Where food is concerned , one crazy-long-flight-delay plus three-weary-travelers-with-empty-stomachs ordinarily equals low expectations: “Mom, just fill my belly, please!” But add me to that equation and it all gets exponentially more complicated—it’s no longer simple arithmetic.
Maternal imperative (M) multiplied by, parenthetically, longing (l) plus guilt (g), PLUS the need to Gratify (G), multiplied by, parenthetically, the need to impress (i), divided by effort (e), equals irrationally high expectations (on my part) It looks something like this, algebraically:
[M(l+g) ]+ [G(i/e)] = HUH???
My family, having finally landed in Birmingham with their luggage in hand, was grateful that the trip to my apartment was the most painless leg of their journey. I had the answer to my question, “Want to take the scenic route or the highw…?” before it passed my lips. We were “home” in 20 minutes.
I was so proud and eager to have my family in my apartment. I prepared the nest—two rooms were treated to bold, beautiful accent walls (coincidentally named pumpkin spice and spud) and the spare bedroom (my office) got a fresh coat of bright white (a huge improvement from the soul-crushing, institutional beige painted throughout). I left Valentine’s candy hearts on their beds (3 days late, but hey, V-day has no end date for my kids) and made sure there was plenty of wine, beer, Fresca and snacks. I made granola for breakfast and spicy Mexican meatballs for dinner. And don’t forget that Mixed Berry Galette for dessert, as well. (This is where those irrationally high expectations are planted)
“Should we go out for our first dinner or stay in?” My family was divided but I made an executive decision to stay put. We had the whole week ahead of us to experience the glory of traditional southern cooking. Besides, I’d waited a long time to see my lovelies, didn’t want to share them with anyone else, and I’d prepared a very special menu. (This is where those irrationally high expectations take root)
So far so good. That is until I tripped over the first misplaced shoe, swept up crumbs from the couch, put a coaster under a water glass, picked up a soaking wet towel from the floor and had to shout over the TV—all in the first day. The advice, lovingly delivered, “Pick your battles” unfortunately, went unheeded more often than not. (This is where those irrationally high expectations choke out the indigenous plants)
I anticipated making some adjustment to having people in my space but these were my children and my husband, after all and I missed them terribly. All I wanted was to have a nice time with my family and I was blowing it in a very, very big way.
As if it couldn’t have gotten any worse, my son came down with a violent, nasty stomach virus and spent all night doubled over the toilet. Two days later, both my daughter and my husband followed suit. Oddly, that’s exactly the time I relaxed and let go of the control-freak, nit-picking. The 2 sleeves worth of saltine cracker crumbs all over my couch meant that my daughter was finally able to hold something down. And the cold wet towels on the floor were a necessary evil to soothe a throbbing headache. I believe what I really craved in the end was to be a mother, wife and care-giver once again, for more than a stray weekend here and there. I needed to be needed and I realized exactly what was missing from the equation: generosity.
Albondinga Tacos (Spicy Pork Meatball) Tacos
1 tablespoon canola oil
2 chorizo (fresh) @ 4 ounces
1 medium red onion, chopped
2 jalapenos, seeded and chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 scallions thinly sliced
4 teaspoons ground cumin
1 ½ teaspoons chopped chipotle in adobo (optional)
1 teaspoon salt or to taste
½ cup finely crushed tortilla chips
½ cup finely crumbled queso fresco
1 large egg
1 ½ pounds ground pork
Hard shell tacos, warm soft tortillas, salsa, sour cream, shredded lettuce, chopped onions, cilantro and crumbled queso for serving
- Heat the oil in a large nonstick skillet. Add the chorizo, breaking it up with a spoon along with the onion, jalapenos, garlic and scallions and cook over moderate heat until lightly browned and tender, about 10 minutes, stirring frequently. Add cumin and chipotle and cook 1 minute longer. Stir in the tortilla chips, season with salt and transfer to a bowl to cool. Stir in the queso fresco, egg and ground pork and knead gently until evenly combined.
- Preheat the oven to 425° and line a baking sheet with foil or parchment. Using lightly moistened hands, roll the mixture into 1 ½-inch balls and arrange them on the baking sheet. Bake in the upper third of the oven until firm and cooked through, 10 to 12 minutes. Turn on the broiler and broil until browned and crusty, 1 to 2 minutes, shifting the pan to avoid black spots.
- Transfer the albondigas to a platter and serve with all the fixings. Make ahead: the meatballs can be refrigerated for up to 4 days. Reheat before serving.