I usually cringe when I pass the salsa section in the market. Beyond the simple vinegar/pepper basic sauces like Cholula
, there has never been one that doesn't end up reminding me of bad airports and 2AM meals. The manufacturers of these so-called salsas take the most over-ripe, watery, tasteless tomatoes, mix some vinegar and lots of salt together with what has to be a cup of sugar, to make something that resembles face paint. For the "chunky" versions, they might throw in some odd-shaped thing that crunches, but I could never get beyond the clumpy sauce to see if it was, in fact, a vegetable, fruit or Styrofoam. I suppose there is a place for these sauces -- perhaps on the edge of a chip at a SuperBowl party where you are more interested in what your date/football buddy/drunk/friend/accountant is saying than what you are putting in your mouth.
The newest craze is adding the smoky flavor of Chipotle to these sugar soup salsas, as reminders that there is still some spice in the world that can be marketed and sold as new and improved and invoke some emotion of salsa's original origin.
I remember reading Rick Bayless' classic cookbook
when I was a teenager, and I was impressed that a white guy from Oklahoma could nail authentic Mexican cooking so well. The only other white person who "got it" was Jane Butel
, the so-called Mother of Tex-Mex, who looked remarkably similar to Betty Crocker but really knew how to hang further South. In fact, if there wasn't such an age difference between the two, I would have really liked seeing the two of them get together as a couple, if only to get invited over to their house for dinner.
So there I am, wheeling my cart with one jammed wheel that wobbles and forces me to compensate else Taquitos will fly, and I decide to take a break in front of the salsa section to rest my driving arm.
Side-story: My wife is VERY, VERY, VERY pregnant, and I find myself making more trips than usual to the supermarket to help out with things, because the last thing I want to do is tell my future kid that he/she was born in the milk section of the supermarket when Mom reached up to the top shelf, while Dad stayed home watching "Scrubs." No, I would rather it be me answering the cell phone in the milk aisle and dashing over the cash register line ala O.J. Simpson to my car,
speeding home with a police escort and huffing into the house to find my wife on the couch in labor; and moments later, a child.
And, even though this is our second kid, the whole fatherhood journey repeating again is making me somewhat nervous, and I find myself once again asking the bigger questions in life, though in a mellower and less edgy way. For those who don't know what I'm talking about, imagine a naked whitewater rafting trip where you get tossed around and eventually end up underneath an overturned raft, freezing, bruised, and hurtling down torrid rapids that never seem to end. No, it's not that feeling. That's the first kid.
This is like the same boat, same river, but you're just starting out, and you're no longer scared of capsizing because you know you WILL capsize; it's just a question of when. Yes, that's what it's like.
But I digress.
Most people in "life changing" emotional situations find outlets for their feelings -- Guys have bachelor parties, women have baby showers; me, I stand behind my gimp shopping cart and stare at fake tomato condiments.
And as I stood there, exhausted, awash in the green fluorescent, indirect light, perceptively moaning along to the Kenny G playing over the loudspeaker between ads for Jimmy Dean sausage, I fought the urge to topple my handicapped cart and reach over with one hand and destroy all these impostor salsas, just wipe them into the air and onto the linoleum below for some scary bagboy to mop away after I had been hauled away.
I spent 10 minutes in this coma, and finally came to the realization that I was too tired to go home and make some good salsa myself, but that this salsa aisle represented something bigger. I figured that if I could find a good salsa amongst all these mass-marketed, low-cost "grabbers" just by looking at the ingredients and what shined through from inside the bottle, well then, there might just be hope for our misdirected, consumer driven, idealistic society; and, yes, even perhaps my own future as a father.
If there's one thing we should be able to control in our lives, it oughta be our condiments.
This is what goes through the mind of an expectant 2nd time father. It's not pretty, it's not much fun, but like most such things, it's all about the journey and not the destination, so it's better to just sit back and let the insanity run.
So I did. All 48 bottles, from chunky to green to Pineapple to Lime to Cheese. More MSG and crap that you didn't even knew existed. The ice cream in my pseudo-cart melted, the chicken started to smell and some old lady with a bag on her head was staring at me like i was crazy, but I pressed on, jumping from mass-produced shlock from the same company that brought us Baken Ets
, to some salsa from Norway made of salmon mousse, which, the last time I checked, was not salsa but actually fish.
Finally, it was done. It was time to go. I had reacquainted myself with my least favorite condiment and, through the process, discovered what I thought was a decent looking candidate. The boat had been flipped over and I could catch my breath again.
My cart and I did s-turns to the checkout conveyor and, later, I loaded my bags in the car. The air was cool that night and a full moon was just rising over the telephone poles in the distance.
What? The salsa? Oh, yes. Remember Rick Bayliess? Turns out he has made one of the best jarred Chipotle's
I have tasted. There still might be hope for him and Jane. I wonder how many kids he has.