Live in America



The House

Recipe for an Unanticipated Thanksgiving Casserole

Credit: Justin Favela

This is not the recipe I intended to write for the Thanksgiving season. My intention was to write a thoughtful meditation on the culinary journey of learning to nixtamalize corn for tortillas: part guessing game, part careful measurement, part witchcraft. A chemical powder is involved. Lots of intuitive guessing. Pots sit out overnight even though your logical mind is just screaming at you about botulism. Then there’s some manual corn-grinding labor. All to produce the kind of tortilla that hipsters pay the big money to inhale.

But thoughtful corn tortillas were not what happened on Thanksgiving.

Not even close.

(Hear fireworks, car alarms, a distant tornado, the rumble from your worst colorectal humbling.)



  • Cheetos, street corn-flavor (actually go Cheeto wild; it’s a mistake no matter the flavor you choose)
  • Lay’s potato chips
  • A pack of a hotdog situation (franks, brats, fuck-it; this thing will stand up to any tube meat selection; glory to tube meats)
  • One can of green beans
  • One can of corn
  • One can of sweet yams (not the whole can, just some; we didn’t go whole-can hardcore)
  • Kraft Singles (don’t skimp; get Kraft; it’s the casserole’s hidden jewel)
  • A box of instant mashed potatoes
  • An envelope/packet of instant garlic mashed potatoes
  • A box of instant stuffing
  • An onion
  • At least four cloves of garlic (my minimum for all garlic measurements)
  • Margarine (not butter, margarine; just like Mom used in the 80s)
  • Lactose-free milk (we were not boundary-less)
  • Mustard
  • Ketchup
  • Mayo (while documented in our ingredients photo, we did not actually use the mayo; I believe the creative chef will find a way to include it)


Credit: Justin Favela


Working as a two-person team, this haute cuisine exploration took about 30 minutes of prep time, plus whatever time your inner artist needs for layering and decorating your masterpiece. Then add at least 30 minutes in the oven, but know that around 30, the Cheetos really burn.

So in total, one hour, not bad for Thanksgiving dinner.

Now preheat your oven to 375.

Now, are the foods from this ingredient list what I normally eat? No. More pointedly, are they foods that my economic privilege allows me to avoid consuming or consume only when I’m jonesing for a Kraft single or a microwaved hotdog? Yes.

Step One: Gather Your Ingredients

Now, let’s say you have an elaborate cooking plan for Thanksgiving. Let that go. Say goodbye. You’re fucking tired. You don’t have two days to do Thanksgiving-basic-prep-cook so that you can actually throw-down-cook on the official holiday. You have a grant to write, a piece of art to create, a video to edit. The house needs cleaning. You’re too tired to combat relatives and the dishes. You’re too tired to have a post-Thanksgiving hangover. There’s a meeting on Friday. A guest arrives on Saturday. A dinner party on Sunday. Anyway you’re not even sure how you feel about celebrating Thanksgiving because colonization and genocide. Plus, you’re behind in your viewing of Dragula. Instead, embrace a bag of free foods gifted to community members who attended a local church music recital. See what you can creatively concoct with its contents. Or maybe that’s not you, but it was definitely me on the run-up to Thanksgiving.

Now, are the foods from this ingredient list what I normally eat? No. More pointedly, are they foods that my economic privilege allows me to avoid consuming or consume only when I’m jonesing for a Kraft single or a microwaved hotdog? Yes. However, did I happily and gratefully gobble up these kinds of processed foods all the time as a kid or as a low-on-funds adult? Yes. And now do I feel all kinds of complex shame and delight and gigglejoy and food-industry-distrust in relation to lots of these ingredients? Also yes. Did Justin and I go ahead and purchase additional ingredients for the casserole mix that weren’t in the gifted bag, ingredients like Cheetos, Lays, Kraft Singles, hot dogs, mayo, ketchup, and mustard? Also hell yes. You can cook creatively regardless of where you sit in the industrialized food chain. Adding two kinds of chips to a casserole is a choice you can joyfully make. Fuck it, I will always alway love Cheetos. Anyway and finally, by placing all these ingredients into a single casserole, did it all lead to an epic and extended digestive meltdown at 3am? For sure hell yes. Totally worth it.

