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Cooking Jambalaya

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I volunteered to cook dinner that night (it was that or do that night's dishes), and on the menu was jambalaya, a traditional New Orleans meal. "Not quite a stew..." Ron pondered. "It's like Mardi Gras in your mouth." It sounded a bit extravagant a description, but I guess it made sense. (Isn't Mardi Gras a big New Orleans thing as well?) Once I heard something about it having sausage in it, I knew I had to say something. I didn't want to be that guy, but I didn't want to have another glitch in my vegetarianism just because I was too chicken to just say something.

Peter, Rosalind, Annie, Holly and Sandra were the other people in the kitchen, along with Ron and Adam, who just sat to the side. We got the fuel bottles and the camping stoves and set up pots of boiling water (of course, the one I set up I did all wrong, and it took twice as long to heat). Sandra asked how many vegetarians we had, and I was the only one present to raise my hand. I remarked that Lila was a vegan, and Sandra nodded thoughtfully and pondered the situation. One pot, she decided, wouldn't have any meat in it.

We had to prepare with the food we needed. I offered to cut the cheese (just to get the half we needed), and she gave me the knife with which to do the task, asking me not to get cheese on such and such a part because it was a special knife her friend gave to her, blah blah. Ron laughed, so I wasn't sure it was true. I was done cutting it while she was still handing out jobs to everyone else. My pot that hadn't boiled was saved for hot water, and she asked if I wanted a hot drink. Annie got set to cutting the cheese in slices while I went to get my cup and then drank the scalding hot stuck-to-the-bottom-of-the-cup cocoa.

The ingredients got added to the water once it was boiling. Rice, then the packets of dehydrated vegetables of assorted varieties of her choosing. We crouched in pairs around the pots, one of us stirring and one of us holding the pot grip. Annie was sitting off to the side, not looking all too disappointed to not have to do any work.

Sandra needed someone to cut the sausages, "someone besides Maia," she specified. I wouldn't have minded cutting them, but there was certainly a possibility that I would be tempted to pop a piece in my mouth when I thought no one was looking. Dani, not even part of the cooking crew, offered to do that, and using the flimsy, grape-patterned cutting board, she split the little sausages into parts while we continued stirring. When Dani had finished cutting, she brought the folded cutting board to the pots. While I was still swishing the clumping rice and vegetables around in the pot, the meat got piled into my bowl. I was a little confused, but stirred my ingredients nonetheless. Only a chef at the moment, I wasn't allowed to enforce my preferences on the food I was making for everyone else.

"Oh, that's ironic," Sandra remarked on the sausage being in my pot. "Do you want to switch?"

"No, I'm okay," I said. I was. Even if I was the slightest bit tempted, the water was boiling and would burn me, and everyone would be watching me.

"I know some people can't stand the sight of meat..."

"It's fine."

I don't know why, when Sandra put butter into each pot, I didn't object. After all, I had been the one to remind her Lila was vegan. At the moment, I surmise, I hadn't even realized it. And my attitude the whole time was, what you don't know won't hurt you.

Sandra kept checking that the broth levels were good, and would spoon some broth from the vegetarian pot into the meat pot. Once, though, she did it in the complete reverse way, and, realizing what she'd done, looked at me with a look of remorse and shock on her face.
"Oh my God, I'm so sorry..."

I shrugged. What was I to do? Starve? Not likely; I was the one left licking my lips after having had seconds.
"I'm sorry."

"It's okay, I don't really care. I'm not a serious vegetarian, anyway." And who knew about Gracie, the group's only other vegetarian? Why was Sandra only apologizing to me? There was also Lila, too. It had to be hard to cook for vegans, but she should've apologized to her before me.

When dinner was ready, we crouched by the pots and spooned dishes out to the kids who came by with empty bowls. I had only two customers to my bowl, Gracie and Lila, and Holly laughed at the fact that no one wanted to have some of the vegetarian jambalaya. I shrugged. More for me, I guessed. The cheese you could put on it, set aside for Lila's sake, was thick and gross and didn't melt quick enough to be truly appetizing. Ron claimed it was the best camping meal he'd ever had.

When people were getting up for seconds, the spoon from the meat pot ended up in the vegetarian bowl yet again. Sandra looked at me again, maybe this time with a hint of "What can you do?" in her eyes. "Are you full, Maia?" she asked, and I nodded. Even if I wasn't, I really didn't want to have to deal with all of that crap again.



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