Yesterday, I flew to Denver to help my mother celebrate her 70th birthday. I wasn't sure she'd make it to 70, something I've already told her. Thirteen years ago she had an emergency triple bypass surgery. Last year, she had a small stroke. On the surface, she does not fit into anyone's definition of healthy. And yet, my mother is healthy in a number of ways that really count and are so often overlooked in our diet obsessed society.
She is connected. Despite losing her husband, my stepfather, over four years ago, my mother is not a lonely soul sitting at home on the couch. She has a rich social life that includes going to the movies, to lunch, and on road trips with friends. Most of the time when I ask her how she's doing, she says she needs a nap to recover from socializing. Connection is keeping my my mother alive and happy.
She feeds her brain. My mother is constantly enrolled in classes for seniors through a local university. She takes a variety of subjects from art history to memoir writing. Her brain does not lack for stimulation. Beyond that, it has been a great way to make new friends.
She has a dog to walk. Over 70% of elderly people who fall due to a stroke or for other reasons become fearful of falling again and lessen their mobility as a consequence. This is not my mother. After her stroke last summer, she underwent physical therapy to get her walking again. She continues to walk daily with her dog, Miss Ollie. Staying active is helping my mother manage her arthritis in the sense of use it or lose it. Beyond the many benefits of walking, just having a dog is good for your health. Studies show that petting a dog motivates our bodies to release oxytocin, the love hormone, which makes us feel good.
Her MO in the face of challenge is to have fun. For much of my childhood, my mother was a single mother. One particularly cold Denver winter, while living in a rental home, the furnace went out. My mother did not panic. She simply said that it was time go to the movies (on a school night!) where it would be warm. When we came out of the movies, she went to a pay phone and called the landlord to see if the furnace had been fixed. It had not so she took us to Chili's for fajitas, even though money was tight. Other childhood memories include spontaneous dance parties in our living room, something that still brings me joy to recreate to this day.
In honor of my mother and her 70th birthday, I am sharing with you her taco recipe, which I've adapted over the years, and now most often serve in salad form. Given her open hostility to green vegetables, you could truly honor my mother by serving the tacos on your tortilla of choice.
Sara's Turkey Tacos
1 medium yellow onion, diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 T olive oil
1 to 1 1/4 pounds ground turkey
1 4-oz. can diced green chiles (I prefer the Hatch brand)
1 8 oz. can tomato sauce (with no additives)
1 t. cumin (I like cumin so I put in 1 T.)
1/4 t. cayenne pepper (or more based on spiciness preference)
salt and pepper to taste
Augmentations - optional:
tortillas and/or taco shells (gluten-free, if needed)
cheddar cheese, grated (if you eat dairy)
Heat a 10 to 12-inch saute pan over medium to medium-high heat. Add the oil and swirl around the pan. Add the onions and garlic, and saute just until translucent. Add the meat and break it apart with a fork or spoon. Once the meat is broken up and fully mixed into the onions, add the green chiles, tomato sauce, spices, and salt and pepper. Let the mixture simmer down, which should take approximately ten minutes. Remember, you want very little extra liquid in the pan, otherwise you'll have taco meat dripping all over your hand.
While the taco meat mixture reduces, preheat the oven to 190 F. Warm up the taco shells and/or tortillas in the oven. When the meat is ready, put it in your vessel of choice, and augment with lettuce, tomatoes and/or hot sauce.
Taco Salad: Skip the taco shells and top your cleaned lettuce of choice with turkey taco meat and any augmentations that float your boat.