He Come Groovin’ Up Slowly…

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Recipes #2 and #3: tomato salsa and quesadillas.

“Did you hear about the restaurant on the moon..? Great food. No atmosphere.”

This joke appears in Fanny at Chez Panisse and it cracks Luca up every time he reads it. So far I’ve heard him tell the joke five times and every time he tells it I crack up too.

Yesterday he made quesadillas with tomato salsa. It was a school night and usually I control the pace of our evenings by making dinner myself. I had no doubt that Luca could handle making dinner. But as I am somewhat of a control freak, have no patience whatsoever, and was very ,very hungry, I was less sure of my own ability to let  him do it without taking over.

I had spent the day writing about the guys who worked at Queen’s Pizzeria in Brooklyn where I grew up. I lived three doors down from a prison and the pizza guys wouldn’t deliver to our house. At the time I blamed this on the prison but really it was because our neighborhood was dangerous and a pizza delivery guy would be known to have money on him. We knew that the Queens Pizzeria guys would say no, but we always called them anyway just to make them refuse, or in the hopes that this time they would say yes. They never did say yes and since this was the most delicious pizza in the world – I still have not tasted better – my sisters and I walked past the prison to get some. Then we’d sit at the counter and watch the tough looking guys with the big muscles make the pizza pies. They wore gold chains and perched their cigarettes on the counter or dangled them out of their mouths as they tossed the dough in the air.

Right next to Queens Pizzeria was a Triple xxx porno theater. Now there is now a multiplex where they used to be. Likewise, the corner bodega now sells panini and cappuccino instead of pigs’ feet.

Luca’s regular chore is to empty our kitchen compost into the bin in the garden. So he did that and when he came back he said, “That’s part of being a chef, too.” I said I agreed.

I placed a step stool against the kitchen counter and Luca asked for music. Beatles, he said. Abbey Road. A quick detour to the stereo and we’d be on our way to making dinner. Just as John Lennon began to sing, “Here come old blacktop…” Luca jumped off the stool and reached for the chef’s apron. I waited for him to tie it just so.

“Ready?” I said.

We started by making the tomato salsa. Luca chopped up the tomatoes while I peeled the onion. He had a hard time getting through the tomato skins so we worked on that and it got a little easier. When the tomatoes were chopped (into bigger chunks than Alice would likely approve of), Luca ran to the bathroom and I peeled the onion. I told him he didn’t have to cut the onion if he didn’t want. I was terribly hungry and Ringo was singing “Octopus’ Garden” and it was a little annoying. But Luca ran back in the room and said, “I want to cry!” So he started chopping onion and a few minutes later, he said: “I feel it!” I was feeling it too.

“This is the onion’s protection!” he said, tears forming in his eyes. I asked him what he meant and he said, “Like cactuses have spikes so the animals can’t get the water!” Did I know this?

A minute later, he said he was done with the onions. Really done. “I don’t want to work with those anymore,” he said. So I finished chopping them. I was crying.

“What’s next?” I asked. Luca looked at the book and read “Pick the leaves off the cilantro…” and then he rushed off to his room.

“Where are you going?” I begged. This was the third stop – it was taking too long. There was no answer. “Do you want me to finish by myself?” I asked somewhat hopefully. I was ready to give up on the Luca/Alice project just one and a half recipes in. If he let me , I’d have dinner on the table in five minutes.

“No, wait!” came the reply. He was changing into a nice tailored shirt.

“Luca, what are you doing? Chefs don’t leave people waiting for their food while they change their clothes.”

“I’m going to be the waiter too.”

I threw up my hands and waited for him to button all the buttons and then retie his apron. “OK,” I said. “No more stopping.” Here comes the sun…

He pulled the cilantro leaves off the stems and used the mincing knife to chop them. But he didn’t want to go near the bowl with the tomatoes and the onions. “I don’t want to work with those,” he repeated.

Next he smashed and chopped the garlic and put in a couple of pinches of salt, thought about it and put in one more, all the while turning his face from the bowl that held the onions. He tried to squeeze the lime, but nothing came out, so I gave it a try and and added the lime juice. Luca mixed it all together and it looked like this:

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Luca grated the cheese, laid out the tortillas, and spooned salsa onto one of his. When I put another tortilla on top, he was confused. “See?” I pointed out. “The recipe calls for making a sandwich out of the tortillas.” He had never seen this before. “OK,” he said somewhat dubious. We put the quesadilla in the pan. There was only room for one. Here is Lucas first quesadilla.

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Meanwhile I asked if he wanted any peppers with his. “No,” he said.

“What happened to wanting a fire in your mouth?” I asked.

“That was yesterday.”

While the tortillas were in the pan, I chopped up some red pepper and pasilla peppers. Then everything was ready. I put my salsa on the side along with the two kinds of peppers.

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The food was so good. Luca thought it was funny that we were eating to “Mean Mr. Mustard.” I asked him again if he didn’t want to add the pasilla chiles to his quesadilla. He shook his head but then ran to the refrigerator and got out the Tio Pepe hot sauce. He poured a lot of it on his plain cheese quesadilla and then added pasilla pepper.

“This is going to be FIYAH!” he shouted. And then as he dug in he said, “Fiyah powah!” This is a quote from a movie he has never seen.

When there was one bite left of his super-hot quesadilla he handed it to me.

“You’re going to like it,” he said.

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