Kitchen Chronicles is a weekly series by Barbara Sibbald — novelist, award-winning journalist, and long-time contributor to Ottawa Magazine. Visit Kitchen Chronicles every Sunday for a new instalment — and a tested recipe.
Luc dries the last pot and puts it away. Jacen’s due in ten minutes — they’re going to play pool. They usually go once or twice a year and meet up with some of their Portage du Fort buddies. Usually Georges comes too, but Luc isn’t ready to face him so he didn’t invite him. Give it time, he thinks. We both need time.
There’s a tap at the back door.
— Hope you don’t mind me coming a bit early, says Jacen.
— Hey, good to see you, Jay. Have a seat. Are you hungry? There’s some quinoa pilaf.*
— I should eat, says Jacen. Maybe just a bit. Thanks. I wanted to talk before we met up with the guys. I’m not ready to tell them I’m positive, much less talk about the nitty-gritty.
— Take your time, says Luc, handing him a plate of pilaf. There’s no rush.
— Thanks, this looks delicious. I have to start eating better.
— How are things?
— They’re trying to be accommodating at work, but I’m having such a hard time getting my head around leaving. I love the ER. It’s what I was meant to do. And the patients love me. I put them at ease with my nonstop blather. I can’t imagine leaving.
— Isn’t there something else you could do in that department? Counselling maybe? Something with no risk?
— No. Rules are rules. No HIV, period. And I get that, but…
— So what are you looking at?
— I don’t know. I’ve been talking to the union rep almost every day. There’s a lot of demand in gerontology.
— You always got along well with your grandparents.
— I still visit grandmaman every week at the Pearley.
— I didn’t know that, says Luc. I remember her from when we were kids. It seemed like she was always knitting. A constant stream of socks.
— Yeah, she had to give up knitting — arthritis — but otherwise she’s in pretty good shape for ninety-one. But it’s one thing to visit your grandmother, quite another to wipe a stranger’s butt.
— But you’ve been looking after strangers all your professional life, Jay. These people just happen to be older.
— True. And I’m not ageist. I just can’t imagine doing anything but working in emerg. It’s so damn unfair.
— But Jacen, you know why the rules are there….
— Sure, I know. And they’re right. But that doesn’t make it any easier. I’ve been there for twelve years. Almost since I graduated. I know everyone.
— It’s a brutal change, says Luc.
— That’s the problem, there are too many changes, says Jacen. I’m HIV-positive, so I have all these meds and effects to contend with. That’s one big and horrible change. Now I have to change my workplace too. And I haven’t even started to feel it in my personal life. I mean no one will want anything to do with me. I know. It’s just too much all at once. I feel like I’m losing myself , my sense of humour, my work.
— I’m sure it’s just temporary, Jacen. Once things settle down, you’ll feel better.
— Yeah, says Jacen.
Luc pauses, noting the uncertainty in Jacen’s voice.
— Easy for me to say, says Luc. I can’t even imagine what you’re going through. And at so many levels, too.
— I start counselling next week, says Jacen, which is great. But I already know what he’ll say. I used to do that counselling myself. Never thought I’d be on the receiving end. Taste of my own medicine, eh? I feel like I’m split in two. There’s this logical side of me — all medical, scientific — and then there’s this out-of-control emotional side.
— Why don’t you take some time off to get your head around it? Or just to relax. You must have vacation days.
— And do what? Sit around the stew over it?
— Go somewhere. Don’t you have a pal in Rome?
— I can’t go anywhere until the meds are all settled. We’re still tweaking.
— Just for a week.
— I guess I could go for a week…. Avoidance therapy, eh Luc?
— Yeah, I’m the master. And you know you could look into the gerontology thing. Go and hang out for a few days on the ward or whatever they call it.
— I’m not ready for that! says Jacen.
— Later then. Take the time you need. Hey, we better get going. It doesn’t pay to keep the boys waiting.
Serves 6 as a side; 3 as a main (with green salad)
2 teaspoons vegetable oil
1 onion, peeled and chopped
2 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
1 tablespoon chilli powder
1 teaspoon ground cumin
¼ teaspoon cayenne
½ cup long-grain basmati brown rice
½ cup pearl barley
¼ cup quinoa, rinsed
¼ cup wehani rice
3 cups vegetable or chick stock
2 pimentos, diced (buy in a jar)
½ cup fresh cilantro, washed and minced
- In a large saucepan, heat the oil on medium. Add onion and garlic; cook a few minutes.
- Stir in chilli, cumin and cayenne. Cook for 30 seconds, stirring constantly.
- Add rice, barley, quinoa and wehani. Stir.
- Add stock. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, cover and cook gently for 45 minutes, or until stock is absorbed and rice is tender.
Stir in pimento and cilantro. Serve.