“When disaster struck, it didn’t surprise me that the people of New Orleans yearned more than ever for that taste of home…”
––Amy Cyrex Sins
After the floods caused by Hurricane Katrina, New Orleanian Amy Cyrex Sins was left with a deep sense of loss from both her destroyed home and, more poignantly, her devastated recipe collection. In her essay, “Doberge Cake after Katrina,” Sins longingly reminisces about such family classics as cheesy “Birthday Chicken” and, of course, “light, fluffy, and moist” Doberge Cake (45). Sins goes into detail about the specific foods and memories of her hometown, but she is ultimately writing about the same hunger we all feel when we are away from home and can’t find comfort on our foreign plates.
Basically, food is the perfect (and therefore perfectly heartbreaking) combination of commodity and memory. When Sins mourned the loss of her recipes, she missed not only the physical pages with often handwritten instructions, but also the specific people and flavors she might never encounter again. Each recipe was a material reminder of fishy smells, buttery tastes, and doughy textures from important occasions. Even foods not prepared at home are all connected with a specific memory: “jambalaya at the church fair, fried fish at the grocery during lent, beignets when your maw maw takes you to Morning Call” (46).
I can relate to Sins’ passion for her local cuisine when she declares that food is not only a comfort but “truly a way of life” (45). The way my New Orleanian friends talk about sucking on the heads of freshly boiled crawfish, bright red and packed with spicy seasoning, is just short of worship. For me, only one romance can rival this passionate affair: the love between San Antonians and Tex-Mex. People from both cities are adamant that while their genre of food may exist in the rest of their state and even the country, its purest form can only be found in their hometown. And this rare authenticity is what makes it so appealing to us in times of distress.
The “disasters” in my life that made me crave warm breakfast tacos and goopy queso (the yellow stuff, not white, and it’s not called cheese dip) were not at all as tragic as Sins’, but they left me with the same irrational need to grasp for comfort with a knife and fork. When I felt completely alienated during my freshman year of college, I most ardently envied my friends in Texas for their access to flaky empanadas overflowing with chicken and fresh pico de gallo, heavy on the cilantro.
And when I experienced the unbearable heartbreak of Alabama losing to Auburn in the Iron Bowl that same year, I immediately set out to quell my despair with cheese enchiladas. As my teeth tore past the fried corn tortillas to their oozing yellow center, I discovered a peace that could only come from the earthy, heavy flavors of my favorite Tex-Mex classic.
My experience speaks even more to Sins’ description of the human desire to find home and comfort in food because, unlike Sins, I do not even have family recipes or cooking memories in which to anchor my comfort in eating. Neither of my parents is Hispanic nor great at cooking, but whether they were popping open a fresh jar of salsa or picking up tamales from a farmer’s market, these foods were simply always around for both big and small moments.
Because I won’t have one passed down to me, and with the full knowledge that I could be setting myself up for the same grief Sins experienced, I would like to start my own handwritten recipe collection with the following one for cheese enchiladas, adapted from Lisa Fain’s blog Homesick Texan. I’ll be ready for whatever “disaster” strikes next, corn tortillas and shredded cheese in hand.
Ingredients (for 8 servings)
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon black pepper
2 teaspoons kosher salt
2 teaspoons powdered garlic
4 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon dried oregano
3.5 tablespoons chili powder
4 cups of water
1/2 cup vegetable oil
16 corn tortillas
6 cups shredded cheddar cheese
2 medium onions, diced
2 tablespoons of cilantro
1. Heat the oil in a skillet over medium-high heat.
2. Stir in the flour and continue stirring for 3 to 4 minutes, or until it makes a light brown roux.
3. Add the black pepper, salt, powdered garlic, ground cumin, dried oregano and chili powder and continue to cook for 1 minute, constantly stirring and blending ingredients.
4. Add water, mixing and stirring until the sauce thickens. Turn heat to low and let sauce simmer uncovered for 15 minutes. Add water or flour to adjust thickness.
Preheat the oven to 450 and grease a large baking dish.
1. Pour the oil in a small skillet. Place each tortilla in the skillet, one at a time, flipping after about 5 seconds on each side. Stack on a paper towel lined plate until all 16 are heated. Replenish oil as necessary.
2.Take a tortilla, put 1/4 cup of cheese and 1 tablespoon of onion in the center and roll tightly
3. Place rolled tortilla in baking dish, seam side down. Continue with remaining tortillas.
4. Pour enchilada sauce over rolled tortillas and into the pan. Sprinkle remaining cheese, onions, and cilantro on top.
5. Bake for 10-15 minutes or until sauce is bubbly and cheese is melted.
––By Taylor Sheeran