Taking it all in

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MALIBU WAY OF LIFE / By Jody Stump

I don’t know how soft-hearted you are, but my husband thinks I’m downright fuzzy. I’ve got a long history of taking in strays of every stripe and species. Still, when I said to a friend, “Sure, I’ve got room for a couple of kids landing at LAX today with no money and no place to stay,” it was a bit beyond my normal outreach. After all, we recently downsized from five bedrooms to two-and we’re remodeling those.

But, what would you do? These are two young women who, a few months ago, were working as analysts for the Republic of Georgia, a recently democratic outpost of the former Soviet Union. They had so impressed their government and ours that they were both given full scholarships to study at Pepperdine’s School of Public Policy. Somehow, a bureaucratic slip of the pen had omitted the cost of living allowance that would have paid for their food and housing, not to mention the occasional mochaccino at Starbucks. “It’s only for a few days,” my friend told me, assuming that the snafu that stranded them would be resolved in short order.

“Only a few days” soon became “maybe by Christmas.” I was sure my home-is-my-castle husband would haul up the drawbridge one morning while they were off at school, but he surprised me once again. Very early the morning after I sprang the news on him that “the girls needed a home for a few months, not days,” he woke me up to say, “They’re really quite pleasant. And, they don’t each much. Maybe we should keep them.”

We’ve never looked back-and every day has brought a new pleasure. Where before-the-Georgians, or BG, we might have made desultory remarks about L.A. hockey or the fate of a pallid koi in our pond, now we discuss what Plato really meant about “just men” and the chaotic history that spawned the Federalist Papers. We try to answer the curiously unanswerable questions of our time, such as “Where is Los Angeles?” and “Why are there so many different kinds of water?” Or “bread?” Or “dogs?”

In turn, we ask about Georgia. They show us pictures. It is green and picturesque. They tell tales of traditional banquets with toasts for everyone, living and dead, in a bottoms-up ritual that calls for huge gulps of strong red wine quaffed from a ram’s horn. They cook and bake and laugh great peals of glee. But sometimes they get more serious about why they’re here.

One of the Georgians, Larisa, is a passport-certified diplomat who represented her country at a regional Youth Peace Conference. Following it, she wrote for a British magazine, “South Caucasus is not a stable region. The character of the people living there is proud and majestic by nature. It is where conflicts, fights for territory, tension in relations, all start. I have always been proud of living in Georgia. Georgia is unique in its character. Not a big country, but one with good and kind traditions, it is the only country in the Caucasus where the Christian Orthodox Church, the mosque, the synagogue, and Armenian Apostolic and Catholic Churches neighbor peacefully. There the (eternal) symbol of hospitality is a majestic statue of Mother Georgia, standing above the city so beautiful under the rising sun. She holds a cup in her hand – it is bottomless – and her love toward those who come with peace never ending. Maybe some day in the future, somebody who was with me, will look through the notes we wrote on our last day of peace school, where everything breathed with love and friendship, and he or she will say “No” to quarrels and conflicts. With this we will make peace. I want to believe it so much!”

We do, too. And we are grateful to have guests in our home who remind us, every day, how blessed we are.

Ajapsunda’li – Georgian Eggplant Stew (Serves 6 – 8)

When the girls arrived, there were two dishes that meant “home” to them – this vegetable stew that is sort of a Georgian ratatouille and khatchapuri, a skillet-grilled cheese bread made of feta that turns out to be a lot like a fat quesadilla. Maybe the world is smaller than it seems – if we can dine together in felicity, maybe living together will follow for everyone. This recipe is a gift from Tika Baum, the talented chef-ambassador who, with Larisa Romaneko, graces our home with fine food and laughter.

2 Tbs. vegetable or olive oil

4 Japanese eggplants

3 potatoes

2 tomatoes

2 large onions

2 pasilla chiles

1 bunch cilantro

1 bunch Italian parsley

1 bunch basil

1 Tbs. minced garlic

salt and pepper, to taste

1. Stem and chop vegetables and herbs.

2. Pour the oil into a large Dutch oven. Layer the vegetables, in order, into the pan. Cover.

3. Turn heat to medium-low and cook 20 – 30 minutes, until potatoes are cooked through.