Have you ever prepared for a celebration with a vision in mind of how it will unfold, only to find that reality doesn’t match? A week ago the thought of celebrating Peru’s independence day hardly crossed my mind. We’d been sick for weeks with a clingy stomach flu and we were eating just to survive.
Because of this, there was no advanced planning, this year, for any kind of Happy Peru Day celebration. When, a day or two prior to the 28th, we suddenly found ourselves able to enjoy food again, I wanted to make a special meal. Fiestas Patrias could be a way to not only celebrate Peru, but also a return to health.
I haven’t shopped in a grocery store for more than one or two items in over a year. It felt odd to go around with my little cart, slowly selecting the right peppers, tomatoes and beef. I would cook Lomo Saltado – a Peruvian beef and veggie stir-fry served with rice.
Timing would be everything.
My husband teaches Spanish online. Between 5:30 and 6:00 he had a break in teaching, so Fiestas Patrias would begin with the lomo saltado at 5:30 sharp, and continue with dessert at seven, when his final lesson ended.
I began chopping. Sedate. Happy. It was mid-afternoon. Plenty of time.
Is there anything nicer than seeing clean, white bowls fill with colourful, chopped produce? I lined up my supplies: potatoes sliced into fries and tossed in vinegar; meat, chopped and salted and also tossed in vinegar; onions, slivered. And so on.
Homemade fries take the longest when cooking lomo saltado, so I got these going in a pot of oil, well before I needed them. Dropping strips of salted beef in sizzling oil sears the meat, locking in flavour. I learned this on you-tube, from El Tio Lenguao.
My eye on the clock, I prepped the rice and added chopped garlic to the meat… only to find no soy sauce in the fridge. No soy sauce?! How could I have overlooked this?
It did not occur to me, in that moment, to run next door for some. Our neighbour is kind and helpful and had stopped by only the day before for some corn starch.
My daughter hovered, offering to help in any way she could. I gave her ten dollars, my credit card and the car keys. We agreed that there was no time to get to a grocery store. In our little village, there is one plaza with a convenience store. I sent her there. If the store had none, she could always go next door to the Chinese restaurant to ask for a few of those small soy packets.
I finished the stir-fry without the soy sauce, holding my breath as I eyed the driveway and the clock. With five minutes to spare my daughter pulled in and triumphantly grinned at me. She had exchanged my ten dollar bill for this:
Not what I expected.
A box of soy packets? How many were there? Hundreds? Definitely hundreds. How many years would it take me to go through all of those?
But, with minutes to spare, this was not the time to fuss. I giggled with her, accepted the box, ripped open some packets and finished the stir-fry. The meal was plated in record time and I turned on my Happy Peru Day Spotify playlist.
Then my husband appeared with an apologetic expression. Too much watermelon had messed with his digestion and he needed to spend the half hour between lessons… well… not with us at the table.
As I was saying, sometimes reality doesn’t match our expectations.
Our plans don’t always work out how we wish they would.
Life isn’t as simple or enjoyable as we imagine it should be.
We pour ourselves into projects that fail. By our standards.
Look again. Try to move beyond the disappointment, the vision of how it should have been or could have been. Make room for the beauty of what is.
My daughter and I enjoyed a special meal together and we made a memory that neither of us will forget. My husband enjoyed his lomo saltado later. We had fun being together and we savoured delicious food. We are blessed and it was good.
“One goes into the forest to pick food and already the thought of one fruit rather than another has grown up in one’s mind. Then, it may be, one finds a different fruit and not the fruit one thought of. One joy was expected and another is given. But this I had never noticed before that at the very moment of the finding there is in the mind a kind of thrusting back, or a setting aside. The picture of the fruit you have not found is still, for a moment, before you. And if you wished—if it were possible to wish—you could keep it there. You could send your soul after the good you had expected, instead of turning it to the good you had got. You could refuse the real good; you could make the real fruit taste insipid by thinking of the other.”
– C S Lewis