“Vicky and Cristina decided to spend the summer in Barcelona. Vicky was completing her master’s in Catalan Identity, which she had become interested in through her great affection for the architecture of Gaudí”.

While this film isn’t exactly foreign it is so beautifully done I had to include it this week. From the first line, this film got me. I felt proud when the narrator mentioned ‘Catalan Identity’, as hearing about Catalans and Catlonia is not a common occurence in films. While it isn’t exactly foreign, it takes place in the not-so-foreign-to-me, city of Barcelona. The soundtrack alone is beautiful. I loved it so much in fact that I would listen to it as I wandered the streets of Barcelona or Girona creating my own motion picture. My favorite of which is Entre Dos Aguas by Paco de Lucia but really they are all perfect.

Both Penelope Cruz and Scarlett Johanson both shine in this film and capture that anxious, excited feeling of starting a summer in a new country. Both Vicky (Rebecca Hall) and Cristina (Scarlett Johanson) are seduced by the free-thinking painter who is played by Javier Bardem. His ex-wife (Penelope Cruz) enters the picture and the complex becomes more complicated.

This film is one of my favorite Woody Allen films, besides Midnight in Paris. Woody Allen always manages to capture exotic locals in such a beautiful way that many films haven’t been able to do. I was fortunate to watch this film in Spain and they even played it in English which was a treat and all of us expats were supremely excited about that. We all agreed that it portrayed the city as it deserved and even know when I’m feeling homesick for Barcelona, I can watch that film and feel like I’m back there.

Besides the actors and the scenery, the dialogue is on point. There’s also sharpness to the trademark Woody dialog that has been missing for quite some time. Though narration isn’t for everyone, I think it suits this film quite well. It’s a visual storybook and made me feel more a part of the story than if I was having my own internal dialogue about what was going on. Another brilliant piece that this film subtley touches on is how when traveling abroad, everyone expects to change. It’s easy to spot the ways in which American culture meets European culture head on.  When you’re on holiday you are free of burden and responsibility. People feel free, normally, to let go of all their psychological ‘trauma’ and be someone they aren’t normally. Though this can be seen as a common theme for women in most Woody Allen films, it seems that this time in Spain in particular allows them even more freedom to rise from their habits and mediocrity and open themselves up to a life of possibility.

It’s August and it’s summertime and there isn’t a more appropriate time to watch this film than now. I suggest opening the windows if there’s a cool summer breeze, opening a bottle of Spanish wine and making my paella dish to get the full effect!

2 Onions
1 Green Pepper
1 Red Pepper
Piquillo peppers
3 Cloves of Garlic
1 can of Roasted Tomato or tomato paste
Lobster (though squid and octopus are good too)
10 Mussels
Fish Stock
Powdered Pimentón
White Wine (1 glass for you, 1 glass for the paella)
Bomba Rice (1 full cup per person)

paella dish

Heat your paella pan with a bit of olive oil and cook your onion until it carmalizes. Let it cook and then add your garlic cloves and your finely diced green and red pepper and if you have them your piquillo peppers. When looking for these, your best chace is at a Hispanic market. Make sure to look for DOP (Denominación de Origen Protegida) piquillos.  Then, salt the edge of the pan. Add your tomato puree and stir together. Add more salt, your saffron, red pepper and stir continuously for five minutes.

Add the rice and distribute it evenly around the pan. Wait five minutes and then add the fish stock. Next, add your shellfish and seafood. I bought lobster from Trader Joe’s which is pre-cooked so it only needed a few minutes. If you are using mussels, cook those seperately in a small pan with fish stock for about ten minutes or until they open. Then, add them  into your paella the last ten minutes of cooking, for the flavor. Next, add your white wine.

You can let the rice cook, only stirring occasionally if you are cooking on a gas stove. If you have one, it is far superior for making paella as it cooks evenly. This part is key: after the rice has been added to the pan and stirred in, you really should not touch it if at all possible. In paella, the rice grains are meant to stay separated and intact. The more you mess with it while it’s cooking, the more the rice will release its starch, and the more soupy the texture will be.  If you are stirring constantly, you won’t get to experience the rice at the bottom sticking to the hot pan, making the burnt bits known as “socarrat” by true paella lovers.

If you are using an electric stove though, you must be sure that everything is cooking evenly. And remember to taste test! Add more salt, pepper or a dash more of saffron to your taste. Wait until most of the liquid is absorbed.  When your rice is cooked, turn off the heat and set aside with a towel covering it (the mother-in-laws trick) this helps with the final swelling of the rice as well as absorbing the excess steam.

When you serve, be sure to squeeze lemon on top! You can even squeeze some in during the cooking process.

This paella is a real taste of home as it comes directly from the recipe my suegra gave me when I moved back to the states. Though this time around, my husband cooked it and he did an excellent job! It brings me back to the sea, the Barcelona breeze and that feeling that everything in life is pretty perfect.

Bon Appétit!