Friday, August 20, 2010


My mother and her boyfriend, Charley, went to Colorado for a long-weekend hiking trip and when they returned, they brought me a bundle of dried chiles. I hung them on a vacant nail above the kitchen archway, one that had been hammered in place by the last tenant and not quite in the right spot. As a result, they dangle a bit awkwardly—half above and half below the wood, a blip in the peripheral vision, like mistletoe.

Matt doesn’t want me to use them to cook because, bright red and just a bit wrinkled, they are beautiful against the faded green of the wall. But I can think of little else I need when dinnertime rolls around. I sneaked one into a quick ginger-beef stir-fry. I sliced one to add to a sweet-and-sour marinade for pork. Tonight I’m making enchiladas and, well, you know. These chiles are intense and spicy, not for those with sensitive palettes. I love their not-so-subtle kick.

I am looking at the bundle of them now. They remind me of when I was small and my family took a trip to New Mexico during one summer vacation. There, we stayed in a small house with an adobe roof and sandy walls. I remember the burnished shades of orange and gold on the carpet in my bedroom. I remember the dry heat of the desert sun and the sharp prick on the soft flesh of my palm when I grabbed a cactus with my bare hands. I remember returning to Boston with the same kind of string of chiles, which my father hung in the archway between the kitchen and living room of my childhood home. I wasn’t interested in cooking then. I didn’t pay much attention as they slowly dried and then crumbled.

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