Hot tamale!

All that's left of the drive-in is this sign.

There’s not much left of it anymore, but growing up we had a drive-in movie theater, the Tonto Drive-In. It classic Winslow-style it was built right next to the train tracks. At least once during every freaking movie screened there (but usually more like two or three times) a train would go past clackety-clack, clackety-clack getting louder and louder making it impossible to hear the scratchy audio from the drive-in speakers hanging in the car window. You would be forced to read lips for the several minutes it took the train to pass. One night Jan was headed for the low cinder-block concession stand located in the middle of the red dirt parking lot. “Anybody want anything?” she said.
“Yeah,” said Tom, “I’ll take some hot tamales.”
Jan went to the concession stand, then came back handing Tom two foil-wrapped bundles.
“What’s this?” said Tom.
“It’s tamales. I didn’t know what kind you wanted so I got a green and a red.”
He started laughing, “What? I meant the candy!”
Jan laughed too. “You want me to take them back?”
“No,” said Tom “I’ll eat them.”
Only in Winslow could someone go to a drive-in movie concession and come back with actual, homemade, steaming hot tamales.

BBQ Sauce and Grape Weenies

We spent New Year’s Eve with my Uncle Tom, his family, my dad and my Aunt Jan.  Tom and I have always been close; we’re only seven years apart. He was the youngest of my Grandma’s children and I was the oldest grandchild,  so at times growing up, he and I were more like brother and sister.

This New Years Eve, Tom had a crock-pot set up in one corner of his kitchen.  Inside was a concoction of miniature sausage weenies marinating in a mélange of four bottled barbecue sauces (the dregs retrieved from a recent fridge cleaning exercise) and – get this – grape jelly. “Well, my god, that is disgusting!” I told him.  He grinned and giggled because – I think – he knows I’m right.

Now just so you don’t misunderstand me – Tom has a very good job working for a Major League Baseball team.  It is not a lack of options that has led him to this very disgusting sounding appetizer.

Tom and I suffered through all the same meals and culinary trends served to us by his mother and mine. We come from a family that proudly re-used empty margarine tubs as serving dishes, where my favorite dinner request was Ritz cracker and sour cream chicken.  It’s exactly what it sounds like. Chicken breasts dredged in sour cream and rolled in crushed Ritz crackers and baked in butter.   At Grandma Thelma’s  house and my mothers’ we ate many a salad where mayonnaise and jello were featured ingredients.

I’ve watched Tom stuff 3 and 4 whole fish sticks in his mouth at a time to try and get me to laugh. He used to tease me mercilessly about my picky eating habits famously declaring, “It takes you ten bites to eat an M&M!” This was lovingly shorted to just, 10 bites to an M&M, and repeated ad nauseum — meanwhile he would mime and mimic my careful examination of every bite of food for offending bits of fat or onions or green stuff or whatever.

Being older, he’s often had the upper hand.  Whenever I whoop him at something I take extra glee in it, whether it is a card game or Monopoly, because he’s so often come out the victor.

Food is meant to bring us together.  There is the community of the table and the culinary heritage we share with our family. And, sometimes food is meant to be daring or challenging.  This dish challenged me in a whole different way – it was dare food. As in, I dare you to eat it.

Anyway, on New Years we didn’t do much – made popcorn, played a few rounds of gin rummy, drank some wine, laughed at the kids and their friends who drifted in and out of the kitchen.  Mostly we just talked.

I am one year into doing the thing I said I would never do which is move to Phoenix, AZ. The decision to be here was not an easy one. Frankly I wasn’t sure what we would find here, but I knew this is where my family was.

But something about the fact that Tom made those damn cocktail weenies in BBQ sauce and grape jelly really touched me.  Like, it means that the Tom I knew when I was 8 years old is not lost to me.  Like, I know he made them for us because we are family, which means we can let it all hang-out.  And eat grape weenies if we want to.