The risk of the rue

I sneak up on risk now, take a long look, consider, expect clarity, bring some wisdom to bear. Not like the old days …

GumboWith the thermometer at 40 degrees–an improvement over last week–and the sun moving around and coming up where I can see it, I’m feeling like a Paul Prudhomme gumbo.

The rue’s the risk.  It was Wynton Marsalas who said, Without a good rue “you might have yourself a killin’ soup, but you ain’t got no gumbo.”

The rue scares me to death. I fret the whole time it’s cooking.  I stir and sweat and count the minutes.  I feel the tension in my shoulders, my face, my stomach.  You know: the places in the body where emotions live.  One second too long and the fire alarm trips, the firemen arrive in the big red truck and say the usual: Oh, you burned dinner. They don’t get the risk of the rue.

Every time I invite Chef Prudhomme into my kitchen, I risk the rue for another minute more.  Now, at 10 minutes, the cooking yields a caramel-colored thickness and smells of a hot New Orleans night in the Quarter.

Rue’s coming along nicely.  I’m relaxed enough to think about what’s missing. The okra. Ever tried to buy okra in New England? The grocer: “We don’t stock okra. It doesn’t sell.” Or worse, “What’s okra?” My grandmother used to fry okra in bacon drippins’. I’d see the pods before they hit the flour mixture with their snail-slime hanging on. I’d gag, wouldn’t touch the stuff back then.  But you must have okra in gumbo. The slime cooks off. You get that subtle, earthy-green taste of Southern dirt  in late summer.

The rue’s still cooking, and I’m still stirring, pondering risk. Like the risk of taking an unfamiliar road, of submitting that heretical story to a literary journal and then hiding out, of looking into the silent gap between this and that, when a thing’s unconfortably unknown. Risk. I sneak up on risk now, take a long look, consider, expect some clarity, bring some wisdom to bear. Not like the old days when I’d do just about anything. Fifteen minutes in, and this rue looks just fine to me.  I’m  backing off.

The fire department or the 20-minute rue.  What’s so bad about a “killin’ soup” anyway?

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