What's Cooking at Our House: Paella   (March 15, 2014)

Given how so many of us are over-scheduled, over-committed, over-worked and beset by a variety of anxieties, financial and otherwise, it becomes ever-more important to turn off the larger problems of the world and spend time sharing a memorable meal from start to finish.

Though I generally focus on easier-to-prepare healthy meals, memorable home-made meals add much-needed zest to life. Restaurant meals can be memorable, of course, but what's lacking is the shared process of preparing the meal--or in the case of this paella made by our French family's matriarch (83 years old), the shopping and the cooking.

My wife reports she could barely keep up with the grand dame as she traversed the 16th arrondissement, stopping at a variety of special markets for seafood, poultry and other ingredients. (We visited our French family last October, and they visited us in January. That was the motivation for the home-made pizza I recently mentioned: The New Super-Food: Pizza.)

Apartments are typically small in Paris, and so are the kitchens; this memorable meal was made in a very compact area:

Unfortunately I don't have a written recipe for this paella, which is an old family tradition; however, you can see the ingredients on the stovetop.

The paella being served in a classic French setting: bread and butter, a champagne aperitif (not shown), a red wine and a checkered table cloth.

My wife snapped this photo of one set of kitchen implements, hung to save space:

Given how so many of us are over-scheduled, over-committed, over-worked and beset by a variety of anxieties, financial and otherwise, it becomes ever-more important to turn off the larger (and ever-present) problems of the world, social media, mobile phones and every other electronic distraction and spend time sharing a memorable meal from start to finish.

Though we are trained to focus on consumption as the meaning of life--the consumption of entertainment, music, news, sports, fashion, fuel, food--that's only half of what makes something memorable: the production of the meal creates as much meaning as the consumption of the meal.

It doesn't have to be something as elaborate or costly as paella; a pot of chili works just as well. It's the sharing that matters, the reciprocity, the conviviality, all of which can only blossom with the erasure of digital distractions and a focus on the present.

In a world besotted with the artifice of consumerism, i.e. what can be bought, what matters is not what can be commodified and purchased but what can't be commodified and bought: in such a world, "A healthy homecooked family meal and a home garden are revolutionary acts."

I am occasionally accused of being an elite for eating well. This reminds me of an old Dick Gregory joke in which he described the envy of an African-American worker's Anglo-American colleagues for his new Cadillac automobile. What the co-workers didn't see, Gregory noted, was the Cadillac was the result of 5,000 brown-bag lunches. The envious never see the sacrifices of others, they only see the positive result of 5,000 daily sacrifices and wonder why they can't have the same thing.

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