Look, I know this ingredient list is full of not-so-much nutrition. In particular, these foods are manufactured for those without the luxury of days to spend cooking a less-processed Thanksgiving dinner and for those without the economic prerogative to anxiously watch a waiting list to see if a local, farm-raised, bespoke turkey will finally become available. But as it turns out, contemplating food systems, my personal culinary history, and how my hours are both blessed and stretched was a useful rumination on the day our nation undertakes an annual celebration of its first manufactured food myth. As I contemplated its contents, a seemingly simple bag of food asked me to sit with our nation’s food history, not so different from its history-history. This bag of food reminded me of all the larger systems shaping my life, the systems that determined where I have landed and what actually nourishes me. (Not ideas I usually ruminate upon as I wield my mandoline to shave potatoes for my Thanksgiving sweet potato au gratin.) Sometimes a veritable cornucopia of nourishment for both mind and body comes from a gifted bag of processed food. Nourishment definitely comes from maniacally building an experimental casserole with a friend. Also Cheetos. Nourishment comes from Cheetos. Even though, again, Cheetos were a mistake to add to this casserole. But Cheetos aside, for me cooking the most perfect bespoke turkey would not have resulted in the thought or creativity catalyzed by this humble-and-yet-show-stopping casserole. I give thanks for the mental meanderings Unanticipated Thanksgiving Casserole birthed.

Step Two: The Mise En Place

You can freewheel your way through this.

Mostly as directed…..

Prepare the stuffing as directed.

Dump all the instant potatoes in a big pot and prepare sorta as directed. I cut back on the milk by a third cup because I wanted the potatoes to have enough body to stoutly hold up the layers of the casserole, like carbohydrate concrete. Also, just so you know, if in making the potatoes you use margarine instead of butter as directed, the margarine does not actually melt when you plop it into the already-warmed liquids. (It had been a while since I encountered margarine, so I was fascinated.) The margarine we used, a rural crock variety, sorta dissolved into smaller and smaller microplastic-like globular structures. So then you contemplate consuming those spheres.

Warm up your tube meats as the package directs. Then slice your tube meats lengthwise into quarter-inch tube meat planks.

Open the sweet potatoes. Whoa, canned sweet potatoes. Interesting. Touch one. Think about where that sweetness should live. Pull out a few of the pre-cooked sweet potatoes floating in a kind of syrup water. Dice those few up. No need to heat up. Save the rest for other cooking adventures.


Saute the onion and garlic in margarine until the onions are translucent. Warm up the corn and the green beans in the margarined-onions mix. We could have decided to dump this veggie mix into the stuffing and then given it all a quick stir, but if you want distinct layers in your casserole, keep the veggies far away from the stuffing. In our casserole, despite our intentions, the veggies and stuffing were layered close together and ended up as one. But maybe, like my grandpa, you like mixing together all the food on your plate. That’s fine. Mix the veggies and stuffing.

Now you begin to layer, and this is where the artistry really comes into play. As always, you do you, but this is how we built our masterpiece.

Step Three: Construction

We constructed our casserole with these principles in mind: stability, ease of clean-up, the Expressionist movement. One of these was perhaps a more subconscious principle.

You want to cooking spray, butter, and cooking spray some more a 9 x 13 baking dish. There is some significant potential to stick with this casserole. Don’t risk it. Hit that cooking spray hard.

Now you begin to layer, and this is where the artistry really comes into play. As always, you do you, but this is how we built our masterpiece. (Moving forward, I write about this process in past tense because I feel as if this design could never fully be recaptured.)

We began with a strong base layer of mashed potatoes. We thought the potatoes could 1. really hold up to the more direct oven heat hitting the bottom of the dish and 2. stabilize the tube meats to come. We next laid out rows of hot dog planks in long lines, covering about 80% of the mashed potato base layer: arguably our most structured and precise layer. We then started to put down Kraft singles, but wait, pause, wait, wait, no. We questioned the Kraft singles because what if the instant mashed potatoes somehow dried out the hot dogs planks. So we removed the Kraft Singles layer and splurted Ketchup and mustard all over the hot dogs. Moisture secured, then we (re)placed the singles in a pattern best described as a “cheese chevron.” Harsh, bold, and visually intense–just like the descriptors that pop up when you google “Expressionist movement.” Next came globs of stuffing, and then we connected those globs via smatters of sauteed vegetables. And low-and-behold, the casserole dish was getting full already, but we still had lots of ingredients left. So with practicality in mind, we laid down another layer of mashed potatoes to seal and conceal everything below.

