Enchiladas in Sunlight
Recently, at Sunday Supper, The Chef and his girl chose a daunting and somewhat risky task: reinventing the enchilada, a kind of New Mexico-Meets-Morocco jamboree. Sans the meat but with plenty of spice. Seemed reasonable. After all, North Africa and Spain did enjoy the same Braun hand mixer called the Inquisition, which is what drove so many Spanish out of the home country and to the sandy shores of Nuevo Mexico. Throw in a pinch of Native American culture (who do you think invented the tortilla?) and you have not only a tasty meal, but a ripe symbol of colonialism.
Remember though, when you approach the enchilada not only are hundreds of years of cultural history at stake, but much family lore as well. The enchilada, at Second Edition's birth place, is nearly mythical. Whenever I return to the high desert to pay homage to Los Padres, the first meal my Mama makes upon my arrival is a large tray of blue corn chicken enchiladas slathered with BOTH red and green chile. Every serving has a fried egg on top. And in the old days...a handful of cornflakes. What can I say. Life-changing delicious. It's how she says, "Welcome home. We missed you. Even though you drive us crazy and by the time you leave, we're exchanging high fives all around. Even though that blog of yours is such a massive invasion of privacy, we can't understand why someone hasn't shot it out like a certain street lamp that made the mistake of peering through your window. Even though we find your taste in religion, food, friends, clothing, books, movies, and pets questionable at best, pornographic at worst. But we love you anyway because Jesus told us to so we're gonna weigh you down with a brick of history. Here you go."
The enchilada has also served as a test for any Man date brave enough to come home with me. My college boyfriend, Brian, got his ear drums blown out by the fire of red chile, heavily laden. And I couldn't help but notice how sllloooowwwwly my mom walked to the refrigerator to fetch him yet another glass of icy water. She enjoyed watching him suffer. Later she told me it was the pink Izod shirt with the snappy turned up collar. So white boy. So preppy. So not-one-of-us.
The X loved Mama's enchiladas, but was a little concerned about the glob of cheddar cheese on top so he'd scrape much of it to the side. A detail that did not go unnoticed. My brother, Bird, enjoying a respite from handcuffs, his chin shiny with grease, would shout across the table, "Hey bro, you want to scoop that cheese over here. It's a shame to waste food." Everybody nodded knowingly. True. Those bastards are always so tight fisted with the prison cheese.
The Ranger, on the other hand, had no such cardiac concerns. And he likes his food hot, without water, only beer. Like a man. After the third helping, Mama nodded approvingly. "After you get done eating, maybe you can put up some fence posts, finish the dry wall in the living room and then corral the sheep for the night." You see...just when you think you've passed, there's always another test waiting for you. They come with increasing difficulty, not unlike Trivial Pursuit.
But back to Sunday Supper. These enchiladas were stuffed with...wait for it. Cabbage and Carrots. What! Vegetables? Fiber? WTF? Cabbage? Oh, Mama Ranger would have been so proud. Those sneaky Polish are everywhere.
I admit, the first bite was a little jarring. The heat of the chile sauce combined with the sweetness of the carrots and the clear smokiness of cumin. Hmmm. Had to ponder that one...it's just not what I'm used to, not how I grew up. Everything I know about enchiladas got thrown into question. But after a third savory bite, they were declared delicious. Evolution always finds its place at the table doesn't it? Life never stays the same so why should the food. Or maybe it's the other way around?
Traditions are good, don't get me wrong. Blue corn tortillas. Cheddar cheese. Shredded chicken. Beans and chicos on the side. Iceberg lettuce and anemic tomatoes for garnish. Marriage to a nice boy.
On the way home from the Chef's Place, I got a call from my Tio Eliu announcing his upcoming nuptials. His second marriage. At 83, I think that shows an incredible amount of optimism. He's marrying a doctor nearly 30 years younger...thinking ahead. Better than a 401K. When he ribbed me about taking the leap a second time myself, I demurred.
Me and the Ranger, I declared, are like carrots and cabbage. A different kind of enchilada. Bite after bite.