I take a lot of flak from some members of my family (husband) for not being able to eat jalapeños and other spicy foods. What kind of Mexican are you? they say. Well, the Tex-Mex kind that doesn’t eat hot, mouth-burning foods.
I grew up seeing five-alarm dishes being served to my dad by my mother. In fact, it was my chore to grind the chiles in the molcajete that went into those five-alarm dishes. There was a chile piquin bush growing right by our kitchen door. All my mother had to do was open the screen door, reach out and pull some colorful, pea-sized chiles from it, which she then dumped into the rest of the spices I was grinding.
I remember it made me cry. The aroma, the steam, the fumes coming off those seemingly innocent tiny orange and red chiles. They might have been benign looking but they were not benign at all. For their size, they packed a powerful punch. I don’t know how my dad could eat them, but he seemed to relish anything spicy. As did my mom.
I did try breaded jalapeño peppers once when I visited my son in Mississippi. They came as an appetizer, cut crosswise, breaded, and fried. “They’re good, Mom,” he said, popping one after another into his mouth. I looked at him amazed. He doesn’t eat hot foods, either.
The second time we went to that same restaurant I caved and tried one, after making sure I had a tall glass of water handy. Was I surprised; they were good! And not the least spicy. Whatever they did to them in preparation, they became, in a sense, emasculated. They lost their sting. Or their stinger.
Now I read that instead of water, you should drink milk to quash the fire in your mouth. I can’t drink milk; it’s just not appetizing to me. So, all the more reason for me to stay away from the hot stuff.
The mouth-burning effect reminds me of the year I suffered with what my doctor could only call thrush, though we knew it wasn’t. It presented as redness and irritation in the mucous membranes, which translated into a constant fire inside my mouth. We couldn’t figure out what was causing it.
At the time, I was the director of three nursing units (with 24-hour responsibility), had very young children (with 24-hour responsibility), and a husband who traveled constantly. I couldn’t eat; it hurt too much. I lived on ice chips from morning till night. I went down to a hundred pounds. The last time I’d weighed one hundred pounds was when I graduated from nursing school seven years before. I couldn’t eat then because I didn’t have time, between my child, school, and two jobs, who had time to eat?
Of course, with the stress my body was now under, I ended up as a patient in my own hospital. The doctors were perplexed. Asked me all sorts of questions, interrogated me actually. Had I traveled outside the country? No, who had time for vacation?
They looked at me as if I was a puzzle to be solved. After much poking around, they hit upon the reason for my “thrush.” A vitamin B12 deficiency. For some reason, my gut was not absorbing enough of it from my food. Since then, I take a supplement religiously. If I slack off, the burning will start creeping back.
Subconsciously, anything hot and spicy takes me back to that awful year, so I pass. I know that capsaicin, an ingredient found in hot peppers, has some health benefits. For one thing, it will clear your sinuses. Fast. Just try some chips and salsa.
For a while now, I’ve been drinking green tea. Bottled green tea, that is, which I mix half and half with Vitamin Water. I suppose this would be called, in my parlance, half-strength tea. I used to drink straight black tea for the caffeine jolt I needed. I switched to green tea a few years back after reading about its health benefits (improved brain function? bring it). But I always drink it iced.
I cannot tolerate hot tea, thanks to my mother. She didn’t go for any fancy or expensive store-bought medications. When we were sick, she brought out her teas. We hated them so much we would sometimes suffer in silence unless, of course, it was something that was difficult to hide such as diarrhea or vomiting. Those kind of gave you away and along came the tea with a homemade hot pack or two.
I can see her still, walking through our small house holding a steaming cup in front of her, and cradling it in her other palm as if it were precious. She would stand over you while you reclined in bed and waited for you to drink it, no faking that! When we were little, she would sweeten it with some sugar or honey, but once we passed a certain age, we had to down it straight. No more pampering.
It’s hard to say which was her favorite to dole out, but I remember orange leaf tea made with freshly picked orange leaves from the tree in our backyard. She would boil the leaves and then bring us this dark liquid to drink sweetened only with her love and good intentions. And no, she didn’t read the tea leaves left in the pot, at least I don’t think so.
