When I was growing up in 1960s South Carolina, when you never went out to eat unless it was a very important occasion, Mom was still really good at introducing a veritable United Nations of meals throughout any given week or month. We ate Italian, Mexican, Chinese, Eastern European, British, Australian and more – of course, the Italian consisted of spaghetti or sometimes mixing up two boxes of Chef-Boy-Ar-Dee’s pizza, where you had to put the yeast in warm water for about 15 minutes, and then mix in the flour, and then let it sit for another 15 minutes and then mash it out on a cookie sheet, put the sauce on, and then, strangely enough, we would sprinkle on the parmesan cheese that came in the box. We never saw pepperoni, and never heard of mozzarella. Canadian Bacon was a strange idea that had not arisen, and so we had cheese pizzas. We never lived in a time of frozen pizzas, or ones that might be delivered. It truly was a different time.
When it came to Mexican meals, of course had to include chili, which I’m sure was made as bland as could be to accommodate my little sisters’ inability to eat hot stuff. On those nights, Dad would pull out the jar from the refrigerator that held the hot peppers – I don’t know if they were banana peppers or what – just that they were hot! He would, in front of our eyes, reach into the jar, pull out a big pepper, and bite the stem off with the entire pepper in his mouth. Without crying or dying. In that moment, he revealed what we believed to be one of his super powers. We also came to wonder if that was not the reason why he sweated so much. Hot peppers. Works for me today…
The other Mexican food that was served for supper was tacos. I know today when you go to the supermarket, you can find 20 different packets of taco seasoning, and another 12 types of tortillas, plus jalapenos and five shelves full of salsa – what we always called hot sauce. In my world, however, it was far easier. You went to the shelf – one shelf – and got THE packet of seasoning that you would mix with a pound of hamburger, and you got THE package of taco shells, hoping that they weren’t broken. In the refrigerator at home, we always had the taco sauce, and we would be put to work shredding the cheddar cheese (which always gave us the opportunity to woof down large helpings of the cheese in the process, with Mom looking at us from the eyes in back of her head, saying, “Don’t eat all the cheese – we need for everyone to have for supper…” It was one of those few meals that really required everyone to build their own plate of stuff. Added into it would be lettuce, maybe some onions, at least for Dad, and maybe some tomatoes – again, for Dad. My sisters would eat the shell, a little bit of hamburger and a load of cheese – no hot sauce. Mom would also open a can of what I always considered truly disgusting looking food – refried beans – which, by the taste of the beans in my mouth made me wonder why they would cook them once in the first place. That light brown goop would bubble in the pan like mud in a lava pit, but somehow, this too was considered a delicacy by Dad, and Mom.
All of this, then, consisted of our trip across the border, usually twice a month. It was good, so long as the taco shells weren’t in the oven too long to heat up, so that they turned a darker brown than intended. It was a meal you ate with your hands, but had a fork ready, because the first time you bit into the shell, most often it would break in two, sending hamburger and cheese cascading down to your plate. Actually, in a local restaurant here, known as the Red Pepper, which serves arguably the very best “grinder” or sub in the known world, also offers a delicate item on the menu known as the “garbage plate.” Usually ordered by college males, the server will pull out from under the grate where things are prepared, a pile of “stuff” made up of everything that dropped through while a item was being prepared – lettuce, cheese, meat-like taco stuff, bits of ham, turkey, and more. Basically, they sell the stuff that they would normally just toss, at a reasonable price for poor college students.
Back to our family. I don’t recall pulling anything out of the freezer and cooking it in the oven. Hamburger was always frozen and fried up by turning it over and over and scraping the cooked part off, but unlike today, when you can go to the grocery and find a month’s worth of meals just in the frozen foods, that seemed non-existent for us. Plus, I don’t recall seeing a single Mexican restaurant until I was 13, living in Grand Forks. Therefore, we never had burritos, or enchilada, or tamales, or other exotic foods from our southern neighbor. If it wasn’t cooked on the stove in our home, it really didn’t exist.
When I grew up, therefore, and began to sample restaurant fare, I became a great fan of most every Mexican restaurant you could find. Mexican Village, Taco the Town, The Taco Shop, La Campana, Paradiso, Chi-Chi’s, El Chico’s, Taco Bell, Taco Johns, Taco Tico, and of course, Panchos, where you went through the all-you-can-eat line, got your huge plate of food, ate it fast, and then raised your little flag on the table, so the server would come, and you would order more and more and more food, until as a young adult, you knew you could simply eat no more. It was wonderful, especially the cheese enchiladas…
I then stepped into a different world when I once ordered the steak fajitas. Usually the most expensive item on the menu, it came out sizzling on a hot plate with all sorts of extras that you then loaded into a soft tortilla, and enjoyed mightily. I love fajitas, and I understand, until you load it up with all the extras, that it’s supposed to be a rather healthy meal, with very lean meat, and vegetables and stuff. Even today, if we ever go out anymore to eat at one of those restaurants, it’s the first item on my mind.
So – tonight at the Crosses, we are going to venture into that strange land, and actually make fajitas ourselves. Well, I’m going to make them – the meat is already sliced and in the marinade, and later I’ll go at the onions and peppers, and grate the cheese, and see how it turns out. I’d grill the steak on the outside grill, except I don’t want to shovel to get over to it…
I hope it turns out. Still in basic quarantine, due to the fact that I hate face masks, and get tired of the routine of shopping anywhere, making and eating supper is about our biggest event of the day. The nice thing about fajitas, especially, is that you can start out mild – for Cheri – and end up blazing hot – for the rest of us.
I hope you find something interesting to eat tonight. I hope it doesn’t turn out for you like it sometimes does for us, and we end up with a default of looking in our own freezer for something to eat. That’s accidental meal-making, and it’s never really joyful. Step out and try something new! I think there are probably 500,000 recipes on the internet now, for whatever floats your boat. Intentional eating is always thoughtful, and usually delicious, like everything else we do in our lives on purpose, and with purpose, and with the intention of doing it well. Enjoy – let me know how it turns out!
Word for the day: finifugal. Pronounced fi-ni-FYOO-gul. I have to admit the word is not used very often, but should be, I think. It comes from two Latin words, fin or fini, meaning “end,” and fugi, from where we get “fugitive,” so it means actually, “flight.” To be finifugal means you run away from the ending. It could mean you are afraid to finish something, but it doesn’t necessarily mean a psychological issue. Some things, like a great day, we wish would never end, and other things, we don’t want to see the ending of – like the last ten minutes of the movie, “Braveheart.” I just shut it off. So, if you find yourself finifugal about something, it’s ok, so long as no one gets hurt, and nothing is ruined as a result, like defusing a bomb or something like that. It’s probably better to just finish it, and then feel sad later…
After 43 years of ministry, Randy Cross lived his "fourth life" and shared about retirement, living boldly and intentionally in our world. To be sure, there was some North Dakota thrown in.