It’s pretty much a perfect storm of menus and cooking. First, as I have mentioned before, my folks enjoyed introducing a wide variety of foods to us kids as we were growing up. We had a lot of Italian, and Mexican, and Asian including Guamanian, Thai, Chinese and Japanese, and also a variety of European countries. Some of them were wonderful, and others – not so much. Add to that fact that I have grown my taste for hot spicy foods to the point that most of my balance has been pretty well burned out, and then finally, that our two sons have embraced the same set of eating principles has meant that we would continue to grow and expand our repertoire of meals other than Midwest American. I do have to say that one member of the house -- the one with pretty strong Norwegian genes and sensibilities – is NOT a fan of spicy food. I can’t even count the number of times we have ordered some food, or made it at home, and sitting down to eat, the first words are, “Whoo – that’s pretty spicy! That’s really hot!” as the chicken tortilla soup is set aside, or the whatever just has a little too much pepper in it (which means it has any pepper at all…). For instance, when we make chili at home, it has to be made with NO chili pepper in it. Basically, it’s Mexican spaghetti sauce, and the rest of us are left to add the hot stuff post-cooking, which is not really the way spices are supposed to work. But she is tiny enough that she really can’t afford to miss a meal and stay upright, so we accommodate whenever we can.
However, there are some dishes that by their very makeup and heritage require some level of heat. Chili should be included in the list, but one in particular that is growing in popularity in our home is Jambalaya. Now, I have 0% Cajun in my blood, but after spending a year in New Orleans, I found that so much of that culture’s food aligns perfectly with my taste buds. It’s good. And it’s more often than not pretty spicy…
So, when the menu rotation rolls around to an open evening, and someone says, “Hey – let’s have jambalaya!” my bride’s first comment is, “That’s fine – I’ll just have something else…” Now, we can’t do that every night, but now and then, we accept the compromise and it’s off to the races – Cajun style, that is.
If you have never had jambalaya before, it’s best described as a pile of stuff, with rice. That’s pretty much the recipe. You start off with sausage, maybe shrimp, maybe chicken – or alligator, if you can even find it (yum!), and cook the meats up in a nice deep cast iron pot. While they are cooking, you then taken onion, and as many different colors of bell pepper that you want – I like the green and red, although last time I even used an orange pepper. You chop them up nice and chunky, and then sauté them in the bottom of the pot after you take out the meat. When they are nice and soft, you re-add the meat, and cook it up for a while more. When the time is right – and you will just know when, then you add the chicken broth, and the spices – cayenne pepper, jalapeno (if you like), some salt, black pepper and some tabasco if you prefer. You see, at this point, you move from a Sunday potluck dish to a Saturday night, burn your guts and mouth out delight.
When you have dumped enough solid fire into the pot, and have it all heated up, then it’s time to add the rice. Stir it in so it’s nice and mixed up – use the uncooked long grain rice for the best results – and then put a lid on the pot, and walk away for about 45 minutes. Don’t open the lid – don’t check, and don’t wonder if maybe it’s done a little early. It isn’t. Just do the crossword puzzle, or chat about the day, and let it do what it will do.
When the time is right, you take the lid off, and if you are lucky enough to be close to the pot as that happens, you get first dibs on the aroma of the bayou. Now, I’m not self-deceived to believe my jambalaya would even be received by a true Cajun, but it’s pretty good. Also, the non-Norwegian approved spices have been cooking of the better part of an hour, and have released their little fire-breathing flavor into the unsuspecting rice and meat (oh, by the way, did I mention you should also find the spiciest sausage you can?), so that as you take that first bite of the Cajun apple, hanging there is swampy Eden, your find your mouth slowly catching fire. It’s a wonderful moment. Plus, if you care to add a few dozen more drops of Tabasco, which is grown down in that area of the country, then the fire burns even more brightly…
So, as we three boys enjoy the burn, my darling wife has microwaved her Swedish meatball and noodles frozen meal, and enjoys it, and peace reigns in the Cross household.
It’s kind of like when we were growing up, that Mom had to make two batches of her wonderful potato salad. One batch was the “normal” tasty, flavorful, the-way-God-intended salad, and the other was made with no garlic and no onions, and no pickle relish, and very little mustard. I would always ask myself, “Why bother? Just mash some potatoes up and call it good.”
Of course, I know that each person’s palate and flavor-brain switch is different. For instance, if you can believe it, some people actually want to eat lima beans, and navy bean soup, with a ham hock in it. I’d rather be on a fast than even try it. Yuck. So, I have to regularly test and check my opinion about foods, and about persons who don’t like a spicy life. After all, I fell long ago for a short Norwegian farmer’s daughter who only later did I find out just never wanted anything close to hot or spicy or flaming, or mouth burning. My peppers and hot sauce have been easily secure for nearly four decades.
Just to end this with a little romantic thought: if I had to give up forever my spicy foods in order to keep the woman I love, I would do it. I would miss the spice, but she brings a whole other genre of spice to my life, and that’s good enough for me.
I think we are making chili tonight…
Word for the day: euneirophrenia. Pronounced you-near-oh-FREE-nee-a. Big word – pure Greek, if you can recognize it. It’s created from three different Greek roots: eu, which we know means “good,” like an evangelist is someone who shares good news; oneiro, which means “dream,” and phrenia, which is “state of mind.” Put them all together and you end up with that wonderful, peaceful feeling that envelopes you when you wake up from having a good dream. In those first few moments, not having to jump out of bed, but just lie there, and enjoy what you remember, before it fades – that’s euneirophrenia. I’m afraid lots of us carry our stress and anxiety to bed, and so our brain works overtime to clear it, which causes, if not bad dreams, then at least ones that are frustrating, without an end or resolution. I do hope for you tonight to have a dream that awakens you to a wonderful morning tomorrow.
After 43 years of ministry, Randy Cross lived his "fourth life" and shared about retirement, living boldly and intentionally in our world. To be sure, there was some North Dakota thrown in.