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Cooking With Myra: Get a load of vegetables in paella dish

By By Myra Starkey
Aug. 28, 2012 at 3:28 a.m.

Multi-Vegetable Paella

Multi-Vegetable Paella

Serves 2 generously

3 Tbsp. olive oil1/2 Spanish onion, finely chopped1 small red bell pepper, cut into strips1 small yellow bell pepper, cut into strips1/2 fennel bulb, cut into strips2 garlic cloves, crushed2 bay leaves1/4 tsp. smoked paprika1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper1 cup Calasparra rice* (or other short grain paella rice)6 1/2 Tbsp. good quality sherry1 tsp. saffron threadsSalt2 cups boiling vegetables stock3/4 cup shelled fava beans (fresh or frozen)12 plum tomatoes2 small grilled artichokes in oil from a jar (drained and quartered)15 pitted kalamata olives, crushed or halved2 Tbsp. chopped parsley4 lemon wedgesHeat up the olive oil in a paella pan, or a large shallow skillet. Gently fry the onion for 5 minutes. Add the bell peppers and fennel and continue to fry on medium heat for about 6 minutes, or until soft and golden. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute more.

Add the bay leaves, paprika, turmeric and cayenne to the vegetables and stir well. Then add the rice and stir thoroughly for 2 minutes before added the sherry and saffron. Boil down for a minute, then add the stock and 1/3 tsp. salt. Reduce heat to the minimum and simmer very gently for about 20 minutes or until most of the liquid has been absorbed by the rice. Do not cover the pan, and don't stir the rice during the cooking.

Meanwhile pour plenty of boiling water over the fava beans in a bowl and leave for a minute, then drain well and leave to cool down. Now, squeeze each bean gently to remove the skin and discard it.

Remove the paella pan from the heat. Taste and add more salt if needed, but without stirring the rice and vegetables much. Scatter the tomatoes, artichokes and fava beans over the rice, and cover tightly with foil. Leave to rest for 10 minutes.

Take off the foil. Scatter the olives on top of the paella and sprinkle with parsley. Serve with wedges of lemon.

*Calasparra rice - Spanish rice

Source: Yotam Ottolenghi

It is amazing how quickly our lives can change. We all know that we only live one day at a time, whether we want to or not. Yesterday is unchangeable, so we can't dwell on that. We would all be wise to consider the future; however, life is happening now so we can't only live with a motto of "someday I'll do this or that." Life is unpredictable and can change in an instant. You can be happily married and then a widow, employed, then jobless, or presumably healthy and then gravely ill.

If you have been reading my recent columns, then you know my mom just died rather unexpectedly. In May, she was found to have ovarian cancer and then a month and half later she died. She was 78 and had lived a full life. I think she had done most of the big things she had wanted to do, such as travel, have lots of close friends, watch her grandkids grow into relatively happy young adults, eat plenty of Cajun food and build and live for a time in her nice retirement house on the lake. She and my dad spent 53 years married in a devoted relationship and almost all the time seemed to enjoy each others' company.

It has been 12 years since I had breast cancer. There were times back then when I thought my days were shortly numbered, but I survived. Last week, I found something that made me think the cancer might have returned. Again, I experienced that same fear of life changing in a drastic way. As the old saying goes, "A bad day at work is better than a good day of chemotherapy."

I was not overly worried, but cautious. So, I thought I would wait a week or so and "hope it went away." If at the end of the week "it" was still present I would call my doctor and get an appointment. Another week went by and I made the call to my doctor. I know his nurse, by now a good friend, and she could hear the worry in my voice. She instantly said for me to come in the next morning.

My brain has been really tired from over thinking life's possibilities, so I was somewhat numb on the trip to the doctor with my friend, Janet. Taylor was at the clinic working. I had not even told him about my concern until a day or two before because I knew his worry would be great. I had opted to tell only a few people in order to limit the emotional burden on my friends.

Upon arrival, I was immediately rushed back to see the doctor and wondered if they were preparing me for bad news. The doctor seemed equally concerned after the examination, but perhaps something or someone else had upset him prior to entering my room. I was trying to interpret any change in his breathing or eye movements, probably because of me reading the book, "What Everybody Knows." The book is about reading body language, since that is something beyond their control. In a way it might be a curse if you are really good at it and always knew what those around you were thinking.

The doctor ordered an ultrasound, and I was again rushed to the bowels of the clinic and laid on a table in a quiet room with a technician. I tried to make small talk, remembering that the last time I was there she had talked about her mom, so I inquired about her health, all the time beginning to perspire heavily.

I craned my neck to see the images, but it all looked like radio waves and black holes and I could not remember whether black holes were good or bad. I continued my silent prayer realizing that in less time than it takes to bake biscuits I would be told of my future.

The radiologist entered the room and sat down with a sigh.

"Well?" I asked with a burden so heavy I could hardly utter anything at all.

I looked at her and she said, "benign cysts" and that was sweet and joyful music to my ears.

"Not cancer, right?" I asked again wanting total assurance. "You are fine," she said, and I took the deepest breath of the entire week. "Thank you, God," I said out loud, and I began to laugh.

It is not that I constantly dwell on my past cancer, but I realize just how quickly life can change.

I was grateful that mine was going to stay the same for now.

I was once again reminded why I need to seize the day and not worry, because today is the only day I have been given. My daughter, Hannah, and her husband Ben came for a visit to the bay house last weekend. Hannah is finishing up a rotation in pediatrics in her third year of medical school so she is starry-eyed over new babies and sweet 3-year-olds. Their friends Mitchell and his wife, Caitlin, joined us as well as Callie and Mel. Mitchell and Callie are in medical school with Hannah. We had a full house and more importantly, a full table, so I relished my time cooking for the brood.

That morning, the girls and I went to get a pedicure while the guys went for a boat ride. That afternoon, the "kids" as Taylor and I call this younger set, spent some time at the beach and came home hungry so I made a meat and cheese tray before dinner to stave off their hunger pangs.

Our main entree was crabcakes with a mango, tomato salsa. It was a joy for Taylor and me to be a part of lives so young and new with so many possibilities for their future. We offered unsolicited advice as any parent would and they did not seem to mind us interjecting our "wisdom of the ages."

After we semi-cleaned up the kitchen, they said they wanted to play the game, "Catch Phrase," which involves having your team guess a word or phrase before a timer goes off. The real fun started as we huddled around the coffee table laughing as we all made our best effort to win. We played medical students and doctor on one team versus the rest of us. The non-medical team won by one point. It was fun and fast paced. Once again, I marveled at how blessed I was to have healthy, happy children and to be able to enjoy life and friends.

I am extremely grateful that this moment is not my time to face another battle. In fact, after the last month or so, I would be very pleased to settle in to a boring and non-eventful existence.

I recently prepared a multi-vegetable paella out of the cookbook, "Plenty" by Yotam Ottolenghi. The book has surprisingly delicious vegetable recipes. The book is not only for vegetarians, but for all of us who want to add more vegetables to our diets.

Myra Starkey lives in Victoria. Write her in care of the Advocate, P.O. Box 1518, Victoria, TX 77901, or email myra@vicad.com.

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