Beyond the spicy limits…

I have always loved animals. For years, my dad teased me that quite possibly it was possible for DNA to be transmitted via television, and I had turned into Elly May Clampett.

My mom will gladly confirm the vast quantities of literature I consumed about various animal types, breeds, colors, genetics, and behaviors.

I always love to hear stories about critters and why they do what they do. I was highly flattered this past week when one of my kind readers took time out of his busy day to share a story with me about finding a baby rabbit amid a litter of newborn kittens. (I’m still scratching my head as to how or why, but how cool is that?)

Most of the time, animal behavior makes sense. Even when it doesn’t seem to on the surface, finding out just a little bit more about that particular critter can explain even the quirkiest of behaviors. Very rarely do you get a “rabbit among the kittens” that just doesn’t seem to make any sense—it’s just an aberration, an item out of place.

The longer we live out here on the farm, the more out of place I feel when we travel to the big city. There was a day when I understood the “animals” that lived there… the driving habits, the hot eating spots, the places to avoid. Not surprisingly, when you’re not constantly in that environment, what seemed like small shifts in behavior before are quite large now.

Take today, for example. Heading out to grab some dinner tonight, we found our first option closed. The haggling that then ensued over a second choice would have shamed any souk trader with its sheer bloody mindedness. Anything suggested by one child must immediately be not only refused, but shamed by the other. In a fleeting moment of clarity, though, Chinese was mentioned and agreed to.

Leaping on the opportunity, dearest hubby started googling likely eateries. (I’m more likely to trust Google in Wichita than I am in the wilds of Nebraska.)

In the spirit of adventure, we determined over loud howls from the backseat that we should try somewhere new. We decided on Ming’s, which is an older restaurant, but still new to us. The kids were absolutely sure we were trying to poison them, but we headed inside.

Now, a little bit of history is in order. Darling Hubby likes spicy food. When he cans salsa at home, I have to go outside to escape the fumes. When we go out, he always asks for spicier salsa, or more or hotter peppers with his meal.

Once, at a Thai restaurant, he made the chef question, “Who order this? Who gonna eat this hot?” He considered it a badge of honor that he had yet to find a meal so spicy he couldn’t eat it.

Back to today. Our nice waiter took our order, suggesting that the Kung Pao chicken was quite good. Of course, hubs asked if it could be made spicier. Hubby asked for an 11 on the scale of 1 to 10, then dropped the magic words: “chef hot.” Our waiter’s eyes got big, and he said, “Wow. You mean 40?” Never one to turn down a challenge, hubby accepted.

We waited for our dinner, thinking the lack of pepper fumes emanating from the kitchen would mean that, yet again, hubby was going to get a bland meal. When the dish was on its way to us, we smelled something delicious, with a hint of something we couldn’t quite pinpoint—oh, there it was. This was going to be HOT.

Sure enough, within a few bites, hubby’s forehead turned pink, and a slight sheen of sweat shone at his temples. I tested a tiny bite, and enjoyed a wonderful flavor before the heat set in, and grew and grew.

I swiped a few more bites as the meal went on, since the flavor was worth the burn, but I know I couldn’t have eaten a whole plateful. Hubs soldiered on, stopping occasionally to blink tears from his eyes or catch his breath between burning lips.

At one point, he informed us it was so hot that his ears were either going shut or all of the wax was melting.

Finally, something happened that I’ve never seen before. My husband admitted that his meal was too spicy to finish. I was stunned.

Our waiter was stunned that he had eaten as much as he had. The chef himself—a sweet man named Ray—came out to talk to hubs, possibly to make sure he wasn’t going to spontaneously combust.

We then learned that the chef grinds his own peppers, and that his recipe had recently changed to include Carolina Reaper peppers, in addition to his usual ghost peppers and/or habaneras. (Just for reference, Reapers come in at about 2 million Scoville units, while regular jalapeno average between 3,000 and 10,000 units).

Much like the meal itself, a repeat visit to this place will definitely be worth braving the trip to the big city. Sometimes being out of place is exactly the right place to be.

Shana Thornhill and her family lives on farm near Marion. She can be reached at

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