The baby is in a chair, gnawing on a rubber giraffe, and the toddler is, with my reluctant approval, watching tv on my laptop. She laughs out loud and talks back to Diego, Dora’s cousin, so at least it’s not a totally passive experience, and she is learning about tapirs so it seems okay, but whenever she watches tv I try to finish cooking quickly so I can pry her away from her shows and do something else. Sometimes she cooks with me, which has a focusing effect; when I have to explain what I’m doing, I tend to apply logic and make better decisions. But for now I’m fueled by a low-level tension as I wait for the baby to become restless and cry to be breastfed for half an hour as things burn (or sit half-cooked on cooling pans) while the toddler gradually de-animates in front of the computer. After more than 20 minutes, her pupils dilate and she can’t respond to questions or tear herself away from the show without sobbing.
So, maybe… tacos? Sure. Burritos? Generally speaking, the same things go into either, right? So I roast zucchini, carrots, and peppers; sauté onions and then add black beans, attempt to season them (basically just cumin and anything reddish in the spice rack) and salsa, and brown some beef. The beef comes in a little square package that says it used to be an Angus cow that ate grass. I will never be comfortable handling raw meat. I have to break up the meat with a spoon, and I use a somewhat aged and fibrous wooden spoon, which just seems like a meat-juice sponge. A blood sponge that is supposed to go back in the canister with all the other tools after this weeknight shitshow. Gross! How does one effectively clean a wooden spoon after using it to jab at a block of meat? You never use a wooden cutting block for meat, so why a wooden spoon? Well, because our other spoons are stiff plastic, and don’t seem up to the task. The other option is a metal spatula with a fleur-de-lis cutout in its center, which would make me feel like it’s 1972 and I’m about to get jacked up on protein before going to a key party. The browning meat seems really greasy, and I think about a poem I just read, written by a poet I know who lives in San Antonio, about the “brown, greasy meats” served to her children by her nanny who is of Mexican descent, and how she and her nanny can’t communicate well, despite the fact that each is bilingual and my friend’s effort to declare their equality and her desire to get the nanny on board with healthier cuisine for the kids. The phrase “her brown, greasy meats” just keeps swirling around as I push at the beef with the spoon that I now will have to cremate after dinner.
I cut up a tomato and some avocados and put them in bowls, alongside bowls of shredded Monterey Jack cheese, sour cream, and chopped lettuce. Eh, toppings. Once I start assembling a row of small bowls, an overwhelming sense of incipient disaster fills the kitchen. In my experience, the more stuff in cereal bowls on the table, the more real the stink of failure becomes. Little cartoon squiggly lines of stank rise up from each bowl. The baby is now fussing, so I strap him to me in a Baby Bjorn and my core temperature rises 800%. I am holding a large serrated knife, right near this baby, and while I have never (surprisingly) sliced my own midsection while cooking, I start trying to slice things from 2 feet away so the knife stays clear of the baby. I consider getting a pole cutter for the kitchen. I chop up some jalapenos. Each additional bowl of sprinkle-able something-or-other exponentially raises the desperation factor. The baby starts banging his head against my chest. This is excellent for focus.
Once the vegetables are roasted, I find myself needing to decide – where’s it all going, tacos or burritos? I decide on tacos. But we have smallish tortillas and all this stuff is going to fall out of the tacos, so I should maybe make the beans into refried beans and use them as glue to hold all the toppings and “her greasy meats” together. Sure! I haul out the blender, and put in it all of the seasoned beans and roasted vegetables. I blend. I blend too much. The baby hates the noise. I remember too late that you’re supposed to just blend some of the beans so the texture is not, say, like a barely-held-together bowel movement.
I have to use a spatula to get the beans into a bowl. Yet another goddamned cereal bowl with stuff in it. Some of the bean mixture falls on the baby’s head, because the baby is still in the Baby Bjorn. The stuff is thankfully not hot, and is dark brown, smooth like that extra creamy hummus you can buy that always falls off the cracker and down your shirt, and is generally revolting. I hate it when adults (or children, for that matter) use the word “poo.” “Poop” is acceptable, because the final “p” just puts and end to it. “Poo” is just too much, in the same way that someone describing in great detail how and why their last orgasm was so great is just too much. Good for you! But stop making me imagine your partner there on the floor. Next time we hang out, I will picture your partner naked and laboring to delight you. A little bit sweaty, also a new click in the jaw. But these beans, or this product that was once beans, lovely vegetables, and other totally reasonable ingredients for black beans, are what the word “poo” was invented to signify. I mean other than actual shit from an animal or human. The smooth bean product is sitting there in the bowl with a horrifying bouffant and a sharp little tip where it finally released itself from the spatula. If a coiled snake were sitting in the bowl it would be less menacing. Once we are all sitting at the table, I keep glancing at it and breaking into horrified giggles. My husband cannot understand what it is. “Beans? Why do they look like that? What did you do to them?” After I protest that they are full of vegetables that you can’t see, he tells me they look like a horror food from the future.
And thus we suffer through tacos.