de Gala is a cookbook that offers 136 recipes compiled by the Surrealist artist Salvador Dalí and his wife Gala. It’s already topping the bestsellers’ list on pre-orders alone, not for its authentic Spanish recipes, but instead for its highly inventive take on gastronomy. I can guarantee that tweeting ‘Here are the frog pasties I made from Les Diners de Gala; delicious!’ won’t get you in hot water with the Spanish.
‘A pile of rocks ceases to be a rock when somebody contemplates it with the idea of a cathedral in mind.’ So said one of my favourite French writers, Antoine de Saint-Exupery.
I love architecture, and of course as a writer and a romantic I love places that are alive with symbolism and spiritualism and soul. It is hardly surprising, then, that whenever I travel to a new city, I find myself drawn to its beautiful cathedral.
When I first visited Cadiz, setting for my new novel Legacy, I was absolutely astonished by the grandeur of its cathedral, the Catedral de Santa Cruz. It dates back to the eighteenth century (but houses an older church, the Baroque Santiago church, built back in the early seventeenth century).
The cathedral that is so prominent in the Cadiz cityscape was built to impress. At the time of its construction Cadiz was enjoying a golden age, thanks to the growth of trade from the port to the Americas; indeed, it was called the Cathedral of the Americas. The cathedral was painstakingly built over more than a century to exemplify all that is great about Cadiz, and to put it on the spiritual map.
Visitors to the cathedral feast their eyes on the ornate, detailed architecture, which is a mix of Baroque and Neoclassical in style. There are various artworks and sculptures within, but for visitors the most interesting part is the Torre de Poniente, the bell tower, which is open to the public. The views from on high are breath-taking; you can see all the city laid out below, and you get a good view of the cathedral’s iconic gold-timed dome roof, which gives it an exotic Moorish look.
Personally, while I enjoyed the panoramic views (if not so much the vertigo), I thought that the real beauty was to be found in simply sitting on a pew and soaking in the reverent, peaceful spirit of the place. I was so affected by this quiet time I spent, I was inspired to take my heroine for Legacy, Luna, and the hero, Ruy, to the cathedral. Here are Luna’s first impressions when she arrives for an evening concert:
The cathedral’s vaulted ceiling rose above them in a tessellation of rounded arches, reaching up to the famous dome itself, which was suspended like the pale insides of some magnificent giant sea urchin. Below it, wall lights and tall candles offered a warm, sacred glow; the air smelt of cool marble, roses and incense. Luna’s gaze travelled over the heads of the audience finding their seats, and around the vast stone hull of the interior. History and piety, suffering and bliss were etched into every piece of wood and stone that surrounded them, and it was hard not to feel awed by it all. Yet, added to this, an unexpected feeling of comfort struck her; she was not immune to the profound spiritual atmosphere here.
For the next hour, Luna is swept away by the concert in this inspirational setting. One of the songs performed by the choir most perfectly encapsulates the mood in the cathedral:
The dramatic, sweeping sound of Barber’s Agnus Dei started up from the choir stalls and Luna’s every nerve ending was aware of Ruy as they sat together listening to the exquisite voices climbing and falling.
Afterwards, Luna is moved to describe her surroundings as ‘a ship of souls’. ‘Did you know,’ she tells Ruy, ‘that “nave” comes from the Latin word “navis”, meaning ship? Symbolically speaking, the cathedral is the ship bearing God’s people through the stormy seas of life, buoyed up by their faith and worship, I suppose.’
Luna has come to the cathedral this night purely to enjoy good music in a beautiful building. But in this space, sitting alongside Ruy and feeling so much for him, can she find more? Can she develop faith in herself, in Ruy, in what it means to love and be loved? Perhaps – if she can move beyond, as Antoine de Saint-Exupery suggests, seeing the cathedral as a pile of rocks and contemplate it with the idea of a cathedral, a ship of souls, in mind.