The summer between my fourth and fifth grade year, some weird magic took place. Maybe the plates in the ground shifted or some strange wind blew through my neighborhood or bits of wonky fairy dust fell from the sky. What happened that summer remains a mystery to this day. I like to think of it as something out of a Gabriel Garcia Marquez novel, some sort of technicolor blending of the chimerical and the real, but in truth, I know it was nothing that grand.
All I can tell you is this: that summer, I left one world and entered a new one altogether.
Former World: Awkward
New World: Painfully, Mind-Numbingly Awkward.
I console myself with the fact that I never was a shiny, beautiful butterfly of a child, so at least I never had to fall, from huge heights, into awkwardness. Awkward was always in the vicinity, sniffing around my ankles. After all, I was the girl given the childhood moniker ”flamingo legs.”
I also had hair like duck fuzz and a nose that grew up well before I did.
So perhaps I didn’t plummet into the Age of Awkward–more like stumble in. It wasn’t pretty. It began with the boobage, as most journeys into Awkward do, if you are a girl. You wake up one morning, ready to face the day, and Bam! Boobage. It’s like you suddenly have a third foot or something. It’s just there now, a part of you.
I blasted into boobage so fast that it looked like I’d been mauled by a tiger–the streaks on my new (lumpy) territory were alarming. They also radiated a weird heat; I felt like everyone could see what was going on underneath my polo shirt, like I was shooting some sort of pubescent laser out of them.
My legs cramped up in the night because they, too, were growing like gangbusters. I’d wake up abruptly, howl into the dark, and Mama would dole out Tylenol and rub them down with Icy Hot as I sniffled into a Kleenex.
I didn’t know what was going on underneath my arms, and I wasn’t sure I wanted to know, but I sneaked my sister’s razor out of the bathroom and whacked at the foliage with abandon.
What I most remember about that summer is that my body was going haywire, but emotionally, I was still just a ten-year old girl. I cared nothing about boys. I wanted to swim and dive and lose myself in blue chlorine, and play kick-the-can when the sun went down with the ragtag kids at the end of the street.
Every day that summer, my true-blue friend Julie and I walked the few blocks to the pool and spent the entire day there, which was lovely but a little fraught with anxiety when you have emerging boobage, which Julie hadn’t gotten yet.
My solution? Get in the pool and never get out. Julie was stupefied. “Dane? Are you ever going to get out of there? Don’t you just want to sit in the sun for a while?”
No, I didn’t. The 15-minute adult swim at 3:00 was torture enough; I’d get forced out of the pool and hide in my towel, shivering next to Julie, and distract myself with the vending machine goodies. That was the summer of sourballs and sunflower seeds and Paydays.
Julie, bless her, never said anything about the changes that were so obvious to me. To her, I was just her friend, and she still has one of the purest hearts I’ve ever known. Thank you, Julie Nicodemus, for weathering me through.
What I am clumsily getting around to is how all of this growing and changing and awkwardness led to the Summer of Linebacker Appetite. I was horrifically ravenous all day, every day. My swimming habits only added fuel to the fire and I remember my sister watching, thunderstruck, as I consumed an entire jar of Planter’s dry roasted peanuts one evening. (note to readers: I do not recommend this practice. My tongue cracked completely open after that salty little escapade.)
That summer, I’d return home from my day at the pool and attack the evening meal like a wolverine. I didn’t turn down any meal (except for Shipwreck Casserole, of course) but if I saw tacos on that dinner table, I’d be blissed out. Taco night will forever rock, in my opinion. If my mother was particularly generous, she’d include Chile con Queso on the menu, and that was a treat.
The Chile con Queso of my youth is, admittedly, white-trash food. No denying it. I mean, it’s got Velveeta cheese product in it–enough said. But heavens, it is melty and lovely and I’d pour it all over my plate and snarf away.
Now that I don’t swim for six hours a day and do not experience manic growth spurts, I don’t eat that concoction anymore. Okay, maybe once a year, during the Super Bowl. When it’s the Super Bowl, the ass makes exceptions.
I still love taco night, and we have it often at Chez T. It’s different than the taco nights of my youth, though. We rarely eat the hard-shell variety, opting for warm corn tortillas instead. Rather than ground beef, we’ve upgraded to marinated chicken, pork or steak. And no *sob* Velveeta slop to drizzle over the entire business.
It’s okay. A girl has to grow up sometime.
In fact, I’m so grown up that I’m now watching my own child, Miss D., at ten years old, make her foray into the Age of Awkward. Readers, I think this is doubly painful, because I have to bear witness. Watching her navigate the landmines of puberty makes my throat close and my heart plummet directly into my bowels. Because oh, do I remember.
There’s some rough territory ahead.
Maybe I should break out the Chile con Queso, just for Miss D.?
Personally, I’ll stick with these skirt steak tacos, which are delicious and certainly a fresher, healthier choice. Whichever way you choose to go, you’ll be a rock-star with your family. Because no matter the age (or the road ahead), taco night is a reason to smile.
Skirt Steak Tacos
1 1/4 pounds skirt steak (sometimes called flat-iron steak)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon Worchestershire sauce
2 minced cloves garlic
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon chili powder
1 chopped jalapeno pepper, if desired or 2 teaspoons chopped chipotle chile in adobo, if desired
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt and 1/4 teaspoon black pepper, or to taste
corn tortillas, warmed
any toppings that suit you, such as avocado/guacamole, salsa/tomato, shredded lettuce/cabbage, lime wedges, sour cream
In a large zip-top plastic bag, combine steak, olive oil, worchestershire sauce, garlic, cumin, chili powder, jalapeno/chipotle (if using), salt and pepper. Marinate at least 3 hours in the refrigerator, turning occasionally.
20 minutes before grilling, take steak out of the refrigerator.
Oil grates of grill and heat to medium high. Pat steak dry with paper towels. Grill steak, with the lid closed as much as possible, flipping once, about 10 minutes total for medium rare. Remove steak to a plate and tent with aluminum foil. Let steak rest for 5-10 minutes. Slice steak thinly against the grain.
Serve with assorted toppings and warm tortillas.
*I’m including the Chile Con Queso recipe, just for grins. You know you want it.*
Chile Con Queso for Awkward Emergencies
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 large can (15-ounces) Ro-Tel tomatoes and chiles (I like the extra spicy kind, but get any kind you like)
1 small can mild green chiles
2 lb. block of Velveeta cheese, cut into 1-inch cubes
In a medium saucepan, saute the onion in a little oil until soft. Add drained chiles and Ro-tel tomatoes. Cook over medium heat for about 20 minutes or until the mixture isn’t runny. Add the cheese cubes and reduce the heat to low. Stir constantly until mixture is melted and gooey.