Paella con mi hermana!

It's my second day in Salamanca. I am sleeping on my  sister's foam mattress pad on the linoleum floor of her room in the Residencia. Annie quietly steps around me, getting ready for her Spanish cinema class. I can hear drawers open and shut, the stream of water against brushing of  teeth.
It's early October. I took an overnight bus from Montpellier, with a Monoprix bag of bread, cheese, and chocolate, and slept through most of the 11 hour journey. Annie had met me at the bus station with a huge smile, and we happily ate churros con chocolate in a little cafetería while rain rapped against the window.
 "What time is it?" I half ask.
"Almost eight."
"We'll take a siesta after lunch."
I lift my head enough to try and look out her window. The shutters, designed for steamy Spanish summer, are rolled down and give the impression of it being 2 am, not time for class.
 "How do you get anything done with these things?" I grumble at the shades. 
She grins, rolls it up. 
"It's great for napping."
I stay in my floor bed, clinging to any lingering traces of sleep. 
"You can stay here, if you want" She offers, but I decline. I'm quite keen to wander around by myself.
We walk to the Universidad. On the way, Annie points out some of Salamanca's characters. It's a small city, so it's easy to see the same people over and over. For example, there's "Spanish Bob Dylan" (it really is uncanny!), and a "living statue" type who is sprayed bronze, and is can be found doing anything except sitting still like a statue. 
The university is grand, ornate and steeped in history that only 900 years of establishment can bring. Yesterday, Annie showed me the famous Salamanca frog carved into the exterior of the university. Apparently, if you can spot it on your first day of school, you'll have a successful semester. Annie told me exactly where it was, and I still couldn't see it. Typical. 
Annie climbs the ancient stairwell to her class, and I go explore. It's another gorgeous day, with sun spilling all over the winding streets. I peek into a tourist shop, sifting through trinkets, shotglasses and t-shirts emblazoned with a picture of a frog, or sometimes a Spanish flag, or a bull. 
I wander into a jamón shop. The smell...how does one describe the smell that immediately hits you upon entering a small shop full of cured pork? It smells musky yet bright, salty and pungent, and it dances around my nose enticingly. Big legs of ham hang by the walls, in the windows, from the ceiling. They're pale, almost white on the outside, but where the jamón has been shaved off, it is a deep pink with gleaming white marbling. Glorious. 
I stroll through the streets, the gentle breeze lifting my hair. Eventually I make my way back to Annie. 
"How was your morning?" She asks, after waving goodbye and exchanging a few words in Spanish with her friends. 
I smile, remembering the grand swirls of birds over my head, the autumnal rustling of the trees, the elderly men in dress pants and cardigans smoking cigarettes on benches. 
("Hat, cane, button down sweater and dress pants," Annie laughs, "might be my Halloween costume next year.") 
We find a cafetería for lunch, and get to pick two plates, a drink and dessert from the menu del dia.
We both have a glass of wine, and I choose paella for for my first course, and pork chops in a cheese sauce for my main plate. 
My paella finally arrives, and I am so pleased to be trying it for the first time in Spain. Annie is equally excited for me to try it, saying she often gets vegetarian paella, though her favorite Spanish food so far is a bocadillo de tortilla de patatas. 
Paella is a delight. Yellow, toothsome, briny, and savory, studded with peas, soft, sweet peppers, mussels, enormous crawfish and rings of squid. The rice had became crunchy and almost caramelized on the bottom, which apparently is the trademark of a good paella.
 By the time we finish eating, we are definitely ready for a siesta.  Tonight, we are going to a friend of Annie's apartment to cook dinner and drink calimoxo, a student "cocktail" of red wine and Coke. Perhaps this afternoon, after our nap, we can watch a movie. In a few days, we will go to Madrid. All is good, and I am so happy to be able to experience Spain through the eyes of my little sister.

 Paella Mixta
Adapted from Menu del Dia by Rohan Daft 

This is a recipe that requires a lot of prep and steps, but is, in terms of execution, not difficult and produces a great meal. I changed a lot from the original recipe, most notably adding tumeric- mine just wasn't yellow enough, and I remember the host of my farm in Spain showing me a popular "paella spice blend" that included tumeric for color. It's up to you!
The olive oil seemed excessive to me, but the dish wasn't oily, so, I'm keeping it as the recipe said. However, feel free to experiment. 
Also, you can really use any kind of meat or seafood for this dish. As you see, I used clams instead of mussels because, well, I live in Massachusetts! It's really up to you.  I had paella with goat in Extremadura!  And it was amazing!

