You know you’re getting fat when you visit your father in law in Weeki Wachee Florida for Christmas, and he puts one arm around your shoulders and the other on your stomach, and he says, “You’re getting fat.”
I should have known this before I got to Weeki Wachee. My wife has been giving me hints for months. But we don’t have a scale in our house, and I work out – sort of. And I eat pretty well. In fact, I eat a whole lot of pretty well. So, I thought that I had achieved body weight equalibrium.
I thought that something was wrong with her eyes. And sense of touch. And the fabric in my pants, and the bed springs. But father in laws are good at cutting through delusion. They pick up on the truth, and then shank you with it. Especially caribbean father in laws.
Did I mention that he was caribbean? He was born in Guyana. It is totally unimportant, accept for when it becomes very important. Like when he greets you at the door and tells you that you are fat. Which is a very caribbean thing to do.
The Caribbean is known for a whole lot of things, including beautiful women and beaches and scotch bonnet peppers. The Pirates of the Caribbean, Bob Marley, voodoo, crabs the size of dogs, Toussaint Louverture, Rhianna, Bob Marley’s children; the caribbean has given us a lot of treasures.
You know what’s not on the list of things that the caribbean is known for? Tact. They don’t do that. It’s not their thing. Don’t expect it. You will be disappointed.
Our second night in Florida, his New Orleans born wife made gumbo. Real gumbo, with okra and pork sausage and crab the size of a dog. Almost everyone in my house is allergic to shelfish, and early in our courtship, my future wife told me that lips that touch pork do not touch hers. Needless to say, I never thought that I would taste true gumbo again. This was the culinary equivelant to a hall pass. Despite the fact that I had already been put on blast for being fat, I ate. I’m no fool.
The next day his big sister, also from Guyana, drove all the way to Tampa with her daughter to get a cow’s foot. Tampa is about 45 minutes and $6 in tolls away from Weeki Wachee. That should tell you how important that cow’s foot was. Aunt Brenda was preparing pepper pot. The foot was the missing ingredient.
This is what I now know about pepper pot. If you put a dirty spoon into that mystical pot, the entire thing is ruined. You can’t put it in the refridgerator. You have to just cycle it between warm and hot on the stove top, over and over again, or else it will be ruined.
I know a lot about it. I just don’t know what the hell it is. And I ate a lot of it. I ate pepper pot Christmas eve dinner, and then I ate it every day afterwards for about three days. That is how long it took me to finish it.
Notice, I’ve been calling it pepper pot, and not pepper pot soup, or pepper pot stew. Well, first of all, that’s what they called it. Secondly, although it has characteristics of both a soup and a stew, in reality, it’s neither.
I tried to explain it to my mother on Christmas day. Her folks are from the Tidewater region of Virginia. They can fry the hell out of an oyster, and they can take a basket of those little American blue crabs and turn it into art. Just add cheap beer and watch them boil to death. That’s when the magic happens. But the only thing she knew about pepper pot was the soup that Campbell’s made years ago. And their pepper pot is nothing like Aunt Brenda’s.
“Is it a soup?” she asked. “I haven’t been able to get Campbell’s pepper pot soup. Maybe I can get it at the Jamaican market in Philly?” I didn’t bother pointing out that pepper pot was Guyanese, not Jamaican. But then, in Philadelphia, Jamaican is shorthand for anything from African dispora outside of the United States.
“No Mom. This is nothing like that. Nothing.”
“Is it a stew?”
“Ummmm not really.” Besides the cow foot, there isn’t much meat in pepper pot. Just texture.
Finally I turned to Wickipedia. From it/them I learned that it is a Holiday thing… Um hmmm. Figured that one out. It’s Amerindian (that’s what they called the indigenous people in Guyana)… Didn’t know that, but it made sense. There’s cinnamin in it, but I knew that. My last bowl had a piece of cinnamin in the bottom that was about the size of a soup bone. There’s also some cassareep… wha?
So, it’s kind of the Guyanese version of the Thanksgiving turkey. Only, a turkey is a turkey. And I’m still not sure what pepper pot is. But I ate a lot of it. Something that did not go unnoticed by my father n law. Who asked my wife Christmas eve night, as the children played with their toys and I got some sleep for the long drive home on Christmas day,
“Does he ever stop eating?”
Just so you know, I do sometimes stop eating. But when a Guyanese elder puts a dish in front of you, you eat it. Especially one that she drove about 40 miles to get the ingredients for. By the way, we don’t eat red meat in my house, either. All the more reason to dive into the mystery pot. This was a culinary celestial alignment. It might never happen again. And I enjoyed the hell out of it, even if I looked like a big fat slob.
Needless to say, losing weight is going to be my thing in 2014. It won’t be my first time. Once I even came close to my target weight. Back then I was taking Hot yoga class almost every day. You can’t eat too much when you’re a hot yoga fanatic. If you do, you’ll fart. Farts do not go unnoticed in those 109 degree classes.
I was also drinking a lot of water. If you don’t, you may lose consciousness. Nobody wants to be that guy, staining the mirror with their sweat as they slump to the hardwood floors.
Hot yoga has a way of keeping you honest. But then again, so do caribbean father in laws. And while I don’t have a handy Bikram class, an endless supply of cold, truth is never more than a phone call away.
Note: I wasn’t sure how my wife would respond to this post. Turns out, she loved it, with the exception of two kind of important details.
Her father didn’t say, “You’re getting fat.” He said, “Looks like you’re gaining weight.”
What’s the difference? Well, weight doesn’t necessarily mean fat. It could indicate that I’m putting on layers and layers of rippling muscle. Or he could have accurately ascertained that I was carrying an inordinate number of things in the pockets of my driving fatigues. Pounds and pounds of keys and phones, a pocket knife, a hand full of quarters. Or, he could have just been talking about fat.
Anyway, I’m not so far from fatness that I can take, “You’re gaining weight,” as anything but a call to start doing some push ups or something.
Also, he didn’t say, “Doesn’t he ever stop eating.” He said, “Doesn’t he ever get tired of food.”
Those two things sound pretty similar.