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  • "Do you have anything I can make or do we need to go to the grocery store?"

    I stopped and thought for a second.

    My refrigerator was full of food I liked to eat, but off the top of my head, I couldn't think of something to give my houseguest to cook for dinner. I ate simply. I just wanted a salad. Some rice cakes. And I didn't know he was coming at all until the previous afternoon. In between, I walked 20 miles and came home to find him on my doorstep. I hadn't considered the groceries he would need to help with the cooking.

    "I planned to make soup?" I suggested.

    Over the weekend, I had planned to make soup for my lunches; if we stretched it with rice, there would be enough for both dinner and my noon meals. I pulled a cookbook from the shelves and turned to a dogmarked page. Having made the recipe regularly for the past 16 years, I no longer used the book, but handing it off would give me a few minutes to shower. (We needed to leave in 35 minutes.)

    "Maybe rice, too?" I called over my shoulder and came back with a ladder, pulled out the rice cooker, pulled out the rice, and showered and dressed.

    Toweling my hair and carrying boots, I returned to the kitchen.

    "I don't think it's going to be ready in time," he said with a shrug.

    He hadn't started.

    "I got a call as I put water on the rice, and I forgot to hit start."

    "That's fine."

    "Maybe I can just put the chopped vegetables away and we can make it tomorrow?"

    "Sure," I said, trying to think of something else to make with 20 fewer minutes. I pointed out the containers and paused. "Um… The vegetables need to be…"

    He looked up.

    "The onions cook separately from the carrots, which cook separately from the celery and green pepper?"

    After chopping, he'd thrown them all in the same bowl.

    "Oh," he said, looking down. "I guess I will have to separate them?"

    "Tomorrow?" I suggested.

    He started to separate while I made salads and sandwiches and idly considered grade school exams that instructed the student to read through the instructions before starting work ending with a note. Sign your name. Turn this page over. Do nothing else.

    In the morning, I returned from another long walk. I found the rice cooked (and cooling), while my guest read the recipe. He pulled the veggies out of the fridge and asked for a pot, a lid, and a spoon. He asked for the spices, and I took a seat in the kitchen to watch the man make a recipe I'd made so often that I knew it by heart.

    "The chipotle," he said. "I almost forgot."

    "On the shelf?" I said pointing. "On the left? Right there... Yeah."

    I started washing dishes.

    "I don't know what to do with this," he said, and read aloud, "'One half of dried chipotle pepper or one canned chipotle pepper in adobo sauce'."

    He looked at me.

    "That's canned?" I affirmed.

    "So, I should throw it all in?"

    "One canned chipotle pepper?" I said and turned back to the sink.

    We talked about pepper and dried versus canned. I washed the pepper bowl and tried to remember how many it held. There probably weren't all that many. A couple in the soup would give it more kick. We talked about spice. We talked about rice, and we sat down to eat.

    It wasn't until later, as I divided the soup into bowls to freeze for my lunch, after we'd eaten, after he'd left, and I fished a pepper out of the pot. I found another and another and another, and I stopped counting at six.

    "Fudge," I whispered as understanding dawned. "'One canned chipotle pepper' not 'one can chipotle peppers'."

    Semantics set my mouth on fire.
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