6-10 threads of saffron
1/4 cup olive oil
A pinch of tumeric
2 chicken breasts and 2 thighs, cut into bite size pieces
1 onion, chopped
1 red bell pepper, cut into bite size pieces
1/4 pound green beans, cut into inch pieces
2 cloves of garlic, chopped
2 tomatoes, skinned and cut into cubes
1/2 tsp Spanish paprika (pimentón)
1/2 cup peas, shelled
8 large prawns or langoustines, shell on
8 clams or mussels, scrubbed
2 1/2 cups short grain rice (I had arborio, but Spanish Bomba is what you're supposed to use)
4 1/2 cups chicken broth or water, heated
First, over low heat, gently toast the saffron. This will only be for about 10-15 seconds. Remove and set aside.
Pour all the olive oil into a large paella pan (or a frying pan), raise heat to medium,and add the chicken. Cook until browned.  Remove from pan and set aside.
Add garlic, tomatoes, saffron, tumeric and paprika. Stir and cook for about five minutes.
Add your peas. Stir in the browned chicken, prawns and clams to the pan. Cook for about five minutes, then remove half the shellfish and set aside. (This is just for the classic paella look!)
Add all your rice. Try to get it spread out as evenly as possible across the pan. Pour over all your stock and add salt. 
Take the shellfish that you said aside and arrange it artfully over the top of the rice. 
Cook for about fifteen minutes, or until the rice seems to have absorbed most of the liquid. 
Remove from heat and cover with newspaper for about ten minutes before serving; paella is meant to be eaten at room temperature!


Moules Marinière...merci, Sete.

We wake up after a long, humid, wine soaked July night in Montpellier. I've grown used to the constant hum of the cicadas- a fixture in this part of France- mixing with the artificial and mandatory buzz of our beloved oscillating fan, Mistral. Three girls share this tiny studio, but we're generally comfortable and happy, despite the sticky mugginess.  
Lisa has a Latin class today, but Anna and I decide, on a happy whim, to go visit Sete, a small fishing village one train stop away. We wander to the Gare de Montpellier-Saint Roch, stopping at a random patisserie on the way. We examine the display of pastries, sweet smelling glossy packages of chocolate, cream, butter, sugar. We share a brioche Suisse and fougasse, both wrapped in crinkly parchment paper. Sucré et salé. 
While waiting for the train, Anna spots a 5 euro note scuttling around the platform. What a marvelous sign. This can buy us lunch, on top of the little container of leftover tomato rice we've brought along. 
Sete is a picture out of my childhood dreams. We gaze at the quaint, breezy village, the sparkling sea. We elect to spend our five euros at the street market, where vendors are hawking everything from aubergines to lightswitch covers. The air smells of the sea, which is a welcome change from Montpellier, where mounds of dog poo steam in the sun all day.  (Sorry, Montpellier. You are one of my favorite cities in the world, but this is an undisputed fact.) 
We wander the market, and land upon a warm, motherly woman selling tielle sétoise. We buy one, and some garlic prawns as well. I've had tielle sétoise before- my very first evening in Montpellier, back in September, with the magnificent couple who now rents us our little flat and treats us like daughters. Jean-Marie and Claire had served us this unique pie with a smile, urging us to guess what sea creature was inside. It took some gentle hinting for us to finally guess octopus. 
 We eat our snacks in a little park, and continue to explore. At a lovely covered market, I shyly ask how much it would cost to try my first oyster. She gives it to me for free, with a small napkin and lemon wedge. It is, of course, briny, slippery, cold and thrilling. We wander over to the shore, a bit confused about where the actual beach is. Eventually, we just hop the stone wall, not caring how the sun-baked rock burns our hands and legs. We find ourselves in a small enclave of sorts, populated by a little group of topless sunbathers from Spain and a scraggly man with his friendly black puppy. We spend hours picking at our rice, nodding off in the sun, and bobbing along in the glittering, warm sea. 
We tear ourselves away in the early evening, and on our way to the gare, find a fisherman selling mussels on a street corner. They are covered in sand and seaweed, and are only 2 euros per kilo. We buy some without hesitation, and then catch train back to Montpellier.
The air conditioned train is a relief. We're quiet on the way home, in the hazy way that I usually am after a day immersed in sun and water.  We shoot a text message to Lisa. "Don't eat. Don't cook. Moules on their way." 
After a brief stop at Intermarche for wine and baguettes, Anna and I burst through the open door of our apartment.  Lisa and Ben are drinking wine, awaiting dinner. At this point, I have a fully developed sunburn, so I scrub and de-beard the mussels in my bathing suit. Ben creates a playlist on Grooveshark, and we merrily prepare dinner.
Soon enough, the four of us are sitting outside in Jean-Marie and Claire's peaceful rock patio, enjoying the evening breeze, white wine, and moules marinière. Stories, laughter and music float over the fig trees. The cicadas begin to resume their nightly lullaby. The red sun reluctantly sinks into the stuffy summer sky, giving way to lazy July stars.
It's moments like this where my heart twists, because I know I will not be here forever, and yet I feel so bound to something as simple yet magnificent as a slow summer evening in France.
Around ten, the last scrap of baguette has soaked up what's left of the remaining pools of juices from the mussels. We get our shoes, a few euros, and, with my moment of premature nostalgia complete, head into the festive Montpellier night. 

