There's something about tacos...
Being raised in a bicoastal family has its perks; 4/5 of my immediate family are California natives, and with the entire extended family smattered across the West Coast annual pilgrimages from Virginia to California were frequent and with them always brought exciting new twists of culinary delight and exploration. Even as a young child I could differentiate between my mother's tacos (strictly Tex-Mex, virtually unrecognizable by any Baja vendor) and the street tacos sizzling on Tijuana corners, piled high with cilantro and onions as their only garnishes. Despite my appreciation for authenticity even now as I live less than 20 miles from the international American/Mexican border, when I trek back to Virginia as a visitor with grand spewings of carne asada and horchata (unknown to all suburbanites east of the Mississippi), part of my gluttonous nostalgia craves the 'authentic' tacos of my childhood. Despite dripping with Costco-bought ingredients, these crisp hot nuggets of my upbringing resonate in me more than any tacos I've ever enjoyed south of the border. I'm convinced that my extremely devout and Republican mother must have made a pact with the devil in return for his provision of a magical 'mom spice' that instantly guarantees any meal prepared by her hand trumps any potential competition.
When I picture my mother, the vision always remains the same: wild curls of thin-but-shiny hair spritzed into an immoveable helmet crowning an untanned spectacled face, darting gray eyes with nonexistent lashes and daily drawn-on brows with a slight pumpkin-colored tinge, arms constantly moving in a symphony of conversational expression, meal preparation, or simply tidying the ongoing litter trail left by her husband and children, a voluminous body measuring in at 5'5” radiating maternal love and a disciplinarian attitude when necessary, all covered in her omnipresent threadbare red apron depicting a pattern of Christmas Nutcrackers. The apron is ever-present in my mental recall, with its dilapidated hems and grease-spotted front pockets; it has dominated my mother's bosom and torso for as long as I can reach into my memory. If it had the ability to speak, it would easily claim the title of my mother's biographer with unlimited row-front seats to our family's history in and out of the house of conversations, interactions, and most importantly, meals.
To the modern day on-the-go family, the tradition of eating a meal as a family has almost completely disintegrated, remembrances only depicted on sitcoms and antiquated books. However, growing up in the Demmon household the family meal was never a question, only a certainty that at the end of the day we would regroup, shake the day's dust from our heels, and enjoy the fruits of my mother's labor. Weekends only prolonged the time available for an extended meal open to family and friends alike, and after church on Sundays it was understood that meal time was as holy as the prayers uttered earlier in the day. My mother's culinary magnetism slowly seeped throughout the neighborhood, and once we hit the teen years, she found herself as the second home to many a starved boy requiring the same caloric intake of bull elephants to feed their frenzied growth into manhood. As a California native transplanted in a suburb of Washington, D.C., my mother's table often included Mexican-inspired staples such as salsas, tacos, enchiladas, and other sizzling dishes not often found in the white affluent white neighborhoods of upper middle class Virginia. Her culinary wizardry became available every weekend in what became known as Taco Sundays.
With 3 biological children born within 3 years of one another, my mother's network of additional mouths to feed exploded once my older sister hit her pubescent years, and with a fresh crop of ravenous fans greedily salivating at her table every weekend my mother concentrated her efforts on what we all loved the best- her tacos and salsa. My mother would take a stack of corn tortillas and fry them in oil in a way that no one west of Texas had ever experienced, providing a crisp, hot shell ready to be filled and devoured; each Sunday she would load her sagging table to the breaking point with searing ground beef seasoned with traditional Mexican spices, fresh sour cream, shredded lettuce, mixed cheeses, and always a huge vat of her famous salsa, each time the heat level a surprise depending on the concentration of the peppers used that week. Authentically Mexican it was not, but the concept of family time centered around a meal was as unfortunately alien to many young attendees as was her introduction of pico de gallo to unsuspecting upper crust progeny.
It remains understood within our family that when my mother serves her tacos, it is the only acceptable time when decorum takes a backseat and we are not required to wait to bless the food before stuffing our faces with the glorious shells- God understands that a cold taco makes a sad meal, and as children we silently thanked him and my mother with full mouths and grateful hearts. However, with a rapt audience ready to kowtow to my mother's any whim, she could never pass up the opportunity to act as a mother and spiritual guide to any available ear once she had attained their everlasting loyalty through their stomachs. Many who passed through her home were starving not only for spiced delicacies previously unknown, but for the radiating servitude and motherhood she selflessly served to any willing to seat themselves at her table. Based on the numbers of youngsters lining up each Sunday, it proved to be a successful line straight into the heart of the community, and once welcomed to the Demmon table, few ever left. Despite moving out from my parent's roof over 6 years ago, I still get the occasional call from an old friend regaling me with a recent story of stopping by my parent's house and being held hostage by my mother until they had been properly fed.
Especially during my turbulent teen years, Taco Sundays proved to be the single point during each week where the typical teen angst and parental embarrassment reached a cease-fire, where parents, children, and friends alike could gather in harmonious union over a table overflowing with beans, rice, tacos, and salsa. Food marches on as the universal unifier of all who share a meal; this singular act of eating together has allied countries and preserved families for generations. Lack of culinary connection weakens communication and unglues the very foundations of households every day, and luckily that line was never tread in my home. Stragglers from broken homes and the offspring of working parents could hardly help being bewitched by the welcoming bounty provided unselfishly by my mother every week. I don't think that any smug satisfaction ever burned within my mother due to the social good she provided, only pleasure in fulfilling her God-given appointment to minister to the community through tacos. I, for one, can't think of a better way to show love and motherhood to those in need of both.
Tuesday, December 14, 2010
Remember my article about Bhut Jolokia, aka the Ghost Chile and the hottest in the world? Well, now you can grow your own with this handy plant from Think Geek! For only $5, you can harness the power of the jolokia pepper and amaze friends while proving your insanity for all things hot. Just in time for Christmas!!