Last night’s dinner was a rare failure. I had a hankering for a simple, cool-weather repast of beans and rice. Normally I reach for the ever-popular frijoles negro, but I had a bunch of dried cranberry beans and thought, what the hell. I started cooking with visions of a sort of chuck-wagon cowboy bean throwdown, and instead ended up with something that had way too many hot peppers and was otherwise oddly underflavored. It tasted like so many tailgate-party-style chilis I’ve tried, where in lieu of thoughtful tasting and season correction, the cook just tries to make the top of your skull lift off.
But the beer was cold and afterward I sat there, mouth aflame, hands on fire, and thought about hot peppers.
I thought about how careful you have to be when you’re working with them. I never scrape the seeds out with my fingernails, lest some of that capsaicin stuff get in my nail beds. If I throw the leavings down the disposal, I always step back when I turn it on, having gotten a faceful of low-grade pepper spray more than once.
But mostly, if you don’t wear gloves — and I never wear gloves, I never remember to buy them — you have to be careful what you touch afterward. Here’s a short list of things you shouldn’t touch after handling hot peppers, without at least one and preferably several sudsy hand-washings in between:
1) Your eyes;
2) Your nose;
3) Definitely your genitals;
4) Your lips;
5) and anywhere else the skin is a bit on the thin or membranous side.
I was discussing this with another hot-pepper lover. I told him about an embarrassing event involving contact lenses which left me writhing on the floor and red-eyed for days. He told me about going to the bathroom, taking out his unit and screaming in pain. But the best story was the time his wife turned from dinner preparations to nurse the baby, reached down to help the child latch on, and touched both her own areola and, of course, the infant’s mouth.
“That was a very noisy half-hour,” he said.
Hot peppers — all peppers, really — are otherwise a superfood. Oprah says so.
I said I thought the workload would ease up by Friday. News flash: It won’t. The momentum will carry me through next week, but that’s good. Work = money (eventually…theoretically) = a merry Christmas, a warm house, spring property taxes and a wolf kept from the door. As a character in a novel I can’t remember said, if you think a belching smokestack is ugly, try one with nothing coming out at all.
A little bit o’ bloggage: In the course of Googling something, by way of looking for something else entirely, I stumbled across a blog of someone’s fabulous Knight-Wallace Fellowship year. Not mine, silly, but Julia’s, who’s not a fellow but a spouse. It’s amusing to read, as I recall every emotion. And it’s good to see they’re keeping the standards high, as when Paul Rusesabagina stopped by Wallace House for lunch and a little chat. (The Flickr photos suggest Charles is holding everyone to a higher dress-code standard this year.)
Rusesabagina no doubt came because the fellowship includes a Rwandan journalist, Thomas Kamilindi, whom I was privileged to meet late in the summer. He told his story to the group earlier this month. A wrenching one, as you might imagine:
But there was a lot Thomas didn�t tell us that I later discovered on my own. A liberal Hutu married to a Tutsi, Thomas had been forced � during his time at the radio station � to broadcast the very hate messages he abhorred, the messages that incited hate and violence against the �cockroaches,� as the Tutsis were called. He didn�t mention that he narrowly escaped death on more than one occasion, that he has had a loaded pistol held to his temple and was saved when an officer who recognized him happened by. He didn�t mention that while he was at the Hotel, he actively tried to get word of the massacre out to the White House, the Elysees Palace and human rights organizations. He didn�t mention that he gave an interview to French radio from the hotel, an act which resulted in the government sending a soldier with the express mission to kill Thomas. (He was spared when, by happenstance, the soldier turned out to be a childhood friend.) And he didn�t mention that while he and his wife and younger daughter survived the massacre, their five-year-old daughter � who was visiting with her Tutsi grandparents at the time � did not. In a BBC interview, he says:
“It is very difficult to put my life experiences behind me and to forget. I and my wife live with it all the time. It is part of me. Sometimes I shut myself in a room and cry when I think about my first born, my little girl Mamee. It’s difficult when you know you were about to be killed and you survived but your child was killed”.
You maybe see why this year is a hard one to recover from. For just about everyone.