New Mexico is the land of holy tortillas and terrorist burritos. It makes me proud.
The tortilla story gained international status in the 1970s when Maria Rubio, a woman living in Lake Arthur, NM, was making the flour concoctions in a nice hot skillet. Lo and behold! unto this cast iron an image of the face of Jesus appeared in the seared markings on the lard-filled canvas. News of the miracle spread from person to person until television camera crews and reporters abetted the story’s rise into the national consciousness. Thousands of devoted believers queued around street corners to get a glimpse of this wonder. I bet they’re still coming today. Maria is credited with spawning holy food sightings around the world.
These incidents continue to happen in New Mexico — Jesus on toast, the Virgin Mary outlined in the creases on a pumpkin’s side. We all squint to make out the images on our big-screen televisions (or mine, which is the size of a thumbnail). Though some may scoff, many of us find solace in mystical possibilities.
I’ve always wondered what happens to the holy foods later, like, in six months. It’d probably be disrespectful to tell people about that moldy image of Buddha I found the other day on my tofu.
Now for another international tortilla story. This one descends from the heady realm of spirit to the base reality of paranoia. Still, you’ve gotta laugh.
A few years ago, a kid at Marshall Middle School in Clovis, NM, took a class in marketing. For his final project, he decided to make a giant burrito (don’t ask). He got a 30-inch tortilla to house the filling of meat, cheese, lettuce and jalapenos. Well, have you ever tried to keep something this big warm? After much deliberation, he opted to wrap it in tin foil.
On his way to school, he passed many people. Only one was sufficiently flippy about the world and violence in schools to call the police when she saw the large, oblong silver object in the kid’s arms.
Flash forward to a school in total lockdown, all the students gathered in the gymnasium. Anguished parents form a tight circle of fear at the perimeter of the grounds. The principal addresses her charges — trying to stay calm, to instill courage — but her voice trembles in spite of her efforts.
Imagine the moment when the kid, a normal middle schooler — the kind that goes to church with his parents and drinks too much soda pop — realizes that his principal is talking about his burrito. It’s a marvelous image. I can see his pimply face redden, his shocked eyes widen, and his mouth open the smallest bit. Just lovely.
I wish I could’ve made this up.
Both of these stories make me happy for different reasons. I share them with you today as a kind of cheerful present that honors food. After all, most of us will be eating more than usual as we sit down with family and friends. I’ll be at my in-laws’ house; they celebrate Christmas and we celebrate them. Our feast will include tamales (yes, Mike, I love ’em too!), roasted pheasant (personally, shot by my FIL), German stollen and French bread. I hope there isn’t too much buckshot in the birds; last year, I nearly lost a tooth eating the quail . . .
Whatever you do this Christmas — go to church, open presents, dine at a good Chinese restaurant — I hope it’s filled with pleasure.
My best wishes to you all.