David and I are in Tennessee for the weekend visiting his father. At 91 Jerry loves Starbucks cappuccino and can beat just about anybody at horseshoes, scrabble, or gin rummy. Every morning he prays (without a cheat sheet) for each of his 7 children and their spouses, 23 grandchildren and their 12 spouses and 4 significant others, and 26 great-grand children—79 of us in all. Now there’s a man who knows how to take care of body, mind, and spirit.
I love to cook for Jerry because he’s not your typical 91-year old. He doesn’t do kitchen—he’s earned that right—but he’s grateful for just about anything you set in front of him. Our first day I pull together a quick meal from what was around, but after that I tell him I’ll cook whatever his healthy little nonagenarian heart desires.
At his age you’d think he’d say, “Nothing spicy,” or “It doesn’t matter. I can’t taste anything anyway.” Nope. Without stopping to think he blurts out, “Fajitas!” Wanting to confirm he wasn’t used to some milquetoast version, I probe, “What do you usually take on your fajitas.” “Lots of peppers and onions—I pile it on,” he says. “Sour cream?” I ask. “Oh yes, and salsa too.” His only request? That I make it “moist.” He doesn’t like dry food.
When he realizes he gets to pick another meal you’d have thought he just won the Power Ball. He doesn’t have to ponder this one either. Saturday’s his pizza night. His favorite? Everything. Supreme—peppers, onions, pepperoni, and ground beef. “Load it up,” he says. “And go heavy on the sauce.” Right. He doesn’t want it dry.
Pizza’s pretty easy to keep moist, but since fajitas meat is traditionally spice-rubbed and grilled I worried I might not make good on his request. Then I remembered my beef carnita recipe, the foundation of which is pulled chili-braised chuck roast. It doesn’t get any moister. I find a butcher paper-wrapped chuck roast in the freezer—bone-in no less—which I thaw, spice rub, sear, and stew in a high-temperature oven for 1 1/2 hours. I shred the tender meat, returning it to its spicy thick-bodied sauce and set it over low heat while I roast the peppers and onions and ready the remaining ingredients.
By the way, Jerry is also cool because he gets Netflix. After horseshoes, gin rummy and going to Starbucks his favorite thing to do is watch movies, especially while eating dinner. Before we hit “play,” I give him a warm tortilla, spoon on some of the spicy beef and dole out what I thought was a reasonable amount of onions and peppers. “More,” he demands! I top him off with sour cream, salsa, and a little chopped cilantro.
We start the movie. At first it’s quiet but eventually I hear a licking sound. As he eats his fajita, some of the juice runs down his fingers. I smile as I race to the kitchen for extra napkins. I’ve just made Jerry the moistest fajita he’s ever eaten.