Another was mint tea, made from leaves picked from the mint she grew in a little herb garden in our front yard. That wasn’t so bad, but we rarely got that. It was mostly taken by Mom and Dad. And then the ultimate was manzanilla tea (chamomile), the cure-all and be-all of all teas. If you sneezed, you got manzanilla to drink and it didn’t taste good. She bought the manzanilla in little bunches at the local H-E-B.
Her teas cured our GI upsets, our headache’s, and our general feeling of malestar (discomfort). And the key word is cured. We truly did feel better afterwards, but maybe it was a combination of our trust in her belief that it really would help and the strong desire to avoid drinking any more tea.
She did keep a few aspirins in the house for such things as sore muscles or sprains, but she relied mainly on her home remedies. Even when my brother injured his leg falling from a tree, that he shouldn’t have been climbing in the first place, she tried hot packs and poultices until I noticed a purplish looking lump on his calf and said, “It’s broken.”
At that, they bundled him up and drove him to the hospital. Sure enough, it was a severe enough fracture that he was admitted for several days. But when he got home, cast and all, he had to drink his share of tea. Just punishment, I say.
Though doctors and hospitals were available and accessible for my mother, she considered them a last resort. If we had a raging fever that her teas and home remedies could not touch for a couple of days then it was time for that last resort. Our family doctor was part of a large practice and it didn’t matter if you had an appointment, the wait was interminable. The waiting room was usually standing room only. You had to be really sick to sit, or stand, in that waiting room for half a day, or you had to believe that your child was so sick that you could not help him or her.
I drink my (iced) tea each and every day, and I think of her. Her philosophy of help thyself. Her willingness to use all in her power to make us well and keep us well. She was born in the month of October and I think of her more at this time And, somehow, I have a strong feeling that my mother has been plying the angels with her teas these past eleven years
Needles have factored in my life ever since I was ten years old when I hand sewed clothes for my rescue Barbie. I call her that because that is what she was; my father rescued her on his sanitation department rounds. Picked her right out of someone’s trash and brought her home to me. She was dirtied and naked, but I cleaned her up, and dressed her, and loved her.
I come from a long line of women who sew, by choice or necessity, or both. A lot of my clothes were made by my mother, who made many of her own dresses as well. My much older sister also contributed to my wardrobe by making for me a green plaid skirt that came with attached suspenders. I was surprised because she seemed to always have it out for me, accused me of being the pampered one, once proclaiming that I got to have new shoes, but she only got new soles. Perhaps it had to do with the fact that I was growing and she was grown.
I guess the suspenders were her way of getting even. But if that was her plan, it failed. I liked the skirt and wore it often. Working with needles was ingrained in us, as demonstrated by her choice with which to do battle. Of course, I ended up picking a profession in which needles factored greatly. In days past, I could get an IV into the tiniest and rolliest of veins. It was nothing laudable, just part of my job, just something my limber, strong, young fingers could do.
Today, I am retired from my profession and am an active sewer and quilter. And my fingers are not so limber and stealthy anymore thanks to RA, and the osteoarthritis that comes from wear and tear. But I blame RA more. Always more.
This year, I found myself getting pricked too frequently by the straight pins that I would use to hold piecework together so that the seams and the corners turn out perfectly even as they are sewn. I know my poor fingers weren’t stabbing themselves on purpose, but I got pretty darn tired of it.
I decided to retire the straight pins and switch to these darling little clips. They have almost a death grip and hold the pieces tightly together. But they are a little hard to open if I don’t grasp them just so. And they do pinch me on occasion, but it hurts a lot less than a needle stab. I love them. Not going back to pins unless there is some particular instance why it must be a pin that is used.
The moral of the story is, I suppose, adapt or (hobbies) die.
One of my projects in progress, safety-pinned and ready for quilting. I decided to make myself a scrap quilt using 2-by-2-inch squares out of each of the fabrics I’ve worked with. I reached the size I wanted (just covers the top of my queen-sized bed) without running out of all the fabrics I’ve used for many other projects. But there’s always more scrap quilts to come.
Perhaps I will plan a quilt for my sister. I should incorporate some green plaid fabric, and maybe a shoe print fabric.