Hot Stuff

I spent the first 18 years of my life playing, working, schooling, worshiping, loving and being loved, maturing, and, of course, eating in Columbus, Nebraska. Columbus is located in the eastern part of the state, smack dab in the middle if you’re looking north and south. It is a railroad town, the county seat in a richly agricultural area.

While the town is only just over an hour from Omaha, we rarely drove there. Times were different. Now 80 miles can be a commute to work; then it was a planned adventure. We went to Omaha twice each year: in the fall to buy school clothes and again at Christmas to see how the large department stores were decorated for the holidays.

When I lived there, Columbus boasted a population of somewhere in the vicinity of 10,000 people. Most of the population was of European ancestry, heavy on the Irish, German, Polish and Slavic. I recall absolutely no people of color at that time. I believe there is a fairly sizeable Hispanic population these days.

I offer all of this background as a way of telling you that I ate absolutely no ethnic food and nothing spicy while growing up. The food I ate was delicious, but it tended to be meat, potatoes, and a side of vegetables. And even though we lived close to a city, when we were there, we ate spaghetti and meatballs and we thought we were worldly.

Sometime while I was in high school, a Taco John moved into our town. The only other chain restaurants at the time were a Pizza Hut and a Dairy Queen. It was the first time I ate Mexican food, and I wasn’t impressed. I think I ate there once.

In the seventies, my family moved to Leadville, Colorado. If my dad had purposely set out to find a town that was the polar opposite of Columbus, he couldn’t have done better than Leadville. High up in the Rocky Mountains, it was at that time primarily a mining community, and it really was – even then – the Wild, Wild West. The nearby molybdenum mine was the town’s biggest employer, and Leadville had a large Hispanic population.

As a result, for the first time my family tasted real Mexican food (sorry Taco John’s). And surprisingly, given our meat-and-potatoes background, each and every one of us was an immediate fan. The hotter, the better. Bring it on.

Being such big fans of spicy and delicious Mexican food, hot sauces and different spicy salsas seem to be a common condiment for my family. We all have our own versions – chunky pico de gallos, salsas, and creamy or chunky guacamoles.

My nephew Christopher has a salsa recipe that I particularly like. It can be really hot or really mild, depending on the amount of jalapeno and Serrano peppers you add. I add the full amount.

Christopher’s Salsa

1 small can of whole tomatoes, drained
1 can original Rotel tomatoes
2-3 green onions, roughly chopped
Handful of cilantro
1-2 jalapeno peppers
1 serrano pepper
½ t. garlic salt
1 t. salt
1 clove garlic, peeled
Juice of 1-2 limes


Place all of the ingredients into a food processor or blender. Blend until it reaches desired consistency.

Nana’s Note: The above recipe makes about a pint-and-a-half of salsa. Remember that you can make peppers less hot by removing the seeds and the membranes. Tonight I am going to make tacos using Rachael Ray’s taco seasoning: 1 T. chili powder, 1 T. ground cumin, 1 T. garlic powder, 1 T. onion powder, ¼ – ½ t. crushed red pepper. The tacos will be sassed up by my delicious salsa.

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