Monday, June 18, 2007


We have a pile of green and yellow chilies in the fridge. A couple of them are poblanos from our garden. The rest are from the CSA farm; I'm not sure what they're called but they're the ones used for pepperoncini.

We also got a small bunch of sage in our CSA box, and I wasn't feeling inspired to do anything with it. I think of sage as a fall or winter herb, I guess because of sage dressing on Thanksgiving. But I was making myself a quesadilla for lunch and I was pulling out a couple of the chilies, saw the sage lying there on the shelf and pulled it out too.

I sliced the peppers and sauteed them quickly in olive oil, salt and pepper, with some of the sage, chopped. Then I threw a tortilla in the pan with the little bit of oil left, covered it with grated Jack cheese and the chilies and sage, and cooked it on both sides until it was slightly brown and crispy. I added a little Tabasco sauce before I ate it. It sure was good! Combining the sage with the chilies brought out the smoky quality of the sage.

My first boyfriend Eduardo, who was Mexican, used to make quesadillas for breakfast. I can still hear him saying it, pronouncing the "d" almost like "th." He made them with cheddar cheese and topped them with sour cream and salsa from a jar.

This was in 1983, when we lived together in an apartment on 11th St. and Avenue C in New York. One morning, shortly after I moved in, he told me to make sure I emptied out the kitchen drain trap after I washed dishes because the bits of food left there were attracting roaches. That bit of kitchen advice felt ominous to me, the first sign of discord in a summer romance that continued through a long, silent winter.

Our breakup was bad -- epic bad: he was the Latin one, but I, the shy kid from Indiana, was the one smashing glassware and kicking holes in the bedroom door. I learned things about my temper that I am grateful to have learned early and grateful didn't get me killed.

Very soon after the Eduardo episode, I got a job waiting tables at Bandido!, a new Mexican restaurant on 2nd Ave. It was a trendy place, one of the first 2nd Avenue restaurants with outdoor seating. Standard Tex-Mex food and frozen margaritas with plastic monkeys and mermaids hanging from the edge of the glass, back when that was a new thing. First there was Caliente Cab Co. in the West Village and then came Bandido! in the East.

I worked the day shift. I think the manager who hired me, hired me because he thought I was cute. It wasn't because I was a good waiter. He was cute too. (A few years later, my second boyfriend and I had an awkward 3-way with him, a night which mostly consisted of three guys making small talk and waiting for someone else to get things rolling.)

The daytime manager was a blond Midwestern girl who had grown up in Mexico and spoke perfect Mexican Spanish to the kitchen staff. I remember that she was impressed with my pronunciation of "quesadilla," and after she pointed it out I became self-conscious about it. I'd learned the word from Eduardo, and it still sounds strange when I hear it pronounced with a hard "d."

The quesadillas we served at Bandido! were not much like Eduardo's quesadillas. They were made with oversized tortillas folded in half, stuffed to the gills with cheese, seasoned chicken, and cilantro, and topped with guacamole and sour cream.

The owner of Bandido! was Russian and drank vodka like Texans drink iced tea in the summer time.

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