“You look Irish.” The Scotsman said to me at the coffee clutch after church in the church. People often tell me this, but I am a pure American mongrel with partial Irish ancestry. The pastor who pronounced “pahk” for “pink” had just preached a sermon on how with one seed God creates an onion and with another seed an oak tree. This got me thinking about onions.
“See,” she said, showing me the cover of the cook book. I had been invited to a friend’s house for dinner. “I am making you this. Without the cream.” She added. I looked at the cover of the cookbook in which a piece of salmon was placed in a yellow sauce on a white plate and surrounded by blanched vegetables, including bite sized morsels of a narrow delicate leek. Mostly I wanted to eat the leek. Maybe it was the Irish in me. The whole meal was delicious though, without fault, despite the absence of cream. She turned over the salmon filets thoroughly and copiously bathed them with spoonfuls of crackling butter. It was beautiful to watch.
“You don’t mind if I eat the mango skin?” She asked. I had brought the dessert. “Shall I wash the mango?” This was her way of telling me that the mango needed to be washed. She had been a nurse before retirement. I normally don’t wash mangos before peeling them, but somehow I felt I had been terribly incorrect these past 40 something years, routinely not washing my mangos. She washed the mango. We discussed how to cut a mango. She came from the Caribbean, one of the old Dutch colonies. “We did sink some of those German boats. They were all out there.” She stated with pride, waiting for me to insert the knife.
“Here,” she said handing me one half of the mango without the fruit. I took the skin between my hands. We stood at the kitchen counter sucking the half mango skins. She was much better at it than me. My mango skin had a slight covering of dog hair left over it while hers was vacuumed clean.
I told her the story of how I used to graze as a child in the garden, eating everything until I tried the corn. It had been a bitter disappointment to me that it had been so hard to eat; I learned, unlike the carrots, snow peas, raspberries, lettuce that corn had to be cooked. She looked at me as if I were a fool. “Sweet corn milk!” She exclaimed. “Of course you can eat raw corn. We did it all the time as kids.” She shook her heard. “We eat dem sweet potatoes too.” Every once in a while she’d slip a little Caribbean lingo in her sentences.
“Raw?” I asked impressed.
“Make yah teeth go green. Hmmm.” She stood still and remembered trying to clean the green stains off her teeth. “Give me the pit.” She nodded at the mango pit I had attempted to strip clean with a knife. “Put it on my plate.” She suggested.
“Give us a clean heart.” The pastor had pleaded from the pulpit. I wondered about this information. Since when was it dirty? And what was immer wrong with the flesh of the fruit? Nothing can be clean without dirt.
When my friend had eaten half her meal, the salmon in the soft buttery sauce, she asked me for the jalapeño tabasco sauce, fresh out of the box.
I had divined, upon spying the box of tabasco sauce on the table, that she was making the European tender taste meal for me, her guest and non-Caribbean person, but that at heart she regularly dined with tabasco sauce. I deliberated sprinkling my food with tabasco sauce. I like tabasco sauce, but my American born Euro mongrel nerves twinge a little at the thought of a soft buttery salmon combined with jalapeno sauce and I start to fret thinking that I will mismatch the flavors and miss something important. “My great great grandfather was born in London.” She said calmly.
At church we listened to the story of Elijah and the watery fire. Sitting in the pew I couldn’t help but wonder if anyone had ever patented a product called “Elijah’s Lightbulbs” and simply sold weak lightbulbs with a clever name.