It's good to be home. After a week of pretending to be Big Mama while Mom was in the hospital, things are returning to normal. Odd Toddler and I have moved back to our house (just a few acres away from Big Mama's House), and we are getting our usual schedule back in play. But of course, now that things are slowing down and the pressure is off, I came down with a soul-crushing cold and the sleep deprivation has caught up with me. I'm feeling nearly normal again this morning, after 10 hours of sleep, but I'm craving comfort food which, oddly enough, means I need some good Mexican food. Nothing can cure cold symptoms like spicy vittles.
When I was a senior in high school, our family moved to a neighboring county and I began my period of disconnection from my family. I'm sure it happens to all teenage girls when they're finding their wings, but as with everything we do in this odd family of ours, the stakes were a little higher. After years of it just being me and my mother, and after eight years in the same house and the same school system, mom was remarried, had adopted seven children, and we moved to what I considered a backwards county. Even though money was tight, mom came up with the out-of-area tuition required to let me finish high school in my old county (the one we are all living in again now), and I commuted to my old school while mom's other children started their new life in a new school. I think we all were aware on some level that this would only add to my feelings of being an outsider in the family, but I was in journalism, advanced placement and gifted classes that simply weren't offered in the county we had moved to, and we weren't willing to lower the standards of my education in the last year before I would start college.
So the disconnection began. There were serious growing pains for me in learning to share my mother with a stepfather I wasn't altogether crazy about, along with seven very emotionally needy children who joined our family within two years. And, at sixteen years of age, I didn't know any other way to channel my resentment than to pull away from the family. I left early in the mornings to putt-putt my way to school in my '79 Chevette, and I headed straight to work from school every day. On weekends, I would go straight out with my friends after work and come home only one minute before my curfew, racing to turn off the Curfew Alarm Clock before it rang outside my mother's bedroom door. It was petulant behavior, and I'm sure I knew it even then, but I was searching for my place in the world. And I think I felt determined to prove to my mother that I didn't need her anymore.
But I distinctly remember coming down with a vicious sinus infection one afternoon and calling my mother from work to whine and to test her to see if she still cared. She, like all good mothers, listened to my complaints and told me to come straight home after work so she could tend to me. I limped pitifully into the house, subconciously daring the other children to try and take mom's attention from me, and sat at the kitchen table while mom puttered around, warming up a plate of spaghetti for me, and then dousing it with a generous flood of jalapeno juice. Yep, good old jap juice. I slurped up the food, loving it when the heat of the pepper hit my sinuses and cleared the cotton out of my head so I could breathe freely again. Mom had done it. She had proved she still loved me. Nobody else would have known how to make me feel THAT much better.
Pepper juice is a long-standing tradition in my mother's house. Its nothing more than the water from a jar of store-bought jalapenos, water that has been infused over time with the heat of the peppers until it can tickle your tongue and spice up any food that its poured upon. And to this day, if I get a cold or any sort of sinus trouble (or even feel the least bit sad), I reach for something spicy. But of course, instead of buying Old El Paso jars of jalapenos, I have now found better and (dare I say it) more gourmet ways to go about this. My new favorite Respiratory Cure is canned chipotles in adobo sauce, an incredibly complex and nearly painfully spicy condiment that can be found in the International aisle of any small-town grocery store. I buy a tiny little can every couple of months, puree it in the food processor, and then freeze it in an ice cube tray. Once the cubes are frozen, I pop them out of the tray and toss them in a freezer bag where I can pull them out one at a time when I need a tablespoon of serious spice to add to a recipe. It's easy to go overboard with these things though, so judicious use is recommended.
Tonight, for the first time in more than a week, I will cook in my own kitchen again, and I will eat at a table. No shouting will be involved, and I won't have to eat standing up (at Big Mama's house, the woman in charge doesn't bother to sit down to eat because she knows there isn't time for that). And, since I'm still a little tired and still a little stuffed up, I'll whip us up an easy batch of Black Bean Quesadillas and Cristy's Salsa to cure what ails me.
BLACK BEAN QUESADILLAS, adapted from the AJC Food Section (serves 8)
- 1 (15-oz) can black beans, rinsed and drained
- 1 (14.5-oz) can petite diced tomatoes (I use Rotel Hot diced tomatoes and peppers)
- 1/2 cup finely chopped onion
- 1/2 cup chopped bell pepper
- 1/2 cup loosely packed, chopped fresh cilantro
- 1 Tbs pureed canned chipotles in adobo sauce
- 2 tsps chili powder
- 1 tsp dried oregano
- 1 tsp ground coriander
- 1 tsp cumin
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/8 tsp cayenne
- 1/2 tsp ground black pepper
- 16 tortillas (I prefer whole-wheat tortillas, but flour or even corn torillas would work)
- 1 cup salsa
- 2 cups shredded Monterey jack cheese
- Cooking spray
- In a large bowl, combine the beans, tomatoes, onion, bell pepper, cilantro, chipotles in adobo, chili powder, oregano, coriander, cumin, salt, cayenne and black pepper.
- Preheat a large skillet (I prefer cast-iron) over medium heat and lightly coat with cooking spray.
- Place one tortilla on the skillet. Spread with one Tbs of salsa. Top with 1/2 cup of black bean mixture, and sprinkle with 1/4 cup of cheese. Cover with a second tortilla.
- Cook until bottom is lightly browned and crispy; flip and cook on the second side.
- Repeat with remaining tortillas. (Note: keep cooked quesadillas warm on a cookie sheet in a 200-degree oven until all quesadillas are ready to be served).
- Serve with sour cream and more salsa. A little guacamole goes nicely as well.
- Breathe freely and wipe your nose as needed.