The Brit and The Yank

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There's nothing quite like having a friend who shares a love for travel and food. For me, that friend is Rachael. We met on a cooking tour in Goa, India which was led by our mutual friend, Diane Seed who lives in Rome and leads gourmet tours. Rachael and I both happened to be traveling alone—this being her first solo trip—along with a group of 6 other strangers who were there to learn more about Indian cuisine. Rachael and I may have begun as two strangers in India, but we soon found that we were kindred spirits and have not stopped having adventures together, meeting up all around the world.

Rachael is from Suffolk, England, where she works in a lovely wine shop preparing delightful canapés and pastries for wine tastings.  As an English girl who only occasionally sees the sun, Rachael craves a day on the beach. I’ve even seen her perch on a bench with her bra straps pulled down, baring her shoulders to ensure an even sun-kissed glow. I saw that love for sand and sun on our first little adventure together on a beach in Goa.

We walked from our guesthouse to a nearby beach, where shacks selling fresh fish and snacks lined the seaside. Their signs were in English and Russian, but it was the Russian script that struck us as odd.  Luckily, I’ve never been shy about asking questions, and while traveling it’s been a great quality to have. I stopped at a fish hut and asked about why the signs were also in Russian. Apparently, most of the tourists who visit the beaches of Goa are from Russia, and are known to be quite a handful, drinking and getting rowdy.  Although the Indian cooks on the beach were often irritated by the Russian tourists, it could be forgiven, because the tourists would spend plenty of money. Rachael and I were about to find out firsthand just how some of that money is made.   

Rachael and I had spent the entire day basking in the Indian sun, chatting about our families, our favorite dishes to make, and, the ever-present question—what were we going to eat next? Around mid-day, two women came over to our beach chairs carrying a bag of silver jewelry. They started pulling out silver bracelets, anklets, and earrings, telling us they’d give us “good price.” As we tried on several pieces, the women told us we looked like sisters, and seemed extremely gregarious and curious about us. We eventually purchased a couple of bracelets from the younger woman, and they seemed pleased enough to leave us alone…or so we thought. 

Five minutes later, the older woman came back and started pulling out more of her jewelry. We told her we had already bought what we wanted, but the woman did not accept this answer.  She became very angry, and started shouting at us.

“You haven’t bought from me! You’ve only bought from my daughter. Now, it’s my turn.” 

We were stunned. She started hissing at us, and stormed off as we tried our best not to laugh. Throughout the day, the woman continued to walk past us hissing and throwing us what I’m sure were unfriendly hand gestures. Rachael and I dubbed her “Grumpy,” and since that day we pin that name on anyone that deserves it. But we also loved that “Grumpy” and her daughter thought we were sisters, so we began referring to each other as “Sis.” When our tour of India ended, we vowed to meet again as soon as possible.

A year after Rachael and I met, she came to the U.S. to visit my home in Tulsa, Oklahoma.  We spent nearly every moment in my kitchen, cooking and baking with the music playing loudly.  Rachael would even chime in on some of the 80s songs while we both danced around the kitchen. We spent hours upon hours in my kitchen, talking, dancing, cooking, creating; and by the time we hugged each other goodbye, we counted 24 recipes we had prepared during her stay. 

On another trip, I took her on her maiden voyage to Las Vegas, and we discovered a new similarity.  We would carefully exam our food and discuss the presentation, ingredients, and flavors of every meal we shared.  We usually agreed and would gush about a well-prepared meal; but if it didn’t pass our approval, we would whisper to each other the harsh criticisms about what could’ve been done better.  Over the years, we’ve talked about becoming a food critic duo, but really, we would prefer to have a cooking show together. It would be called “The Brit and The Yank,” and we just know it be a huge hit!  But the miles between us have kept us from pursuing such a silly dream, although we refer to it often.

I eventually took a trip to England to see Rachael in her sprawling country home in Suffolk. The town is located two hours east of London, near the coast of the North Sea. Apart from a bus ride to Stonehenge while in college, I hadn't seen the real beauty of the countryside. It's gorgeous and rich with history, but what really blew me away was Rachael's seventeenth-century home.

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Like many of the homes and buildings in that area, the main house had been restored and expanded. Rachael's mum lived next door on their huge farm surrounded by fields of barley, wheat, and corn. I was thrilled to discover Mum's garden, which was abundant with herbs, tomatoes, carrots, potatoes, and radishes. Around the property lush trees jeweled with crabapples, plums, and cherries provided a cool escape from the unrelenting sun. It was like something out of a dream. I had just missed the harvest of elderflowers, which Mum had collected and frozen for her famous cordial. On the last night of my visit, Mum treated me to an extraordinary meal of roast beef, Yorkshire pudding, roast potatoes and carrots, and green peas. I'll never forget a bite of that feast—especially the elderflower cordial custard!

On that visit, we cruised around Suffolk and Norfolk in Rachael's shiny sky-blue convertible, looking like Thelma and Louise. Stunning wildflowers and poppies lined the winding roads that led us from village to village. When we arrived at each destination, we were greeted by old structures straight out of the history books. Each spot we visited had an ancient church with centuries-old gravestones sticking out of the front lawn like rows of crooked teeth. It was a truly a remarkable way to experience the English countryside.

We smelled the bread and sampled the pastries at Rachael’s favorite bakery, visited a smoked fish house, and drank pints at ancient pubs.  During a day trip to the coastal town of Aldeburgh, we ate fish and chips out of paper bags and walked along the boardwalk of the sea. In Framlingham, we watched locals compete for the tastiest smoked fish and meats. It was all so picturesque. We then drove to Norfolk and stayed at Morston Hall where we dined in their Michelin star restaurant, spending four hours giggling while swooning over the nine-course tasting menu. Whether it’s a Michelin star restaurant or a pub, Rachael and I dine always make friends with the wait staff.  We are having too much fun to be pretentious, and our appreciation of food and drink is obvious when we ask questions and give compliments throughout the meal. Often, it seems we are the ones having the best time in the dining room.

Since our first meeting in India, Rachael and I have met in Istanbul, Marrakech, Santa Fe, St. Thomas and British Isles, London, Paris, Loire Valley, Rome, Tuscany, and Portugal.  We’ve been to each other’s homes twice, and we’ve become part of each other’s families. The places we visit and food we taste together are marvelous, but the real star of the show is Rachael herself. She is such a special, delightful person, and I cherish how she humors me with her English sayings. (Her habit of describing aged roast beef as “well-hung” gets me every time, and I blush as I explain to her how that translates in the U.S.)  I did, however, start using the word “lovely” more often after meeting Rachael, and she admits to adding the word “fun” to her vocabulary.  (I’d like to think I had something to do with that!) I even have a file in my cellphone called “Rachael sayings” and the list grows every time we’re together. 

Everyone needs a friend who can pull laughter from your soul and is always game for good adventure. Rachael is all of that and then some, but her genuine appreciation for travel and food is perhaps what inspires me most. Our friendship may have blossomed on a beach in India with “Grumpy” and some Russian signs; but we were also made family that day – my “Sis” and I. We continue to text every week, sending photos of recipes we’ve made, planning our next trip to Portugal, and daydreaming of the TV show that will never happen. The world may not be quite ready for The Brit and The Yank—but we’ll keep traveling together until it is!

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Evan Wei-Haas