August 18, 2004
Couscous
 

Tuesday night, 6:14 p.m.

David and I are crammed, elbow-to-elbow, in our microscopic kitchen. Behind me, he is washing three days' worth of dirty dishes: I am hard at work getting our dinner on the table. (Although -- since we don't actually own a dining room table, or a dining room, for that matter -- it might be more accurate to say we are trying to get dinner on the BED. That's where we eat all of our meals.) We've both had long, complicated, aggravating days at our respective offices ... mine exacerbated somewhat by the occasional *shriek of protest* from my stoopid broken ribs ...  and all I want to do now is put some food in front of my husband, slip into my Happy Pants and crawl into bed with my laptop and my Extra-Quadruple-*Just-Shoot-Me-Now*-Strength Motrin.

"Turkey ham OK?" I ask.

Ordinarily we are four for dinner on Tuesday nights, and I've planned accordingly, but then we've had the plans switched on us, at the last minute, and all of a sudden the round steak I've thawed for tonight is too much food.  David says yes, turkey ham is fine. I pull the football-sized turkey ham out of the fridge -- I try to always keep a turkey ham on hand, or a cooked turkey breast, or some other convenient type of pre-cooked emergency meat for just such an occasion -- and now I carve off a couple of thin slices.  I toss them into the skillet, dousing them in a liberal bath of Tiger Sauce and topping them with a sprinkle of thyme. I figure I can serve the ham slices with leftover broccoli (David likes to eat it cold, with a splash of vinegar) and a pan of Middle East Couscous. Couscous has become a mainstay of our diet, these past nine months: I always keep a box or two in the cupboard for these low-motivation/high-hunger nights. What I especially like about couscous -- besides the fact that it's cheap, it tastes good, it keeps forever, it is a serviceable South Beach alternative to potatoes or white rice -- is that it's so quick to fix. You just boil the water and olive oil, along with the packet of dry seasoning mix ... add the couscous ... then let it sit for a few minutes. That's it.  A decent side dish in under five minutes, and usually plenty leftover for the next day.  

Except that tonight I'm in a hurry, and when I go to dump the dry couscous into the boiling water, the open box accidentally slides out of my hands and lands on the kitchen floor, open end down. 

Couscous flies everywhere.

"Oh POOP!" I say. (Part of my ongoing effort to eradicate extraneous obscenity from my vocabulary.) David makes a move to help, but I tell him no, don't worry about it ... I'll take care of it. 

I crouch down on the floor -- my ribs give a little *Whut The Fudk?* in protest -- and I try scooping the dried couscous back into the box with my hands.  I'm hoping I can still salvage some of it: dinner depends on it, frankly. But the texture is too fine, and there is simply too much of it. (Plus our kitchen floor is sticky and gross and probably hasn't *enjoyed* the gentle touch of an O'Cedar Power Strip since June.) I'm able to scoop up a couple of preliminary handfuls, which I promptly dump into the garbage, but there is still lots more where that came from. I can see uncooked couscous everywhere: under the computer desk, behind the recycling bin, in the space between the ugly pink stove and the refrigerator, even on the living room carpet six feet away.

What I wouldn't give for a Dustbuster, right about now.

"I'm going to have to sweep it up," I tell David, and he moves obligingly from the sink and goes to sit at the computer desk, out of the way. As I walk across the kitchen to retrieve the broom and dustpan from behind the refrigerator, grains of couscous embed themselves in the soles of my bare feet. It is incredibly sharp -- like walking on ground glass -- and incredibly tenacious.  I try to brush it off with my hand, but it remains stuck to my heels.

"CRAP!" I say, hopping up and down. "This stuff really hurts!"   

As David watches in amazement, I drop the broom and run into the living room, where I vigorously wipe my feet back and forth on the carpeting, trying to dislodge the granules.

"You're wiping your feet on the rug?" David says ... not so much in disapproval as in disbelief. This is a very un-Secra-like thing for me to do.

"I'll vacuum it up in a minute," I tell him huffily. "I just need to get it off my FEET first."  With that, I hobble into the bathroom, where I sit down on the edge of the bathtub.  I stick my feet under the tap and run them in tepid water for thirty seconds or so, just until the offending couscous molecules rinse down the drain. Then I grab an old pair of rag-wool socks out of my underwear drawer and pull them onto my feet, to protect myself from any further couscous damage.

Back in the kitchen, David is washing dishes again. "All fixed," I tell him.  

He doesn't look convinced. I pick up the broom and sweep the dirty couscous into a neat unobtrusive pile off to one side of the kitchen, out of the main traffic area. I'll vacuum it up as soon as I get dinner squared away. I can still feel it crunching beneath my feet as I sweep, but at least it isn't going to make my feet bleed. (Can you just imagine the Emergency Room conversation?  Doctor: "How did you say you lacerated your feet, Ma'am?"  Secra: "I stepped on a pile of uncooked couscous.") Meanwhile, on the stovetop, the saucepan of water is boiling merrily. Fortunately I have an auxiliary box of couscous in the cupboard. I tear the lid off, preparing to reach across the stove to dump it into the boiling water  ...

...  and then watch, open-mouthed in disbelief, as the second box of couscous slips out of my fingers and drops to the kitchen floor, open end first.

"SHIDT!" I shout. So much for extraneous profanity. We've gone from poop to crap to shidt in less than five minutes.

By this point, David is looking at me funny. Are you OK? he asks again, extremely gingerly.Are you sure I can't help you?  But I'm still insisting that this is my fault, this is my mess, I'm the one who should clean it up. He continues washing dishes, casting an occasional worried look over his shoulder at me as I clean up the second pile of spilled couscous. My ribs are beginning to throb in earnest by this point: this is way more bending and squatting and kneeling than I'm actually in the mood (or physical condition) for. This time, luckily, far less of the couscous actually spilled out of the box. I'm able to clean up the mess a lot quicker this time, plus I still have half a useable box left: more than enough for our dinner. I dump it into the boiling water, turn the burner down to 'low,' give it a good stir and slam the lid down on the pot.

Done.

Once dinner is finally taken care of, I pull the vacuum cleaner out of its spot, next to the stereo, and plug it into the wall socket. The Singer roars to life with a jerk and a shudder. For thirty seconds or so, I run it back and forth over the spot where I wiped the couscous off my feet, but it doesn't seem to be picking up very much. In fact -- I realize suddenly, to my horror -- it actually seems to be blowing dirt OUT, rather than sucking it in. Within seconds the entire living room has become covered in a fine layer of dirt, dust ... and couscous.   

Fudking couscous.

"I'm just making things worse," I tell David, switching off the vacuum cleaner in defeat. And with this I burst into tears.

"Yes, you are," David said flatly. "How about if you just go away and let me deal with this?"

In a previous life, I would have taken a remark like this the wrong way.  I would have misinterpreted it completely, as a matter of fact, especially coming from my Significant Other. "How about if you just go away and let me deal with this?" would have turned into God, you are so incredibly incompetent. But since it is coming from my husband, the kindest and most non-judgemental human being on the face of the planet ... and since it's clear that I really am making things worse, simply by trying to make things better ... I do as he says. Quietly, without argument or complaint or further drama, I simply turn around and head for the bedroom and crawl into bed for the rest of the evening, while David finishes making dinner and cleans up the rest of the couscous mess. No use making a big deal out of nothing. No use swearing about something beyond my control. No use risking re-injuring the ribs, just to make a point. 

And -- most importantly of all -- no use crying over spilled couscous.



 

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