Some like it extra picante

Should I apologize for invoking the names of Ana Granado and Phaedra Wouters, our foreign exchange students, just one more time?

I admit it and plan to write about other things in future columns.

But now there’s an exception. Only last week, our youngest son, Ben, and his wife, Heather, made us grandparents — for the sixth time. Now we have at least one grandchild from each of our three boys. Of the six grandchildren, the latest one, Henry Alexander Trujillo, somewhat balanced the mix, as now one third of the sweet darlings are males. You do the math.

Naturally, a grandparent 77 years older than the newest arrival is bound to claim that the newcomer resembles the paternal grandparent’s side in all the right ways. I agree.

My first look at the 7-pound, 10.5-ounce new arrival, then about six hours old, convinced me that H.A.T. was the handsomest creature ever born. And the world’s best researchers and statisticians can sustain these findings, I’m sure.

But then I remembered the words of Margaret Vazquez, a retired anthropology professor at Highlands University, who told her classes of a custom of residents of New Guinea who apparently didn’t necessarily think of every newborn as good looking.

Vazquez cited yet another anthropologist named Margaret, this time Margaret Mead, author of a best-selling book, “Coming of Age in Samoa,” who observed that people in New Guinea look at a newborn and remark, quite simply, “How baby!”

And it’s true, at the age of one week, my grandson will still have difficulty even opening his eyes. He’s reddish, has a lot of wrinkled skin, reprehensible grip and even to his admittedly biased grandpa, can be described only as “how baby!”

But wait a few months and this doting grandfather will have learned a few more words by which to describe H.A.T.

• • •

Last week’s column centered on heat — heat as in the globe’s temperature. I reminisced about the cool nights and warm summer days that never made it even to the high-80s.

Today, again, the topic is heat. But first, let me explain that “hot” when it comes to chile, has two meanings. When we tell a waitress we’d like our bowl of chile hot, we mean we want it stove hot, not room temperature. The other kind of hot, as in spicy, or picante, usually is beyond the control of the waitperson.

The 10 months we spent as hosts to Ana and Phaedra, our European high schoolers, gave us a chance to introduce them to some of our Chimayó and Hatch chile. Even the terms “Mexican food” and “Spanish food” don’t quite cut it. Ana, our student from Spain, had never tasted chile. And a World College student we once hosted, a young man from Mexico, said he’d never tasted the stuff.

So what do we call it? New Mexican chile? Whatever style or geographic region we choose, anyone spending time in Las Vegas is bound to understand.

I contend that to be good, chile needs a bit of “kick.” In a restaurant, I’ll invariably ask the waitress to make sure my bowl of chile is hot, meaning I want the bowl steaming. The other hot, as in spicy, I can only wish for.

I recall that the “chilito” Mom used to invite us over for grew increasingly mild as my parents aged. I can recall as a child having chile lips for an hour after a meal. Time must have done a number on their taste buds, and soon it was obvious that Mom and Dad’s systems grew less tolerant of the spicy stuff, and as they aged, they toned it down.

A provider of Navajo tacos at this year’s Fiestas obviously milded-down the spice quotient almost to zero, as we felt virtually no jolt when we shared a taco, with the kick of plum pudding.

As a younger man, I’d sometimes ask the management of a restaurant, “Is your chile spicy, or is it the stuff you serve to tourists?” Their reply was almost always, “The customers complain if it’s too hot.”

So? Let them complain.

In my home, red chile — with attitude — fills our plates three or four times a week. I believe we’ve become conditioned to the kind of fare that makes us hanker for ice water or a slice of pineapple, which works wonders.

When my wife, Bonnie, began preparing meals for the girls, I believe she took into account the girls’ unfamiliarity with chile, so she prepared a milder version. But heat and piquancy are relative, and we soon learned the girls were gasping.

We’ve asked, “Have we spoiled these girls forever?” “Are their alimentary canals now in ruins?” “Will they ever recover?” They recovered and soon became New Mexicanized. They tolerated and enjoyed the spicy version in just a few months.

Hosting Ana and Phaedra, in addition to being a wonderful opportunity for us to learn about different cultures (Spanish and Belgian), and for the girls to learn about ours, we turned our kitchen into a virtual laboratory.

We tasted all varieties of bread, Belgian waffles, tortilla (not the round flat bread cooked on a stovetop but an egg-meat-potato combination that was a meal in itself) and desserts. Eager to show off their kitchen skills to their families, when they arrived home last week, the girls did the cooking.

Phaedra’s account of the new meal didn’t surprise us. Her family’s reaction to New Mexico-style chile must have been the same as her own indoctrination when they moved here back in September. In Phaedra’s words, the family “started crying and drinking water when they tasted it.”

We’re happy to learn that for subsequent doses of that Chimayó and Hatch treat, a few days later, Phaedra’s family tolerated the chile much easier.

I hear they even asked for more.

• • •

Curmudgeon that I am, I’ve planted a word in this column that I’ve often heard misused. Can you find it, and email me your guess?

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