Oh The Places You Will Go?

Graduation season is upon us, and around this time every year, I am confounded by the task of imparting words of wisdom to my high school seniors. What advice should I give to this group of students – all vastly different from each other. Some are incredibly self motivated and ambitious, others are still floundering with day-to-day decisions. Some are very sure of their purpose in the world, and others are still discovering that purpose. There is no single piece of advice that you can give this diverse group of students that would be relevant and true. There is no single platitude that applies to all of them. Except one. Just one common denominator. When these students grow up and pursue their careers, whether they’re off to the prosperous world of investment banking or the dignified calling of medicine or the culturally significant realm of the performing arts – there is a single thread that ties us all. No matter how unique, successful, different, prosperous, intelligent, beautiful, handsome, talented, skilled we may perceive ourselves and see us as separate from or better than another person – at the end of the day, we are all built of the same blood, the same bones, the same flesh. And as such, we must act accordingly. However, the world is constantly asking us to prove our differences. In job interviews and the college application process, students are asked to differentiate themselves from the pool of other students. And this encourages a megalomanic way of thinking that forces us to forget (oftentimes) that we are not so different from our neighbor. This separation dehumanizes our neighbors and we are then able to easily vilify or humiliate or ridicule them. So I guess if I had one bit of advice for my seniors this year, it’s that we need to remember and respect that we are all the same, and only the superficial and material things differentiate us. And because we are not so different, we must treat each other with courtesy and respect and even a bit of kindness, because we are all human and thus deserve that bare basic treatment. I think many of our race, religion and class tensions would be eased if more people remembered this and acted this way.

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Chilaquiles with Salsa Verde
Adapted from Source: FoodNetwork

I’ve been having a long hankering for chilaquiles, and while many places around here serve it, I wanted to challenge myself and make it from scratch. Chilaquiles are essentially a brunch version of “nachos.” Lightly fried chips topped with a any variety of veggies, sauces and meats. This dish was originally created to use of leftover staples like tortillas and salsas. This recipe in particular produces a wonderfully fresh and zingy roasted salsa verde that is simmered before smothering a bed of fresh chips. The homemade chips are a great base for the salsa and all the toppings. It’s easy to make for a crowd, or even just for two – the individual ingredients can be separately stored and thrown together whenever you’re ready to eat. I’ve taken the liberty of adding a few of my own toppings – roasted corn, a fried egg, pureed black beans, bits of avocado – all optional but so wonderful in this brunch dish.

Ingredients
Salsa Verde:
1 pound fresh tomatillos, husks removed
3 fresh serrano chiles (add more for more heat)
5 garlic cloves, peeled
1 large onion, rough chopped
1/2 cup fresh cilantro leaves
1/4 cup chicken broth or more as needed
salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Chilaquiles:
20 6″ diameter corn tortillas, dried and cut into strips
Salsa Verde
1/3 cup cotija or queso fresco (I prefer the saltier cotija over the melty/oozy queso fresco, but your choice)
kernels from 1 roasted corn on the cob
2-3 radishes, thinly sliced
1/4 cup fresh cilantro leaves, chopped
Mexican crema (optional)
1 sunny side up egg (optional)
1 cup black beans (optional)
1 avocado, diced (optional)
vegetable oil

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Directions

To make the salsa, place the tomatillos, chiles, garlic, and onion on a lined baking sheet. Place directly under broiler (>500*F) until the vegetables are slightly charred and soft. Flip the veggies as needed for an even char. The veggies will smell very aromatic and will release a lot of liquid. Add all the ingredients into a blender along with the fresh cilantro and chicken broth. Blend to combine and adjust seasoning as needed. Add more broth or water as needed for desired consistency. Set salsa aside.

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To assemble the chilaquiles, pan fry the tortillas in batches until browned and crisp. Drain the tortillas on paper towels and discard the oil. Add about a cup of salsa verde for each serving of chips to a hot pan and bring to a simmer. Then, add the chips to the pan and cook until some pieces are soft but not mushy. Transfer to plate and top with cheese, roasted corn, thinly sliced radishes, cilantro, crema, beans, and egg(s) as desired. Serve and enjoy!

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When I spoke to last year’s graduating class, I spoke of ambition and goal-setting and progress. I was quoted last year saying – “Don’t be complacent or stand still, because you will already have fallen behind on a planet that’s constantly moving forward.” Well this year, I’ve changed the beat of my drum a bit. Call it maturity or wisdom or age – but what’s becoming increasingly important to me is that human connection and that love and kindness reserved for others. It’s been a bad year in the news – a lot of conflicts. Conflicts that are rooted in misunderstanding and lack of kindness. Lack of patience to understand our neighbor. Too much emphasis on differentiating ourselves from “the other” and not enough conversations on our commonality and collaboration. So if we wish to see a better and brighter future, we have to ask our young and aspiring graduates to course correct. To do what previous generations have not been able to do. That would truly be success. That would truly be progress.

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Thanks for reading,
AnhD

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