My Dad enjoyed his family, his work and coming home the end of the day to eat a buttered slice of rye bread with caraway seeds before dinner. This became a ritual for me too. Dad was the youngest of five children and the smallest in his family. Yet he was known to have the biggest appetite. He also loved eating sweets his mom gave him after school. It made him smile to remember.
Dad was ambitious but agreed to leave a college pre-med program when he learned his Dad was ill. He was only 22, but he took a job in Des Moines Iowa as a shoe store manager and was proud he could help out. When he wasn’t managing a store, he would travel around the Middle West opening up more shoe stores — 30 in all. He liked visiting different towns especially eating BBQ in Kansas City, matzo ball soup in Chicago, and enchiladas in Denver.
I was lucky to know my Dad pretty well during this period of his life. We enjoyed attending the Chicago Cubs minor league baseball games in Des Moines; or, driving to Iowa City on a Saturday morning to see the Iowa Hawkeyes play football. The game was fun, winning was better, but stopping in Amana,Iowa on the way to the game for a big farm breakfast was the highlight of our day as was lunch with Dad on Saturdays. He took me to Bishop’s Cafeteria in downtown Des Moines. He reminded me each time to pay attention to the sign overlooking the many buffet dishes behind the counter which read: “Remember your eyes are bigger than your stomach.”
I will never forget a business trip we took to Spain. Dad and I did some sightseeing in the capital, Madrid. We also visited Toledo, the historic village to the south where in the early 15th Century Catholic churches stood side by side next to Jewish temples and Muslim mosques. This was before Ferdinand and Isabella chose to remove all non-Catholics from Spain— before Columbus sailed to the New World in 1492.
The culmination of our Spanish road trip was to drive to Barcelona where we stayed in a small fishing village a few miles outside of town known for its Paella. Dad ordered the specialty of the house with shrimp and chicken while I got the one that included spicy andouille sausage. The waiters seemed to smile at us as they stood nearby wagering over when Dad would finish. Understanding Spanish from the time I lived in Colombia, I was able to capture the essence of what was going on. Dad didn’t understand the language but I let him in on the waiters’ activities. He merely smiled back at them. The food was so delicious that we both wanted to return the next evening.
He ordered the same dish. I had the one with cuttlefish and chicken. By the time our dishes arrived there were a half dozen more waiters standing nearby. Everyone was having fun. Dad has been gone for more than 20 years now but I will never forget being with him, enjoying the paella, feeling the warm evening breezes and watching the waves and the multi-colored fishing boats bobbing up and down on the water. It was a special moment, a treasure to remember.
Paella with Chicken, Shrimp & Sweet or Spicy Andouille Sausage
1/2 cup vegetable oil
3 cups -Arborio or Bomba rice
10 cups chicken or vegetarian stock; heat in a medium pot until it simmers
1 large onion, diced
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 large red bell pepper, diced
1 24 oz. can plum tomatoes
1/2 can tomato paste
1.5 lbs medium shrimp, peel and devein
1 whole chicken 3 1/2 lbs., cut into 10 pieces
3 sweet sausages, cut into 1/2 inch coins
1/2 cup fresh parsley, chopped
2-3 tsp fresh marjoram
1 tsp thyme
1/4 tsp cardamon
1/2 tsp smoked paprika
2 pinches of saffron, soak in 1/2 cup boiling water
1 lemon, quartered
Equipment: Large Skillet—16-18 inches wide over outdoor grill with burning coals or a wood burning fire; or an oven top burner
1. Heat 1/4 cup of oil in your skillet and brown all the chicken parts; do the same with sausage. Do not fully cook. Set aside in a separate bowl.
2. Saute diced onion, garlic and strips of red pepper until soft. Add diced tomatoes and juice.
3. Carmelize the tomato paste by spreading in the pan until blackened. Add parsley, spices, chicken, sausage to the carmelized tomato paste.
4. Add the remaining oil at medium; then add the rice for 2-3 minutes until rice is coated and toasted.
5 Add the saffron liquid and strands of saffron to the rice. Bring it to a boil.
6. Add hot ladle of stock stirring until stock evaporates. Continue the same process until all stock disappears. Taste to see if rice is al dente.
7. Add the shrimp to the rice and cover for 20-30 minutes - longer on stove top. Taste the rice on top after 15 minutes to see if it’s approaching al dente to taste. Taste again after 30 minutes. If necessary add 1-2 more cups of stock until rice on top is al dente.
8. When the rice on top is done, remove the paella off the heat.
9. The rice will stick to the bottom and form a crust. This is good. The Spanish call it socarrat. Don’t stir. This is a delicacy! Use a spatula to release the socarrat. Absolutely delicious.
Serve chicken, sausage, shrimp, vegetables and rice to each plate plus a little socarret for everyone. Garnish with lemon wedges.