I remember the look on my mothers face when I told her I was buying a one-way plane ticket to England. Did I have anywhere to stay? What was I going to do there? How would I find work? I didn't have any answers to these questions, and deep down inside I was terrified (although I would have never admitted it at the time). I knew it was something that I needed to do.
A year prior I had packed everything I owned into a truck and drove to London Ontario, where I enrolled in University. I had just ended a serious relationship and it was the first time in years that I had been alone. It was during that first summer at school that I told myself I needed to go out into the world and experience it on my own. No boyfriend, no friends, no family. Just me and a backpack. I was in desperate need to let go of all my fears and reservations and just go (I had also been dealing with some serious anxiety). My mother was terrified, so she arranged my father's cousin's wife brother to pick me up at the airport. Once I arrived, rushing with adrenaline, he was waiting in the airport with a sign that said my name. It was perfect. He brought me to his flat in London, where I spent the next few days eating nothing but fish and chips. By choice. As cushy as it was, I was eager to find work and meet up with some people my own age. I found an ad in the local paper looking for wait staff at the Skiddaw Hotel in Keswick- meals, and accommodation provided. I rang them up and they hired me on the spot. I spent the next three months living in the Lake District and having the time of my life.
At the end of the summer, I decided to take a month and travel through Spain before returning home. I flew from New Castle to Barcelona, without any plans or anywhere to stay. I thought I would just wing it, that strategy had worked for me so far. Unfortunately, Spain is bananas during the month of August, and there were absolutely no hostels with any availability for 2 weeks. I wasn't going to spend every penny I earned that summer on swanky accommodations, so I took a bus to a campground outside of the city and set up my tent for the night to regroup. Seriously, I can't believe I used to backpack with a tent. And I can't believe how many times I actually used it. The next day I rented a car, which was surprisingly cheap, and I drove to the Pyrenees.
I spent the next 2-weeks hiking across the Pyrenees solo. Each night, I either found a campground or slept in my car, woke the next morning to complete another 9-hour hike. I survived off of nothing but boxed sangria, canned tuna, and chocolate croissants. I spoke to a handful of people for the whole two weeks, and by the end, found myself to be a pretty good companion. I dealt with some demons that had been lingering and finally excepted that it was ok to be alone. It was one of the most exhilarating and freeing experiences of my life. Despite that, by the time I had made my way back to Barcelona, I was starving for human interaction and food. Literally, I was emaciated.
I found a fun group of people at the hostel and stuck to them like a jellyfish. Each night would begin around 8 pm, when we would head to one of the many amazing restaurants in Barcelona to share pitchers of sangria and plates of paella. We would dance all night long, in the bars, on the streets, on the beach. Someone in our group had some inside connections with some locals, and each night we would take the train to some remote area of the city, and as we were walking down the alley, we would turn a corner and the biggest street party would appear. Locals serving sangria and paella from their front doors.
I have such a fond association with paella. It brings back so many memories of that summer abroad. That's why I was super excited when the Culinary Collective approached me to see if I was interested in participating in their virtual paella party this month, with National Paella Day is March 27th! Since my time in Barcelona, I've only had paella a few times but never attempted to make it at home, mostly because I thought it was a very labor-intensive dish, and I don't own a paella pan.
The Culinary Collective was kind enough to send me one of their paella kits to help me with the process. The paella kit included 1) Matiz Paella Rice, which is a traditional short grain rice from the region of Valencia in Spain, 2) Aneto Paella Base, which is an all-natural broth made from fresh whole vegetables, meats, and saffron that has been slow-cooked for hours, producing a rich and flavorful base for paellas and stews, 3) Matiz Organic Piquillo Peppers, which are grown and roasted in the area in Spain where piquillos originated, and 4) a paella pan of course. Since receiving this kit, I've become a little obsessed with making paella. It is such a fun meal for a small group of people or for a party. I'm thinking about throwing a few backyard parties this summer and cooking up a big pan of paella for my friends, and of course, a few pitchers of sangria to go with.
The Culinary Collective has been kind enough to give away one Paella Kit to a lucky reader. All you have to do is:
1. Comment below and tell me your favorite experience with paella.
The winner will be announced 3/30/16.
Contest now closed.
The winner of the paella kit is Miruska Milanovic. "Last May my sister and I took my dad to Spain for his 73rd birthday. He is a huge fan of flamenco so we thought it would be very fitting to go there for 3 weeks, enjoy great food and music. Of course, paella had to be part of the celebration. We traveled to Barcelona, Seville, Granada, and Madrid, with additional day trips from each city. We tried paella in every one of these cities as it's a great sharing dish. We ate our weight in paella. Great memories. My dad loved that trip."
I'd like to thank Culinary Collective for sponsoring this post. For more Spanish recipes visit www.culinarycollective.com If you would like to purchase a paella kit, they are available online at www.marxpantry.com
serves 5 people
prep time: 10 minutes
cooking time: 35 minutes
2 tbsp olive oil
8 oz large shrimp peeled, raw or frozen
1/2 lb green beans, trimmed
1 1/2 cups
1 box (1 litre)
10 large green olives
1 cup artichoke hearts
In a 13-inch
, heat the olive oil on medium.
Add the vegetarian sausage and shrimp and fry until the sausage is browned. Remove from the pan and set to the side.
Add the green beans to the paella pan and sautee for a few minutes.
Add the rice and stir for a few minutes until lightly browned.
Pour the Valencian Cooking Base into the pan, but do not stir.
Once it begins to bubble, arrange the sausage, shrimp, olives, artichoke hearts, and peppers around the pan.
Let it simmer until the liquid has completely absorbed. Do not stir. This allows a brown crust to form on the bottom of the pan called socoratt.