Now came the moment we inadvertently channeled Munch’s “The Scream” but in tube meat and with turkey imagery. Across the full top of the casserole, we fanned out our tube meat planks in a turkey tail pattern. We then cut one plank in half and placed it below the fan. This was our turkey head. Justin then sliced off another piece of plank in sort of a beak-esque look. That’s the turkey beak, of course, and it really anchored our design in realism. We then used the ketchup and mustard to give the hotdog planks feathered details and texture. We created an “eye’ with ketchup. Filled in the space between the “feathers” with the remaining veggies and stuffing. Realized that the veggie/stuffing background was too one-tone so placed diced-up Kraft singles across this landscape to give it a visual lift. Next we created additional feathered contrast with diced sweet potato. Finally, we grounded this abstracted turkey world by laying down a grassland of Cheetos beneath its body. Then realizing everything was much too 2D, we positioned shards of Lay’s potato chips so that they rose up like feather daggers around the turkey’s tail.

But really, there is no “right way” to layer this casserole. Just follow your heart.

Put your creation in the oven. Bake for at least 30 minutes. Know that your Cheeto grass will sorta burn.

Step Four: The Consummation

Eat some.

It’s delicious.

Truly. It’s every 80s church potluck casserole rolled into one Thanksgiving culinary art piece. You’ll be happy and confused and full of ideas and maybe regret. Your digestive system might give you lots of feedback.

Gobble. Gobble. Happy turkey day.

The House

Martinez Avocado Tomatillo Salsa

Taste adjust. Taste adjust. Give up and gorge.

The key to mastering this salsa is a total pleasure-button—just eat a lot of it. You’ll learn what you personally like in the land of acidity, salt, heat, and creamy green. If you like things limey, add more lime; just know that more-lime leads to a more-liquid salsa. And if you want for sure juicy limes, squeeze test’em when purchasing. In my experience, limes that give upon squeeze are mas juicier. Like things creamy? Then more avocado, just know that creamy avocados can flatten the heat in jalapeño. Speaking of jalapeños, they’re finicky bitches. Sometimes, they’re just not hot, and sometimes they are fire. Attempting to pinpoint fire, I sniff jalapeños at the grocery store, trying to find the most-jalapeño-smelling-jalapeño, but that’s socially awkward after a while. So if I use two or three jalapeños and I’m still not getting the green-heat, then I switch to serranos—but only one. I use the good iodine-free Kosher salt, but no one else in my family is bougie this way. If your flavor is tasting flat, incrementally add ½ tsps of salt and retaste. All this goes to say, the whole thing is a balancing act. Just taste and adjust and taste and adjust and then give up. No one is ever gonna be unhappy when you show up with an imperfect batch of avocado tomatillo salsa.


  • 2 lbs. tomatillos
  • 1/3 medium yellow or white onion
  • Fat-large bunch of cilantro; no wimpy small bunch
  • 2-3 jalapeños (and one back-up serrano if you want spice)
  • 4-6 limes
  • 1 large or two medium very very ripe tomatoes
  • 2 very very ripe avocados
  • 1-2 tsp. of Kosher salt


Shuck the tomatillos; peel the skins off. The outside of the tomatillos will feel sticky. It’s fine. If the stickiness were poisonous, I would be dead. Halve the tomatillos; quarter the big ones. Rough chop the tomato, onion, and jalapeños—big chunks.

Blender or Food Processor Round One:

Dump in onion, jalapeño, tomatillo, cilantro. Just rip the cilantro in half and dump in stems and all. Run that machine. You want a fine chop from this blend. You may have to stop and shove the ingredients towards the bottom with a spoon. That’s fine. There’s enough liquid in the tomatillos that eventually things will get going.