Moules Marinière
3-4 lbs musells, scrubbed and de-bearded (it's best to wait until the last minute to de-beard, however)
3/4 cup white wine
3 shallots, chopped. (Or, use one small onion and 2 cloves of garlic)
1 laurel or bay leaf.
A small knob of butter
Parsley, chopped thinly
1 ripe, chopped tomato (optional)
First, and this may be the most important, is to discard any mussels that are already opened. Some may be just slightly open- try giving them a tap and if they close, that means they're still alive and are okay to cook. Any that have died must be tossed! 
In a large pot (a stockpot is a good idea) melt some butter and cook shallots until just translucent, and then add your mussels, wine, and laurel. Bring to a boil and let steam. If you'd like, you can add your chopped tomatoes now. That makes it less traditional, but gives it a sunny, Provençal flair. (Especially nice if you've used garlic instead of shallots!) 
Once most of the mussels have opened, remove from heat. 
Discard any mussels that have stayed shut.
Sprinkle parsley over your mussels, and season lightly with pepper. You probably won't need salt, but taste and make your own conclusion...
Serve immediately, with lots of nice crusty bread. Soaking up those juices with bread is the best part! 
Bon Appetit!


Israeli Shnitzel

Hey! It's been awhile. I knowwww.  Passover happened, then I went out of town, I've been working lots, having adventures, excuses excuses... Pretty much, the moral of the story is that, though I actually have been cooking and eating, I haven't been photographing it.
This will change. 
In the meantime, enjoy this recipe for Israeli shnitzel. 
Shnitzel baguette in Jaffa
Shnitzel is  hugely popular in Israel.
As street food, it's served alongside shawarma and falafel in most shops, and is generally eaten in pita or a baguette. Topped with hummus, tahini, Israeli pickles, cabbage salad and parsley, it is the best lunch I can imagine. 
It's sold frozen in stores, with an almost equally popular vegetarian version filled with sweetcorn and sometimes other vegetables. 
We also used to eat shnitzel every couple of weeks on the kibbutz.  
Making shnitzel on Hannukah in Herziliya

Mind you, I used to hate shnitzel day on the kibbutz, despite the fact that it was excellent, because we couldn't finish work until every last cutlet was fried off! Generally, the kitchen crew began their days the earliest out of the volunteer jobs- (6 am, 6 days a week!) but finished whenever we were done cooking. I was often already napping/laying in the sun by noon.  But never on shnitzel day! The agony of those longer days were tempered by the satisfaction of the final product. Our kibbutz chefs were great at making shnitzel, and both being from Argentina, served it with lemon wedges, as milanesa is served in South America. YUM. 
 The photograph below is of the shnitzel that Anna and I made for our hosts on our farm in Ireland!

1 lb turkey cutlets, pounded thinly
1-2 eggs
Breadcrumbs (about a cup)
1 tbsp sesame seeds
Cumin, paprika, salt, pepper, to taste
Lemon wedges, to serve

Mix the breadcrumbs and spices together in a wide, shallow bowl. Taste, and when it isn't bland (but not overpowering), set aside.
Crack an egg into another shallow bowl and whisk. You can add milk, but I don't, in the spirit of keeping it kosher.
Pat your cutlets dry. You don't want the hot oil spitting at you!
Heat oil in a large pan.
Dip each cutlet into the egg and then press each one firmly into the breadcrumbs so they are evenly coated.
Fry each cutlet in the oil- since they're thin, it won't take very long. About 3-5 minutes, but it depends on how thin they are. I would say to fry one, cut into it, see how it went, and then sort of go from there.
Serve with lemon wedges to squeeze over- really brightens the flavor! 
This can be served on pita with hummus, tahini, salad and pickles. Or, can be eaten with a fork and knife. YOUR CALL.  
It's so friggin easy! Great for a party, and a very basic recipe that you can riff on.