Tuesday, January 30, 2018

She Didn't Speak English

She didn't speak English. By the end of the conversation, neither was I.

I was in the grocery store last week and the check-out line was rather long. It's unusual, really, they're generally pretty quick there but I suspect that between colds and the flu they may have been short a few employees. I'm an impatient person by nature but I really wasn't in any rush so I settled into my spot for the long run. There was one person checking out, two others, then me. I could go take a look at the only other check-out line open but even if it were shorter I knew damn well that if I moved to it, that line would somehow take longer. 

Not much to look at standing there. I was not, by a long shot, new to this grocery shopping thing I was immune to the diversions in the form of candy, nail clippers and other cutely packaged but unnecessary items surrounding me. Just as I'd finished snooping into the cart of the woman ahead of me, I noticed movement behind me. I turned and saw that someone had joined the line. I smiled. She smiled. A social convention, nothing more. But as I was turning back, I noticed a few items in her cart that I'd never seen before. I faced forward for a while, checked my cell phone for messages, noted the progress of the checker, took my coat off. A bit of boredom tinged with a heaping dose of curiosity got the best of me. I like to try new recipes. Maybe you know that about me by now. FYI, you can rationalize nosiness by thinking of it as "new ingredient recipe development research". 

Noodle and Vegetable Strata has layers of noodles, vegetables and cheeses. Crispy on the outside, soft on the inside, as delicious as it is beautiful. | Recipe developed by www.BakingInATornado.com | #recipe #dinner

Noodle and Vegetable Strata
Noodle and Vegetable Strata has layers of noodles, vegetables and cheeses. Crispy on the outside, soft on the inside, as delicious as it is beautiful. | Recipe developed by www.BakingInATornado.com | #recipe #dinner

I turned to the woman behind me and asked about an item at the top of her cart that was unfamiliar. She said something in Spanish. I know a tiny bit of Spanish, enough to recognize the language and pick out a few words, hold my own in a superficial social situation but that's it.

About a year ago I'd gotten a private message on my blog Facebook page. It was in a language I didn't know. Puzzled, at first I ignored it. It bothered me though and it later dawned on me that in this day and age I have the world at my fingertips. I popped onto a translation website, copied and pasted her message and found out that she was asking me a question in (I think it was) Danish. I typed in my response, copied the Danish translation and pasted it into the private message.

Standing in the grocery store looking at this woman, both of us now a little uncomfortable, I remembered the Danish conversation and realized that I had a hand-held translator in, well, the palm of my hand. 

I got onto the translate site, typed in my question and read her the translation. She took out her cell phone and answered me. Yes, it was a little stilted, and we certainly butchered (grocery store pun intended) each others' languages a bit. A few times we had to look at each others' cell phones because verbalizing in other languages, (English especially) is hard. If you don't speak English, you can see the word "laugh" and try your hardest to sound it out phonetically, but I'd take the Vegas odds that there is no way you're going to say anything that resembles "laugh." 

She Didn’t Speak English, an exercise in communication | www.BakingInATornado.com | #communication #MyGraphics

But by the 3rd or 4th interaction I realized what was happening. I was, at this point, speaking solely in her language. And she was exclusively speaking mine.

Ultimately I did learn a bit about achiote paste and before I even realized it, I was at the head of the check-out line. As I was leaving, I turned to her one last time, said "adios y gracias", waved and left the store smiling.

I don't know what this woman's story is. I don't know if she's here visiting, has moved here or has always lived here. I don't know if she is learning English or not. None of it is my business.

What I do know is that it doesn't matter what you speak. Words, language, they're about communicating, connecting. And on that day, in a grocery store check-0ut line, with a little help from technology, that's exactly what we did.

Baking In A Tornado signature | www.BakingInATornado.com | #MyGraphics

Noodle and Vegetable Strata      

Printable Recipe

1 stick butter, divided
12 oz wide noodles
1/3 cup grated parmesan
1/2 tsp salt 
1/4 tsp pepper 
2 eggs 

2 cloves garlic, minced
6 oz bag uncooked spinach
3 slices provolone, cut in half

8 ounces mushrooms, sliced
1/2 red pepper, chopped
2 green onions, chopped
1 cup shredded mozarella

*Grease a bundt pan. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
*Melt 6 TBSP butter. Cook the noodles until al dente. Drain. Mix in the parmesan, salt and pepper. Refrigerate to cool a bit.
*In a saute pan, over medium heat, melt 1 TBSP butter. Add the garlic. Cook and stir for 1 minute. Add the spinach and sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste. Cook and stir until the spinach starts to wilt. Remove from heat.
*Mix the eggs into the noodles. Place about 1/3 of the noodles into the bundt pan. Top with the spinach, then a layer of the provolone cheese, followed by another 1/3 of the noodle mixture.
*Return the saute pan to the stove and melt the last 1 TBSP butter. Add the mushrooms, red pepper, green onion, salt and pepper to taste. Cook, stirring, until soft. Drain. Spread over the noodles in the bundt pan. Top with the mozarella, followed by the remaining noodles.
*Bake for 45 minutes.
*Remove from oven. Allow to sit for 10 minutes before running a knife around the sides and center of the pan to loosen. Place a plate over the top, flip over onto the plate and remove from the bundt pan.


  1. That looks amazing! I had never heard of it before, but definitely something that I have to try!

  2. A 21st century conversation no doubt! A couple of years ago I asked a waiter what was in a dish and he similarly handed me his phone with the translation to English of the different ingredients! The Noodle Strata looks fabulous.The ole Bundt pan comes in handy! What a great party/potluck dish, especially as a non-meat selection.

    1. So funny, having grown up without cell phones, how totally dependent I am on it to address whatever situation comes up.

  3. This was such a wonderful solution. I've used translators in my Skywatch Friday participation, as several Europeans regularly participate. But I wouldn't have thought of just using my cell phone. Wonderful sounding recipe, too! (although hubbie, the cook, wondered why so few eggs, being it was a strata). Alana ramblinwitham.blogspot.com

    1. Glad to have thought of it myself. I think if it hadn't been for the woman who contacted me on FB earlier, I may not have realized that was a possible solution.

  4. I want us to have universal translators like they had on Star Trek available for everyone, would make it so much easier for everyone

  5. So, after reading this, I looked to see if I had a translator app on my phone and lo and behold I do. Now I feel I'm ready for any unexpected conversation! And in another life I would've made this recipe because it actually looks easy and really scrumptious!.

    1. That app may come in handy one day. I hope you have the pleasure of an interesting and unexpected interaction with someone like I did.

  6. My curiosity was way up high when I visited your blog today and fast- picked this post to read. Really was a interesting read. I agree Karen! Sometimes even without words, a simple gesture like being kind and or a simple smile can connect hearts. And I love when two strangers come closer (even just for a moment) that way.

    The dish looks so yummy!!


    1. I'm so glad you found this post, it's so in keeping with the kind of posts you write.

  7. I am glad you reposted this at this time! Common grounds are easy with some determination! Food has always been a melting pot of cultures.

  8. Well worth a repeat read! Alana ramblinwitham.blogspot.com

  9. Great story! I have so far resisted the call of the smart phone (ha ha, phone, call, get it?) but I can certainly see that they're useful in many ways. This is NOT one I ever would've thought of! Love that you figured it out and it let you cross that language barrier the way it did.

    Now I have to go look up achiote paste.

    1. Wow, I thought I had been the last hold out and I've had mine for years now, apparently you're taking that title from me.

  10. Genius! And you're right--it's all about connecting and communication. Something I wish we could see a little more of . . .

    1. Totally agree, and learned a great lesson in the value of going the extra mile to do so.


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