I feel like the statute of limitations (heh, when I was a kid I thought it was “statue of limitations”, like there would be an imposing life-size figure standing in your way if you tried to go back too far) on writing about Mexico is about up. We’ve been back in the states almost as long as we were there. The house is sold. Possessions we acquired there, the few, personal things or pieces of art that didn’t get bundled in the sale or were stolen by thieves, both those we let in and those that broke in without permission, are boxed up, awaiting importation to wherever we wind up next.
But do you ever have to stop writing your past? Important eras and places stay with you understandably and certain memories persist, even becoming more vivid, or cast into sharper relief by what gets forgotten. Living in New York after college is starting to seem so remote I almost don’t feel entitled to write about it anymore. Like I should have processed everything that happened there and passed it on to the new generation of starving student loan repayers living on stolen peanut butter. Maybe you readers are sick to death of hearing about tacos and the funny, inspiring, altering experiences that we hang on their flimsy shells. Well, too bad! I’m not done yet. Queso fundido anecdote, coming at you.
For those of you who don’t know, queso fundido is melted cheese. I’ve had it served both in a ceramic bowl, and in a wide cast iron pan, bubbling. Either way, this melty portion starts to seize up pretty quickly, so it’s important to attack it fast. Which is never a problem for a group of friends out on a hot night, drinking shots of tequila and Pacifico beers. The cheese is sometimes Oaxaca or a combination of jack, Mexican manchego and whatever is around. Oaxaca is stringy and wound in a ball, in some ways similar to mozzarella. The fundido arrives with a glistening sheen of oil on top and can be enhanced with mushrooms, chorizo, or peppers. You dip ripped pieces of flour tortilla into it, and when that’s gone, anything else you can find.
We always ordered it when we were out at La Pinata, which was down the street and around the corner from our first house in Progreso. Sitting on equipale chairs, with Shakira hip-shaking videos playing large and loud on a big screen behind us in the open air dining room, with stray dogs wandering in for dinner, and a handsome kid waiter I’m pretty sure was elaborately mocking us with his obsequious manners, these were some of the best nights out. Not the most authentic, but probably the most expatriate. They knew we weren’t tourists, but they didn’t know quite what we were doing living there. They indulged our insobriety, and left us handfuls of starlite mints for the road, which was dark, but fortunately straight, back to the tiny house we rented across the street from the fetid Gulf.
Only this distance, nostalgia, and reality makes me want to be there, hard. Right now. Sweating, walking past dead dogs covered in lye to get a popsicle from the corner store, answering phone calls for a quasi-legal weight loss formula customer service line, driving our terrible, awful, excellent green Jeep with the windows down. Why can’t I love the present as well as I long for the past?
Anyway, this mushroom, herb and cheese dip is the bomb.
- 4 thick slices of crusty bread
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 clove of garlic, halved
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 2 sprigs fresh rosemary
- 4 sprigs fresh thyme
- 2 fresh bay leaves
- 8 oz small wild mushrooms, halved or roughly chopped
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 16 oz fresh mozzarella, pulled into half inch pieces
- Rub bread with olive oil and garlic. Broil until golden brown, about 5 minutes.
- In an oven-safe deep skillet, melt butter with herbs over medium-high heat. Saute mushrooms, seasoned with salt and pepper, about 5 minutes. Turn off the heat. Cover with pieces of mozzarella and broil, 4-5 minutes until melted. Serve immediately with garlic toast.
Adapted from a recipe by Donna Hay