Snow Day (featuring Cotija Corn Dip)
“So, on Friday afternoon we were thinking you can come here and see Amelia and Grace and then we’ll go for a little walk around the neighborhood and then we’ll go to the Botanical Garden and then pick up some food from this great little place and eat at a picnic table in Mt. Tabor Park before going to the Pickles game at 7:00. Does that sound ok?”
There’s a tone my voice gets when my parents are coming to visit, a tortured frequency like an untrained opera singer reaching for that impossible note. It’s nerves. And excitement. It’s a tell. My parents know the sound well.
In my mind I can see my dad standing in the kitchen, the phone to his ear, shrugging compulsively, gently waving his arms with palms up to signify he is no threat. I can’t see him, but I know exactly what he’s doing.
“Honey, that sounds great.” His voice is soothing but steady like a good dad. “Whatever we do will be perfect. It’ll be great, just great.”
My mom chimes in from the background somewhere with her Disney Princess optimism, “It’ll be great, honey, just great!”
I can see her in my head too, eyebrows raised, soft smile, gently tidying kitchen countertops while nibbling on some nutty, flaxy, whole wheaty snack.
“I know, I know,” I agreed, unintentionally sounding a bit defeated. It had been almost two years since we’d seen each other and not exactly an easy two years either. We’ve all changed, stress lines a little deeper, waistbands a little wider, we know things about ourselves we didn’t expect to learn. But when people come to town you want to show them what your most perfect day is like – the fictional day where your house is spotless, your job is complaint-free, and you have social skills that would impress even Dorothy Parker.
They would be in Portland for 3 ½ days, Thursday night through Monday morning. We had most of it consummately planned.
What could possibly go wrong? <— This is a question you should never ask.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration say that a heat dome, “happens when strong, high-pressure atmospheric conditions combine with influences from La Niña, creating vast areas of sweltering heat that get trapped under the high-pressure “dome.”
A once in a millennium (well, we’ll see) weather event was headed for the Pacific Northwest, with its bullseye pointed right on Portland, scheduled to arrive minutes after my parent’s plane touched down. Forecasts read Thursday 93, Friday 97, Saturday 107, Sunday 111, Monday 115 degrees.
I don’t know how to contextualize 115 degrees. It’s like a billion. I have no capacity for understanding numbers this large. They say if you laid a billion dollar bills end to end it would reach halfway to the moon. One billion pennies in a stack would reach 870 miles high. These quantifying analogies always sound cool but are useless in helping me understand anything. I know what 90 degrees feels like. It feels hot and annoying. 100-degree heat has rendered me catatonic in the past and this was going to be that plus 10 – 15 degrees. It’s like a billion. I don’t understand it.
What happened was that everything got very basic. It was as if another system in our bodies took over, one focused on survival. The pretense we all build when our parents come to town crumbled. The polished “this is our life” show I was trying to direct became a much more sincere and substantive day in the life. As the heat rose and our plans disassembled, so too did our facades.
We could just be together—which is what we all really wanted anyway. In our modestly air-conditioned home, Francis and I declared it a snow day, pressures be gone! There were bottomless bowls of chips and dips, seared ahi tuna with farro and greens from the garden in a ginger sesame dressing, minted miso lime green beans and asparagus, and some fruit tarts with a leftover pastry cream from a gig I recently catered.
My dad stood gazing at us, drink in hand, tapping his belly to silently connote his achievement of comfort and satisfaction. My mom fawned over her babies at the dining room table, grateful that we’d made it this far in life without too much damage. Max, my brother, sat calmly, occasionally peeking at everyone around the table, eyebrows raised high. Yep, we’re a bit slower, less chatty, but we’re here together.
Sharon, Max’s girlfriend, and Francis watched my clan become a family again without much verbal communication. Like animals we reunited on an instinctual level, our pheromonal recognition more deeply engaged amid a natural phenomenon.
Plus, there was a lot of dip.
I know that we are very lucky. I know that many people did not have access to air conditioning or comfortable homes or meals to eat. I also know that these phenomenon weather events are going to get worse if we don’t do something to change them.
I think these people would like to know your thoughts: https://act.nrdc.org/letter/congress-climate-100110#:~:text=We%20must%20make%20sure%20climate,the%20wrong%20side%20of%20history.
Also, since you might be reuniting with family this holiday weekend, here’s my recipe for Cotija Corn Dip.
Cotija Corn Dip
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 2 garlic cloves, chopped
- 1/2 serrano chili (seeded for less heat or just leave as is for more heat), chopped
- 1 medium red onion, chopped
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon agave
- 2 cups corn (I frequently use frozen white corn, but fresh corn can be shucked right off the cob now that it’s corn season)
- 1 lime, juiced
- ½ cup sour cream
- 3 tablespoons mayonnaise
- 3 teaspoons Aleppo chili powder
- ¾ cup cotija cheese, crumbled
- ¼ cup cilantro, chopped
Heat the olive oil in a small pot on a medium flame. Add the chopped garlic, serrano chili, and red onion and sprinkle in the salt. Add the agave and cook until the onion has softened a bit, about 10 minutes. Turn the heat up and add the corn. Saute for 2 minutes until the corn has taken on a bit of color, but before it becomes mushy.
Put the corn mixture into a large bowl and stir in the lime juice, sour cream, mayonnaise, Aleppo pepper, and cotija cheese. Then stir in the cilantro.
You can serve it like this or put it into the microwave for 2 minutes to meld the flavors and melt the cheese a bit. The taste won’t change but the dip will be easier on your chips (we served it cold because no one wanted a hot dip on a hot day and broke a lot of tortilla chips.)
Happy Independence Day and when your parents visit don’t worry so much!
And a special thank you to mom #1 in England who sent us recipes for dog and cat-friendly popsicles to cool down our quadruped babies!