Deb Brandon: Living in Radiant Color


I pointed. “I wonder what that is.” then realized—crickets, very dead. Fried? Grilled? How would you eat them? As a garnish? In a sauce over rice? A snack, like sunflower seeds?
Instead of the eeew I expected from my inner voice, I heard myself wonder whether crickets are kosher. After all, locusts were. Only then did the delayed eeew pop into my head. I admonished myself, they probably taste like chicken, like frogs legs. I’d eaten frogs legs, and they did taste like chicken, though more delicate. But crickets would be crunchy, like cockroaches. And the eeew won, for now.
We walked past racks of hand made huipiles, mass produced skirts, and handwoven rugs. A skirt would look great with the huipile I bought in Oaxaca. I turned away and hurried to catch up with Gail. Maybe when we get back to Oaxaca. But I knew I wouldn’t get a skirt—there’re so many other even more enticing things to buy. And I’ve already spent enough money.  I was taken aback by my next thought. Perhaps when I come back to Mexico next– I was coming back?!
A rack of colorful aprons distracted me. I do need aprons for “Cooking with Calculus,” an online calculus course I was planning on putting together for the math-wary. On our way back.
We continued weaving our way through the market stalls, Gail, Cindy, and I. I breathed in the aromas, mango, papaya, guava. Guava? I breathed in more deeply. I loved that smell, ever since a friend from my college days brought a box full from family’s orchard. Or is it grove? We ate them throughout the lecture, filling the room with the sweet aroma, the texture like a ripe pear, though less grainy.
A turkey strutted, its head bobbing and crest wobbling with every step. When it (He? She?) veered off to the right, its owner cuffed him on the head, as if he were a child. It didn’t gobble, or falter in its step. Is he resigned to its fate?
All three of us needing a break from the high volumes of sensory input, we stopped for a spell in a spacious plaza, reveling in the relative quiet. I tried not to look too closely at the stray dogs searching for scraps of food. I caught a glimpse of a puppy with a raw wound on his paw and averted my gaze.
When we felt rested, we rejoined the crowds.
I sniffed at a basket filled with an unfamiliar spiceand coughed, quickly muffling it with my arm. Cindy gesticulated towards it, miming, “Okay to taste?”
Given permission, she dipped the tip of her index finger into the orange powder and brought it to her lips. “Mmmm… spicy.”
She then asked Gail to translate for her. “What does it have in it?”
Expecting one of the ingredients to be chili peppers, I was surprised to learn that the only ingredient that could possibly be the source of the spiciness was crickets. Who knew?
I couldn’t help but wonder, How did she grind them up into such a fine powder? With the other spices? Or separately?
Finally, tired and hot we made our way back to the outskirts of the market, passing by colorful displays of clothing, rugs, and fruit and vegetables. Mouth watering smells of cooking meat followed us as we threaded our way around the Sunday shoppers.
Just as we were about to emerge into the sunlight, I remembered. “Wait, I need to get a couple of aprons.”
Swinging a plastic bag containing two embroidered aprons, I followed Cindy and Gail towards the taxi stand.
Sticky from the heat we climbed into the blissfully air conditioned taxi.
It was time to head back to our hotel in Oaxaca