Spicy food and I haven’t always been the best of friends.
As a kid, I had zero tolerance for spicy food. Mild salsa was pushing it for me, and unless I could cut it with ketchup I preferred to just eat the chips. I really didn’t even like any Mexican food at all, finding it too spicy for my taste. (Which is really unfortunate when you are the child of parents who think Mexican is a food group. I spent a lot of time eating taco salads.) There was a small step forward (or backward, depending on how you look at it) in college, when I developed a taste for Mexican food. But even then, I avoided anything really spicy. I substituted all forms of meat for beans, which cut any spice that might have tried to sneak in the back door. It was a culinary step, but not a spicy one.
But in the last year or so, something has changed. I’ve been getting a little braver. Experimenting with heat. Trying to embrace the warmth. It started with going for medium salsa instead of mild. Actually including the cayenne in my Indonesian Peanut Chicken recipe instead of leaving it out like I had been. Licking the fallen glob of whatever the hell that spicy sauce that goes in a Cheesy Gordita Crunch off the paper. And I’ve been liking it. It’s warm and makes my lips tingle. Suddenly, I’m trying to put a little extra spice in everything from shrimp soup to omelets to chocolate pudding pie. I’m turning into a regular heat-head over here. (Does anyone use that phrase? Did I just make that up? Whatever, I’m calling it.)
So I was definitely wearing my spicy pants when we went out to dinner on Wednesday night. It was Wood Fired Wednesday at Max London’s, a fancy local restaurant that we can only afford to eat at when they have $9 pizzas on Wood Fired Wednesdays. I usually order the mushroom pizza, but I was feeling brave, so I tossed my head and ordered the shrimp and chorizo pizza. After all, what’s not to love about seafood and smoked pork?
Now, I can’t really call placing the order a mistake, per se, because all things considered, it was a fucking delicious pizza. The mistake, really, came for being mentally unprepared. I’m still not sure if I just never finished reading the one-line description of the pizza and thus, never actually read the “topped with fresh chilis” bit, or if in my excitement decided that the word ‘chilis’ meant something different. But I was not prepared when my pizza was placed in front of me, sprinkled liberally with jalapeño peppers.
Okay, I know I’ve been Miss “Quit Being a Pussy, Kyle, It’s Just A Weeny Tablespoon of Chipotle Oil,” but I am not yet to a jalapeño level of bravery. Jalapeños are fucking scary. But I ordered it, so I was going to eat it. Luckily, these were not the variety of jalapeño that you find on a Subway sub or ballpark nachos. These were fresh jalapeños, still green and very thinly sliced. So I closed my eyes, found my balls, and chomped down on my first slice.
Within the context of the pizza, they were manageable, and the pizza was fucking delicious. Spectacularly fresh and fishy rock shrimp, smoky chorizo, gooey mahón cheese, and a rich, earthy sauce that I’m pretty sure was made of someone’s soul reduced in an orgasm base. It was the kind of meal that makes your belly all warm. Granted, I had to take more than a few water breaks, and I definitely felt flushed by the end of my pizza. But it went down happily, and I quickly found myself staring at a wood pizza peel scattered with an errant crust, a few smears of that glorious sauce, and a half-handful of fallen jalapeños.
And that’s where I made my fatal mistake. Maybe I was full of warm, happy pizza, and that clouded my judgement. Or perhaps I was feeling overly proud of myself for making those jalapeños my bitch. But whatever the reason, I did something that was not very smart. I lazily picked up my fork, stabbed two of those jalapeños, and popped them in my mouth.
As soon as I bit in to them I knew I’d done something stupid. “Why did I do that?” I probably should have spit them out, but we’re in a nice restaurant, who does that? At first, I was fine. There was a bright pop of fresh crispness that quickly mellowed into warmth. Unfortunately, that lasted all of 7 seconds, at which point my mouth was filled with a ball of heat that flew to the back of my throat and exploded. I started coughing, my eyes teared up, and I didn’t need a mirror to know that my face was bright red. It took all my willpower not to smack the table repeatedly as I guzzled what was left of my water. Let’s just say it was not one of my more graceful moments.
A half-hour later, consoled with a frozen yogurt sundae, my lips were still tingling, and so was my pride. Those spicy pants I’d been wearing were replaced with a humble underoos, and they were giving my ego a serious wedgie.