Forget not to show love unto strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares. – Hebrews 13:2
For those that know me, I am the most awkward of houseguests. I literally lived in the basement of my best friend’s house for three months and still managed to make it as awkward as possible. And yet, for some reason as of late, I’ve found myself as an unexpected guest in many, many homes.
So now that my awkwardness has been established, I can share with you my past week in New Jersey.
I have never before spent time on the East Coast and hadn’t even given Jersey a second thought. When I learned I was flying into Newark to meet my fella, Isaac, upon his return from a missions trip to Philippines, I figured there was no better time to learn about Jersey than now.
I was supposed to meet him in the airport, but flights from overseas can be as finicky as wifi-based phone calls. His flight, it turned out, would arrive a day later than mine.
“My parents will pick you up,” Isaac said over the phone, sounding underwater and far away. (Actually, he sounded a little like those killers in movies who mask their voices.) “It’s not worth waiting in the airport. You wouldn’t last ten minutes in Newark.”
And then he laughed, like it was no big deal, while I sat on the other end of the phone line thinking, Ah, excellent, we can put my social ineptitude to the test in a strange and scary new city.
So there I was. A lonely, backpacked 5’2″ white girl standing outside of the Newark airport, waiting for a family I had met only once.
But, to my pleasant surprise, the whole family pulled up in their big, black Hummer, scooped me up and welcomed me like a long-lost relative. Over the phone, Isaac confirmed they had received me.
“You’re there, right?” he asked.
“I’m here,” I said from the warm light of the kitchen glow. “Your mom is giving me tea right now.”
You know the verse in Hebrews about entertaining angels? (Of course you do. I typed it right up there for you.) That verse kept replaying all week, in and out of my thoughts. I have never received sweeter hospitality. This family can entertain anyone, and I’m certain they’ve entertained angels.
But this is a food blog. And my favorite part about food is the community that it brings, so let me tie this all in together with the best food moments of the week.
(And can I just say any trip starting out with a stop at a local cheese stand is a good one? Because I think that makes a huge difference.)
This was my first time as a girlfriend being brought anywhere, so I was introduced to so many people I can’t believe I remember all their names. Out of the multitude, I got to know the family best. And where there was family, there was food.
The first home-cooked meal I’ve had in a while was made by Isaac’s dad, a pro baker with an easygoing laugh. (I should mention the family is all Filipino, which may be important to the context of these food stories.) He made salmon cooked so incredibly well it would fit into the nicest of seafood restaurants.
“Oh man,” said Jake, another character I got to know. Isaac, it seems, has many friends as loyal as brothers, and they’re all so familiar with the house and all the cooking that goes on inside it that they welcome themselves over even though Isaac has long left town. “Mr. T made you guys dinner? I bet that was so nice.”
Isaac nudged me. “This guy eats anything,” he said. “Yo, he’d walk right into my house and head straight to the rice cooker. And this fool doesn’t even eat rice!”
Later, I would get a taste for some of this infamous rice. We had a breakfast consisting of fried rice, fried eggs and spam. The fried rice was incredible. (I made sure to keep careful watch from my spot at the counter. I watched Isaac’s mom carefully smash and fry garlic in hot oil before adding the rice over medium flame and letting it cook until completely fragrant.)
What really made the meal, though, also made me smile — Isaac’s aunt, a completely adorable Filipino woman with enough spunk to out-sass the entire state walked in to join us, opened the fridge and pulled out a coconut, stabbing it through with a straw and drinking the whole thing for breakfast. She finished by scooping out the flesh with a spoon.
“Here,” she said, putting a coconut in front of us. “You have one, but eat it all. This costs five dollars.”
“Auntie,” Isaac asked. “Did you cut this?”
She nodded, motioning towards the garage. Suddenly the setup I’d seen earlier (a mallet and cleaver on a stool) made sense.
Out of all the meals I enjoyed, I don’t think I could pick a favorite. There was a bonfire with the whole old-school Jersey crew, which was a fairly overwhelming experience eased slightly by the presence of a really, really nice cabernet. (Which was provided by one of the old homies who works at a liquor store as a party gift, something Auntie told me later in the kitchen, “they would never do before, so this must prove how grown up they are.”)
We also spent an evening in Brooklyn eating at a hip seasonal restaurant and spent the twilight walking in between the two massive bridges, marveling at the skyline.
What the heck am I doing in New York City? I thought to myself. How on earth did I get to a place in my life where I can just pop on over to Brooklyn for dinner?
I mean really. I’m just a little Wyoming girl.
As the week draws to a close and I return to the foodie haven I will soon call home, I find myself counting my blessings. This family may never know how greatly their hospitality affected me, but it reminds me just how important showing hospitality is.
I will go many places in the world and stay with many people, but I can already tell this is one of the kindest and most thoughtful stays I’ll encounter. The career I’m throwing myself into is about nothing but hospitality, and this is the best example yet. And that’s saying something.