Ah, Sundays on the ranch.
I’m lounging on a chaise on the stone patio overlooking the olive groves, the heat rising from the trees, the sound of songbirds in the background, clasping a stoneware mug of strong coffee. This is my favorite part of the week. Down the hill at the arena, Roderigo is working with one of the Andalusian stallions, the two of them performing a lovely dance in the dust. So beautiful to watch.
Perched on a chair at my feet, Raul is a study in concentration as he performs our Sunday morning ritual. Finally he leans back and puts down the small object he has been working with.
“There, Cara, all done.” He blows softly on the shell-pink polish he has just applied to my toenails. “I think this is a good color for today, no?”
Having my dashing Spaniard unexpectedly turn pedicurist a few years ago was unsettling, but really quite fun for a bit. But as time wore on, and the toenail-polish routine became just one more task on the list, I’ve started to find the predictability of it annoying. For example, I knew exactly what Raul was going to do next.
Sure enough. He patted my calf and stood up, advising “now let that dry before you go dragging your toes through the dirt.”
Yes dear. I know.
To hide my annoyance, I picked up a catalog and studied it carefully. I’m always on the lookout for new product lines to carry in my Scandinavian home goods import business, “Dane Jane’s Cupboard”, and this catalog featured the new rage, the Danish concept of hygge, or “coziness”. Lots of plush fabrics, earthy accessories, and comfort food. I peered at the food section for ideas.
Raul headed into the house. “What will we be having for dinner, Cara?” Sunday is the cook’s day off and I’m in charge of food, much to Raul’s chagrin. Cooking is not my strong suit.
Still poring over the “hygge” section of the catalog, I found my inspiration. “Porridge, darling,” I responded.
Raul paused in midstep and a look of painful nostalgia passed over his face. It was at these moments that he most missed his deceased sister, Maria, who died while delivering her illegitimate child Roderigo. The identity of the father remained a mystery. Maria had been in charge of meals, and while the woman may have been a slut, she could cook.
He bit his tongue and continued inside. I smiled a bit and looked for more recipes. Raul was on the brink of learning to cook, as a defense against the blond and bland Scandinavian dishes I continued to serve up. I figured that porridge just might be the dish that would entice him to learn his way around the kitchen.
Once the obligatory toenail-drying time had passed, I slipped into riding clothes and made my way through the olive groves to the arena to watch Roderigo work, and maybe get in a ride. He was just finishing up with Brioso, a lovely fiery 5-year-old who was coming along nicely.
He gave me his dazzling smile as I walked up to the arena fence. “Ah, buenas dias, Tia.”
I hate it when he calls me “Tia”.
“How is our boy Brio doing?” I asked, using the horse’s stable name. Brio searched me for treats and found the carrots tucked in my breeches pocket.
“He’s doing very well. They are all doing well. Except for Sabado. That horse needs some leadership.” Roderigo pulled down his sunglasses and gave me a mockingly stern stare. Sabado is my personal riding horse and I tend to be just a big indulgent with my baby. The other horses would never dream of challenging Roderigo, but Sabado figures, what the heck, I can pull stuff with the chick, why not with the guy? He’s a merry little horse and it’s all a game for him.
“I promise I’ll change my ways,” I stated solemnly. Then we both had a good laugh, knowing full well that nothing was going to change.
“So, I have an idea for a new direction for the horses that needs some exploring.” Roderigo was trying hard to contain his enthusiasm. He loves new ventures and tends to plunge headlong into them, a trait that has proved a bit costly sometimes.
“Well,” I mused thoughtfully, “we could sure use something new since you ruined the old horse industry around here.” Raul’s family has for generations bred horses and bulls for the bull rings, a traditional but distasteful and brutal sport. Roderigo had brought the family participation in it to a screeching halt with his gift for connecting with all animals, turning the fierce bulls into pets and refusing to let the horses go into the bull rings.
“Working Equitation. It’s becoming more popular all the time and I think we could do very well training and competing there. It’s big here but even bigger in Portugal, and most of the horses are Lusitanos.”
“Well, I’m sure our Andalusians will do beautifully and will show very well.” This was my hopeful but undoubtedly futile attempt at controlling the damage from what I knew was coming.
“Well, yes, they would, but if we are to get established, I think we would do well to start with the traditional horses of the sport,” Roderigo said hopefully.
“Yeah. I know you. You just want a trip to Portugal to go horse shopping.”
Roderigo smiled at me without denying it.
“I can’t give permission for this. You will have to talk to your uncle about it. Somehow he doesn’t trust my judgment when it comes to buying more horses.”
“Okay. I’ll come up to the house later today and give him the sales job. Meanwhile, go get Sabado and we can go for a ride and see if we can undo some of the damage you’ve done with that horse.”
I am only too happy to comply with that type of request.
It was evening when Roderigo made it up to the house. It probably took him that long to figure out how he was going to sell this idea to Raul. We were, in fact, in the middle of dinner on the veranda when he arrived. As promised, I had made porridge from one of the hygge recipes, and Raul was trying, not very successfully, to pretend he was enjoying it. Privately, I had to admit that it was not a great success, but managed to down it with apparent gusto. In this war of Who’s Going To Cook Dinner, I couldn’t afford to show any cracks in the façade.
Roderigo rounded the corner onto the veranda and after greeting us, pulled up a chair. He glanced into Raul’s dinner bowl and had to stare for a moment. Roderigo had inherited his mother’s gift for cooking and I don’t think porridge was on his culinary radar.
“Uncle, I have an idea about how to put some life back into the horse business,” he began energetically.
Raul sighed. First porridge, now this. He had a difficult time saying no to Roderigo, and that usually cost him money when it came to horses. Roderigo spilled out the concept of redirecting our efforts into developing Working Equitation horses. “And I think we should use the traditional Lusitanos. I could make a scouting trip to Portugal next week to see what’s available.”
Raul directed his gaze at me. “Did you know about this?” he demanded.
“Me? Of course not. I’ve been too busy cooking,” I responded virtuously, downing another yummy spoonful of porridge.
Raul grilled Roderigo about details. Roderigo had certainly done his homework, and had everything but Powerpoint slides detailing the plan. Finally Raul sighed and dropped his head, a sure sign that permission was about to be granted. “Fine. Go to Portugal next week. I’ll have some stalls and paddocks readied. But please, don’t bring back six new horses.”
“I have an idea.” Roderigo looked at me. “Why don’t I bring Tia Jane with me? She can keep an eye on the budget and keep me in line.”
What a great idea! That’s why he’s my favorite.
Raul rolled his eyes. “Great. In that case, I’ll have twelve stalls and paddocks readied.”
Roderigo tried hard but unsuccessfully to contain his excitement. He gave his uncle a hug, then peered again into the bowl. “What IS that?”
“Porridge,” Raul stated mournfully. “It’s hygge, you know,” he added, knowing that Roderigo was all too familiar with the concept, having been recruited to drag box after box of product samples to the storage shed he had dubbed the “Hygge Hut.”
“Ah! That explains a lot. I’d ask to join you, but I’ve started dinner already and it will be ready in half an hour or so. Uncle, you could stop by in a bit and we could discuss the trip in more detail. I know you’ll be full, but perhaps you could sample the new recipe I’m trying and let me know what you think.”
A look of salvation flashed across Raul’s face. I turned my head to hide the look of annoyance that flashed across mine. How am I going to get this guy cooking if Roderigo is going to feed him? Maybe Roderigo is not my favorite after all.
He must be punished.