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I want to tell you about a dinner we made recently, but I’m not sure of the words I want to use.
We made a giant batch of fresh salsa with corn, a rainbow of heirloom tomatoes, a medley of sweet and hot peppers, showers of cilantro, and a couple of fresh-squeezed limes. We browned some ground beef with cumin and smoked paprika and oregano and chile powder. We made a roux, becomes a béchamel, becomes a mornay with grass-fed smoked cheddar. We nestled a bed of organic blue corn tortilla chips into big pasta bowls, topped them with ground beef, smothered it all with mornay, and piled it high with corn salsa.
We made nachos.
It got me thinking about the difference between “mornay” and “nacho cheese”. Leaving aside that a mornay is typically made with gruyere, while nachos are, uh, rarely made with gruyere, there’s not much difference in the reality — but it sure sounds like a big difference in my head.
The process is identical — whisk together some butter and flour; add some milk; stir in some shredded cheese. And yet somehow “make a roux” often sounds intimidating, and “mornay” sure doesn’t sound like something you put on nachos.
I don’t have a real point — I like thinking about words and discursive formations and connotations and how I think “mornay” sounds fancier than “nacho cheese” and maybe that says something about society, but also that I am the one who thinks it sounds fancier, and so is it really saying something about me? And I like this sentence, from the Wikipedia page on “Discourse”: “Foucault traces the role of discourse in the legitimation of society’s power to construct contemporary truths, to maintain said truths, and to determine what relations of power exist among the constructed truths…”
A truth for me is that my favorite foods are those that blur the line between aspirational (which often means associated with those in power) and comforting (which often means those associated with those not in power). Also, foods that involve cheese.
So maybe my point is this — this is the season to make yourself some aspirational and deeply comforting nachos, with the best bounty of summer. Nachos — both in the making and in the eating — are best with a partner, so grab your sweetie or make a date with a friend or roommate and get on it.
The night before, plan on some kind of dinner on the grill. Throw on a few ears of corn and some peppers (the New Mexico green chiles are great for this) while you’re grilling whatever it is you’re grilling, then just throw them in the fridge so they’ll be ready for you the next night (or a couple of days later, or whatever).
On nacho night, work together to chop the tomatoes and peppers and cut the corn off the cob. Tailor the spice level to your shared preferences, or keep a little pile of finely diced jalapeno (or thin rings!) off to the side if one of you wants it hotter. Don’t forget the lime juice or the cilantro. When you’re nearly done with the chopping, one of you can peel off to start cooking the meat. Don’t be shy with the seasoning, or with the salt. When the salsa’s done and the meat is beginning to brown, get started on the mornay — er, nacho cheese. One person makes the base while the other grates the cheese. When it’s nearly all incorporated, the grater (the person, not the tool) can start assembling. Plate it (bowl it?) in this order — chips, meat, cheese, SALSA.
Grab the bag of chips, take your bowls to the living room and eat it while watching some kind of silly indulgence of a movie — you know, something cheesy.
Follow it up with watermelon slices. Nachos are heavy — watermelon is the perfect finish.
Take your slices outside. Be barefoot. Wriggle your toes while you sit on the edge of the porch or the front stoop and enjoy the way the heavy heat of the day is beginning to fade; how you can start to feel fall creeping into the evenings even though it was 90 degrees while the sun was up. Maybe giggle a little at the watermelon juice running down your fingers. Maybe slurp it up. Maybe bask in how good life can be.
P.S. Watermelon. Speaking of aspirations. For five summers in a row I have thought, “I want to buy a bin of watermelon!” That’s 500ish pounds, rolled in on a pallet. But it was never quiiiite clear that we would be able to sell that much watermelon and, at the market, it was pretty clear that we’d have nowhere to put a bin. We just kept buying it by the case, 35-40 pounds per. Until now! Tomorrow afternoon, our very own bin of red seedless watermelon will arrive. We’ve got the space! We’ve been selling 400ish pounds a week so far! Buying it by the bin makes it something like 14% cheaper! It’s a weird little dream come true for me — an aspiration, realized. ❤