Round two:

To this blended mix, add the juice of four limes. (If your limes are dry-toast, you’ll likely need to add one or two more.) Meat of two avocados. I just scoop the meat out using my fingers, which is sort of disgusting, but on the plus side, you get to lick avocado off your hands. Add tomatoes and salt. Blend. This blend will go faster because the base is already liquidy. I like some chunky avocado and tomato bits, so I blend less. Taste adjust. Taste adjust. Give up and gorge.

Credit: Carra Martinez
Credit: Carra Martinez
The House

Untested Recipe for Growing Blackberries

I hope I am still planting blackberry canes when I am grandma-aged. By then, I’ll have a tested recipe. By then, I’ll have planted blackberries in the front yard and the side yard and the backyard. Wherever there is plenty of sun


Two Years?


  • Sweetie Pie Blackberry Canes
  • 1 part cow manure and compost
  • 3 parts just regular old not fancy soil
  • Some sulphur, like a big pinch
  • Maybe a big fake rock

Step One: Sourcing Ingredients

Cutting out sod is not my favorite job, but the eight, six-inch blackberry canes must be planted. And maybe I plant them around Lone Rock: a large, flat-top rock that lives in the least trafficked spot in the front yard. This rock spot might just give the blackberries the eight hours of sun they need along with decent soil and drainage. But before thoughts of blackberry companionship, know that Lone Rock is a large rock surrounded by a sea of manicured Johnson grass. Three men I don’t know come every ten days or so and move about the yard like mechanized worker bees, lopping off the weeds, shaping them into a respectable lawn. Lone Rock, though, seems, well lonely to me, so my thinking is to dig out the Johnson grass from around it and plant the blackberry canes about its perimeter. Give it some company, and perhaps in return its girth will protect the fledgling canes. Also maybe, since the canes are thornless, just maybe in a few years I can step through their painless wonder, perch atop the rock, and eat all the secret berries growing on the inside. I imagine the rock wants for these coming and goings because to make matters worse for its sense of self, the rock may not even be a real rock. Justin questioned its authenticity. Lone Rock might be a concrete mixture poured into the facsimiled form of a real rock. It does have an eerily similar rock twin across the yard in the front flower bed. A lonely fake rock who can’t even claim a unique nature in its own yard. Surely Lone Rock will appreciate blackberry friends.

Credit: Carra Martinez

Step Two: Sourcing Yourself

But with Lone Rock’s streetside locale, there is the inevitable issue of folks walking by and picking the fruit for themselves. Initially unwilling to share, I almost plant the canes in the backyard in a spot that definitely would not serve blackberry production. In the backyard, surrounded by a tall, solid don’teventhinkabouteatingmyblackberries fence, the blackberry plants would definitely grow big and green and brambley, but they would never receive enough sun to fruit to their full potential. And I learned from early gardening attempts that plants are not fucking around about how much sun they need. If they say eight hours, they mean eight hours. So the choice is this: do I keep for myself all the ten blackberries produced from a low-light backyard situation, or do I turn a potential bounty over to the chaos gods of the passersby, strangers taking my fruit.

Historically, in my family, we protect our fruit. It’s like, genetic. My Martinez grandparents had a very large pecan tree that grew just outside their tiny yard in the middle of a public sidewalk in Galveston, Texas. To protect his pecans, each fall my grandfather hid about the lawn and stared out the window, watching for pecan thieves. And when they arrived, and they did because many-a working-class Mexican loves a free pecan, my grandfather would bellow down from his window perch: Those aren’t your pecans! In order to protect his onpublicland pecan tree from passersby, he even went so far as to grow large girthy hedges across the sidewalks, blocking folks entirely from moving down his side of the street. (Eventually the city made him cut down hedges.) Regardless of bureaucratic interference into his activities on public land, my grandfather nevertheless gathered fallen pecans, and then at night while he watched the news and his telenovelas from the comfort of his Lazy Boy, he’d pluck pecans from the bowl that sat on the side table and crack away. Whenever I encounter a Lazy Boy, I still expect to see a bowl of unshelled pecans next to it.

