Sunday, February 03, 2008

A Calming Effect

The most complicated and seemingly stressful undertakings can sometimes calm me down. It is the strangest thing. Most people, when embroiled in writing a dissertation, 18,000 blogs and doing lord knows what else, don’t think that making a massively involved dinner on a Friday after a full day of work is a particularly bright idea. Luckily, I never said I was bright.

There I was, having lived through a full day of procrastination, writer’s block, and lack of productivity, running manically from grocery store to liquor store to prepare a Spanish-themed dinner for the awesomeness that is my friend Kanchan. Kanchan was kind enough to give me a wonderful Spanish cookbook for my birthday, a Spanish equivalent of the Italian Silver Spoon. The ginormous and gorgeous book is filled with recipes that have quickly become house specials for me. Dates stuffed with almonds and wrapped in bacon? Umm, yea.

Really though, the dinner was all about paella, the most Spanish of all Spanish dishes. Here’s the thing with paella. It’s a bit of a pain in the ass. It involves all kinds of stocks and infusions and just, issues. I totally punked out of making the cookbook version of the paella, which boasted no less than two pages of directions (in small font), and opted instead for a recipe I pulled off Epicurious.

Still, it was a production, but one that I found calming me half way through the procedure. I started breathing a little slower and panicking a little less (still cursing just as much though. The cursing doesn’t seem subject to change). Even though my pan wasn’t the right size, even though I read snow peas when the recipe quite clearly stated sugar snap peas, even though I bought some Chernobyl-sized clams that refused to open even after extended cooking, instead of the little dainty clams I was meant to buy... Despite all that I felt more collected than I had the entire day.

Out of the oven the paella came, fragrant with saffron, shellfish and smoky spice from the chorizo and smoked paprika. It was great. We put as big a dent as two people could into a giant pan full of rice and seafood. We finished with some traditional crème caramel (the caramel portion of which may stay with my stove top forever. Caramel is a persistent bugger), poured the last of the second bottle of white wine for the evening and sat back. Because it hurt. Miraculously, I was calm and collected, having just run about like a chicken with my head cut off two hours prior. I don’t know if it was the bottom of the second bottle of wine, the cooking or the company, but I felt so much better. Stress can't compete with such a roster of pleasures.


DD said...

The pictures are gorgeous. I want to eat my computer screen.

Anonymous said...


Actually I got an invitation today for a dinner on Feb 29th, the "Lucky day". And you can guess what the food will be! And you know what, there is pain in the ass, as you said (but not my ass!!)


Naveen said...

I want to eat my computer screen, too. If you want an even simpler version of paella, I found a Spanish shop in the nearby VivoCity mall that sells a paella kit, including the pan.

leena! said...

Hey Anna, I totally feel your dissertation/blog/work pain! For some reason, cooking and baking is just so calming to me after a long, hard day. It is also a great way to procrastinate, because unlike most procrastination (usually involving a pint of ice cream and MTV reality shows), you get actual results from it!

Anna said...

Archna - Thanks :) I had a pretty photogenic subject this time around.

Mehdi - You are having paella on leap day? I am glad that your ass will be avoiding pain on the 29th. While I do enjoy cooking, there is something to be said about being cooked for. It's nice. Really nice.

Hi Naveen! I have seen those kits. You can even order one from Pike Place Market in Seattle, I think. I could really use a paella pan, or cut down on the amount of rice I use in the recipe, to ensure that everything fits without overflowing my 12" pan.

Leena - I totally hear you on the procrastination front! I am so good at procrastinating that it's scary. I am terrified that I am about to leave the writing of my massive thesis until the last month. Oy vey. Two hundred pages is scaaaaryyy.

weddingproject-us said...

This looks yummy.

I cannot WAIT for super fresh asparagus.

JC said...

Can you believe I've never had paella? I know I would like it though. I'm big on rice. And I had no idea that it was so labor intensive.

One Food Guy said...

That looks like a pretty fine dinner to me. I used to get this great paella at the Spanish Tavern in Narraggansett; unfortunately it closed. :(

Kanchan said...

I completely and honestly vouch that this was the best meal AND dessert I've had in a long time. I ate the leftovers for breakfast the next day. And hurt a little from the copious wine consumption. What a treat!

Anna said...

weddingproject-us - I am so excited for spring vegetables as well! The asparagus I used was definitely not A+. I like the really thin-stalked kind.

JC - If you like sausage and seafood (and who doesn't, really...) you will like paella. I feel like all traditional dishes are super labor intensive. It's certainly true for French, Italian, and Russian. No reason that Spanish shouldn't be in the same boat.

One Food Guy - D'oh! Too bad it closed. I have been looking for paella in Boston and have not been able to find it. Any ideas?

Kanchan! Having you over was the treat! Thank you for coming for dinner. I need to cook for friends (you) more often. It's so much fun.

One Food Guy said...

Paella in Boston, let's see. There's Toro, they have paella on the menu, but I haven't eaten there yet. I'm sure it's great though, Ken Oringer only knows great. And there is Tapeo, which has paella on the menu. But, I've only ever had tapas at Tapeo, and I'll tell you, the food is outstanding.

I'd start with those. :)

Hillary said...

Great dinner menu! Will you come cook dinner for me tonight? :)

Anna said...

One Food Guy - I only remembered when you said it - I have had paella at Toro and it was very good. I had it with Kanchan, in fact! I remember that the taste changed as the paella cooled - it was almost better at the end than at the beginning. Haven't had it at Tapeo though. Need to make a point of trying it.

Hillary - Sure thing! Where are you? I expect only copious amounts of wine as payment :)