It’s that time of year. When the snowbirds take wing for southern climes again. When otherwise sensible men accessorize with matching white belts and shoes as they get the hell out of not so wonderlands of winter and head for San Miguel de Allende. It’s the time for changes in latitudes, changes in attitudes, but also time for changes in diet. It’s time for rice and beans to make their appearance on many more plates on many more occasions. And time for Don Day to dig up something, most of which he wrote a few years ago, to hopefully soften the blow to tender tummies.
I’ll never forget my mother’s face.
Little Donald Day was about ten years old and he had just learned the words to what he thought was the naughtiest of all songs. Could he get away with it or, as his mother had promised so many times, would this be the occasion when his mouth would really be washed out with soap? You may know the words to the song:
Beans, beans, the musical fruit
The more you eat, the more you toot
The more you toot, the better you feel
So let’s have beans at every meal!
My mother was gobsmacked. While I stood there with a big wide smirk on my gob. How do you put a bar of Lifebuoy in the mouth of a child for using the word toot? Especially when my most respectable of all mothers used the term botty burp for the very same achievement (immediately changing it to doing wind after the musical beans incident).
Like all boys…OK, make that men…in those days I was very proud of my flatulence and I of course was quite sure that female members of our race never did wind (and most especially not my mother). I looked forward to those days when I’d see a can of Heinz baked beans being opened knowing that there were going to be resonating roars of morning thunder the following day.
Now, however, that might be over. Despite the fact that the average human farts 14 times a day, I have discovered a Mexican cure for flatulence that could reduce that number to zero, putting an end to farts forever.
My project began quite innocently. A Mexicano with whom I have often consumed considerable amounts of frijoles washed down with carbonated malt and hop beverages had remarked that I couldn’t stand at a urinal without there also being a discharge in the opposite direction while he, wanting to emulate my achievements, stood there helplessly and silently marveling at my prowess. I thought about it. It was true. Born and bred San Miguelenses don’t fart as well or at least as often as ex-pats. There must be a reason.
Someone told me recently that I was a good researcher. Which I suspect was a way of telling me I wasn’t a very good writer. So off I went to that enormous encyclopedia in cyberspace and started to research Mexican bean recipes. There I found the possible secret. Epazote. Almost all the frijoles recipes included something called epazote. I’d never seen that word on the side of a Heinz can. It was obviously time to find out exactly what this epazote was.
Gourmetsleuth.com came up first on the Google list and there was the proof: “Epazote is an herb well-known to Mexican and Caribbean cooking. The name comes from the Aztec (Nahuatl) epzaotl. It is also known as pigweed or Mexican tea (but not what Don Day knows as Mexican tea) and is frequently regarded as a garden pest. It is most commonly used in black bean recipes to ward off some of the negative side effects of eating beans.”
“Negative side effects”…what kind of language was that…did my mother write for gourmetsleuth? Next I tried about.com and they referred to “abdominal discomfort”. The next site was montrealfood.com; surely the Quebecois would call a fart a fart. They said, “If I had to describe cilantro as a person, she would be a slight, very pretty Latina with black hair and just a whiff of exotic perfume. Epazote would be the tough leathery guy who has been a little too long in the saddle and is just behind her in the doorway watching her every move.” Oh, Mon Dieu! This sounded like something Leonard Cohen would write to lure still another woman into his bed.
Obviously I couldn’t trust the internet. I had to conduct my own independent research. I would make my favorite bean dish, add epazote to the ingredient list and record the results. First though, I had to walk over to the Mercado Ignacio Ramirez, San Miguel’s fruit and veg market, to meet with my spice connection and see if he had any epazote. Of course he did.
Epazote was like most herbs except for an unusual smell when I stuck my nose in the plastic bag. I had spent a lot of time last September with the nasty job of researching sweet white Sauternes wines for some intrepid research on Southwestern France. This had the same perfume/gasoline smell of the best of them. Epazote was, obviously, the Chateau d’Yquem of spices.
I made my favorite bean dish, a self-creation that includes poblano peppers and onions enhanced with a combination of cumin and smoked paprika and added about a dozen chopped epazote leaves. I consumed them that night with a rib-eye and some baby potatoes (Russets are scarcer than eligible males in San Miguel) done in lard and rosemary.
I then had to decide how to measure the effectiveness of the added epazote. My friend Richard agreed to assist me in the scientific experiment and shared his seven key measurement standards for flatulation: Tonality, intensity, velocity, pungency, frequency, longevity and flammability. He also reminded me that his iPhone had a microphone and surely there was an app that would measure the decibel levels.
In case you’re wondering about the flammability, let me tell you that I remember well from my misspent youth, one of life’s great adventures was lighting farts and, depending on the amount of hydrogen and methane, some pretty spectacularly colored flames could be produced. The long nose lighters used to ignite Mexican gas stoves are potentially excellent for this task but, before you run off to the kitchen to get it and turn out all the lights, I should warn you that, if there’s enough oxygen present, the flames can head right back up your butt. Imagine a 60 year old gringa with only a smattering of Spanish trying to explain her husband’s action to the emergency nurse at the Hospital de La Fe. In case it does happen, and you’re like my mother, whose upbringing would not allow her to use the course and common pedo, I believe that flatulencia is also a real Spanish word.
Cut now to the morning after my double helping of beans with epazote. There I was standing at the bowl, waiting for the roar of the trumpets to accompany the tinkling below. I waited and waited and waited…but nothing. I had my morning coffee and returned again this time taking the throne for the regal event. Again not a sound. I wandered around all day doing that little clenchy thing. Nothing. Absolutely nothing. Epazote works. There is a cure!
I began to imagine some of the long term effects of epazote. The dog would never be blamed for anything except muddy paws. Lines like “you almost blew me out of the bed; go and sleep on the couch” might never be heard again. This could be why the Mexican divorce rate is less than half that of the U.S. Think of the marriages that could be saved. With half as many divorcees, Hank’s might end up half empty on a Wednesday night.
I then thought deeply about it again. Did I really want to give up one of life’s great pleasures. One of my favorite scribes, Kurt Vonnegut, said, “…we are here on earth to fart around and don’t let anybody tell you different.” No, that one time would be it, my last time knowingly consuming epazote. But after Don Day’s Wife reads this, I expect epazote will appear, in quantity, in a lot of the food she prepares and very, very often.