May 27th, 2016

Paprika

Last week I decided I was going to make a Spanish garlic soup from a recipe I'd made before. It has certain elements of a French onion soup, but with a lot less effort. It's basically beef broth, garlic, paprika, and saffron. Then you ladle it into bowls, crack an egg into each bowl, put a slice of bread on top, and stick the bowls into a 450-degree oven for a few minutes until the eggs set.

It called for a full tablespoon of paprika. Our tin of paprika didn't have anything that would allow a person to scoop out a quarter teaspoon, much less a tablespoon. I opened the "Pour" lid and tried to pour, but the paprika was coming out in little clumps. Must be humidity, I thought. I'll be able to stir that in. So I added a tablespoon, more or less.

As I stirred, though, the clumps were stubborn and held together. Well, no big deal, I'm not serving this to guests or anything, it's just us. I ladled the soup into bowls, cracked the eggs, topped them with bread, and put them in the oven. A few minutes later I took them out again.

After bathing in beef broth for a while, I could now clearly see that what I thought were clumps of paprika were actually bugs the size of sesame seeds, or slightly smaller. A lot of them. I tried to take a count. Maybe 500 of them in that tablespoon.

I opened the paprika again and tapped a little out into an empty bowl. Something red and dusty flew away.

As I capped the canister and threw it away, I thought to myself: an entire colony of critters, living on nothing but paprika and their own dead kin for generations, without a sliver of light. Then, one day, the bright light and the shaking. And then darkness again. They may go on living that way for many more generations in a landfill somewhere. What has changed? If beetles have bards, that day would live on as legend.

We could all use some bright light, could stand to be shaken up a little now and then.

We did not salvage the soup. It went down the disposal and we had a box of macaroni and cheese instead.