Thursday, November 15, 2012

Post Taco Night

One of our regular family treats was taco night.  Taco night was always at Grandma and Grandpa's.  We'd come in through the real door, which was on the side of the house and entered into the kitchen.  There was a front door, with a covered porch and an entry vestibule, but family never used it.  If someone rang the doorbell at the front door, you knew they were going to try to sell something to you.

The side door had a doorbell, too, but not a fancy one with chimes, like the front door.  It made a buzzing kind of ring.  We didn't use it much, either.  Being family, we just walked in.  Sometimes we'd knock on the door in passing and sometimes we'd just call out, if there was no one in the kitchen to just greet.

When I was young, the older female relatives would call out "knick, knick, knock!"  I don't know if any of us kids picked up the habit.  But I can hear the call in my Aunt's voice plainly.

Once we were there for taco night, we'd help make the tacos.  Who did what depended on who was there and how many of us there were.  Grandpa always diced the tomatoes and onions.  Grandpa kept his knives sharp, not like at our place.  Grandpa sharpened his own and some of the ones that were used most often had been worn away so that they almost looked like filleting knives.  Not that any of us knew what a filleting knife was, back then.

It was a time of culinary simplicity in America.  We opened cans of Ortega (tm) green chili peppers, chopped, and were being exotic.  Kids avoided the peppers and the onions. 
Grandma or Grandpa (or another designated adult) would fry up ground beef and set it aside, then fry the corn tortillas (the only kind available then) in the beef fat.  Oil would be added if the beef fat started running out.  

The fried tortillas were folded up in paper towels and stacked into a rectangular corning-ware casserole, which was just the right size to hold a line of them.  If there were a lot of us, a second casserole would be filled.  

Let's see, tortilla, ground beef, onion, green pepper, tomato - ah.  The Grandpa usually shredded the lettuce, but it wasn't critical.  Any adult could do that.  And anyone, kids included, could grate the cheese.  Sometimes we'd take turns at it.  One kid would get tired and pass it off to another kid.

Sometimes a can of black olives would be decanted and put in a bowl or relish dish.  Usually, there was root beer or cola.  Soda was something else that we usually didn't have at our house.  It was bad for our teeth, as was sugar on your breakfast cereal or oatmeal.

Often, Grandma would cook up Jello chocolate pudding before we started making the tacos.  I loved the feel and taste of still-warm pudding.  The cooked kind was better than that instant muck that came out later.  The cooked kind made a skin, so that there was two kinds of chocolaty goodness and you could decide which to eat first.

You could scoop off the skin and eat it first.  Sometimes, if the pudding was still warm enough and if you ate slowly enough, the exposed remainder would form a thinner secondary skin.

Or you could flip the skin over, to expose the creamy underside and scoop the smoothness out, tunneling under the collapsing skin.  Then you had the skin to eat last.  This was a more involved procedure.

But back to the tacos.  Tacos are finger food.  They are buffet food.  You don't make the tacos and serve them up, you prepare the fixin's pass the bowls around so that everyone can make their own.  Everyone has their own favorite way to make a taco, although there is usually some experimentation going on.

If there are a lot of people around the table, it can be tricky to find a place for all of the bowls needed.  If something had to be put to the side, it was usually the taco shells, which would be left on the stove so that the pilot light would keep them warm.  If there was a second casserole of shells, the table was guaranteed to be to full for shell space.

Somewhere along the years, taco sauce was added to the ingredients.  If there were more people than planned on, beans could be added to the meat to extend it.  The times being what they were, it was usually pork and beans that was added.

If you have kids building tacos, you have tacos leaking ingredients down onto their plates, so everyone had forks to clean up the taco droppings.  Every child had to decide whether to start with one taco shell or two.  Not that there was any question that we would eat two or more, just that building them was fun and if you did each one in series, you might decide to do each one differently, adjusting the taste to home in on the perfect result.
If you did two to start with, you'd probably just make them both the same.  And you'd be making them both on the first round, when everything was being passed around the table.  Tacos made after the first round would call for things to be passed to you, as in you specifically.  There was a certain satisfaction to that.
You had to be careful with tacos, especially if you had added any sauce.  Even just with the tomatoes and the grease from the shell you could get taco juice running down your arm and dripping off your elbow.  Extra paper towels were available, or, sometimes, napkins. 
Grandma and Grandpa were more likely to have napkins than we were.  The philosophy at our house was that if you were eating properly, there was no need for the expense of a paper napkin.  Not for a regular dinner.
Kids were warned not to let their eyes get bigger than their stomachs.  You don't want to get too full for dessert.  And if there wasn't pudding, there was probably ice cream.  Especially if it was movie night.  Taco night didn't necessarily mean movie night, but sometimes movie night had taco night added to the front of it.
Mmmm.  Taco night.

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