Sweet Potatoes, Shrimp, and Understanding Life

Retired Alaska State Trooper Colonel Robert Monk wasn’t sure he was comfortable with the conversation.

Monk, a lifelong bachelor, had learned enough about the kitchen to feed himself. He even had a few dishes for which he was well known. He was standing at his stove now stirring one of them. Sweet potato soup. A special request from his younger colleague Leland Fleming. Trudy Fleming stood beside Monk sautéing locally-caught spot shrimp heavily spiced with cumin.

Trudy’s husband sat at the kitchen table sipping on a peach martini. Another special request, it was a cocktail Monk had learned from his friend Trent Marshall.

Leland Fleming was also a retired Alaska State Trooper Colonel though he was barely fifty years old. He was forced to retire after being diagnosed with a terminal illness. The diagnosis cut short what Monk had thought would be a brilliant career in law enforcement.

“Robert, we’re not going to let you get all teary on us,” Trudy said. “We’ve done our crying and we’ll do more. But we’re going to enjoy as much time together as we have left. And we’re going to laugh as much as we can.”

“Trudy’s right, Robert,” Leland agreed. “We’re going to live every minute we have left to the fullest. We’re going to do everything we want to do while we can still do anything. Who knows? I might even write a book.”

Sweet Potato Soup

“If you write a book, I claim the right to edit it,” Trudy laughed.

“Granted,” Leland responded. “Tonight I wanted to try one of these peach martinis and have some of your sweet potato soup. And spend some time telling lies and talking about old times with you.”

Leland took another sip of his martini. He turned slightly serious.

“You know, Robert, we always heard that your life flashes before your eyes as you’re dying,” he said. “That’s true in a way but they don’t have it quite right.”

Now he had Robert’s full attention.

“It doesn’t flash by,” Leland continued. “It moves by slowly. Day by day. And it’s more than just watching it move by. You also develop an understanding of why things happened the way they did. Why you made the mistakes you made.”

Leland was silent for a moment.

“When you’re moribund, Robert,” he continued, “it’s comforting, even if you’re not forgiven, to at least have an explanation for how you lived your life.”

Robert filled bowls with sweet potato soup.

Trudy laid a few sautéed shrimp on top of each bowl.

The three friends ate and told lies and talked about old times and laughed.

Robert Monk’s Chunky Sweet Potato Soup with Cumin Shrimp

3 tablespoons olive oil, divided

1/2 onion, chopped

4 cloves minced garlic

2 tablespoons grated ginger

2 sweet potatoes, peeled & cut into bite size pieces

4 cups vegetable broth

Creole seasoning to taste

2 teaspoons Thai curry paste

juice of 1/2 lime

1 pound shrimp, peeled

1 tablespoon cumin

salt to taste

In a Dutch oven or stock pot over medium high heat, saute the onion in one tablespoon of olive oil until soft. Add the garlic and ginger. Give the vegetables a quick stir to combine before adding the vegetable stock, lime juice, and sweet potatoes. Season to taste with the Creole seasoning and mix in the curry paste.

Lower the heat to medium and simmer for fifteen to twenty minutes, or until the sweet potatoes are softened.

In a non stick skillet over medium heat, saute the shrimp in the remaining olive oil. Season with the cumin and salt to taste.

Ladle the finished soup into bowls. Lay a few shrimp on top of each bowl of soup.

After his friends had left, Monk poured himself another peach martini. He stood in the great room looking out the large window at the magnificent view of Gastineau Channel and Douglas Island.

He thought about old times.