Thursday, February 5, 2009


i saw Gus many times at the gate, as his guard duty apparently often coincided with my monday and thursday visits.  Gus is a very polite man, but he did let me know on a few occasions that he didn't care about my soups.  didn't like them and that's it.  i thought that maybe our cultural differences accounted for that (virginia is very far away from the corner of europe i came from), so one evening i asked him what HE considers a comfort soup.  'chicken and dumplings' was his fast response, followed by rapid explanation on how to make it, probably because my face showed that i never heard of it.

after recipe search on the internet, and after a few more soups Gus probably didn't care about either, one day i happened to come to nickelsville at the same time as Gus, who was just getting off his bike, back from his work downtown.  'guess what we are cooking today, wanna help?'  'no! no way' he answered in his typical clipped way.  then he asked how long it's going to take to cook and calculated that he has enough time before his guard-duty.  off to to church kitchen we went.

Gus wasn't really assisting me to cook, it was, appropriately,  the other way around, because he was the expert on the chicken and dumplings and i merely read about it on the internet.  first he criticized that while precooking the chicken at home i cut it all up -  now i know that a good southern way would be to leave it 'as is', bones and all.   oh, well, too late for that.  

he also limited amount of veggies that went into soup (veg-overload is my chronic soup crime) - just a few carrots and onions, half-approved bag of the frozen peas ('you already opened it, so', and "Bruce is not gonna eat it, he hates peas' right AFTER i threw them in) and only half of the parsley i chopped for garnish. he monitored the seasoning and showed me how to shape dumplings from pillsbury dough.

after we put the dumplings in, we chatted a bit about his childhood and growing up in a poor family in small town in virginia, then about his current job as a janitor for federal express office, and about difficulties of getting downtown on the bike in the rain and snow, because the bus ticket is prohibitively expensive to him. after a while  i asked Gus if we are not overcooking the dumplings - they were sitting there much longer than the internet instructions allowed.  'nope'... so we chatted some more.

at some point Gus fished out a spoonful of broth and happily proclaimed:  'look, just like my mamma made!'   the broth was now thick from the partially cooked down dough.  he tasted the dumplings and decided it was all good and ready.  

two hicks from small towns half of a planet apart, cooking together in one kitchen - only in america:).

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