I’ve cooked a lot of rice in my life, probably 100s if not 1000s of pounds of it. That’s a lot of rice. My mother rarely cooked rice. She relied heavily on Minute Rice when I was kid. I’ve used the stuff but it just doesn’t compare to good cooked rice. It wasn't my mother who taught me to cook rice. It was a friend I met by chance many years ago.
Last weekend our son called me and asked how to fix rice. He bought a five pound bag of Basmati rice after obtaining instructions on rice cooking and recommendations on kinds of rice from me. I understand he has cooked six or seven batches since I told him how to cook it. I love it when my kids call me and when they seek my knowledge, that’s even better. But this blog isn’t about my kids, it’s about rice. Well, sort of…
My older children, who lived through the days of poverty, food stamps, and trailer living, will tell you that they loved it when I fixed a rice dish. Why? Not because they loved rice but because it was one of those things that I never had to ration. They said they could fill up on it and eat as much as they wanted. If there were leftovers, in the morning they’d have it again with sugar and milk for breakfast. If not, I’d be found at the stove in the morning cooking cream of rice, cream of wheat, oatmeal, or maybe Malt-O-Meal.
Next to that stove was a clean gray 33 gallon plastic trash can lined with a clean trash bag. Inside, when full, was 100 pounds of rice. I had discovered the economy of shopping at Asian ethic groceries. A 100 pound bag of long grain white rice was cheap. Paired with Textured Vegetable Protein or lentils, the meal was a complete protein without meat. I even learned to make meatballs and meatloaf from TVP which was cheaply obtained at the Food Co-Op. Meat, usually hamburger, was served only once a week. No we weren’t vegetarians, we were poor.
In addition to the amazing poverty driven culinary skills I developed, rice makes me think of friends. I don’t know about you, but I like to look at my friends pictures on Facebook. Even friends who aren’t that close anymore. I even look at pictures at times of people I don’t know, especially vacation pictures or beach pictures. They let me dream about a vacation at the beach.
The other day my scroll on Facebook showed a picture of a cute little girl. She was connected to someone I used to know, back when I was poor. I guess I’d still consider them a friend, but for a variety of reasons our renewed friendship on Facebook has not led to a glorious reunion. As I perused her wall, I saw some Christmas pictures. As I scanned those pictures I thought of rice. There after all these years were the faces of people who once came to my home with rice.
We were all young. We all had some sort of connection to internationals. We were four young couples, one Dutch with Indonesian ancestry, one Taiwanese, one American married to an Indian, and us, the American married to a Pakistani. We had a potluck in my little kitchen in Hallsville Missouri. We all brought chicken and rice. I asked my Facebook friend who wasn’t there that day about these now older faces who once were my friends. She replied. I still don’t think there will be any face-to-face reunions. Some people just move one, others do but like to look back and connect. That’s me. I’m the connector.
After my son asked me about rice, I remembered someone else. I remembered the woman who taught me the formula for rice that I had just given my son. I set out on a quest. Certainly if I keep googling I’ll find them. I did. I found a beautiful young woman in whose face and eyes I saw the sweet little girl who played with mine. We had met them by chance in a city park. My oldest son walked up to them saying “As-salamu Alaykum.” Shocked and smiling, they replied. From that day on, they were our friends.
I emailed the daughter not even knowing for sure it was her. She responded immediately. I was shocked, she remembered us. Warm greetings followed from her father. They remembered us. They remembered our friendship. Gifts of friendship should never be forgotten. In their small campus apartment, they’d serve us pistachios, oranges, and sometimes rice. Her rice was perfect and she shared her secret with me. I’ve made perfect rice ever since thanks to that friendship. I hope we share a meal over rice again. I hope this leads to a glorious reunion. They live in California; I might get the beach as a bonus. J