Hey mom, thank you for the pan!

Dear Mom,

We used your paella pan last night. I wish I’d taken a few photos other than the one after shot from the feast where James, myself and two friends gorged ourselves on hefty helpings of rice, shellfish, smoked rice and chicken thighs.

I don’t have a lot from you, not that you didn’t offer. I’m just not very material when it comes to preserving our history so when we sat in your hospice bed that second weekend that I drove down and you asked me what I wanted from you, I was really at a loss. Other than your ring that was redesigned from Grandma Harriet’s retirement diamond, I didn’t have much in mind. (Which, ironically, after you passed, I gave to Emily anyway because it seemed to belong on her hand more than mine. But that is probably another note for a different time.)

No, I really wasn’t sure there was anything I needed/wanted. After all, your life in that house with your husband and family in Cambridge, Wisconsin really started after me. I’d left for college in Kentucky the summer you got married and we both started very different paths. My connection to you as a mother while I was a youth in physical forms just didn’t exist any longer.

When we sat on your bed a few months back and you asked me that question, I looked around the house and there was nothing that connected me. I feel kind of bad for saying that. You had a gorgeous house and it was all so very YOU. But it was your life after me. Does that make sense?

We did call my husband James, though, during that talk because you also wanted me to ask him, too. And if there was a connection to be found, it would be in the kitchen given all the Christmas Eve’s and holidays where you and he would cook for the family. If there is an essence to me of “our family” as adults, it is/was through food. The conversation that day was awkward conversation to start, but James immediately referenced two items: your Cuisinart food processor (from hence many, many batches of liver pâté were born) and a paella pan that I didn’t even realize existed.

This pan, ginormous in both scale and weight, is cast iron and lived in the depths of your cabinets. I even question if either you or your husband had ever used it considering it’s girth. But apparently, this pan had been noticed enough by my husband that he could reference it by memory. Take it, mom said. Take it home to James.

And last night, we really did do this pan some justice. My girlfriend, who is gluten free, was coming over for a bike ride and I promised her that James could make us dinner as a reward for her trip over to the east side of Saint Paul (if you don’t know the Twin Cities metro, it’s pulling teeth to get Minneapolitans and Saint Paulites to cross the river).

Since we were on the gluten-free train of meal planning, paella seemed like a fun adventure especially given our recent exposure to a neighbor who makes it on the grill. I immediately found a New York Times recipe and we even went to the local fish market for little neck clams and sustainably-sourced jumbo shrimp.

Jen and I rode for 30 miles. It was my first bike ride of the season and it felt good to get out on my bike and feel my legs and the road again. After all the emotional commotion of this past winter and spring, I finally feel like I am starting to come out of hibernation mode and my friend, Jen, understands. She also lost her mom recently. We have a lot to talk about together.

After the ride, Jen and I sat on the back deck and continued catching up while James, the paella-master, did his magic. And sure as shit, he brought out that ginormous monster of a pan full of fish and aborio rice and chicken stock and thighs outside, down the patio steps and placed it on the grill.

(Everyone also breathed a little sigh of relief that it fit!)

The meal was a masterpiece. The grill brought smoke and flavor that I’ve never experienced in a paella (I’m sure James would insist at this point I also mention the hickory chips). But I feel like we need to give props to the pan, too. It’s got good karma.

So, yeah. There’s that. We used your pan, Mom. I know we’ll use it again. Thanks for the inspo. Sad you couldn’t be here to enjoy it. XO

Paella pan
The aftermath from our paella feast in mom’s pan

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