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Chip Burkitt

A Taco Journey


My mom learned to make tacos in southern California during the 1950s. She and my dad had moved to the San Diego area because my dad had enlisted in the Marines, and he was stationed for a time at Camp Pendleton. After my dad left the Marines, they moved back home to southern Ohio. I was about 4 years old at the time. My mom soon began to miss tacos. This was long before the ubiquitous Taco Bell and Taco John franchises. Though she kept searching for tortillas in the supermarkets, she could not find them anywhere. Finally she found a supermarket that carried frozen tortillas, 12 to a package. She bought them and brought them home. They weren’t as good as the fresh tortillas she had used in California, but they were tortillas, and soon her tacos became a staple of our family cuisine.

My mom’s tacos underwent very little evolution from my first memories to the last. As far as I can remember, she always fried her tortillas in hot oil. She always stacked them between napkins to absorb the oil. She always used ground beef browned with onions, garlic, cumin, and chili powder. Sometimes she added a little curry powder and thyme or oregano. In the early days, she often added Accent as well, back before we knew how unhealthy MSG is. She always served them with lettuce, chopped tomatoes, and cheddar cheese. We always had Tabasco sauce for those who wanted a little heat. When I was young there was no picante sauce and no queso fresco. When supermarkets added salsa, we added that, but it was never considered essential.

When I got married, I insisted that Belinda learn to make tacos the way my mom made them. She balked at frying each tortilla in oil, so one of the first changes we made was to steam the tortillas by heating them in the microwave for a couple of minutes. I had a hard time figuring out how much chili powder and cumin to use, and I went through a phase where I used way too much curry powder. Belinda, gentle soul that she is, tolerated it all with good grace and even grew to like tacos nearly as much as I did. We began experimenting a little more. We added diced jalapeños sometimes. One time I chopped up a habanero and ate it on one taco. That was an intense experience. I have no desire to repeat it. We started serving tacos with chopped cilantro. Sometimes we made our own pico de gallo instead of just chopped tomatoes.

Somewhere along the way, we got a cookbook called The Gourmet Cookbook, edited by Ruth Reichl. Even though it had nothing about tacos, it changed my life. The first recipe I made from it was Penne alla Vodka. For the first time in my life I had made a meal that tasted like it might be served at the finest restaurant in town. I tried other recipes from the book, and found that by following the directions and being careful, I could make dishes that satisfied more than hunger. They satisfied a desire for perfect balance and rightness. I made the Pork Chops with Sautéed Apples and Cider Sauce, and it was as if the planets aligned and all was right with the world. My children loved my new hobby. Even the one child who hates everything grudgingly came to admit that Dad’s dinners were pretty good, and my oldest daughter said one day that I had spoiled restaurants for her: she knew she could get a better meal at home than by going out. That was a proud moment for me, even though Ruth Reichl and the staff at Gourmet’s test kitchens deserved most of the credit.

Through all this discovery and initiation into the mysteries of haute cuisine—often not as haute as you might think—tacos remained a relatively untouched mainstay, a go-to meal requiring little thought. Belinda or I could easily whip up a meal of tacos without having to refer to a recipe.

Then, last year, another book came my way, given to me as a Christmas present by my son-in-law, Dave. The book was Tacos: Recipes and Provocations by Alex Stupak and Jordana Rothman. It did for tacos what The Gourmet Cookbook had done for the rest of our meals. I made my own tortillas. I made my own salsas. I made tacos that were utterly different from the ones I had grown up with, and they had that perfect balance and rightness that made them seem like gifts from heaven. There are still a lot of taco recipes I haven’t tried, but the one I like best is also the first one in the book. It has no ground beef, no taco seasoning. There are no lettuce, tomatoes, or cheddar cheese. These tacos are made from fresh tortillas and roasted chicken thighs. The accessories are kale, queso fresco, diced onion, and raw salsa verde with chopped cilantro. They are heavenly.

We still have Mom’s tacos, of course, because they are a lot less fussy than the chicken tacos. We still buy tortillas instead of always making our own because making our own takes a lot of time and energy that we don’t always have. We can still make Mom’s tacos with very little trouble, and we still enjoy them immensely. They remind me of my Mom, and they are my ultimate comfort food. But I am so glad to know that there exist in this world tacos that beautifully and delightfully surpass Mom’s, and that I can make them.


Reflections on Having Longer Hair


I grew my hair out over the past several months. It has been an enlightening experience. My daughter, Jane, claims I have mullet now.

“No, I don’t,” I say.

“Yes, you do,” she says. “Business in the front, party in the back.”

Regardless what you call it, my hair is certainly longer than it has ever been. I understand now why women spend so much time grooming. It’s necessary. I also understand why they do that little head toss that I used to find so enchanting. They just want to get their hair out of their face.