Genetic resource-guarding is a real thing, y’all. I almost plant the blackberries in the backyard behind my large girthy fencehedge. There is a kind of life-sustaining gesture to such a move. On a very real level my grandfather’s actions were logical: his life taught him to hoard pecans. He came to the U.S. at age 13, alone and undocumented, swimming across the river, his whole body wet, not just his back. (Wet back, a term I frequently heard growing up, has always confused me. Back then I would think: But when you are forced to swim across a river for safety, the whole body is wet, not just the back.) At 13, my grandfather was profoundly wet and poor and hungry. For years, he slept on a cot in the back of a Galveston bakery, his job feeding the ovens wood that he scrounged off the beach each morning. But a body cannot live on wood-fired bread alone. As I have learned from my nutritionist, bodies need fat. At the least, they need some pecans. Maybe on some level my grandfather was unknowingly hoarding his fat store with his hedge fortress. Using his garden-smarts in preparation to survive the lean times that were always lurking no matter what side of the river he lived on. But then again, maybe he was also just a cheap asshole pecan hoarder.

Regardless, in a mere two generations, his granddaughter is running an artist residency in a charming yellow 1918 bungalow that is funded in part in appreciation of her fatty creativity and systems mindset. I don’t need to hoard the fucking pecans. Or the blackberries. I get plenty of fat and carbohydrates and protein, and I can buy berries from Whole Foods if so inclined … though to be real, I am more likely to hit up that tiny top-shelf of organic berries at the WalMart neighborhood market. Every time I am in a Whole Foods, I have to quieten this mantra that plays through my head: You didn’t come from no Whole Foods people. That refrain really impacts my ability to fully engage with the olive bar and organic berry picks. Two generations later, I can afford to share my low glycemic-impact blackberries, my version of pecans.

And besides I come from a long line of blackberry thieves. As kids, we picked the thorned vines that grew along our pasture fences in rural East Texas. And you need a lot of berries to make a large cobbler (accompanied by Bluebell homemade vanilla). I don’t know the actual measurement, but I know you want to half fill the big bucket. A half-fill of the big bucket necessitates plundering neighbors’ fence lines and wandering into their pastures or purloining fruits from the local game preserve. So who am I to stop a blackberry thief? The blackberries will go in the front yard! And if they flourish around Lone Rock, then I hope a chubby black-haired little girl comes along and helps herself to a few–but not all–sunwarmed blackberries.

Step Three: Mixing

After much internet research and after the guys at the local feed-and-seed insisted that I buy some sulfur because “berry growers around here always buy sulfur” and that I buy the cheap cow-manure compost because “that mushroom compost [that they have for sale] is too damn expensive,” I believe my steps for planting include the following:

  1. With my shovel, cut the Johnson grass sod away from the rock.
  2. Sit in the grass and breathe hard cause cutting out sod is not a joke.
  3. Pull the cut clumps up and shake out the dirt I want to keep in the bed. (With this step, Lone Rock is particularly useful in terms of banging the sod clumps against it until the dirt is released.)
  4. Sit in the grass and breathe hard some more, just like step two except now really sweating and covered in dirt.
  5. To this freshly turned earth, circle the rock adding two full bags of garden soil and about a third a bag of compost with cow manure. Note: Too much cow shit in a garden bed can burn up your plants.
  6. Then, using no actual weight measurement and with a sense of full confusion produced by researching how to make soil more acidic for blackberries but knowing that too much sulfur can also kill the plants and that all the internet measurements are based on a blackberry-farm amount of blackberries, I abandon science and instead intuitively rely on Grandma Martinez’s cooking measurement system and hope that blackberries are like arroz con pollo or mole. I hope blackberries like big pinches of ingredients. Circle Lone Rock sprinkling big pinches of sulfur.
  7. Mix all these ingredients together with shovel and sometimes hands.
  8. If needed, another dirty grass break.
  9. Create mounds of this mixture. Space said mounds at least 1.5 feet apart. Note: The internet says to place the mounds three to four feet apart, but I have too many canes and not enough rock circumference for that formula. Thus, overplant.
  10. Plant the cans in the mounds.
  11. Water.
  12. Sit on the porch and be veravera tired but pleased.
  13. Eventually if this recipe works, build supports for the canes. Finally! A hedge of sorts!

