Some Like It Hot

Growing up in Dallas, Texas, I began studying Spanish at a young age. I was four years old and in preschool when my second language came into instruction. I think this was the norm for Texas. My father's first language was not English and my mother grew up learning Afrikaans as it was the language of her local government. In short, learning another language was not a foreign concept to us. In fact, my folks encouraged it. I have a vivid memory of sitting on a log outside and we children passing around construction paper in different colors. We were learning the words for them. Rojo, negro, azul and my favorite, morado. I did not study Spanish my first couple of years in public school because it was not offered but when I moved to a different school in the fourth grade, the Spanish lessons picked up again. I studied Spanish all through middle and high school. Michelle and Keith did as well. I loved studying Spanish and was even prouder to be able to speak it. My first job at 16 was in a plant nursery down the street from our house. My Spanish know-how helped me get the job. That and the fact that watering plants isn't exactly brain surgery. Upon moving to Charlotte in the eleventh grade, my mother thought it would be prudent were I to pick up a second language. Apparently sciences were not my strong suit and I needed a differentiator on the old transcript for college applications. She informed me that I have an ear for languages you see and so I began lessons in German. 

The summer that the Breyer's transplanted to Charlotte, we had sold our house in Dallas and we spent a few weeks at my Dad's apartment in Wiesbaden, Germany. I was able to begin toying around with the language then. Later that summer, my parents had friends who had also had just moved to the Queen City. The Klein's hailed from eastern Germany. The wife, Gerlinde became my summer instructor. After class at her house every morning she would put out a tray of German chocolates. It was a pretty sweet deal and she prepared me for what followed that September. In high school I had a wonderful Swiss teacher who had a real fervor for her trade. Frau Carpenter. She was a stickler for vocabulary and ingrained in me the value of learning new words every week. I carried this practice on when I moved to Germany. She taught us about all the delicious foods devoured in Germany, what the country was like with the Berlin wall and we somehow always made time to listen to the Scorpions. In hindsight, I think we were trapped in a decade in that classroom but it was great fun. Through my German studies, I quickly became enamored of the culture and as good fortune will have it, a handful of years later my folks moved to Deutschland and Wiesbaden quickly became home. In between my junior and senior year of high school, also as per my mother's insistence, we jammed a another year of German into a summer. So in two years, I studied four years of German. Wunderkind. At the age of 16, never could I have imagined that my knowledge of German would be so instrumental in shaping my career trajectory and ultimately, life's path.

My senior year of high school I took AP Spanish and placed out for university. This didn't mean much though as I carried on with my German and Spanish courses whilst at Chapel Hill. At the Thrill, there was a big focus on electives and so to keep my GPA up, I felt it wise to bolster said with my languages. I picked up where I left off on learning the German language and as for my Spanish know-how, I took it to the next level when I enrolled for literature and history classes taught in my second tongue. I should have double majored in Spanish and think I was two credits or so short upon graduation. Why is hindsight always 20/20? My junior year of college, I studied abroad in Florence, Italy. What a life changing, spectacular opportunity. I went with my very best friends and a life altering experience we had for sure. A cause of my Spanish and my weekly Italian classes, I picked up the language well enough to "get around". I also learned how to tell people off in colorful words, which was very useful. I think there was a very confused notion that American girls are easy. No dice. In the meantime, my brother would go on to spend every summer in college in A Coruna, Spain with our Spanish family, the Martinez. There he worked, became a barnacle aficionado and mastered his accent. In fact, we all went to the World Cup in Germany together many moons ago. I had the privilege of hearing my brother use his Spanish during an afternoon of beers at Wogie's in the West Village. He was a local hero there. Side note, after college Keith moved to China to learn Mandarin and see the world, among other things. In short, my little brother has an ear for languages too.

Upon graduating in 2002, I took a job in Germany whereby I would have the opportunity to capitalize on the other language learned. My first week in the corporate world involved sitting in business meetings hearing words not taught in school. I remember trying to write them on paper and being wholly frustrated. A peer at a local bar told me I spoke German like a Swiss grandmother. Excellent. This linguistic deficit mandated an intense immersion course in the language. My "no-English" ten hour a day two week blitzkrieg course gave me the confidence I needed to sojourn on. The War in Iraq had also started and foreigners abroad were encouraged to lie low. Translation: don't draw attention to being American and how do you do this? Quit speaking English. Sweet Patricia suggested I affix a Canadian flag to my backpack. After college, I no longer carried a backpack. Good suggestion though. My love of and for the German language carried me through five brilliant years in Germany. After declining an offer from Deloitte upon moving to NYC, speaking German scored me a free lance opportunity with a German media consultant and ultimately a job with a German based PR firm. My German know-how was instrumental in my move to Charlotte six years ago as the position required a candidate with oral and written fluency in German. I am pretty sure that my choosing to interview in German with the CEO at my last company had something to do with my getting a job. My Spanish too as the role oversaw responsibilities for both North and South America. Never mind I only stayed there for eleven months but rest assured this had nothing to do with my love of languages. A major bonus at the last gig was a colleague of mine who became a bosom pal. She hails from southwestern Spain and so each morning, we had our "tertulias". Speaking in another language is a great way to ensure that folks have no clue what you're talking about! Since graduating college, I have only worked for German firms. I recall my father telling me in high school that "learning German would be useless". The jury's still out. 

