Monday, September 19, 2011

The Stew of Life

There is something about warm comfort food that gives me a feeling of security that I can’t find anywhere else. I can’t remember the first time I made mulligan stew. I remember learning the name from a nutrition education show that I watched back in elementary school. The first time I made some might have been in Budapest. I’ve made it in the years since. I don’t think of the dozens of pots I’ve made that they have ever been exactly the same.

In Budapest I got all the ingredients at the shops that were right outside the downstairs of our flat. The ground meat was pork, not beef and called Darált hús. Harrison called it daralpoosh and Prajna and I thought that was adorable. We used fresh carrots, potatoes and whatever else I could find to throw in. I never found celery in Budapest, but there was a canned sauce made from paprika and tomatoes that was my special something that always made my mulligan stew shine. The sauce, called lecso is available at a European market close to me but it’s pretty expensive. I was still thrilled to find lecso there. But I’ve never found the sweet fresh paprikas that defined Hungary. They were everywhere. You could buy them at any produce market as well as metro stops and even on the street.

But I couldn’t find them here. Then our friends brought some to church. I was so happy and went on about how the Google doodle commemorating the discovery of vitamin C shouldn’t have been of oranges but of these sweet little yellow peppers since that’s what vitamin C was discovered in. I tend to talk in run-on sentences when I’m emotional like that.

I asked our family friends if I could borrow some of their peppers. Yes I said borrow. And all through church I thought about making a big pot of mulligan stew for supper. My first thought was to spend Sunday afternoon just making stock and actually make the stew the next night. Prajna did what she does often and gently bought me back down to Earth. I had enough time to make the stew for that evening. We asked our friends to supper so it really was like we were borrowing the peppers. One of the great things about mulligan stew is I have to make a lot. In Budapest we liked inviting other teachers over for some.

In the middle of the afternoon I put the largest stock pot on the back burner with a cup of brown rice and four cups of water and set it boiling. On the front burner I put in chopped up celery that was pretty old, chopped up broccoli stems, and the shavings of the carrots I would put in the stew later. I added water and the vegetables cooked away to mush, creating a stock. I cut up the carrots, potatoes and celery and set them aside. I wanted to add them at the right time so they would be cooked just right. I cut up the peppers loaned from our friends and added them to the big pot then added some beef flavoring and canned tomatoes. I cut up an onion and cooked it in a skillet with a pound of ground turkey. Ingredients were everywhere, some being cooked, and others waiting. There were a lot of dirty dishes and pans. I tried to clean as I went along.

Then I strained the vegetables from the stock, poured the green broth in the big pot and added the potatoes, carrots and celery. Then I was ready to start the white rice cooking. And I nearly lost my mind. Two little parts of the rice pot were missing. I searched every place they ought to be in the kitchen. I asked each of my children repeatedly. I must have looked like someone in a cartoon who is on fire the way I was trying to remain calm while all the while thinking about every bit of preparation that would be for nothing and we had friends coming over and I would not be able to make sticky white rice and what was the use of eating mulligan stew without a bed of sticky white rice and I might as well give up and run away to the desert and live under a rock.

Then Prajna found the parts to the rice pot. It was as if I was in a depressurizing airplane and she offered me an extra oxygen mask. I felt like suddenly my life was back together. I started the rice and added everything to the big stock pot except some frozen peas and green beans. I went outside to feed the mushy vegetables to our chickens and calm down a bit. When I came back in after a while I realized that when I had moved the big stock pot to the front burner I had turned off the flame. The stew was not cooking and my potatoes and carrots that took the longest to cook were just sitting in the stew not getting hot or soft. This was only a minor setback. I turned the flame on full blast and covered the pot. Later I added the frozen vegetables. Our company arrived. The last thing I did was mix a cup of water with some flour and sweet paprika powder. I stirred it up good and poured the paste into the stew to thicken it up. I turned off the heat and let it sit for about 15 minutes while the kids played together for a bit.

When it was time to eat I ladled my stew over the rice. The carrots and potatoes were cooked, but still firm. They were perfect. Sitting in the water not cooking while I was losing my mind might have contributed to that. I think I could say that if was the best mulligan stew I had ever made.

And here is the inevitable likening to how my life is like a good pot of mulligan stew. Friends contributed a key ingredient that I couldn’t get anywhere else. It was mostly fun to prepare. But I nearly lost my mind at one point and was saved by Prajna. And now I’m sharing it. Maybe I shouldn’t have named this blog Roadwalker and called it Mulligan Stew.

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