Teacher told me that Jim wanted to go to a grocery store to buy food so he could make us a meal. I was a little uneasy about this prospect because Jim had said he didn’t know how to cook, although he did like to watch cooking shows on TV. I was also worried because Teacher and I had tried Thai food a few times and each time it was too spicy for me and I hadn’t liked the flavors. I knew Teacher and I could eat just about anything politely, but I worried that Jim’s food would be too spicy for the kids, or that they wouldn’t like it and he’d feel bad. Finally Teacher told Jim he could cook on the weekend, and we hoped he’d forget or something would come up.
As the week went on my fears didn’t diminish. At the Amer-Asian store Jim had purchased some Thai noodles in addition to the coconut gel and chili paste. The next morning he made some for breakfast for Jo-Bear and himself, and invited me to try them. Jo-Bear’s were mildly spicy, but Jim’s noodles brought tears to my eyes. “Not too spicy!” he said, obviously having a higher tolerance for spice than I have.
Saturday came and Jim asked about cooking for us again. He explained that the children were expected to cook a meal for their host families, and we began to understand how important this was to him. Teacher and I agreed to take him to the grocery store; hoping for the best and determined to find a way to make it work.
When we arrived at the grocery store Jim was a man on a mission! He took off like a shot with Jo-Bear trailing in his wake while Teacher and I followed with Little Guy and Z-Man in the cart. We watched as Jim flew through the produce area, selecting jalapeño peppers and cilantro; a small bag of mixed carrots, broccoli and cauliflower; a container of grape tomatoes; and a bag of spinach. “That’s not going to be enough for all of us.” I whispered to Teacher, panicked at the small amount of food in the basket. We pushed the bare cart behind Jim as he raced through the store. Since he arrived I’ve been amazed at his high energy level – everything he does is much quicker and more energetic than anyone I know. I don’t know if it’s just him, or another difference between Thai and Americans.
We followed Jim as he searched the meat aisle for chicken, pork, and Thai sausage. He spied an open box of individually wrapped frozen chicken breast and indicated that he was looking for chicken breasts, but not as many. As he pulled the string of plastic-coated meat out of the box I was afraid he didn’t understand that the entire box was to be purchased as a unit. I quickly steered him to the fresh chicken case where he studied the shelves for a couple of seconds then selected a package with two organic chicken breasts. Sometimes it’s hard to remember that Jim’s an adult older than I am and used to living on his own but I managed to stay quiet and not to point out that organic was more expensive than the others.
In the pork case Jim was excited to find a 1-lb package of pork stew meat, already cut into small pieces. As we led Jim to find coconut milk and rice I looked at the small amount of food in the cart and tried to imagine how it was going to feed the 8 of us. “We can make lots of rice” Teacher whispered to me, knowing what I was thinking. “You know how to make rice?” Jim asked Teacher. Teacher assured Jim that he knew how to make rice, and we exchanged worried looks as we followed Jim. He was cooking and didn’t know how to make rice? Yikes!
Walking through the frozen section Jim asked about “The long green beans, like you have everyday?” and gestured the length of his forearm. Picturing some Asian green bean I was stumped. “I don’t know…” I said, “Maybe back by the vegetables?” “Like you eat every day” he repeated, “And you…” he made the motion of chopping a long bean into sections, “You make like this.” he said looking at Teacher. Suddenly it dawned on Jo-Bear, “Asparagus?” he asked. We’d had asparagus twice in the past week since it’s one of my favorites, thus the “every day” in his description. “Yes! Asparagus!” Jim said. “By the vegetables” Jo-Bear said. They headed off across the store as the rest of us tried to find a short check-out lane. Jim and Jo-Bear appeared moments later with a handful of asparagus, just in time to check out and go home.
To be continued…