Paella and other tiny adventures

Michael made one of the best paellas of his life the other day, and when we tried to analyze why it was so good, he attributed it to just the right intensity of the charcoal fire in his cookshack…P1120726...and just the right amount of chicken stock for the rice  (not too dry, not too mushy).P1120738P1120754I think he enjoyed the prep as much as the cooking and consuming. The week before: a trip to Cuenca for arborio rice, green beans and little chicken wings; another to neighboring Tambo on Saturday market day for langostinos; several times around Cañar for rum (to soak the saffron) and vegetables.  And here are all the ingredients, prepped and prettily lined up: roasted sweet red peppers, garlic, onions, green beans, saffron (in little glass), rice, tomatoes and langostinos.P1120735Several hours later…P1120761Paella for six! The guests were not able to come so we dined in glory in front of the fire, with Russian Red Boxed Wine, watching Better Call Saul and House of Cards.P1120762P1120758

Other pleasures in our life lately are country walks, and the people we meet on those walks. A couple of weeks ago Michael arranged for a tiny adventure on a road that has intrigued him for years, as seen from the bus to/from Cuenca. From behind Tayta Bueran, the mountain that dominates Cañar, a road meanders to the west off the PanAm towards the jagged mountains in the distance, usually covered by clouds.  P1120691 (1)We took the Cuenca bus to the point where Michael thought the road started (well, we got off a little too soon and had to walk about a half-kilometer with buses and big transports rushing by, putting me briefly in a bad mood). But once we found the way we were soon joined by a small man carrying a shovel, and we fell into step. Lucindo, from Molobog Grande, the valley with the wonderful name on the other side of the PanAm, was headed for his potato patch a few kilometers towards the mountains. As we walked and talked, and he answered our questions, he aptly captured the history of this region – the hacienda era, agrarian reform, and what “progress” has meant for the small farmer like himself. “All this was all owned by families from Cuenca,” – he gestured to the broad valley below – “Malos and Andrades.”  Names mean everything in upper-class Cuenca and M. and I immediately recognized these. “The agrarian reform came and the government helped us create a cooperative, Buena Esperanza (Good Hope). The land was divided up. I have a piece down there – where you see the cows – and up where my potatoes are planted, and waayyyyy up towards the mountains.”P1120685 (1)“Then, as often happens with people,” Lucindo said, “the members of the cooperative began to fight. Some were jealous, others wouldn’t do the communal work, and after some years we became the owners of our individual parcelas, which meant we could sell our land. Now, with that and migration, the cooperative is pretty much broken up, though some of us are still active and we have a fiesta every year.”

At that point we were passing another of his parcelas, and Lucindo gestured again to the beautiful valley below and talked about a present-day problem: “Down there I have a little trout pool,” he said, “but all the potable water projects for the towns around here are taking all the water. Now  I don’t have enough flow to keep my fish healthy. Tayta Bueran is covered with natural springs, and we used to have plenty of water.”

Now we stopped near a steep hillside with a small planting of papas, and it was time to say goodbye.  But not before Lucindo asked us if we were Catholics. P1120689Michael and I walked on…and on, and on. By now we’d dropped hundreds of feet in elevation. No way could we reach those mountains, but we took a road we thought we bring us to a village. No village, no cars, no taxis, hardly any people. Those few we came across tried to help. We offered to pay for a ride but no one had a car. One man said: “Maybe the teacher is still at the school – the red roof down the road. She’ll give you a ride.”  But the school was closed up tight. Finally, tired and resigned, we started the long slog up the road to the PanAm. Then, a miracle, a small truck came behind us and we jumped out and flagged him down. Startled to come across two gringos far from anywhere, the young driver invited us to crowd into his tiny cab and tell him how we got to Ecuador, and to this remote valley between Cañar and Cuenca.  drawing001

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19 thoughts on “Paella and other tiny adventures

  1. Fabulous post.

    The paella looks scrumptious, and I loved the accompanying photos…

    Thank you very much for your postings – superb writing and so entertaining !

    abrazos, Sue (Uzhupud)

  2. I wish we could have been there to enjoy Michael’s paella! It looks fantastic (as does Michael!). Well do I remember the wonderful meal he made for us last year during our visit. Your walk sounds lovely (if a tad longer than you may have wished.) Phil and I have been enjoying some nice mountain walks here in Sikkim lately. The skies look much like the ones in your photos, a mix of clouds and sun. Enjoy and thanks for the story and illustration!

