Real Cooking

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN CHERYL JOST
I just got back from a trip around the world and I only drove to Wichita. Today I went to Wal-Mart-a Super Wal-Mart to be exact-one of the new mega stores that are popping up left and right in Wichita that not only offer a vast array of cleaning solutions and kitty litter, acne creams and tube socks, but also house a full-size supermarket.

And before I’m skinned alive for not shopping “at home,” let me be quick to point out that the items I was after are not available at any store that I’m aware of here in our fair city. Or anywhere else in the county.

I was in search of red and yellow chile peppers, galletas and maizena. Not to mention the 200 pork tamales I had picked up at an earlier stop at another outlet. Oh, and two buckets of lard.

No, we’re not having a few friends over. Last fall, I agreed to cook a meal for my church as a part of our weekly Wednesday night fellowship. I don’t know why I said yes, but I did. And since the choice of the menu was mine to make, I came up with the idea of tying the meal to the new children’s mission program I had a hand in developing along with Marilyn Jost, Donna Jost and Lynette Jost.

I know-it’s just too cute, isn’t it? We call ourselves the “Jost sisters” even though we really aren’t that closely related, and then only by marriage.

Anyway, our church will enjoy a Mexican fiesta and I have enlisted the help of the fifth- and sixth-grade boys and girls to help cook the meal of cheese enchiladas, pork tamales, taquitos and refried beans with real Mexican cookies, or galletas, for dessert.

And that’s where Wal-Mart comes in. Wal-Mart offers the world. At least the two in Wichita do.

Guava nectar, menudo, corn husks, tomatillos and salsas and sauces of every variety, many of them “producto en Mexico,” line the Mexican portion of the shelves in the international food aisle.

Go a little farther down and the Asian foods begin. And on a big display at the end, you can find a large assortment of matzo and latke mixes-everything for your Passover table.

The produce department is filled with types of melons and varieties of greens I have never heard of. And there are other fruits and vegetables that I recognize but don’t have the courage to buy and try, not being sure of the best preparation methods and lacking the motivation to investigate the matter.

Someday, I plot, I’ll buy the plantains.

And while passing by the bakery department, I noticed that stacked between the boxes of doughnuts and the bags of hamburger buns, are packages of nan, the flatbread of India.

“Look around you, Meg,” I said to my daughter, who had come along for the ride. “You came to Wal-Mart, but you are experiencing the world.”

“Huh?”

She can be so articulate.

“Open your eyes and look at the people around you,” I prodded, casting my eyes about the store. “Look at all of the different skin tones of the people gathered here in this supermarket. Look at the ethnic dress being worn, listen to the blend of languages as we pass people in the aisle, notice how many different cultures are represented here today in this Wal-Mart in the heart of Wichita, Kansas.”

My daughter took a moment and scanned her surroundings.

“Cool.”

What can I say? She turns 13 in June.

As we shopped, we became more and more aware of the diversity of the shoppers around us. Sure, there were plenty of people who looked just like Meg and myself, pale skinned and blue eyed.

But there were Hispanic families accompanied by children with large brown, liquid eyes and petite Asian women with porcelain skin and those nonexistent hips that I certainly
wasn’t blessed with-but wish I had.

Women in saris, women wearing head coverings and aprons, women in the modest dress of those who follow the Islamic faith.

And African Americans with skin tones ranging from the deepest ebony to the color of caf? au lait.

Becoming more aware of our fellow shoppers, we tuned our ears to pick up languages that were foreign to us. Spanish, French and Italian were easy for us to identify, but the Arabic languages and the Asian dialects were too hard for us to discern.

But some things we heard are universal. Three African American women standing at the end of the aisle laughing from deep down inside. An Asian man cooing to his infant while Mom selected vegetables. The sound of a couple of hispanic kids whining because the folks were taking too long picking out fruit juice.

And there, in the aisles of Wal-Mart, I realize that I dearly miss the diversity of living in a larger city. Our small towns have much to offer, but I wish they were a little less homogenized.

When we got to the checkout, an Asian woman was standing in front of us, her tiny son strapped to her chest.

“What a beautiful child,” I ventured.

She smiled. “He’s 9 week old today,” she said in heavily accented English and held her baby up for Meg and me to take a closer look. He was wide awake and very alert, his dark eyes shining.

“Are you happy?” I asked him. “You’re such a pretty baby.”

He kicked and gurgled. His mom beamed. Meg and I giggled.

We had come to Wal-Mart and had met the world.

* * *

After the Easter ham is finally used up, you might want to fire up the grill and serve up some of this spicy chicken along with roasted sesame asparagus and lo mein on the side.

Asian Barbecue Chicken

1/4 cup packed brown sugar

1/4 cup low sodium soy sauce

1 Tbs. lime juice

1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper

1/4 tsp. curry powder

3 garlic cloves, minced

8 chicken thighs, skinned

lime wedges

green onion

Combine first six ingredients in a Zip-lock bag; add chicken. Marinate for four hours, turning bag occasionally. When ready to grill, place marinade in a saucepan and bring to a boil for one minute. Place chicken on grill, and cook, basting with marinade. Garnish with chopped green onion and lime wedges.

Always cook marinade if you are going to use it as a baste. Don’t risk salmonella!

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