Vegetarian Paella

>> February 1, 2014

Dedicated to my friend JD.

One of JD's food favorites is paella. I remember him always rave about this dish, saying I should try cook it myself. I'm not crazy about paella partly because I may not have tried a really good one in my life time. I remember I promised him I'll veganize paella, but I didn't have a benchmark then, so it never happened.

A few weeks ago on a friend's birthday party, I was presented with an opportunity to try it again, this time cooked by a spaniard from where else? Valencia! The best part? It's vegan! I may sound a bit exaggerating, but it's the best paella ever. Just thinking about it makes me feel like I can still taste it.

Inspired by this dish, and with JD in mind, I finally made my very first home made vegan paella.

3 tbsp vegetable oil
1 cup paella rice (or round japanese rice)
2 cups vegetable broth

1/2 tbsp spanish paprika powder
1/2 tbsp garlic powder
A pinch of saffron (optional)
1/2 tsp turmeric (optional)
salt and pepper to taste

1 large white onion, chopped
1 red bell pepper, chopped 
1/4 cauliflower head, rinsed and chopped (or more if you like)
5 pcs swiss brown mushrooms, sliced
1 eggplant, sliced (1/2 inch thick, 1 inch long - freestyle all you want)
Rosemary sprigs
lime wedges for garnishing.

1. Heat vegetable oil in a paella pan. If you don't have a paella pan, use a wok (i did!).
2. Saute onion for about a minute.
3. Add the cauliflower. Saute for 3 minutes.
4. Toss the eggplant and saute until it's soft.
5. Add red bell pepper and swiss brown mushrooms. Saute for 3 minutes.
6. Add the saffron if you have any, or 1/2 tsp of turmeric (to add some color), but this is totally optional.
7. Add the paprika powder, garlic powder, then salt and pepper according to your taste.
8. Add the rice and saute for another 3 minutes.
9. Then set your stove to low heat and add the vegetable broth. Make sure that it's evenly distributed.
10. Cover and simmer.
11. If the rice is still too tough and the mixture is getting dry, add some water gradually.
12. When its close to cooking completely, put some sprigs of rosemary on top for added flavor. Cover and let it simmer for another 5 minutes.

Scoop and serve with lime wedges! You can also serve it with chunky guacamole salsa.

Who's JD?
JD was my classmate in college, met him in 1999. He's one of the smartest in our class. He and Misyel were the first in his group that me and Whinie, my college best friend, became friends with. He's warm, kind, and naturally pleasant person. He's a grammar-nazi. He's a classy person. He hates it when I say "bunganga" when I can say "bibig" (both means mouth, but the former is less classy for his taste). He's one of the funniest people I know. He's very generous, self-less, down to earth, honest, religious, and a very thoughtful friend. Whinie and I eventually got absorbed by his group - which's also made up of great, smart, fun-loving, interesting assortment of people. And this group has become an extension of my family since then. And we are still the best of friends to this date, rock solid than ever.
White Beach, Puerto Galera, 2013

Favorite Memories
I could probably write a book of my memories of JD and the rest of the gang. I must say they are all worth mentioning. I like to remember how good he was in Mahjong, and although I don't have the liberty to say where the capital came from, I want to mention that whenever he wins, he would share his winnings by treating his friends. I was very poor when I was in college and so it was difficult for me to join their "after school" activities. JD would then present his mom's credit card, pay off our bill from the bars, and then we pay him back in staggered payments.

But lately I realized that my most favorite memory of JD wasn't the one that involved an adventure out of town together. Not our yearly "Way of The Cross" tradition. Not our beach escapades. Not our parties nor our drink til you drop sessions. It was actually the simplest - I find myself rethinking the moment over and over again. It was back in college on a rainy season, where we spend our lunch breaks in an obscure, cheap carinderia at the back of our school, sipping the free soup (which was just mainly knorr cubes dissolved in hot water) that came with our meal, enjoying the moment together. Then when it's time, the five of us will fight our places under the one umbrella and run back to the school, under the rain, screaming like crazy people running in the rain and just acting like children. Life was simple, and we were very happy.

I remember JD as someone who loved life so much and lived every minute of it. He enjoyed everything that life offered him. He cherished everything - specially our friendship. He was one of the people I can just be myself in its purest form - the best and worst, it doesn't matter to him.

Boracay, 2006
He have a congenital heart condition, which probably explains why he never gained weight all these years. On one of our dramatic, emo-intoxicated moments together, I remember him telling me that he wanted to live his life to the fullest, he wanted to just live it, because he felt like his life is short.

Life, is indeed short.

Josephine's, Tagaytay

Last Moments of 2013
It wasn't easy anymore to put together a getaway even just for a weekend due to our conflicting schedules, but I'm glad that we were able to push through our Puerto Galera getaway for a weekend. This was because Josh's leaving the country soon, and who knows, it might be our last summer to spend together for a very long time - that was my exact words to Mishy who backed out of the trip. We decided to go to Puerto Galera of all places, because we wanted to reminisce our roots. Puerto Galera was the only place we could afford back in our college years, and early working years for that matter. We wanted to experience it all over again, just to relive our then, young lives. We even stayed in the same place. It was superb fun times.

Bag of Beans, Tagaytay City
After Josh left for the US, it was my turn. At the night of my despedida party, JD was the last one to leave. I walked him to the street and waited for a cab. I couldn't hold my tears back. Kikay's working overseas, and so as Janice. Both try to come home once a year, but that's it. Whinie, on the other hand, have sort of have been distant and we don't hang out with her that often. Josh left for the US for good, and then Mishy was leaving too by the end of the year. It's just all him now. No more weekend breakfast at my condo. No more Saturday farmer's market. No more impromptu movie nights, Rue Bourbon or Greenbelt night outs. It's just going to be him. I hugged him hard and my tears just kept on flowing. I didn't know what to say other than I'm sad that he's going to be alone now, and that I will miss him. I saw in his eyes that he was sad, but he just held back and hid it with a smile.

Impromptu Christmas Party, 2010
In Memoriam.
Today's JD's 40th day in peace. I didn't had a chance to give him a proper memorial until this day. It was just very hard for each one of us to accept that he has passed. We comfort each other with our memories of him. We prayed and prayed for his eternal peace. My friends say that we should pray that he accepts what has happened to him, because his death was sudden, and there were many plans that he left unfulfilled, so that he can move on. But in reality, it is actually us, who loved him dearly, who cared for him,  who should learn to accept and let go - so he can move on, so we can move on.

Today I made paella in memory of him. I'm sorry I should have made it sooner. It's funny how we all left him in Manila, and now life has turned around - he left us all. A lot of things will never be the same again. We will never be complete ever, that's for sure. But life must go on, and this is a wake up call. Life is really short, we should all learn to live it. Enjoy each moment. Cherish everyone you value, and show them how much you care for them. Today I remember JD, a good friend, a brother to me. His memories will be cherished forever. He will always live in our hearts. Rest in peace my dear friend ...


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Bubble Blahs

I work and live at night time. I am a person deprived of natural light. I rarely cook in the morning as I'm almost always asleep, else busy with house chores. As much as I love natural light in my photography, I'm afraid I don't usually have that luxury, unless I sacrifice my sleep, or make an effort to stay up longer during the day to do a cooking + photo session. So I depend on my flash, and sometimes, available light from my fluorescent bulbs. Although, in my opinion, nothing beats the natural light, I am, so far, satisfied with my shots using my flash that I learned to love.

I always look forward to the weekends for some sunlight.

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