If you’re planning an extended road trip, it’s inevitable that a major holiday or other important family occasion will collide with your itinerary. At some point, you’ll have to decide whether or not to interrupt your dream with a trip back to reality.
When planning our own journey, I knew that Christmastime would present a huge dilemma. My Mexican family is big on Christmas . . . really big. Each year, dozens of relatives gather at my Mom or sister’s place each year for the big party on Christmas Eve. We gorge ourselves on Mom’s homemade tamales, empty the liquor cabinet, and wait for Santa to finish pounding shots so he can make his midnight appearance for the kids.
Last year Jim and I missed my family’s party, because Jerry had just had his leg amputated. This year, we had to decide; should we find a way to get back to L.A. to be with my family? Or ignore the holidays and keep traveling along?
We Interrupt this Road Trip for a Holiday . . .
It was a hard decision. Going to L.A. would have been like dragging ourselves out of this road trip dream, and into a harsh reality of the urban jungle I used to call home. But even if we wanted to, leaving our RV somewhere and taking a flight home, like our friends Sara and Matt, was out of the question, since we won’t subject Jerry to a plane ride.
So Jim and I opted to stay on the family shit list, and miss out on Christmas again. We were gonna ride out the holiday season in our RV, and keep this summer vacation feeling alive. Screw reality!
But Christmas is everywhere, even in sunny Florida, and despite our best efforts, we couldn’t escape it.
Then, last week as we watched the town of Vero Beach get ready for the holidays, I really began missing my family. Despite the consumer gluttony that I hate so much, I couldn’t help but think of all of the beautiful aspects of this time of year. Families like mine come together, generations-old recipes get made, and the passing of another year gets acknowledged as relatives and friends gather at the dinner table.
My Merry Little Bowl of Mexican Menudo
I started to feel homesick. This holiday was going to happen whether I liked it or not.
To make myself feel better, I set out to find some truly authentic Mexican holiday food. At this time of year, you’ll find a lot of Latino families like mine that take the time to make two laborious, seasonal dishes; tamales for Christmas, and menudo on New Year’s Day.
Despite the bad Mexican food experience we had recently, I knew that with all of the migrant workers around here, there had to be someone serving authentic food. Even a roach coach would do! Jim and I headed for the brown side of town, and ended up at a small taqueria at Vero’s city limits.
We walked in, and I realized that we were the only ones in the restaurant who weren’t speaking Spanish. I knew we were in the right place. Then I looked at the menu and saw that they offered Menudo on the weekend. That was a good sign, so feeling adventurous, I ordered some.
Menudo is a traditional Mexican stew made with chiles, beef tripe and hominy corn. Yes, tripe. Disgusting I know. But if it’s done right, and the meat is cleaned exceptionally well, it’s one of the best Mexican dishes around. How do you know if it’s done right? Look at it, and smell it. If it’s not greasy and has a deep red, rich chile aroma, it’s good stuff. But if it has a layer of scum on top, and smells like a dirty toilet bowl, then skip it.
Menudo is an aquired taste that Mexicans know well. I know, it isn’t exactly vegetarian, but I was raised on the stuff, and every now and then, I’ve gotta have a fix. Bit by bit, I’ll pick out the meat, and just eat the hominy corn and broth. I surrender to the fact that it’s the cow guts that give it the unique, delicious flavor.
The taqueria had it down. The broth was spicy and rich, and garnished with red pepper flakes, oregano and limes (which, my Mom says, are really Mexican; in the states, Menudo is typically served with lemon wedges, but in Mexico, limes are used).
Next Year, We’ll Do It Differently
That little bowl of tripe soup gave me the comfort I’d been looking for, but in the end, it made me more homesick than ever. After all, there’s nothing like Mom’s homemade cooking, and once again this Christmas, I missed out. Next year, we’ll do it differently, and find a way to get there.