A Marriage and a Seaside Paella

by convivialist

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A couple weeks back I was fortunate enough to be a guest at the wedding celebration of our friends and across-the-hall neighbors Nikolaus and Clarissa on the stunning island of Ibiza. No, it did not take place at the mega-club where Skrillex was in residency. The Ibiza we experienced was instead a dry, rolling farmland sheathed in a quiet interrupted only by lambs trotting through clumpy fields. All the wedding festivities were centralized around the hills of the tiny village of Santa Agnes de Corona, which the bride’s family has known as a home for nearly four decades.

As Nikolaus heads up Berlin’s food-lovers’ paradise Markhalle Neun and Clarissa works as a fashion designer, my expectations proved to be correct: both the food and the guests were stunning. But make no mistake- this beauty was not an empty one of one-sided perfection or instagram-worthy moments. Instead there was a notable authenticism and artistic touch that permeated every detail of the three-day celebration. From the mother-of-the bride’s handmade giant puppets of the bride and groom to the Ibiza-centric menu of rack of lamb – where the lamb did not cling stubbornly to the rack but rather fell off it in gentle strands– and lemony seafood salad, the details of the wedding’s festivities fell into place as if the universe had simply dictated them in that way.

It was a week later when I found out that so much of the behind-the-scenes workings of the weekend were thanks to an old friend of the bride’s family. A native of Eivissa, this friend organized not only a multitude of quaint details like a horse-drawn chariot from the church to the party but also the entire feast that took place the day after the wedding. In fact, he had worked so hard the night before that he slept through the wedding reception completely. This kind of maniacal dedication to food is something I admit I can fully comprehend, but I hope nobody told him what a fantastic party he missed.

I was impressed with how many guests showed up at 12:00 sharp – including Nikolaus and Clarissa, fresh-looking as ever – to the seaside brunch the morning after the party. Paul and I slept a mere two hours on an oversized sofa beside the pool at the house our friends had rented. Awoken by sunshine and a screaming child at 8:30 am, we slunk away guiltily to our rental car and drove off in search of coffee and a salt-water bath. It turns out Sunday mornings at even a popular beach in Ibiza are quite deserted, and we whiled away a couple hours in a delirious, yet pleasant exhaustion, drinking coffee and orange juice at the nearly empty beachside café at Can Sala.

I was not prepared for the extent of the seafood feast we would encounter on the rocky side of the beach, where local residents own tiny rooms carved into the cliff, equipped with a front door and basic appliances like a sink and propane stove. Refrigerators were placed in carved niches. Some of the rooms were even graced with open hearths, I suppose, for cool nights. Basically, the setup was like having a kitchen right at the seaside, the inviting blue waves just steps away – really, what more could one need in life? Eagerly, I poked around the kitchens, astounded at the scale of the meal that was being prepared before my eyes in such humble facilities. Flat paella pans a meter in diameter lay in wait for the already simmering shellfish and rice to be tossed in. A pot bigger than my torso held fresh steaming mussels.

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As some guests milled lazily around the rocky shore, munching on slivers of manchego and jamón serrano, others jumped into the refreshing, salty water for a dip, waiting for the paella as it cooked. I love paella, but my favorites of the meal were the delicate mussels steamed with bay leaf. They were served in large bowls on tables that spanned ocean and shore, so that as we stood on the rocks, prying open the little shells and slurping them down, waves lapped lightly over our bare feet. It felt completely appropriate to throw the empty shells back into the sea, returning them to their watery grave.

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After a few more hours swimming and napping in beach chairs back over at the sandy side of Can Sala, the guests gradually made their way home or, depending on their luck and next day’s work obligations, to the airport. We were fortunate enough to be staying one more night, so back at the house, our old Dritte Mitte crew whipped up a spontaneous dinner for a dozen or so fellow guests and friends. We fell into our old roles immediately: Katharina working the crowd, Til and I sweating and frying over the hot stove and Lorenzo, “Maestro”, pulling finished pizzas out of the oven. A couple other friends had, by no small miracle, managed to find a chocolate cake in rural Ibiza on a Sunday evening (?!). When the newlyweds showed up on the patio just after dinner, we all applauded and cheered and presented them with this last missing piece of matrimonial obligation.

Thanks to Niki and Clari for a beautiful weekend- I’m so happy to have been able to celebrate with you.

Spanish Steamed Mussels with Bay Leaf / Recipe

Tapas for 15-20 people

The best option for steaming in this way is to use a wok with a lid, but a large pot with a lid would also work.

2 kilos mussels

2 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed

½ tsp. black peppercorns

a few bay leaves

dash of olive oil (best if not extra virgin)

1 lemon

  1. Remove beards and any irregularities from the mussels. Discard broken ones.
  2. Heat olive oil in wok or pot over medium-high heat and quickly sautee peppercorns, garlic and bay leaves.
  3. Add the mussels and replace the lid and steam on high heat until the shells open up (about five to eight minutes depending on the heat of the flame.IMG_2733
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