Family Style Meals

To me, family style meals are the best! There is something special about sharing a favorite meal with friends and family. Family are the people who let you be the most free and the most, gloriously YOU. You don’t have to shrink yourself, pretend, or perform, you can show up as you are and be accepted, appreciated, valued and loved. To define family, we are not limited by biology, we can make up our family ourselves, and with that family, we can be who we want to be without judgement. 

Paella is one of those family meals, that illicit’s feelings of warmth, fun, friends, family, and good times. My mom made the best paella!! She was proud of her paella and it was always some kind of mystery how she made it, what her recipe was, what her secret ingredients were, etc. Before she passed away in 2010, my sister and I tried to get her to teach us how she makes it. We were never able to get her to fully pass down the recipe. After my sister passed away last year, I’ve been wanting to make paella and try it out and damn it, just do it. Since this year is a big turning point of a birthday for me, I thought I wanted to have a “Paella Party” with a Spanish theme and make a giant batch of paella. Before then, I thought I’d better test the recipe first. I broke out my moms Spanish recipe book, “My Kitchen In Spain” by Janet Mendel (my mom’s name was also Janet so this is quite fitting). I turned to the page my mom had dogged eared, it also had a few other paella recipes enclosed that my mom had printed out. I read all of the recipes carefully, learning about how to make the sofrito and socarrat. 

I invited a few friends over to help me prepare the meal and eat it, of course! Everyone brought wine and a few special ingredients to add. One friend brought mussels and another brought fresh picked green beans from her garden. We were ready for a real fiesta! This is the best kind of cooking, someone scrubbing muscles, someone stringing beans, someone sautéing over the stove. The preparation is all part of the fun. I poured over all the printed recipes and added to the one from the book, making due with the ingredients we had on hand.

It didn’t take as long as I thought it would and wasn’t as hard and scary as I thought it would be. The final product was beautiful and delicious. We raised a glass to friends and family and all dug in. Every last morsel was devoured so I know it wasn’t just me, it was GOOD!!! We even had an argument at the table, like a real family affair. The experience was meaningful and also helped me realize, I don’t need a paella party for my birthday, this memory was enough. I’d prefer to make a small batch like this and invite a few favorites over again, instead of working away when I ought to be celebrating. 

I was a Peace Corps Volunteer and did my training in Senegal, West Africa. This meal reminded me of Thieboudienne, a similar tasting and looking fish and rice dish served family style in a big pan, like paella, throughout North West Africa. It also reminded me of some family style fish and rice dishes I had while studying in Guatemala. It seems many traditional cultures have a similar, tasty meal they share with friends and family.

This heart shaped muscle shell says it all…. No matter the dish, no matter the culture, or country, food is best shared with loved ones. To define family, we are not limited by biology, we can make ourselves and be who we want. Family are the people who let you be the most free and the most, gloriously YOU. You don’t have to shrink yourself, pretend, perform, you can show up as you are and be accepted, appreciated, valued and loved. 

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