Cooking With Myra: Vegetarian dish is healthy, flavorful

By Myra Starkey
April 8, 2014 at midnight
Updated April 7, 2014 at 11:08 p.m.

It is a sure sign that I am getting older when I just do yard work and develop aches and pains in places I never even knew could hurt. Up until a few years ago, I could till and plant my garden in one day.

Now, that task takes me two days with another day afterward to physically recover from doing it. It's not just my physical stamina. Forgetting where I put my keys or what I was supposed to pick up at the grocery store tells me my brainpower also is waning.

Last Saturday, my friend, Janet, and I decided we would clean out my fish pond. It is no small feat. The pond has not been drained in at least four years. One might imagine what is lurking at the bottom beneath the gunk.

There might be an upside to the gunk since I frequently purchase stinky fish emulsion to fertilize plants, and I believe it is similar to the stuff that seeps to the bottom of ponds. This was my only positive thought about the experience before we started.

We could not see the bottom of the 6-by-6-by-3-feet deep pond, so we both thought it best to drain it before we got in. I hooked up the sump pump and dropped it into the bottom. It strained and drained and then strained some more before it finally gave up and quit working.

At this point, we found two goldfish in the last foot of water which had miraculously survived living in gunk with zero visibility. I found a net and after several tries scooped up one that I delivered to a waiting ice chest filled with pond water closely resembling Louisiana gumbo. Janet leaned over the pond and with one swoop grabbed the other stunned fish, which wriggled and squirmed until she dropped it into the ice chest. The action surprised both of us, resulting in hysterical laughter.

At this point, we are both covered in mud. The gunk that occupied the bottom of the pond is probably filled with billions of bacteria and other wiggling microorganisms, and it was now in our hair, on our faces and hands. My white shirt was wet and brown, and Janet was only slightly cleaner than me.

Our conversation turned to sucker fish, which I always see suctioned to the glass in the aquariums at Wal-Mart. I understood why Janet asked me if I had ever purchased one. I absolutely would not set foot in the pond if I thought there was one of those sucker fish, because it would have consumed so much algae it would be the size of a basset hound and most surely attach itself to my leg.

I shuddered to even think about it. Janet got in the water with her water shoes, and the sludge closed in around her legs, making her look like she was part of the gumbo. We began to bail the water and muck using buckets, which we dumped out in the yard for superior soil enrichment.

I thought I might wake up the next morning and find the grass dark green and a foot taller as rich as the gunk was. After several hours, we reached the bottom, and there was at least 4 inches of soft mud. We persisted in our task until we reached our goal of clean concrete.

Next, we tackled the main plant occupant of the bog, an umbrella plant which was about 3 feet across and a solid mass of roots and shoots. We resorted to sawing it with a pruning saw, taking turns because we were so tired. We sliced through the root system then reached in and pulled off small sections. I thought about the possibility of snakes living inside this mass, but I kept that thought to myself because I did not want to alarm Janet and lose her participation. Finally, the mass was hacked down to a manageable 1-foot size and left to flourish once again.

It was time for lunch. I suggested a Fresca and cheese and crackers. Janet told me we were too dirty to eat and would probably catch some jungle disease. I was hungry and willing to take that risk. So far, I have not developed any symptoms.

Finally, we refilled the pond, and the water was so clear I could see the bottom. The project had only taken us six hours. Since Janet had so much success earlier with grabbing a live fish, she decided to simply reach into the pond water-filled ice chest to nab her prey.

Janet grabbed the slower one. Right before she made it to the pond, the fish wriggled away, landing with a thump on the bricks. She scooped it up and dropped it in, but it was so stunned that it swam upside down and bumped into the side of the pond until its brain readjusted.

This monumental pond-cleaning task was a great memory for two friends. I bet we'll talk about that day when we are old. Janet went above and beyond to help me get it done. Otherwise, I would probably have given up.

All of us have time to help a friend and, in the end, a memory is made. I am smiling even now as I remember seeing Janet with the fish in her hand surprising both of us that she caught it.

Looking for a healthy vegetarian dish, this one is delicious.

Myra Starkey lives in Victoria. Write her in care of the Advocate, P.O. Box 1518, Victoria, TX 77901, or email



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