  3. How lucky you are to have such a great chef who has such fun cooking!! Glad to know I’m not the only box wine drinker!! Great trekking story – you guys do have your adventures. Hope you enjoy many more.

  4. That paella! And where did Michael learn to soak his saffron in rum? Pity those guests who weren’t able to come. You two always inspire – so active, yet knowing all the best ways to relax, too. Love your drawing, Judy! xo

  5. Judy, the pictograph is wonderful: I see you experimenting with another way of telling your stories of conversation, cooking and adventure. Not sure if you can stream from Amazon, but Racing Extinction is a terrific documentary by Louis Psihoyos that is currently available through Comcast.

    Having those huge Langostinos were no doubt an important part of that beautiful paella. And on the red box wine front, the best I have found so far (red wine that is not sweet) in the US is actually from Gallo: “Vin Vault” is the name of it.

    We send our best wishes to you and Michael.

  6. Hi Laura – Michael sez: “…from a couple of Valencianos living in Costa Rica, who I learned from. They said the best for soaking saffron
    was brandy, but rum or white wine will do. About one hour before adding to chicken stock (not all at once)….

  7. thanks Macon – I’ll look for Vin Vault when I get back to US, for home consumption (too embarrassed to take boxed wine to others). Here, a pretty nice Malbec from Argentina is $7, and those langostinos? – about $5-$6 per pound.

  8. Love reading your posts, and don’t really have a comment.

    I’m just trying to change my email address. Please delete this non-comment.


  9. Not only the paella, but also the agrarian reform story, how true to form.
    Enrique Mayer

  10. Once again, a mouthwatering story. Judy, have you ever seen Nancy Chandler’s maps of Thailand? Yours reminded me of her wonderful maps –
    I used them so many times and have several dog-eared copies in my travel files. Love, Lisa

  11. Judy, love your map. It makes your story more vivid. The Argarian Reform story has been repeated, unfortunately, is many places. The same thing happened in much of Peru. The exciting thing is that the cooperatives have survived around Casñar and the situation is more hopeful. Oh, yes, those family names are immediately recognizable as land owning aristocracy.

  12. Que pinta que tiene esa paella… ¡Michael es un gran cocinero! Un abrazo para ustedes.

  13. Great post! Loved the illustration!! You are so talented in so many ways!

  14. Nothing better than the road less traveled. Heading to Lima next week…unfortunately, as it has been…so near…yet so far….I guess I will have to resign myself to visiting when I retire and can meander down those roads toward you!
    Costa Rica coincidence this past week…on an elevator in the hotel where the conference was held (in Rome) and a guy and gal get on. Im with a friend and she and the gal recognize each other…she introduces me…and the guy says,
    “shoshana? I’m Mike Berry from Costa Rica!” (we had taught together in Guancaste in 2003 and I hadn’t seen him since!)…cheers and always PURA VIDA to your both!!

  15. Una comida como siempre exquisita y lo mejor su compañía, siempre recordaré esas cenas y meriendas de la mano amorosa y exquisita de Michel!
    Me ha encantado la acuarela de Judy son un gran admirador de sus bitácoras y dibujos plasmados con gran maestría y detalle, les recuerdo mucho, un abrazo muy fuerte para los dos.


  16. I am inspired to make a back yard paella!
    Adding the map is really a wonderful addition to your already wonderful story telling.

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