Culinary creations best when well done

By Helena Rodriguez: Freedom Newspapers

I’ve been thinking about burnt toast and tortillas lately, staples of my childhood. Before you label me weird, there’s a Web site advertising a Museum of Burnt Food that celebrates “The art of culinary disaster.”

My childhood wasn’t exactly a culinary disaster. In fact, I thought I was a master chef for my age, whipping up scrambled eggs and homemade tortillas, with puffy bubbles from burns I suffered on my fingers as proof. One day in elementary school, I complained to a teacher about my burn bubble. She carefully examined the inflated skin and asked, “What were you doing?”

And I said matter-of-factly, “Making tortillas!”

I did not think this to be unusual. Didn’t every 10 year old go home from school and make tortillas for a snack, sometimes spreading them with a little peanut butter and jelly or butter? I just happened to like my tortillas a little crispy, or, as they say, “well done,” just like my bacon, toast and, sometimes, even my pancakes.

I got started thinking about burnt toast and tortillas the other day when I was reading a book, “White Noise,” for a class in postmodern literature, the author tells about a peculiar little girl who liked her toast burnt. Not so peculiar to me.
Dangerous perhaps. Some divorces have been blamed on burnt toast as well as violent acts of rage against others.

There’s something about the smell of burnt toast and tortillas that makes an adult have one of two reactions: either they experience a comforting, nostalgic smell from their childhood, or they go insane and start throwing dishes across the kitchen.

I remember when I lived in an apartment in Hobbs in the late 1990s and I burnt a tortilla on the burner, by accident. This one was not intentional. I opened the door to air out the apartment and the maintenance man who just happened to be walking by twisted his nose and correctly asked without even looking in, “Is someone burning tortillas?”

I gathered that he knew that smell all too well.

Growing up, my sister Becky and my cousin Mark made fun of me sometimes for my somewhat peculiar tastes. Before the days of fruit rollups, ranch-flavored Doritos and Hot Pockets, we kids had to get pretty inventive with the basic food items at home.

One of my favorite snacks was the mustard sandwich. Um! Sometimes, I’d add sprinkles of salt and lots of slices of pickles. I also liked eating mustard and tortilla sandwiches or deviled eggs.

As for Hot Pockets, my self-made Hot Pockets were slices of crispy bacon wrapped inside of a tortilla. Yum!

I don’t think Becky and Mark fully appreciated my well-done culinary creations as much as I did. And while I may forever be earmarked with this burnt food stigma, at least I cannot take credit for infamous culinary disasters that have earned a rightful place in the Museum of Burnt Food.

Among this museum’s masterpieces are baked quiche in a microwave, thrice-baked potatoes, pizza toast (this is even better than burnt toast), something called Forever Shrimp-Kebab, and King Tut’s Tomato.

Helena Rodriguez is a columnist for Freedom Newspapers of New Mexico. She can be reached at: