Monthly Archives

September 2016

Cell Phone Chef Food Mexican by Marriage

Authentic, Irresistible Tacos at Home

If you’ve been anywhere on social media in the past few years, you’ve undoubtedly seen a few standard, non-stop circulating memes:

Brace yourselves

“Brace Yourselves” from Game of Thrones


The Overconfident Man from Dos Equis

And then, the comments start to get juicy, and Michael Jackson pops in for a snack:


There’s always one.

…and then Gene Wilder shows his smug face…

But we all love the smugness.

But we all love the smugness.

And somehow, some pre-middle age ladies can make any conversation about wine.  (I refuse to believe that this demographic is actually that obsessed with it, but that it has become such a social media joke that they have tricked themselves into believing wine is the new sun.)

wine wine wine

What do you get when you cross an elephant and a drunken rhinoceros? ‘ElephWINO!

But there’s always one that seems to say what’s on everyone’s minds, all the time…TACOS.

Juan Taco

NO JUAN. Ever.

And I’ve got tacos on my mind today.  Just call me Juan.

My main squeeze, Yossiho, is from southern Mexico.  Tapachula, specifically….about as far south as you can go without being in Guatemala.


How I’m from Northwoods, USA, and he’s from South Jungle, Mexico, is beyond me.

Being the nopal-on-his-forehead kind of Mexican that he is, our weekend nights are consecrated to tacos.  We live on the east side of the city.  Every Friday night (and sometimes Saturday, too), we attend our sacred taco mass.  We drive 15 miles clear to the west end of the valley to a little hole-in-the wall, Azteca del Oro.  Of course, there are taco carts and dives all along the way.  We’ve tried them all.  But nothing tops Azteca.  Well, maybe Tacos El Gordo in Las Vegas, but I happen to prefer Azteca.  He may leave me if he reads that.

Nestled in a strip mall next to an AutoZone, and across the street from El Coyote night club, the sights, sounds, and smells are sure to delight.  Motor oil, meat grease, and canola oil from the woman frying chicharrones out front will slap your nose the second you leave the car.  And your eyes are in for a treat, too! You’re sure to see plenty of Trival boot and cowboy hat-clad Rico Suaves and sequin mini skirt-wearing mamis hiking up their tubetops and clunking along in their tacones. Don’t forget the insane base shaking the ghetto fab cars pulling into the parking lot.

A tiny Latino market with a short traditional menu by day, on Fridays-Sundays, 8:30 p.m.-5 a.m., Azteca devotes itself to Mexico D. F. style tacos.  You can order anything from your basic al pastor or chorizo to any part of the animal you can think of.  The real deal. (For the record, my favorite is sesos, or brain.  No judging until you try it.)

We go through phases.  Occasionally, we stay home and make our own tacos.  They’re ridiculously delicious and a much cheaper alternative to going out for tacos.  We drop about $28 on average every time to go to Azteca (or anywhere, really…it happens when your husband eats eight tacos in one sitting).  Making tacos at home is not only cost effective, but pretty easy, and delicious!

It also has a much cleaner bathroom, always stocked with toilet paper and hand soap.

Lucky for me, I live with a Mexican.

As I’m a fiend for all things “authentic,” we are a match made in heaven.

I actually eat vegetarian for the most part, except when travel or tacos are involved.  That’s great, because the meat is the heart of the taco.

I’ve perused Google and Pinterest occasionally, seeing what people are up to when they make tacos.  But I have yet to see a Mexican living in the U.S. share the secrets.  And that’s what this post is about to do.

What makes tacos so irresistible?

Admit it – you LOVE tacos.  You would eat them until it hurts.  If you can’t have the real deal, you’ll eat terrifying impostor tacos to get your fix.  Taco Tuesday?  Try Taco Everyday.  There are reasons you love tacos, and you may not even realize why.  Let me enlighten you!

Really good tacos

See? Tasty, authentic, AND homemade.

To make a successful, authentic taco, you need:

  1. The tortilla.

    It must needs be corn.  No question.  Usually, the tortilla is doubled or tripled, depending on the meat.  They’re smaller than an average corn tortilla, so it won’t do too much damage.  There is nothing worse than picking up a greasy, juicy taco, and having it all fall out the bottom.  Use two tortillas.  It’s insurance.

    The easiest is to purchase corn tortillas at the grocery store.  You can use normal size, but it’s too much.  Use a cup or a lid to cut smaller circles out of the large tortillas.  That’s what we do if it’s all we have.  Bonus if you have a Mexican grocery…they sell taco-sized tortillas for ridiculously cheap ($1.99-$2.99 for 60 tortillas).

    You can also make your own tortillas, using a simple mix of corn flour and water.  Once you have handmade, you’ll never enjoy store bought. [Recipe and tutorial coming! – check back]

    If you’re feeling like the domestic goddess of the universe, and you just had a baby with the authenticity police, you can go crazy and grind your own corn, making your own flour, and then making a tortilla.  Trust me, I would do this if I had the tools.

