This weekend started with my first Saturday off-work since January and now that it's over Jack and I (and probably Lyle, in his mysterious, doggy way) agree that it was one our best weekends (excluding visitors).
We have a couple of friends, or maybe a 'friend couple'? Regardless, they are a couple and they are our friends. Our friends are generous. They are also fun. Last, but not least, they have a car and a healthy spirit of adventure. They were having a 'visitor weekend' and invited us along for a hike and some paella in the mountains near Valencia (close to Serra, I think?).
There is nothing like being in a car, climbing switchbacks into the mountains, inhaling Mediterranean-pine breezes and listening to Jamiroquai. The destination was somewhere that we had never been before. We scrambled our way up to a magnificent vista where you could see over Sagunt to the ocean. While we both fear (a lot) for his safety, Lyle appears to be quite the little rock scrambler. We held him up for an obligatory Lion King picture. He was not anywhere near the precipice, but I'm not sure he's forgiven me.
It was a wonderful walk around, but our exercise to eating ratio was... let's just say, we ate a lot. We had traditional, Valencian paella, but decided to opt out of the liver and snails. So the breakdown was: chicken, rabbit, green beans, garrafo beans. It was all cooked in a tomato/broth concoction with saffron. It was easily the best paella we've had so far. This time, I think I could really taste a spicy flavor that I thought was ginger, but after Amanda said rosemary, I had to smack my forehead a little. Of course! I really like rosemary, despite the fact that I'm never tempted by the 'lucky' sprigs gypsies sell in the plaza on my way to work. I cook with it sometimes, but it seems to dominate the flavor of everything it touches. This was the first time I've had a 'rosemary' dish where the herb was relatively elusive, but it definitely added a little oomph to the paprika.
Paella is a dangerous dish. You eat a heaping portion and then, when you can take any more... it's socarrat time. The best part of the paella (and not just in my opinion) is the tasty part that's left stuck to the bottom of the pan after, it's not exactly burnt... but a little crispier and smokier than the rest. The traditional way to eat paella is to have the entire family eat from the dish, maybe serving to their plates, maybe not. This gets intense at socarrat time. Imagine an entire family of spoons digging at the bottom of the pan. I apparently have no shame... I got more than my fair share.
Of all the Valencian cultural traditions, I think the Sunday paella is my favorite. As my students enthusiastically tell me, the whole family gathers in the garden to tend paella over an open wood flame and then eat it together. It's about family togetherness. It's also a little about calculated gluttony. This combination appeals to me. Hopefully, in the future, even if I'm far from Valencia, we will have Sunday paellas. Not every Sunday, but often enough to keep alive this memory of overlooking the Mediterranean next to Jack and Lyle, without any agenda besides savoring the moment.