Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Proust's Madeleine from the Portuguese

I hadn't had Rojoes Cominho in a long time. It's pork cubes browned and then braised in garlic, cumin, and white wine, with lemon slices and flat-leaf parsley added at the end. When Kathleen asked me what I wanted for my birthday dinner, I decided on Rojoes Cominho with Portuguese fried potatoes. We used to eat it a lot. Pork was cheap in the 1970s, especially in Iowa, and we had acquired several of the Time-Life "Foods of the World" books, including The Cooking of Spain and Portugal.

In those days we lived in Parklawn Apartments in Iowa City. Today it's a regular dormitory. In 1991 it became infamous as the residence of Gang Lu, the brilliant Chinese physics student who murdered four professors and a rival student, and crippled another student. But during the 1970s it was married student housing. We were lucky to get an apartment there, as the rent was considerably lower than in the private housing market.

At Parklawn was a very sophisticated couple. He was slightly built, and wore a moustache and goatee. She was a red-haired beauty who kept her maiden name. They seemed a bit aloof. But when someone organized a get-together for the residents, which included a potluck dinner, they participated. I decided to make Rojoes Cominho for the potluck. And I was surprised and pleased that the sophisticated husband sought me out and complimented me for making the dish.

That would be the end of the story, except that several months (or perhaps years) later the young man I had thought so urbane made a radical conversion to fundamentalist Christianity. He spent his days on the Pentacrest (the center of the University, on the hill overlooking the Iowa River, and named for the Old Capitol and the four great limestone halls surrounding it) lawn proclaiming the power of Jesus Christ to all who would listen.

I was an an agnostic in those days. Sometimes I still am. But I was shocked and perhaps frightened by this radical conversion. The young man had not lost any of his intelligence, but he now seemed a fool, sermonizing and arguing with all who would listen. It's doubtful he won any converts.

My own conversion took place over years--it's still taking place, sometimes retreating, sometimes advancing. When I learned of Kant's view that people should act as if they are free--whether they're free or not--I applied this to my faith, or lack of it. I try to act as though a benevolent and just God exists, even when my doubts are overpowering. I don't wish for a "blinding light" conversion. But making and eating Rojoes Cominho brought back memories of that young couple, who are, of course, now as middle-aged as I am.


Peter said...

I read this twice, and I know I'll be back to read it again.

It's like a peaceful, bittersweet reflection after a kind birthday. Many, many happy returns, my friend.

Patry Francis said...

Came here through Slow Reads, and am very grateful I did.

tom said...

From another midwesterner: this sounds like a dish my mother-in-law used to make with cubed potatoes and garlic and beef tips...thanks for the memory, as she is sorely missed this Christmas season, three years straight.

your said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
your said...

phentermine nice :)

your said...

phentermine nice :)