  2. The meat. 

    In the streets, you can order all cuts of meat, usually beef, pork, or chicken, and pretty much any organ you can imagine.  You don’t need to buy an 8-foot long intestine and pressure cook it to enjoy an authentic taco.  A simple good cut of meat and applying some tricks of the trade in prepping the meat before you cook it will yield excellent results.

    Yossiho’s favorite is a particular thin cut of beef.  He lets it sit in pineapple juice for a bit to soften it, macerates garlic and salt, and slathers it all over before cooking.  Unbelievable.  Chorizo is a great home choice because it comes already prepped and ready for cooking.

  3. The crunch.  

    Traditionally, tacos are garnished with chopped onions and cilantro, and [optional] radishes.  Keep it simple.  Too many ingredients will drown out the simple but delicious flavors that are all layered together.

  4. The acid.

    Lime.  Must add a squeeze (or three) of lime.  A good rule of thumb is about 1/2 to 1 lime wedge per taco.

  5. The spice.

    SALSA.  Salsas are the crown jewel of tacos!  They’re also the reason many people regular certain taco joints.  Authentic tacos have a couple traditional options: salsa verde [green], salsa roja [red], and an avocado-like salsa.  However, here is the easiest you can get creative with your tacos.  Salsa recipes are sacred, just like your granny’s spaghetti sauce.  But here I’ll share recipes for the three basic salsas [forthcoming].  We love to make a red onion and habanero quick pickle and use it as a salsa – spice and crunch together mean double delicious.


See?  It’s simple!  Tortilla. Meat. Onion and cilantro. Lime. Salsa.

the things

All of the things!

Now you’ll just have to have some discipline.  It’s so incredibly cheap to make your own authentic tacos that you won’t be able to stop.  Invite some friends over, and hours later, you’ve had well over a dozen tacos and already made plans to open your own restaurant.  But I wouldn’t know anything about that. 🙂


Have you made your own authentic tacos at home?  Do you have a favorite meat?  Salsa recipe?  Feel free to share.


How to become an Italian Citizen

I’ve been quiet on the blog front the past few months, but I’ve had loads of ideas and desires to write swirling in my brain.  Part of the reason I’ve been so silent is that I find it difficult to sit in front of the computer any longer than work requires, especially when working on my health.  But another [fabulous] reason I’ve been quiet, is I started a new job as an Assistant Genealogist at AncestryProGenealogists (an arm of!  I was specifically hired for my Spanish and Italian skills, and as a specialist in Italian genealogy.  It’s been a crazy ride learning just how much I don’t know.


View of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome – that was a lovely evening!

One of the first cases I worked on was for a client who was proving his right to dual citizenship.  Of course, almost immediately, my ears perked up and I began scavenging for information on the citizenship laws in Italy, and to see if I qualify.  I had no idea that Italy had an in for foreigners to become citizens without a residency requirement, but it’s the truth, folks!  And a sweet truth it is. I took it upon myself to be the guinea pig.  Daydreams of a second home (well, you know, after I have a first home…) and a life in Italy started dancing all around me, and, even more importantly, a key to open the door of opportunity in the European Union – if it’s even a thing in a few years (thanks, Brexit, for leading that one).   My kids – though just an imaginary spec in my womb – could easily study in Europe, work, and have free reign to many more countries than possible with just a U.S. citizenship.  Priceless.

I think this series will fit great into my blog.  My Sicilian heritage was the line I identified with most as a child, as we spent most of our family time visiting my mother’s maternal family – the Sicilians.  It was a large part of how I formed my identity and my imagination, and it feels like home.

Curious how to become an Italian citizen?  Or want to find out how you even qualify?  I’ve done a lot of the leg work for you in research, and will be using this post as a home base to activate links to steps as I experience them.  There’s lots of great information floating around, but I always find I look for someone else’s experiences.  It’s not too difficult, but takes a little cash and a lot of patience.  I hope this will help you clear the cloud of overwhelming information and find some clarity in your quest for Italy.  Read on!

Altare della Patria

The Altare della Patria, or the Monumento Nazionale a Vittorio Emanuele II, in Rome.

How to become an Italian Citizen
(in 10 easy-ish steps)

There are multiple ways to obtain Italian citizenship.  I’m going to focus on jus sanguinis, which is by right of blood, through your ancestry.  If you’re reading this, jus sanguinis is likely the way you’re hoping to qualify.  If you have a parent who is an Italian citizen, if you were adopted by an Italian citizen, if you married an Italian citizen, or if you’ve legally lived in Italy for ten years, you may qualify through another method.  Let me know in the comments if this is you, and I’ll see if I can help you out.

Keep an eye out for links to the numbered points as I update with my experiences!