In no small way, I need the porch moment to recoup because there is an unexpected ingredient in my mixing: processing some deep shame and embarrassment. My nutritionist asked me to record daily goals for my physical/mental health, and while most were like “deadening anxious thoughts and repetitive negative inner monologues,” I also wrote down “sweat more.” But in recording these thoughts, I did not stop to consider the link between the two goals, between deadening a thought pattern and sweating more. As I work in the bed, which results in a fairly sweat-soaked gray tshirt, I begin to recognize how a goal of “sweat more” comes with a whole host of gendered, raced baggage.

Before I begin clearing the sod, I process: When you do this, you are going to sweat. In the front yard near the sidewalk, people are going to see you sweat–a whole fucking lot. And you will be dirty. And your back will be soaked from manual labor sweat. This is the ridicule-loaded sweat you’ve avoided your whole life. You got a lot of shiny degrees that are supposed to mean that you don’t need to sweat this way anymore. Your family’s moved beyond this sweat. Nonetheless, as my siblings frequently remind me,, I am still just very good at repetitive farm-ish tasks involving lifting and hauling heavy objects about in the hot sun. All the PhDs in the world can’t kill that hard-earned muscle memory.

Growing up doing a fairshare of ranch-based labor and watching my father do a Herculean amount of manual labor across three and four jobs at once, I have no small amount of emotions and thoughts about sweat. And a good portion of that emotion and thought transformed into paranoia a long long time ago. Paranoia about sweat. About what sweat signals. What is says about my race and class and gender. My success at moving “beyond.” Beyond 12-hour days spent in a hayfield for most of the summer. Now that’s some sweat; that’s some blowingrotteddirtoutyournoseattheendoftheday, manual labor-soaked, sweated body. I learned lessons from that sweat. I learned the language a wet-tshirt-painted back can call forth. I heard those words aimed at my father, at myself, at most every brown person I grew up around who dared to sweat in front of white people. Even sweating in a “sanctioned” environment, like a high school gym, felt risky. In high school, I so hated publicly sweating that I would sit shirtless in the locker room a long time after a basketball game in an effort to cool down, to stop the sweat. And I played a lot of minutes, and we won lots of games in front of a whole gym full of folks watching me drip sweat. But I didn’t want my face to be red when I left the locker room. I didn’t want to the back of my good street clothes to show any sweat. I kept my hair braided after the game because the braid hid how drenched my head was. I was a fairly confident kid in a lot of ways, but I could not stand the thought of folks recognizing that I sweated.

Years, manymany years later, I face Lone Rock, shovel in hand, grappling with the sweat that is about to come. But I created this artist residency and moved to this Latinx neighborhood in some ways because I wanted to remember all the life lessons I’d forgotten inside of three degrees and hip cities and years of pondering critical theory and experimental performance. Perhaps my time at this residency is, in part, once more learning how to sweat, what sweat means to and for me. Yeah, maybe I moved here to sweat. That seems as logical as any of my other reasons for relocating to Springdale, Arkansas.

Step Four: Growing:

I’ll wait until late in the afternoon to undertake planting, but the temperature will still likely be in the upper 80s. Still a sweaty business temperature. Inevitably, I’ll be drenched–front and back. Folks will see me dirty sweat. Passersby will no doubt comment on my labor and my body as they cruise past the yard. They’ll see me balanced atop the shovel’s step or banging sod against once-lonely rock. Or at my most vulnerable on a break, red-faced and flopped across the ground, sucking wind.

Planting these Sweetie Pie Blackberry canes in the front yard around Lonely Rock will inevitably elicit public feedback as cars roll by the busy intersection. Kids are gonna call out from the bus as it halts at the four-way stop just a few feet away. A “damn lady” will ring out as will a “get it.” And then some kind of “grandma” comment coming from an old shitted-out black Ford Taurus. I’ll wrestle down my immediate impulse to yank that stupid fucking teenager out of the car via the window. I’ll stop to consider what such an impulse teaches me about my own embedded ageism.

But now that I think about it, I hope I am still planting blackberry canes when I am grandma-aged. By then, I’ll have a tested recipe. By then, I’ll have planted blackberries in the front yard and the side yard and the backyard. Wherever there is plenty of sun. By then I will have a better understanding of the actual measurement for sulfur. By then, I’ll have sweated. A lot of sweat, and maybe it will mean something different.