Chicken Soup for the Soul (but don’t throw away the head….or the feet)
This post is not for the squeamish or the narrow-minded:
Still reading? Ok:
Chickens are cute for about two days after they’re born. Then they start becoming these gnarly little monsters with red flaps of wrinkly skin dangling from the sides and top of their stupid tiny heads. That’s why we must pay homage to the first human who (one would have to assume, in the midst of a hallucinogenic trip) decided to take one of these winged monsters and combine it with some boiling hot water, a smidgen of salt, cilantro and oregano, a couple of potatoes and green plantains, and gave mankind the wondrous invention that is sancocho. Yum.
But you know who really loves chickens? My mother. She loves them so much indeed (was it love or economics?), that when we were growing up, she would regularly purchase a bag of “menudencias”, the discarded parts of the chicken, and make with them various chicken-infused forms of soup. Us kids would get our respective portions of chicken feet, gizzards, and other unrecognizable organs (though I became proficient at identifying, and came to prefer, the liver). But the main prize always went to my mother: the chicken’s head. I can picture my mother turning that lifeless, featherless skull between her index and thumb as she tried, with closed eyes and a look that combined delight and concentration, to consume as much as she could of the birds facial muscles.
Please know that I’m not trying to shock you (or at least, that’s not my only intention). I’m just recording what I think is an important aspect of my upbringing that has gone quite dormant in my adult, American lifestyle, where we believe that a chicken nugget comes from a cute and clean square little muscle on the animal, rather than from a monstrous grinding machine that turns flesh into paste and then cubes. Yum again.
So as my American boys grow up, it’s important to me to instill in them a similarly realistic (albeit crude) understanding and appreciation of where food comes from. And it’s also important to me that they don’t become picky, squeamish, or wasteful. My culture and my economic situation growing up were hugely valuable in that regard.
No, I don’t plan to reincorporate chicken feet and heads in our daily menu (maybe only on holidays?). But there are other, less drastic tactics that are beginning to stick:
– Eating the skin of the mango. In my fifteen years in this country, I’ve seen mangos go from being a rarity (at least in Minnesota), to being almost a staple available in most grocery stores. But it still amuses me to see the look on the faces of my American friends when they see me take voracious bites out of a slice of mango without taking the skin off. “Isn’t it really chewy?” they ask, and I say: “Yes, aren’t those Cheetos really messy?”. What kind of a question is that? But the beauty of getting your kids to do stuff when they’re young and before they get corrupted by the mainstream, is that I can serve my boys big fat slices of mango with the skin on and they don’t know any better so they eat the whole damn thing with gusto and in the process, consume like 900,000 grams of extra fiber and vitamins without complaining or giving me attitude.
– Eating really ripe bananas: This is one where even my amazingly intelligent and open minded wife struggles. Ripe bananas are the bomb! There is nothing like a nice, brown-spotted cavendish that you start to peel and the peels start falling appart they’re so thin and fragile. If you find a banana that’s almost totally brown on the outside but still beige and firm on the inside, you have reached Nirvana. No, banana bread is not its only possible use. My boys understand this. They will sit down to that banana and a glass of milk before the enemy swoops in and tries to turn it into some fattening banana bread or my name is not Ruben Gonzalez.
I could go on all night (i.e. until I fall asleep in 7 minutes).
I will leave you with one that I’m still mustering the courage to lobby for with my wife: orange peel wars. Here’s a male bonding activity that comes as close to recycling and composting as you could get without making a boy call you names and run for the hills. After you’re done eating an orange or a tangerine, grab the peels and chase your friends around to try to squeeze small pieces of the peels so the juice squirts into your friend’s eyes. It stings like a motherf****r, but you prove your manliness and you can take alternating turns laughing and crying. And the old wives tale was that the juice was actually beneficial to your vision (tell that to the Costco Eye Clinic clerk who last rang me up for $250.00).
Obviously, every culture has its incredibly disgusting culinary traditions, from fried animal sexual organs to fermented fish. But those horrible things exist for a reason, and they’re worth preserving (at least as long as animals are being treated humanely and the practice is sustainable).
All this talk about yumminess is making me crave some morcilla.