a paella for mom
Exactly three years ago today, I lost the woman who:
- I looked up to more than anyone
- could make me laugh so hard I cried.
- was easily my best friend.
My mother passed away September 15, 2007 to a long battle with cancer. When her body stopped responding to chemo, Mr. KC and I left Switzerland to return to Chicago to help make her last days as comfortable as possible. Part of that decision meant graduating from the hopeless little girl in the kitchen to a woman making dinner for the family.
For years, my mother had graciously and enthusiastically filled the role of “cook extraordinaire”, feeding her family regardless of how unappreciative we were. Now it was our turn to care for her. It was an important part of my own grieving/acceptance process to return that favor, even if only for a few short months. As she grew sicker, her appetite curbed significantly and she almost never wanted to eat. One day, out of nowhere, she requested paella and peach cobbler. We were beside ourselves happy and never was I more relieved and excited to fulfill a meal request.
A couple of years earlier, my mother and I had attended a cooking class at Chicago’s Ba Ba Reeba tapas restaurant. What we thought was supposed to be a cooking class, at least. It was more cooking demonstration with tons of wine. We left knowing not much more than we did going in, but rather tipsy, very full and with a simple and easy-to-follow recipe for paella valenciana. It’s remained a favorite of ours and was the recipe I used to fulfill her request.
About 20 minutes into the cooking process, my mother asked “How much longer is it going to be?” (keep in mind, this woman was easily one of the most patient people you’d ever meet, clearly not genetic as neither me nor my sister received this gene). I told her “hmmm, dunno, maybe another 20 minutes or so?”. Her response? “It only takes Cafe Ba Ba Reeba 20 minutes, I don’t know what’s taking so long.” It was incredibly uncharacteristic of her, and that made it all the funnier. I don’t even remember how the paella turned out that night or how long it ended up taking, but it now strikes me just how powerful food can be as a means of making people happy and bringing them together regardless of the circumstance.
There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t think of/miss her in some way, but today it’s always more pronounced. So, in memory of my mother/best friend…a paella valenciana, still cooked in over 20 minutes, but with love. Miss you mucho, mom.
P.S. I wanted to include that recipe here, but I then realized that I boxed up my cookbook (we’re in the midst of a move–post on that to come). Forgive me, I promise I’ll get my hands on it soon and post the full recipe. Until then, take in the photo and get excited 🙂 )