Potato tacos

Dad's potato tacos kept worries away. (Photo by Bill Hogan)

10/10/10 makes an impressive date, round and portentous. Mom and dad were both born on 10/10, different years, same birthday. It seemed a good day to celebrate.

Besides, we had put off their 50th anniversary party for years.

Mom was thinking Chinese feast. Dad was thinking big band. The kids were thinking 24-hour slide show — one second for each of 86,400 family photographs.

One afternoon Dad noticed the landscape dim; he dialed 911. On the helicopter to the hospital, he charted the flight path in his head. Before bypass I asked if he was scared. He said: No. He said not to worry; he might be out of touch for a while.

And then he went away. Maybe somewhere dark, somewhere beyond the reach of tube, of drip bag, of monitor crawl.

Over weeks, then months, he would occasionally surface and smile or squeeze a hand or write a few words, and then dip down, back to wherever it is that he goes.

Mom thought we should bring him home to warm bed and cold dog nose. The kids thought maybe another hospital. We got together to chart a plan.

We went to the museum to see dad's work. He builds massive figures in clay, inhabitants of a dark and distant landscape. He prints enormous photographs, craggy rock-faces that jut from the paper. We stood among those huge brooding forms, thinking how strong and keen he was. Wherever he was.

At night, we went to dinner with his friends and his mentors and his students. In the morning, we met with the hospital director, the nursing service, the doctor on call.

In the afternoon, we tracked down the taco truck. We all liked the idea of the roving taco, on call. We ordered paper plates of pork carnitas and beef and chicken. There was a guy lingering by the picnic table; he needed a ride to the VA. Mom paid his cab fare.

It wasn't big and round and portentous. We didn't have dad home, or better, or back from his travels. But we did have lunch with friends in the shade. And for a few minutes, it kept our worries away.

Papas tacos

Prep: 20 minutes
Cook: 25 minutes
Servings: 6 tacos

Ingredients:
1 strip bacon, thinly sliced crosswise
3 small red potatoes, in 1/4-inch crescents
Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
1 teaspoon each: ground cumin, dried oregano
1 (16 ounce) can pinto beans, drained, rinsed
1 1/2 cups or so chicken broth
12 small corn tortillas
1/2 cup shredded lettuce
Guacamole, see recipe
1 tomato, finely chopped
1/2 cup crumbled queso fresco
1 lime

Brown:
Sizzle bacon in a skillet until brown. Scoop bacon bits into a bowl. Add potatoes to skillet and brown, 10 minutes. Scoop potatoes into bacon bowl. Season with salt and pepper.

Fry:
Add garlic, cumin and oregano to the skillet and sizzle golden, 1 minute. Add beans and 1/2 cup broth; cook, mashing some of the beans, until thick and flavorful, 15 minutes. Add a little more broth if the beans seem dry. Taste for salt.

Steam:
Set a dry cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat. Add 1 teaspoon broth followed immediately by 1 tortilla. Flip and cook the other side. Repeat with remaining tortillas, keeping tortillas hot by wrapping in a clean kitchen towel.

Stack:
For each taco, stack 2 tortillas on a plate. Spread beans and potato/bacon mixture. Top with just a little lettuce, guacamole, tomato and cheese (in that order). Spritz with lime.

Guacamole:
Mash 1 clove garlic and 1 teaspoon salt together with a mortar and pestle. Mash in 1 ripe avocado. Work in juice of 1 lime.

Leah Eskin is a Tribune special contributor. Contact her at leahreskin@aol.com