Revelatory Food Memory -
I was raised in SoCal by 2 solidly Midwest parents, Mom from Nebraska, Dad from Michigan. Meat and potatoes mostly, with a loaf of Wonder Bread on the table most evenings, too, with margarine for lubrication. Our food was as Midwest as Mom and Dad, seasoned with salt, pepper and not much else. It wasn’t exactly bland, but it wasn’t what anyone would call well-seasoned, by a long shot.
One day my bestie MaryEllen’s mother invited me to stay for dinner (I was about 13) and served tacos. Seasoning from a packet, shells from a box, etc… These were my first tacos (did I mention I grew up in SoCal?) and they were indeed a revelation. Who knew food could taste like this? Beef that was spicy with chili powder and cumin, the interplay of the crisp lettuce, creamy cheese, tangy red sauce, bright tomato and that crunchy shell, those tacos were a paradigm shift, forever changing how I looked at food. Somewhat bland would no longer work for me.
After that I grabbed every opportunity to eat tacos, from any taco stand, any time. In no time flat I’d also fallen in love with wet burritos smothered in red sauce. This launched my love of tomato sauces. Being told in no uncertain terms that “your father doesn’t like tacos”, I began to beg Dad to take us out for spaghetti (Mom’s was only vaguely Italian-ish, with a thin, weak, tomato sauce, and virtually no seasoning) just so I could enjoy a proper red sauce.
After getting married and setting up my own kitchen, I cooked with lots of spices, much to Mom’s dismay. “That’s not how I taught you to make it” was a frequent refrain when we had Mom and Dad over for dinner in the early years. When they divorced some years later and Dad remarried, we often found ourselves treated to dinner at his favorite Mexican restaurant. This is when I learned that “your father doesn’t like …” really meant that MOM didn’t like it, or had never tried it and wasn’t about to. I should add here that now, to her great credit, she will eat many cuisines, no longer critiques my food, and brags to her friends that I’m a much better cook than she is, although she still won’t eat Mexican food and thinks my chili con carne (fresh jalapeños!) is just wrong. Some things are a bridge too far.
To this day, I still love a good taco above almost everything else and am thrilled that my Italian-loving dude, although he’s fond of my carbonara, pesto, etc…, really loves my tomato sauce. We’re a match made in red sauce heaven.