Archive for September, 2018

Chicken Tinga Tacos and Deep Feelings After Nine Years

Every September the feelings return, the deep missing and longing, the hollow aching hurt of sorrow. In less then two weeks it will be nine years since I lost my mother. She always marked anniversaries and the next year by jumping ahead so she would be saying that in a few weeks we will be working on a decade without her. And this year as the feelings took me by surprise I remembered the calendar and how easily I could be brought back to that night almost nine years ago. To the night that stands like a dividing line between one life and next, like the continental divide imperceptible to the naked eye but where to one side the waters run in one direction and on the other side they run the exact opposite course. It is hard to explain how much can be lost so fast, because certainly to anyone who has yet to lose an integral figure the feeling cannot be conveyed, its a deep vacuum that consumes the certainty from the world, a certainty you never knew you existed with until the existence is gone and can never be replaced. You learn to live without that certainty without the comfort you once took for granted but sometimes you remember what was lost and the bone deep ache for that person and the life they lived with you returns. As the years go by I am stronger when these feelings arise but I am always humbled by how much the deep longing can still exist.

Later this month my sister, Anne, and I will be taking a writing retreat in the mountains of Santa Cruz with two of our favorite authors. And so this September as the feelings are there they are mixed with anticipation and also a deep sense of memory of what that lost life once was like. A few years ago I joked to my sister that I thought we were raised Jewish-Mexican. We were culturally Jewish lighting the Chanukah candles while frying latkes and dipping the bitter herbs in salt water each Passover, and living in the Mission then a predominately Mexican neighborhood with burritos and tacos from 24th Street being our most common meal. When we were sick our mother would either make us matzo ball soup, bring home whatever left over soup was at Martins, or more often run to the taqueria across the street for a pint of Tortilla soup. I can remember the comfort of countless Friday’s eating burritos while watching a movie sitting at my mothers side on our well worn blue couch while the 27 Bryant passed the window outside.

Food can transport us, can comfort us, can express who we are or would like to be. Mexican food is by far the thing I miss the most not living in California (ok my family, but the tacos are a very close second and far less complicated). When I found this recipe for Chicken Tinga Tacos I jumped at the chance to make them. They are not the most traditional but something about them felt like home to me, they tasted like those Friday nights with my mother on a blue couch. They felt like a comforting whisper of a life that has passed but never left me.

These tacos are so easy to make (even easier when you use a store bought rotisserie chicken) and I like mine slathered in a Mexican style coleslaw, something about the hot cold drippy mess makes them feel even more like home to me. These tacos are the thing food should be transportive to another place, another time, deeply imbued with a feeling. A feeling that lasts well past 9 years and I am pretty sure will last the rest of my life.

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 cup roughly chopped onion
2 cloves garlic minced
1-2 chipotle peppers in adobo sauce chopped
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
3/4 cup canned crushed fire-roasted tomatoes
1/4 cup chicken stock
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 cups shredded cooked chicken (rotisserie chicken works great!)
12 corn tortillas for serving 
1 avocado for serving
My Mexican Coleslaw:
1 small head of cabbage shredded or narrowly sliced
1 shallot minced
1/2 cup of cilantro chopped
1-2 pickled jalapeños finely chopped (more or less to taste)
1/2 cup vegenaise (or mayonnaise or sour cream)
Juice of lime
  • Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and saute until translucent. 
  • Add in the garlic and stir for 30 seconds. Stir in the chipotles, oregano, and cumin, and toast for a minute. 
  • Add in the tomatoes, stock and salt. Bring to a simmer and cook for 7 minutes. 
  • Place the tomato mixture in a blender and blend until smooth. 
  • Return the sauce to the pan over low heat. Add the chicken and cook for 5 minutes together. Taste and add more salt if necessary. 
  • For the coleslaw, combine the vegenaise and lime to make the dressing. 
  • Add the cabbage, shallot, cilantro, and jalapeño to dressing. Taste for salt and pepper and add as necessary. 
  • To assemble the tacos warm the tortillas (either in a microwave or wrapped in a low oven). Take a slice of avocado and mash onto the bottom of each tortilla, add chicken on top of avocado, add coleslaw on top of chicken. 
  • Wrap and eat and be messy and happy with each bite. 


09 2018