The Five Tacos

My son hit me up with a question yesterday morning that kinda threw me.

Halfway through his pancakes he looked up and said "Dad . . . what's for dinner?"

The reason it threw me is two-fold. One, he's never asked me about a meal ahead of time, though he is very quick to criticize the meal that is being served, and two, as my dad will remember, I used to ask that question of him almost every morning.

It's possible some of my genetic code is finally creeping in.

I don't know why I was so concerned about the evening menu before I'd finished my bagel.

I don't remember ever having much part in the final decision making. But I do remember asking the question.

Just about every day.

My answer was a lame one:

"I don't know . . . something with ground beef."

It had been grilled chicken the night before, and grilled salmon the night before that, so to even everything out, this night was either going to be pork roast . . . or ground beef. And I'd already gotten the meat out of the freezer.

He didn't respond . . . or I couldn't hear his quiet little murmur . . . but the silence hung for a while until it was finally broken by my wife's suggestion that we have tacos.

That was a pretty good suggestion. We hadn't had tacos in a long time.

We used to have tacos a lot. Almost once a week.

Like, my favorite step-son story is one night when we were having tacos I cut up a bunch of carrot sticks and put them in the center of the table.

His jaw dropped and he looked angry and confused.

"What're these?" he screamed.

"Vegetables." I said.


I never made vegetables on taco night again.

But the point being . . . we used to have a taco night.

We don't anymore.

I don't know why . . . everybody loves tacos . . . and they're easy make . . . and they're so good.

The problem with tacos, aside from always having two or three shells left over that get stale, is a problem of quantity.

Proportion is a big thing to me.

No one is allowed to go hungry . . . no one is allowed to throw away food.

It's a creation of my own sense of Zen.

There are two foods that I can never quite get proportions correct. The first, obviously, is pasta.

No one but my mother-in-law knows how to correctly distribute pasta. I'm okay with that now. There are great mysteries in life that are much better if they're not explained.

But I should be able to successfully negotiate the amount of tacos for three people.

Let us start with the basics: What makes a taco?

Meat: Of which I've already proportioned 1.25lbs. Which seems to be the perfect ratio for all ground beef dishes (hamburgers, meat-balls, burrito-bowls etc.) If there is any left over, it goes straight into the eggs the next morning.

Cheese: Extra sharp cheddar in block form. The pre-shredded stuff, well I know a lot of people who swear by it, but I think it tastes like nothing, and if it tastes like nothing, why put it on stuff.

Color I guess.

Lettuce: Romaine or Ice burg. No fancy schmancy substitutes as we will later learn.

Extras: Onions, tomatoes, salsa, guacamole, sour cream, hot sauce, for this particular night I quickly pickled up some jalapeños.

It's a recipe I made up myself: 3/4 cup water, 1/4 White Vinegar, tbsp salt, tbsp sugar, a clove of garlic, 2-3 large jalapeños sliced up. Boil the water, vinegar, salt, sugar, and garlic. Add the jalapeño slices, cooked until the bright green becomes a muted olive color.


You've got freshly pickled jalapeños in about ten minutes.

I call it: Quickled Jalapeños.

Patent pending.

And they're balls out ten times better than the stuff you get at the supermarket.

Okay . . . last but not least . . . the shells.

The purist will tell you to get corn tortillas, fry em with oil, add the bend in the last minute.

The super ultra-orthodox purists will also insist on making your own tortillas.

I haven't had a full time job in 18 months, and I still don't have that kinda time.

Pre-made shells are the way to go.

Each box comes in a pack of 12 shells. If there are three of you that means each of you gets four tacos. Or if one of you is nine, who will not be able to eat more than two, then he gets two and the rest of you split the other ten.

That's five tacos each.

But tacos aren't like hot dogs. There are no quantitative rules of consumption.

With hotdogs, one is never enough, and two is too much. This is why people get married. To have another person eat that extra half a hotdog.

It's in Leviticus.

But tacos change from night to night, day to day, year after year, drive thru to drive thru. Like, I could put ten Taco Bell tacos down in less than a quarter of an hour and still wish I'd ordered that extra thing of nachos.

That's not too gross. A taco bell taco is 156 calories, so ten of them doesn't even meet my 2,000 needs.

But at a fancy restaurant, I can usually gobble down three. There's rice and beans to think about.

Homemade tacos are another animal.

You can't precisely prep, but you can maintain a certain buffet style flexibility, and then you have to track your progress throughout the meal.

The First Taco:
This one you inhale. Two bites, all gone. You don't feel any different, in fact now that the salt has hit your lips, you're slightly more hungry than you were before.

The Second Taco:
This one you don't actually inhale, and this is where the cheese is starting to melt and the heat from the jalapeños are kicking in and you've kicked out your elbows and are ready to dig in.

The Third Taco:
This is the gourmet taco. This is the one you've prepped with all the trimmings. This is the one you take your time with. You chew around the edges to get all of the different combination of flavors, your hunger starts to feel satiated and you feel more like a delicate consumer rather than a trash compactor.

When you're finished with the third taco, it's time to take stock. How much of each of the ingredients are left? Do you need to shred more cheese? Do you need to cut more lettuce?

In this particular case, I . . . for whatever reason . . . thought that the purple leafed romaine would be just fine. After months of eating kale, everything else is so tasteless, but I was plainly informed that it tasted funny and my son was loathe to take another bite. Thank goodness the lettuce was on top and it was an easy fix.

So we don't need any more lettuce.

The Fourth Taco:
The question here is . . . will there be a Fifth Taco? If the answer is yes, then you have to restrain yourself from loading up everything into the shell. If the answer is no, it's time to squeeze that processed shell to near the breaking point. Do not let the shredded cheese or the Quickled Jalapeños go to waste.

Patent pending.

Also . . . do not ask your life partner which taco they are on.

The answer will only make you feel disgusted with them or disgusted with yourself.

The Fifth Taco:
There really shouldn't ever be a Fifth Taco. It's not healthy. It's probably not even all that sanitary since you've been eating with your hands. And you're not really hungry anymore.

I mean, you're kinda hungry, like after an entire bottle of wine you're kinda sober, but you really shouldn't be driving anywhere.

And because your gluttony has sorta grossed you out already, you're gonna feel some pressure to inhale the Fifth Taco like you inhaled the First one.

You know what . . . don't.

Chill out. Take a sip of beer and make eye contact with the rest of your family.


You might not even feel all that obligated to finish it. And if you don't wanna . . . then don't . . . you won't be breaking any rules.

And if you do finish it . . . good for you . . . celebrate by taking a nice walk around the neighborhood.

Check the mail.

Do some deep knee bends.

Post Script: Last night I didn't go for the Fifth Taco. I hit a perfect equilibrium halfway through the Fourth and reminded myself that there is just enough meat, shell, and lettuce left for a nice taco salad which I will be eating for lunch today.

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