One thing that surprised me was how heavy wet hair is. It gave me new respect for the women I know who have waist length hair.

Recently, I ran out of my manly, leave-in conditioner, so I’ve been using whatever happens to be in the shower. This morning it was “Coconut Milk Conditioner.” The bottle makes it sound luxurious:

Indulge your senses with this exclusive blend with coconut milk, coconut oil, and ultra whipped egg white proteins. This exotic formula helps add strength, elasticity, hydration, and balance for healthy hair.

It’s good to know that my conditioner can substitute as food in a pinch if I am overcome by hunger while taking a shower. I suppose I’m supposed to be impressed with how natural and organic it is, but cow dung is also natural and organic. Only a credible threat of force or rich emoluments could induce me to put cow dung in my hair. (Why mess with shampoo when you can use real poo!) I suppose that’s why athletes and celebrities endorse various products. Still, I know enough about egg whites, ultra whipped or not, to be certain they will provide “hold”—that elusive quality every hair care product promises to supply in varying degrees. Moreover, the scent of coconut was subtle rather than overpowering as are the fragrances of so many hair products. So I was happy with the result despite my misgivings.


The Weakness of God


“…the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.”
—1 Corinthians 1:25

It is tempting to regard what Paul said in 1 Corinthians as meaning that God, at his weakest, is still stronger than all the strength humans can muster. After all, God is reputedly all-powerful. Surely human strength can be no match for God’s infinite power. Yet I don’t think that is what Paul had in mind at all. This whole passage argues that God’s wisdom and power displayed in Jesus Christ is of a different order altogether from the wisdom and power of human beings.

Our heroes are men and women whose accomplishments stand out from those of their peers. Generals who lead troops into battle, statesmen who avert war, women who overcome misogyny and make significant contributions to science, famous poets or novelists, even accomplished athletes—these are our heroes. They makes us want to emulate them. Jesus was like none of these. He did not lead a nation or an army. His followers were mostly poor and of little account. He made no significant discoveries, never wrote a poem or a book. He didn’t even do what his enemies accused him of: he didn’t lead a rebellion against Rome. If you ignore his teaching, the only noteworthy things he did are almost too improbable to be believed: healing the sick without medicine and feeding the hungry with scant resources, walking on water, raising the dead. Most improbable of all, his followers claim he rose from the dead after being tortured to death and buried for three days. Everything about his life and work reveals a man who was evidently a lunatic with nothing to show for his years on earth except an unusually devoted following. As a representative of God, he comes across as weak, even feeble.

His strength, which became the true strength of the Church, was in two things, both of which Paul goes on to foreground in 1 Corinthians 2, his teaching and the power of the Spirit of God. Yet even his teaching was weakness and foolishness. He taught that we should love our enemies instead of trying to get the better of them. He taught that we should forgive those who offend us instead of retaliating. He taught that we should oppose violence with acquiescence to violence. If we made movies with Jesus’ conception of how to live a good life, at the end the good guys would lay down their weapons and submit to being killed. Likewise, the power of the Spirit of God was not to subdue evil in the world but to overcome it in one’s own heart. God’s Spirit enables Jesus’ followers to live, however imperfectly, in accordance with his teaching.

When Paul lists Christian virtues, they are too weak to even be called virtues. Paul calls them fruit of the Spirit: “love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (Galatians 5:22, 23). Notably absent are classical Greek virtues such as courage, prudence, and justice. Only self-control gets a mention, and it is last. Paul even boasts about his own weakness. and declares that when he is weak, he is strong. We tend to value defiance, seeing it as a sign of courage. Our movie heroes are almost always defiant when captured and almost always have to be physically subdued. Yet Jesus taught meekness and humility and persistence in the face of powerful injustice. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. learned from Jesus’ example and used nonviolent protest to dismantle segregation and Jim Crow in the American south. His followers, far from being defiant, endured beatings and police brutality to awaken the conscience of the nation and shame the powerful for allowing injustice to continue.

Again and again throughout history the weak prevail against the strong not by force but by persistence and love. It is not the rich and powerful who end injustice; they too often benefit from its continuance. It is the poor and weak who unite against injustice and shame the powerful into doing what is right.

We Christians are taught to expect persecution for our faith. Some have taken that to mean that we suffer for our moral high-mindedness and piety, but those were characteristics of the Pharisees and religious hypocrites whom Jesus excoriated. No, the persecution we Christians—especially American Christians who enjoy so many protections under our Constitution—should expect to endure is for standing with the weak and powerless, for lifting up the cause of the widow and orphan, for advocating for people of color, for taking to the streets to protect the rights of women and immigrants and poor people, for continuing to feed the hungry when city ordinances forbid it.