WORK OF ART: Menudo? No thanks

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By Art Trujillo

Every fourth week we used to go through Expulsion Saturday. It was the time when at Mom’s insistence and our extremely willing compliance she’d usher Dad and all us kids out of the house to fend for ourselves.

We had the whole day free. My siblings Bingy, Severino and I generally spent that day at the Serf Theater, where the films were continuous, and by the time we left there, we had all the lines and songs memorized.

Let me explain:

Once a month, on a Saturday it was our mother’s chance to prepare and eat — totally undisturbed — a bowl of menudo. Mom may have felt guilt by not offering the rest of us a chance to gourmandize with her, but on the contrary, we were all thankful. The catch is, she may not have known our patent, latent and blatant revulsion to eating a plate of the chewy, mushy stuff.

And in case your family didn’t settle here two centuries ago, I’ll define menudo as a traditional Mexican dish, a spicy soup made with tripe from pork, beef or mutton.

It’s fitting that my online dictionary specifies that menudo is generally eaten on Saturdays and Sundays, so, 60 years ago, Mom picked the correct day of the week to evict us. A nearby grocer operated a kind of Menudo Hotline, alerting Mom whenever a fresh shipment arrived.

I suspect her reasoning for observing Expulsion Saturday was that 1) with us out of the house she wouldn’t have to hear our complaints: “What’s that awful smell?” and 2) there’d be no need for her to share with us.

But here’s my disclaimer: I’d rather stick my nostrils together with Crazy Glue than to eat that rubbery stuff.

Notice that the increasing numbers of restaurants that sell that gelatinous concoction often do it only on Saturdays and Sundays.

The topic of menudo came up this week at a block party when I innocently mentioned a member of a different food group.

I noted that there is no excuse for any member of the squash family, that zucchini squash grows without anyone needing to tend the garden, that the combination of calabazitas and corn exists only because there has to be something (corn) to make the squash palatable; that people who eat it do so as a sense of penance and atonement; that God demonstrated a sense of humor in creating squash, especially the chayote variety, which resembles a woman with an hourglass figure — but with all the sand at the bottom.

Whenever I’m honest about things that should be banned — things like menudo and squash — I get a chorus of responses about how the two items are actually salubrious and delicious.

“Oh, if you deep-fry zucchini, add garlic, oregano, breading, lemon and a cup of paprika, it’s really good,” one will say. My concern is that with the addition of heaps of other ingredients, the personality-less taste of the squash is now absent. So why not simply omit the squash and feast on the other things?

Invariably any meal to which I’m invited becomes a recitation of recipes, or a recipetation. One must compliment the cook, but that leads to a detailed, to-the-exact-ingredients-reciperocity, an account of how the bloomin’ meal was prepared. So the conversation at dinner invariably is about dinner, not world affairs.

Similarly, any mention of menudo leads to a command performance, another recipetation. We’re told about how a true menudo lover will include chopped onions, cilantro, lime and red chile. But again, with all those extra ingredients to camouflage the hog entrails, why not just enjoy the extras and omit the swine guts?

It’s common for someone to list all the menudo ingredients, serving suggestions, cooking times and curative values, as if somehow I’ve been converted, as if a miraculous transformation took place and — wonder of wonders — I actually grew to like the stuff, in the hours it took the not-to-be-deterred recipetator to provide a blueprint.

Well, at the block party, several of us reluctantly learned how to prepare menudo, although cooking it is not in my grand scheme of things.

We also learned that menudo often induces sweat and expels toxins from the body. As such, it’s believed to be an excellent cure for a Saturday-morning hangover. We all expected our guest to propose a panel discussion afterwards, to make sure we all had taken notes.

• • •

A writer for the extremely conservative Washington Times (not to be confused with the Post), ended a column critical of U.S. Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor by writing simply that “Sonia eats pigs’ intestines.” The indictment was expressed as if somehow she hasn’t yet crawled out of the woods, and because of her choice of comestibles, the country must not dare to have her helping the high court interpret laws.

Well, now, though I don’t applaud her taste in things culinary, I hope she gets the court nomination. After all, some of my best friends eat menudo.

• • •

And who else in history is likely to have been raised on menudo? Got it! Here’s a partial list: Sir Francis Bacon, Hamlet, The Catcher in the Sty, Little Lard Fauntleroy and Albert Einswine.

Art Trujillo is a copy editor at the Optic and a contributing member of the newspaper’s Editorial Board. He may be reached by calling 425-6796 or by e-mail to artbt@rezio.net or atrujillo@lasvegasoptic.com.