Here is the process, simplified:

1. Find your link to an ancestor that immigrated from Italy.
Note: Italian citizenship could not be passed down from a woman until after 1948, but it could be inherited by a woman. This knocks off three of my own lines and narrows down my possibilities to one tiny line on my tree, my second great-grandfather, Giuseppe Cavarretta.
My line: Giuseppe Cavarretta – Anthony Cavarretta – Annette (Antonina) Cavarretta – Momma Angela – Me. (I know, I missed the ‘A’ name train.)

2. Verify your Italian ancestor was not a U.S. citizen before your first U.S.born ancestor was born.
Your Italian ancestor had to still be an Italian citizen. Becoming a U.S. citizen was considered renouncing Italian citizenship, and no one in your line could have ever renounced Italian citizenship in order for you to qualify.  In fact, on the Declaration of Intention submitted by immigrants wishing to become U.S. citizens, the verbiage actually says, “it is my bona fide intention to renounce forever all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state, or sovereignty, and particularly to __[insert ruler’s name here – for most Italians, this was Victor Emanuel III, King of Italy]__, of whom I am now a subject.”
You can check census records, as they mark if a person was naturalized, had his/her papers in, or was an alien.
If it’s unclear, and you think s/he may not have been a U.S. citizen, submit a request to the USCIS. Actually, you will need to do this, anyway.

3. Submit an inquiry to the United States Customs and Immigrations Services (USCIS).
If you are uncertain if or when your ancestor became a U.S. citizen, request an index search.  This takes 4-6 months to receive a response. If their response is negative (there is no naturalization on file), submit that negative response letter to the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) for further verification. Wait time for a response in an additional 4-6 months.
If the response is positive, you will need to request an official copy of your ancestor’s naturalization papers from the USCIS or NARA.  These steps are crucial, as you will need official, certified copies of all documents proving your lineage to your ancestor!

If your Italian-born ancestor became a U.S. citizen before your first U.S.-born direct ancestor was born, you do not qualify for Italian citizenship.  But if you do qualify, hooray!  You qualify!  Now get ready to support deforestation and the job security of many government employees, namely county clerks, civil registrars, and postal workers, as well as your bank account, because you’re going to need a lot of official documents.

4. You qualify! Now you need documents. Lots of documents.
You will need to order certified, long form copies of the birth, marriage, and death records for all in the line from yourself to your immigrant ancestor, and their spouses.  This includes records from Italy.
That’s 21 records for me. $15-$25 a pop. You don’t receive the originals back, so if you want an official copy for your own purposes, order it now, as it is deeply discounted when you order more than one copy.  This will take a little research if your family has moved around.  A simple Google search can help, and FamilySearch Wiki is a fantastic resource.  Let me know in the comments if you need help finding where to request your ancestor’s or family member’s documents.

5. You’ll need an apostille on each one of your records.
An apostille is a record authentication for countries that participate in the Hague Convention of 1961. Send all of your records to the State Registrar to get the apostille. This is usually $1-$5 per document.  Lucky for me, my people stayed in Michigan, and Michigan is gracious and charges $1 per document.

6. Now you need to get an official translation of all your English-language documents into Italian.
This is another $30-$50 per page.  Make sure you select an approved translator, or you’ll be out of luck and need to get them translated again.  A political cartoon comes to mind – one I drew in Ms. Quinn’s 9th grade history class, of William Taft romping around in a bathtub full of money.  Swimming in the bathtub, what a glorious day, watching all our troubles [money] go swirling down the drain!

7. In the meantime, set an appointment at the Italian consulate in your jurisdiction and fill out your Italian citizenship application. 
If San Francisco is yours like it’s mine, you’ve got a 5-10 year wait for appointments. Plenty of time to get your documents in order and paid for. 🙂  Of course, if you check on a weekly basis, I’m sure last-minute appointments will open up.  For me, the commute from Salt Lake City to San Francisco isn’t a leisurely jaunt, so it’s not too easy to get there last minute.  (As far as I know, right now Detroit has only a 1-2 year wait.)  Fill out your citizenship application while you wait.  You’ve got time. 🙂

8. Attend your consular appointment with all your documents and applications and hope for the best.
Don’t forget your $250 application fee (pocket change in comparison to the records, if you’ve got to go back four generations, like me).

9. Wait to hear from the Italian government on your approval.
Generally, if you have all your documents, certified and translated by an approved translator, your citizenship will be approved – it’s just a matter of waiting.  The wait can average 6 months to 2 years.

10. Celebrate! You’re now an Italian citizen!  
Put on some Puccini, crack open a bottle of Chianti Classico, and celebrate!
In my case, $1,780 and 5-10 years later (depending on consulate appointment availability)…better make it a bottle of Colossi Sicilia Rosso…super cheap spaghetti wine.  Going to need to save what few pennies are left for that plane ticket back to Italy.

Are you interested in becoming an Italian dual citizen?  Have any questions on the process or where to begin if you think you might qualify?  Leave me a comment and let’s discuss.