Unemployment checks have kept us afloat (with a little, ok a LOT of help from savings and odd jobs) for a long time. This week though, panic set in. The last unemployment check arrived. Now what?
I can't say that I've come up with answers beyond the typical, GET A JOB! And the Indian part of me is even ashamed to talk about this. Not having worked for so long goes contrary to our culture, to our very DNA, to the very direction my blood flows! We are a country of ridiculously hard workers (at least the people in my family are). My dad comes from a family of farmers, dragging their butts out of bed at the crack o' dawn so that they could then drag their feet through rice paddy after water-logged rice paddy to harvest rice, monkey-climb up tall coconut trees for a nariyal (coconut) or two, come in for a breakfast of curry and rice (ew, I can't imagine eating fish curry for breakfast!), and then out again to go to school or other chores.
Mum barely saw her dad while she was growing up because he had taken a better-paying job in Doha, far from the love of his life, my gran, and his other loves, the children. My gran died early, before he could make enough to come back permanently and live the life he always wanted with her. To this day, I believe he died of a broken heart more than anything else.
And then... there's me. I got a job two weeks before graduation, at my dream company, CNN. I thought I'd died and gone to heaven. How could I have gotten my dream job already? I worked HARD there, putting in 15-hour days. And yet, ever since I moved to LA, I have not kept a steady job. I've had lots of work, yes (thankyou Lord!), and actually, it's been much more rewarding than staying at the same job for 5 years. I've freelanced at CNN, covering the economy, immigration, wildfires and entertainment. I've produced documentaries about illegal street racing and the genocide in Darfur. I've quit news altogether and worked for one of the best chefs ever. And while it has been exciting, my poor sweet friends and husband must have gotten bored of me whining the same refrain every month or so: "What am I supposed to be doing with my life?". I've asked God the same question with tears running down my face. I made a vision board but I had no vision. It was mostly empty save for a photo of a house and a photo of a kid with the word "mother" next to it. I've never known what to do.
Anyway, that's a long preamble, huh? I'm just trying to say that I used to think that I'd wasted a lot of time not working. But somehow, I think God needed me to hibernate or something. Every time I applied for a job, it was as if the application disappeared into the ether; I never heard back. Once I applied for a job that I was 99.99% sure I was going to get -- everyone around me thought I was going to get it too. But I didn't. I was heartbroken, but I realise now that, had I gotten that job, I would have died inside. And there's no way I would be where I am today, which is on the precipice FINALLY of figuring out what to do with my life and with the talents God gave me: I want to cook on TV.
Oof! I said it! That was really scary!
Anyway, what does that have to do with unemployment? Well, Bren and I being out of work has been one of the biggest blessings ever. It freed his creative mind up, and motivated him to work as hard for himself as he had been working for a company he didn't believe in. He is incredibly productive, as you all know (take a look at his YouTube page -- this man puts at least two things up everyday!). Having him at home, with his constant example and encouragement, inspired me. And now I'm shooting my own cooking show... all on the money that Bren paid into unemployment all those unhappy months. I strongly believe that God has been working some fishes and loaves magic on that unemployment check too -- we've had to cut expenses, yes, but we've been blessedly comfortable.
And yet, despite all of that divine provision... I have been losing sleep this week trying to figure out what's next! I am trying to have faith, to remember Jesus' comforting words from Matthew (Chapter 6):
"You cannot serve God and mammon. Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27 Which of you by worrying can add one cubit to his stature?"
I go back and forth, between being buoyed and being worried. I know it'll all be alright, and as my sweet director on the Darfur film always says, "Hey, I'm not living in an IDP camp!". God has led us through some unebeliveable stuff in the past few months. This is nothing.
Anyway, all of this has been running through my mind this past week, when I came up with this stew. Chorizo and I are long-lost lovers (insert phallic joke here) but I was always a little uncomfortable with chorizo's traditional components, which mirror your worst sausage nightmares. Enter: vegetarian chorizo!! I first found it at Trader Joe's, and used it in my Lucia-Lucica Fried Rice. But I worried that you poor souls who don't have a TJ's near you would lose out. Then, I found it at the regular supermarket, in the refrigerated section next to the regular chorizo! Hallelujah! Not only is it MUCH LESS fatty than it's meatier cousin, it's free of gruesome body parts, and to top it all off, it's cheaper!
And that's the thing about this stew: bizarrely cheap, it tastes extravagantly rich. That's because it uses just a few cheap ingredients: vegetarian chorizo, dried beans, a fennel bulb, a small butternut squash and some veggie stock. Even on an unemployment check, you can eat like a king.
And so, I can say without even a smidgen of sarcasm on my face that the Lord has blessed us with unemployment! Whoopee! Not only has this time encouraged both of us to lean on His arm even heavier than we were before, it has pushed us both out of our coccoons, emerging as pretty, pretty butterflies (Bren is black, red and gold I suspect. I am red with sparkles!). In addition to doing whatever we can to live to punch some of God's light into this darkness, we are both doing what we want to be doing career-wise, until someone pays us to do it. God is good. And so is this stew.
Unemployment Stew Vegetarian Chorizo Stew with Fennel, Butternut Squash and Pinto Beans
1 cup dried pinto beans
1 pkg vegetarian chorizo, casing removed
1 big bulb, fennel, chopped small-ish
1/2 medium onion, chopped small-ish
2 tbsp chopped ginger
2 medium tomatoes
1/2 cup white wine or pernod/ouzo
6 cups vegetable stock
1 cup butternut squash, chopped into bite-size pieces
1 sprig mint leaves (optional)
1 lime, cut into wedges to serve
1) Wash and sort pinto beans, soak in water overnight.
2) The next day, in a big soup pot, over medium heat, saute the crumbled chorizo, until it darkens in colour a little, about 7 minutes. Some of the spices should stain the bottom of your pot. Don't worry if some sticks to the bottom. That'll flavour your soup, and we'll get that off later. Remove chorizo from pot.
3) Add about 1 tbsp olive oil, then add fennel, onion and ginger. Saute until softened, about 10 minutes.
4) Add tomatoes, cook until mushy.
5) Add wine, scraping up browned bits. Cook until it has almost fully evaporated.
6) Add stock and drained beans. Bring to a boil, and then turn down to a simmer. Cook, covered, and stirring occasionally for 35-40 minutes.
7) Add butternut squash, and cook, covered, for another 20 minutes, or until both the butternut squash and the beans are cooked through.
8) Add chorizo, and cook until warmed through. Add chopped mint. Serve with wedge of lime in each bowl. A dollop of yogurt is good too, especially if you find it spicy (although the vegetarian version of chorizo is usually milder).