Dia des los Muertos
This time of year I throw a feast for the dead, inviting friends for food and poetry and altar-making. Together, we decorate sugar skulls and place names and pictures and other ofrendason the dining room table, making a place for the dead for dinner. My own pictures include my dog elvis jumping in the snow, my Italian grandfather Grosso when he was so young I don’t recognize him as the man I knew when I was growing up, and a newspaper clipping of my former student and dear friend Kelly, who was lost in the Tsunami in Southeast Asia ten years ago.
With the celebration I aim to exuberantly embrace the thing that scares me most. If I can make a ruckus, I think, if I can wag my finger in the face of death, I can conquer its mystery.
But this year, my cabin is quiet as the flood-induced mountain commute (over an hour) is a bit too much to ask of anyone coming from Boulder, and the city-dwelling boyfriend is spending time with his soon-to-be-at-college son. The day opens up warm and bright—but windy–as I build a fire and think a little too gloomily about ghosts and the spirits of the dead.
Determined to make a face back at death, I decide to make pork green chili in honor of Joey, lost in the Jamestown flood TAG just two months ago. People have been coming from all over the Front Range for years to eat the Jamestown Mercantile’s famous green chili, and Joey, though retired and divested of the business, still made two big batches each week until the day he died. I begin by browning a pork shoulder in a big Dutch oven while I roast the last of the season’s Anaheim chiles on the stove and the house fills with the chocolaty smell of chiles. Once the meat is crusty and a lovely caramel color, I add chopped yellow onion, garlic, and a bay leaf, and sauté the mixture until the onions are soft. Then I add the skinned and chopped chiles, a jalapeno and a bit of cumin, and cover the mixture with chicken stock to cook until the pork is falling apart. Later, I will remove the shoulder, letting the mixture cool before I add lime and fresh cilantro. Then I puree it in a blender and return it to the stove, mixing the now shredded pork back in. It’s that simple.
For dinner I will make quesadillas from tart apples and cheddar to dip into the hot and spicy green chili, savoring the combination of sweet and tart with spice and earth. For desert, I may make pumpkin crème brûlée, which is simply a creme brulee recipe seasoned with the tiniest bit of nutmeg cooked inside a sugar pumpkin placed in a water bath in the oven.
And then I will go down the Merc, where I hear there will be food and music. Among the dancing and smiling faces, people will be happy to be together again, each defying the ghost of death that has visited us. Perhaps I will bring my Dia des los Muertos figures for an impromptu altar on the bar. Of course there will be Joey stories, but also a remembrance of the Jamestown that once was, with its green park by the creek and its flawed characters and what now seems like charming dysfunctions. In this last sense, we’ll be celebrating not only the dead and what has passed on, but resurrection as well.