Does your kid have a favorite food? You know, that dish that he loves more than anyone else in the family does? That dish you always know he’ll devour? Dragon loved a lot of different things, but there are a few dishes I haven’t been able to bring myself to cook. They are associated too much with him.
Dragon loved Mexican food. I think he always had, but especially this last year, with his high school being in the heart of Santa Ana, he was being exposed to Mexican food much more often. He had a favorite taco truck in Santa Ana – Alicia’s – parked on 4th street by the Dulceria that sold colorful pinatas hanging over the entry. As an after school treat and a quick dinner before water polo, we often pulled up in front of Alicia’s, and Dragon would order his favorite: carne asada tacos on handmade corn tortillas, topped with salsa fresca and cilantro. Each for just $1! We’d sit down at the makeshift card table on the sidewalk, licking our fingers as we devoured our tacos.
At home, I often made chicken tacos simmered in a spicy tomato sauce. Stewed until soft, the chicken would be just right for shredding. I’d serve the chicken with tortillas and various toppings – queso fresca, diced onions, sour cream. Ah, the sour cream. Ever since he was a toddler, Dragon loved sour cream. To make tacos, Dragon would slather his tortilla with sour cream before adding anything else, taking the lion’s share of the bowl of sour cream on the dinner table. I often teased him, “How about some chicken to go with your sour cream?”
The one dish Dragon made reliably and often was guacamole. If we had limes, tomatoes, and ripe avocados, you could count on Dragon whipping up a bowl of guacamole to go with our chicken tacos. He had this funny habit of serving the guacamole in the scooped out avocado shells, garnished with a sprig of cilantro, as if we were in a fancy Mexican restaurant and not just at home.
So, chicken tacos and guacamole. While chicken tacos used to show up in our dinner rotation every couple weeks, I haven’t made it since last summer. I miss the tangy tomato sauce and the cool creaminess of cheese, the freshness of the cilantro and the bite from the onion. But Dragon was always the one in our family that loved it most, and I can’t quite bring myself to serve tacos yet.
He and Hannah also loved homemade pizza. I discovered a recipe for “Artisan Pizza in 5 Minutes a Day” pizza dough a few years ago. It’s a magical recipe where you mix flour and yeast and olive oil and warm water in a 5 gallon plastic tub, let it rise, and then refrigerate it. You now have enough delicious pizza dough to last you for the next week — ready for impromptu personal pizzas as an after school snack, calzones, or dinner. Most of the time, in our daily hectic schedules, we opened a jar of pizza sauce and dusted the pizzas with mozzarella and pepperoni. But sometimes we got fancy and made our own pizza sauce, sautéed spicy Italian sausages, caramelized onions, chopped fresh basil. The kids loved kneading their own pizza rounds. Dragon learned to throw the pizza dough into the air by watching Daniel. He would throw it high into the air to thin it out. Sure, a few pizzas landed on the ground, but more often than not, Dragon was successful in air twirling his pizzas. After a few minutes on a cornmeal-covered pizza stone in a very hot oven, dinner would be ready to go. Homemade pizzas – it was another frequent go-to in our house. It’s what we served at Dragon’s last birthday dinner, when he turned 14. Dragon’s last birthday party — with Justin and three other close friends.
Today, my 5 gallon plastic tub sits on the pantry’s highest shelf. I think I might need to throw away the yeast. We haven’t kneaded dough or twirled a pizza in months. I know I need to get over it, but how do you continue with family traditions when the family is broken?
In our family, as in many families, food is love. I remember getting back on a plane to fly back to college with a lunch of Chinese sesame noodles in my backpack, made for me by a mom that seldom hugged but always cooked. It’s one of the ways we take care of each other, one of the ways we nurture one another. One of the ways we love each other. Chicken tacos, homemade pizza — I’m not ready to make those favorite dishes again just yet.