Thursday, February 7, 2013

Salsa Memories

The enchiladas were baking in the oven.  Looking in the refrigerator, I realized I didn't have salsa for the tortilla chips.  I did have all the ingredients necessary to make salsa, however, so I decided to make my own. As I gathered the can of diced tomatoes, the habanero hot sauce, and the leftover black eyed peas for good luck from New Year's Day, and as I chopped a green pepper and garlic clove, a warm shower of memories poured over my mind.  I realized and remembered that the last time I made homemade salsa was fifteen years ago.

I had just moved to Iowa City.  I was living in a studio apartment.  I had painted the large kitchen closet doors southwestern orange and the inside of the front door adobe blue, two colors I loved when weeks earlier I had traveled to New Mexico intending to live there, and instead, met and fell in love with Iowa City.

I made the Iowa City salsa for my friends Stacy, Josh, and Natasha who all had recently graduated from college and moved from St. Cloud, Minnesota to Eugene, Oregon to begin anew, to continue the book of their lives, to end one chapter and to start another, as I had done several months earlier when I moved from Minnesota to Iowa City.  Like me, they were a hint of hippie and the gist of gypsy.

I had never made salsa before. I wasn't following a recipe and as I made the salsa it somehow became spaghetti sauce. I wasn't sure which one I was making so I made both. As one. It was a combination of salsa and spaghetti sauce, which is a conundrum. Is it salsa or is it spaghetti sauce? Do you dip it in tortilla chips or pour it over pasta? If you use it for chips then it tastes like spaghetti sauce. If you pour it over pasta then it tastes like salsa. It didn't quite register with me that salsa is from Mexico and spaghetti sauce is from Italy and never the twain should share the same jar. As Dierks Bentley sings in his country song, what was I thinking?

The Avalon Collective, as Stacy, Josh, and Natasha aptly named themselves in their communal household, thanked me for the salsa. Whether or not they liked it and thought it was dynamite or disaster, and told me so, I don't remember. That's the cleverness of memory. You remember what you want to remember and forget what you want to forget. Ideally, it's the good memories you remember.

That's one of the wonderful things about cooking and eating: it can create memories; and similarly, it can conjure those memories. Like the music you listened to at the time. Standing in my kitchen, mixing together the ingredients for my homemade New Year salsa, I remembered that when I first moved to Iowa City, I loved and listened to Andean Legacy: A Narada Collection a lot. So I went downstairs to my CD collection, and sure enough, I still owned the CD, a CD I haven't listened to in fifteen years. I removed it from its slot, placed it in my CD player upstairs, and listened to it as I finished the last flourishes of the homemade salsa. I love listening to music while I cook and eat, and if possible, mindfully listening to it. Hearing Andean Legacy triggered more good memories of those first few months in Iowa City. Like food, music creates and keeps the memories of the soul.

The homemade salsa I made fifteen years later, the Happy New Year 2013 Salsa, is good. In fact, it's really good. It's hot and spicy and flavorful. It's salsa and only salsa. No indecision on my part. The black eyed peas vary from traditional salsa, but they work, and I'm always keen on questioning tradition. The habanero sauce provide a playful punch. I've become a better cook and culinary connoisseur in the past fifteen years and the salsa is proof in the pudding...or salsa as the case may be. Part of that is life experience and part of that is self education, as is everything we become better at in life.

Making salsa here and now in Eagan, Minnesota, in the house I've owned for three years and in the city I've lived in for ten years will also be a memory one day. It already is. I made the New Year Salsa almost four weeks ago and I'm writing about it now. What do I choose to remember? I remember the good. Life is better that way. The past, present, and future is better that way.  To acknowledge this is Zen.


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