October 8, 2010 § Leave a comment
Tonight it was while I was cooking supper.
When I uncovered the little blue pot in the refrigerator, I discovered some okra and fresh tomatoes Marie, the maid/cook/wash lady, had boiled for me earlier this week. Vegetables are a little scarce over here, especially green vegetables, and I’ve always loved slimy boiled okra. Thank you, Mary Dunn and Aunt Precious, two ladies who loved me and fed me when I was a little kid!
And while in Senegal, I’ve really come to love boiled okra and tomatoes, and I ask Marie to fix it for me at least every other week.
Earlier this week, I had pork chops with my tomatoes and okra. Tonight, however, I had no meat to go with them. What was I to do?
Looking on the kitchen counter, I saw a little box of tomato sauce left over from when I made chili the night before. Yes, without Kittie here things don’t always get put back in their place every night. Marie, who comes three times a week, seldom puts thing that I leave out on the counter back in the pantry. She seems to think that if I left it out, I must have wanted it out. Strange for a women, don’t you think guys?
Tomatoes and okra… tomato sauce… I’ll make vegetable soup, I quickly decided.
Now I’ve eaten lots of soup over the last three months; probably more soup than I have ever eaten in any three months in my life. When I returned in June, knowing I was here by myself, I brought with me several boxes of Lipton’s Instant Chicken noodle soup. They will be gone by the time I leave next Friday morning. And I’ve made two or three bowls of chili from the Wal-mart seasoning packets I brought back. It’s sort of different eating hot chili in 95 degree weather, but still it tastes American, which helps survive over here.
But what I have perfected these last three months is homemade vegetable soup.
I make it every two of three weeks and it lasts me for several days. (Yes, Kittie, there are weeks when I have eaten vegetable soup three nights in a row. But don’t get any ideas!)
Ground beef…canned tomatoes, whole kernel corn, green beans…fresh carrots and onions… salt, pepper, Tabasco…some of the Senegal Maggi seasoning fresh okra at the very end; I’ve got it down almost to a science.
But tonight was different. Instead of starting with an empty pot and browning the beef first, this was a little pot of left-over okra and tomatoes, a box of tomato sauce, and no meat or canned vegetables. Could I do it Could I turn these almost ready to throw away leftovers into a tasty soup?
Into the blue pot with the tomatoes and okra went the box of tomato sauce. Then I chopped and added half of a small onion, a cube of Maggi, dash of salt, bit of black pepper…it looked too thick, so I added half a cup of water.
And then I remembered the black-eyed peas that had been in the refrigerator for almost two weeks.
Now these peas are a story in themselves. In fact, I was going to use them in a story on the difficulty of doing supervision in a very different culture that I almost wrote a couple of weeks ago, but I never quite got it on paper. Maybe one day.
I bought the peas in a market outside of Dakar, fresh and already shelled. I was having some friends over for dinner on Saturday night and thought, “Oh, these will be wonderful.” I could see my Mama’s black-eyed peas floating in a greasy liquid from the streak-o-lean pork she always used when cooking peas, just like her Mama did. I couldn’t wait for Saturday night. They were going to be so good with the pork roast in the freezer.
So Saturday comes and Marie arrives. I tell her I am having guests for dinner that evening and show her the peas. She smiles and nods her head. I return to my recliner, where I remain from most of the day doing various things. A couple of times the smell tempts me and I go in and raise the lid on the pot and smile at what I am seeing.
Later in the day, when I think perhaps they have had time to get tender, I take a little sample.
Oh! They are so hot they almost blow the top of my head off. Instead of streak-o-lean, or even vegetable oil, Marie has added hot Senegalese peppers.
Oh, I’m so disappointed! Then I decide, “OK, this is Senegal. Everything is hot over here. It will be OK!”
And then things got worse.
I’d also asked her to prepare some carrots and potatoes, assuming she would cook them with the pork roast as she had been known to do in the past. Wrong! I went in later and saw the carrots and potatoes boiling in a pot on top of the stove. (We have a real stove over here; four eyes and everything, but gas!)
Again, I said, “OK, boiled carrots and potatoes, I can handle this and so can my guests.” I returned to my chair.
After a while I had to go out and buy some water. When I returned, Marie came to the door, said, “Finne,” and motioned with her finger for me to come to the kitchen. The peas were finished!
I went excitedly to the pot resting on the stove top, lifted the lid, and sucked in a big gasp of air that Marie had to have heard. She had put the carrots and potatoes in the peas and stirred them all together in what I can only describe as a “mush!”
“Oh, my God!” I thought, or maybe it was something not quite that nice. Such disappointment!
But being the nice Christian person that my Mama taught me to be, I recovered, looked at an anxious Marie, and smiled. It was not her fault I had not been able to communicate to her what I wanted and had failed to supervise her as I should have to get the result that I wanted.
But tonight, I was cooking this soup, not Marie. I knew what I wanted it to taste like.
I opened the cold peas and looked inside. No mold. No bad smell. I put in two big spoonfuls of the peppery peas! I let it cook and simmer until the glob of cold pea mush had warmed and separated into individual peas. Then, I poured it into a bowl, let it cool, and tasted.
Ummmm! I could not believe it. I believe it was the best soup I have ever made!
Leftovers! No recipe! A little of this, a little of that! A surprisingly great result!
You know, that’s just like our God. We give him the leftovers of our lives of which we very often can’t see the rhyme or reason, and he makes something beautiful of us in a very surprising and unexpected way. Sometimes, we don’t even see it except in the rear-view mirror of life.
Yea, I’m seeing some really amazing things these days looking through that mirror; learning, and relearning some great lessons. And sometimes, I feel like I can see them as they are happening.
And that, my friends, is a great blessing!