Now back to food in the context of culture. I first heard of gazpacho in the 7th grade. For the record, gazpacho is a tomato based soup shaped by raw vegetables, served cold and originating in the Andalusia region based in southern Spain. I was new to the all girls school Hockaday and had a wonderful Spanish teacher, who was also the French teacher. In fact, I did a brief three day stint in her French class before deciding I had come too far in Spanish. My only takeaway from that lesson was the title of our book: On Y Va or on we go.  And on I went back to her Spanish class. She had lived abroad, took her daughter to both countries every summer and in addition to teaching us the language, impressed upon we girls the importance of learning the culture, the history and the traditions of the land. One day, I remember her speaking of the gazpacho at the Ritz Carlton in Madrid. 

Fast forward a couple of years later and my father took the fam to Spain. In true Breyer fashion, we painted the country red. The gang started in Madrid and worked our ways around Andalusia before spending a week of beach on the Costa del Sol. I used to have terrible skin and was just coming off of Accutane. My mother once told me it looked like I had measles. Yikes. In not reading the fine print I did not realize how sensitive to the sun one's skin is after this medicine and I managed to get third degree burns. I visited the Alhambra in Granada with gauze wrapped around my wrists. I looked like Michael Jackson. The family also spent a scorching day in Sevilla when the temperatures reached 112 degrees. Together, we beat the heat, ate dinner late, enjoyed roast suckling pig at El Botin (Hemingway ate here), went to our first flamenco show, marveled at the enormity of Picasso's Guernica and saw every inch that Madrid had to offer. I was thrilled to visit every place described in my seventh grade textbook. A few years later, the family returned to Barcelona sans Elizabeth. Not sure where I was for that adventure. No matter though as the five years I lived in Germany I traveled to Spain and the Canary Islands no less than three times a year. Sometimes for business and not infrequently for play. Traveling in Europe is not only easy, it's cheap too. Spain is a magical place and if you are looking for a country to visit, do consider it. The Spaniards are lovely, handsome and elegant people. The country is incredibly beautiful and the food and nightlife are both out of this world. Think tapas. Plus, you can practice your Spanish.

Despite my begging to go, the Breyer's never made it to the Ritz for gazpacho. Matthew can take me one day. Hint, hint. I imagine what they serve tastes something like the below. The recipe that follows hails from a very dear and wonderful friend, who I had the privilege of meeting in Charlotte upon moving here. Back in 2010 or so, I was honored to be part of a team orchestrating a grand event at the Bechtler Museum and I heard Dale speak to the group of us. After the meeting ended, I introduced myself and added that I found her luminous. Thus launched a glittering friendship. For some time she was my matchmaker and the stories that came from this exercise yielded a certain closeness. Now, she is like a second mother to me. In addition to being one of the most uniquely beautiful people on the planet (inside and out), she is a phenomenal cook. When I am sick, she brings her famous matzoh ball soup. She is the Queen of Mandel Bread (Jewish biscotti). Her touch in the kitchen is that of Midas. Dale is a wonderful wife, mother, the most precious of grandmothers and a remarkable friend. My parents have also since claimed her. To beat the hit (and get ready for swimsuit season), slurp on her gazpacho. Buen Provecho!

Dale's Legendary Gazpacho


2 ripe tomatoes
2 cloves of garlic
1/2 white onion
1/2 green bell pepper
1/2 red bell pepper
1 cucumber - peeled
24 oz Campbell's tomato juice - opt for low sodium
1/3 cup red wine vinegar
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
Pinch of kosher salt
10 cracks of pepper


In your blender or Cuisinart, blend the tomatoes, garlic, white onion, bell peppers, cucumber and 6 oz of the tomato juice. Once blended add the remaining 18 oz of tomato juice, red wine vinegar, olive oil, salt and pepper. Blend again. Cover and put in the fridge. 

I recommend making this the day before as it will allow the flavors to marry. Serve chilled. It's fun to set up a gazpacho bar as we did this past weekend. You can roast some corn and asparagus, dice an avocado, chop cucumbers or bell peppers or any leafy herbs of your liking. Be sure to have some hot sauce on hand for those who like it caliente. As per Dale's suggestion, I also served ours with these blue corn tortilla chips. If you live in Charlotte, Earth Fare is discontinuing these so they are on sale for a crazy cheap price.

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