Well, we are at the last chapter of the mini series and it feels bittersweet. Before going any further I am giving you a disclaimer. If you are one to cry while reading a Nicholas Sparks book, I suggest having a box of tissues on hand. With that out of the way, the dish for this week holds a special place in my heart. This week I cook valenciana. Now, valenciana is similar to paella. Lola told me it’s considered a poor man’s dish. What makes them different is that valenciana doesn’t have seafood and has sticky sweet rice instead of jasmine rice. I’ve actually had both and I perfer valenciana over paella since it is more feeling and hearty. As much as this is considered fiesta food, this was and still is a normal dish to have around the house. It is actually a dish you have to soak the rice over night. In my memory of the dish, Lola would soak it in the morning and by the time I came to visit, she’d say, “it needs more time to soak, so let’s go out”, which consisted of us getting lunch and buying more food to cook with later. Honestly we had too many outings before cooking any meal, but I’ll save those stories for another time.
Anyways, by the time we got back, the rice is ready to cook. She would give me the job of stirring the rice, because it can burn easily. The best way I can describe it is like cooking risotto. You have to keep stirring so the rice doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pan. While I was keeping an eye on the rice, Lola would be cooking vegetables, chicken, Chinese sausage, and raisins in a separate pan. There was a moment when I couldn’t stir the rice anymore because it was getting sticky and heavy to stir, which meant it was done. So Lola would add what she cooked in her pan and stir all the ingredients. She made stirring a giant pot of sticky rice look effortless. She would say, “you need to stir from the bottom up so it doesn’t feel so heavy.” Her method makes you break into a sweat. Literally. Even though I said you’re not suppose to let the rice burn, once it’s all combined Lola let the pot sit on residual heat and make the bottom of the valenciana crispy. So for my family out there, the reason why there were some burnt parts when you take leftovers home she did that on purpose, because it was her favorite part to eat. It may sound weird, but I’ve tried it and it’s good!
So why is this sentimental to me? It’s not a physical item given to me like my previous posts, but I guess you can say it’s the one gift that takes the meaning of, “coming from heart.” *Time to hold your box of tissues.* When I first learned how to make this, it was the summer I found out how my grandparents met. After cooking this with Lola, it was just her, Lolo, and I sitting at the table. She decided at that moment to tell me how they met. Lola told me that they had met at university. The same university both of them eventually worked, which I explained in the previous blog post (insert link here). She said they’d always known each other. She said he was a very hard working, studious person and always had goals he wanted to meet. She said she was the same, but learned to have fun along the way. Lola said they didn’t start dating until their late twenties.
At that moment, they both started to look at each other with glimmer in their eyes and Lolo started to laugh. I know it’s an awkward triangle moment, but in a good way. It’s one of those looks you would see in movies and only think they happen in movies. Which was amazing because at that time Lolo was batting with alzheimers. One of the many important lessons I learned from Lola and Lolo: love is never blocked from the memory. I wish I had taken a photo of how they looked at each other, because to me, it was an real look at their relationship without them needing to use any words or explanations. Looking back at it now, that moment made realize the meaning of relationships and marriages. Throughout college and part of high school people invest into relationships and then it is easily disposed like a used tissue. No pun intended. I understand that relationships can be fun and trying to find that one person who is your Ying to your Yang, but with my grandparents they re-define what relationships are to me. What I have learned from them is that if you’re going to spend time with someone, you have to make each other better people. Not wasting your time with anything less than that. When it comes to marriage, they gave me valuable lessons. In weddings, when you hear the part in the vows, “for better, for worst, for richer, for poorer, for sickness and in health, until death do us apart…” it’s not something to be taken lightly. My grandparents were married for 50 years. The photo you see is from their 50th wedding anniversary. Recently, I finished reading one of Nancy Reagan’s book, I Love You Ronnie. I saw similarities between both couples. Other than their struggles dealing and coping with alzhimers, both couples were inseparable, built each other up, and always stood by each other in the good and the bad times. The basic outline of what people may consider, “building an empire.” Marriage isn’t picture perfect and there will be times of struggles, but if you truly love someone, it can be worked out. In some cases, to solve the problem divorce is brought up. Divorce isn’t a bad thing, but sometimes it’s not the antidote that ends all and cures all. I hear people say, “I want us to be that elderly couple who you see in the park, hand-in-hand and walking our two dogs.” I guess you can say that is my grandparents, but in their case it’s sharing a plate of valenciana. Isn’t their relationship your #relationshipgoals?
Until the next post…