I was just making myself a bagel and for some odd reason was transformed back 20+ years to when I was in college, living in the dorm, and I lived off vending-machine bagels. Down in the lobby they had a bank of vending machines and a microwave (one of those large, dangerous ones that always over- or undercooked things). And in the middle of the night when I was supposed to be studying, I would go down and get one of those bagels from the refrigerated vending machine and nuke it and then eat it. And it was a very long time before I realized that bagels were NOT supposed to be rubbery and the cream cheese was NOT supposed to burn the flesh off the roof of my mouth. It was how I learned to eat them, and every once in a while I get a strange craving for that weird food that gave me some semblance of balance in my overwrought days as an undergrad.
And then my mind flashed to another comfort food I have, one that makes my husband crazy. My mother made a lot of tacos as we were growing up. We had taco night if not every week, very close to it. My mother bought the corn tortillas and fried them in oil on the stove and we loaded them up with hamburger browned with onion and chili powder, lettuce (iceburg, of course), and gobs and gobs of cheese. The adults had tomato and onion, probably, but we kids ate them with just the lettuce and cheese and … ketchup.
My mother hated that we put ketchup on it, and continued to do so well into our twenties. She always offered salsa; we always took the ketchup. And guess what? I still do.
When I make my mama’s tacos, I put ketchup on them even now, because it is not the taste of authentic tacos I’m looking for when I make them now–it is pure, unadulterated comfort and love. As I said, my husband shakes his head whenever I do it, and I try to appease him by having at least one taco with salsa on it and being the adult he thinks he married.
I don’t ask for ketchup when we go to a Mexican restaurant. I don’t put it on my enchilada pie or in a burrito.
But on those tacos? Well, it makes me feel like a kid again, safely ensconced in a family with weird habits and rituals. It makes me feel safe, and whole, and loved. And, much to my husband’s chagrin, I’m passing this weird habit on to my girls. I only hope they feel the same, in 20 or 30 years, when they pop the top on the ketchup while their spouses look on in disdain.