“It looks pretty saucy. Is it saucier than usual?”
This is Josh, my college student, home for the summer. He’s examining a frying pan filled with flavored chopped meat, perplexed, nay concerned, that the dinner set before him isn't quite right. It’s Taco Tuesday, you see, a weekly event in our kitchen because Josh misses Cornell’s make-your-own supper, in which he indulged every Monday last school year. (They don't menu plan via alliteration there, apparently.) Taco night relieved Josh from the monotony of the Mongolian-barbecue chicken dinner; that's what he ate every other evening.
I am insulted. Not because Josh is wary of tonight’s center-of-the-plate presentation. He’ll eat it, saucy or dry, and will erupt with comments, negative or positive. It’s because he prefers school dinners to mine. Seriously. Don’t most kids return home after freshman year yearning for Mom’s meatloaf, casserole or minestrone? I don’t make any of those for family dinners, actually, because, as I’ve mentioned before, my family is a trio of pickypantses. Neither do I serve my guys a killer country French chicken fricassee, an inspiring Italian swordfish empanada, or loads of other truly tasty from-scratch dishes. They're not interested.
He wants tacos.
My husband and other son, Ryan, thought this was a fine idea, so I tried. I seasoned chopped meat with Mexican herbs and spices for Josh and marinated chicken breast in lemon juice for cholesterol-shy Hubby, figuring Ryan and I will feast from either platter.
I put out a bottle of green sauce to perk things up for the adults and a jar of chemical “queso” for the kids. Josh likes cheese, so I freshly grated some aged Cabot cheddar. I microwaved some medium-size tortillas. I skipped the chopped black olives, onions, tomatoes, jalapenos and avocado I serve with fajitas for company, since the fussy fellows forgo them all.
Not a hit. “The meat tastes funny.” “I only like pieces of steak, not ground meat.” “The chicken is bland.” “I only like the small tortillas.” “I only like the big tortillas.” “The cheese is a weird texture, flaky-like, soft.”
The tinkering began. The only thing that makes Taco Tuesday tacos taste “right,” it turns out, is a bright orange powder produced in a factory.
I refuse to read the package to see what frightening chemicals comprise this mix, since by using it I make Josh a contented young man. I simply stir it in along with water and commercial picante sauce and pray the crap won’t kill us.
For cheese, I now plop plastic bags filled with preshredded dairy-ish product on the table. “This is just right,” Josh announces as he gleefully sprinkles handfuls of the fake food over his doctored-up filling.
I buy two sizes of tortillas and heat them up together. Really, honestly, neither of these men will make do with the other size? (Josh: The tacos are too spicy in the big tortillas. It's about the meat-to-bread ratio." Hub: "I can't fit enough toppings into a small tortilla.") Both despise the medium size, and corn tortillas. Reason unknown.
As for the blandness of the leftover chicken tacos, I found a fix that’s ideal … for those who feel like fussing after a long day of work. I make an absolutely delicious mango salsa from Epicurious.com. That involves buying mangos at just the right ripeness; peeling them, which is a big messy pain in the tush; and then chopping up vegetables. It’s serious work.
With this plan, Josh is happy with his chemical beef and Hub with his labor-intensive topping. I’m annoyed because this is no simple dinner. (I hear crazy-serious whining when I roast a chicken with potatoes or sweet potatoes, the easiest and most delicious healthful dinner in my repertoire. "And I have to clean a roasting pan, too? This is the worst dinner ever!"). And Ryan – did I mention Ryan? – starves, because he doesn’t like any of it. I hand him a bagel with nova in the camp bus loop on Tuesdays, and later he snacks on frozen pizza.
Wholesome indeed. I will miss Josh when he returns to New York. I will not miss Taco Tuesday.