Fighting Fire With Fire

by Donald Wilson on February 11, 2011

Mom's Salsa

“Dad, we’re hot and bored,” Andrew moaned as we walked through the searing heat that was coming off the ground at ten in the morning at the Park City Utah Street Fair.

“We’re going to go to the hot salsa store and wait for you there. It’s air conditioned,” he informed me and with that Andrew and his two buddies took off.

It was fun to watch Andrew exert some independence, and I was glad I had decided to invite a couple of his friends along for a month in the mountains.  However, there was more to this trip than fishing and camping.  We were also in Utah to celebrate my parents’ 50th wedding anniversary and had just had a big party the day before. The day after was being spent with extended family. I needed to gather the boys up and get them back to the cabin before they arrived.

I hurried up the street and went inside the hot sauce store.  The boys had managed to find the hottest sauce in the world: Mad Dog. The store clerk assured me that they were right.

“Please Dad? Please can you buy it?” came the instant plea.

“No way. You guys will never eat this stuff.”

More pleading ensued and in a moment of goofiness, I thought, “what the heck,” and purchased it.  The clerk made some comment about indulgent parents and swiped my card.  I was a bit shocked by her attitude as I didn’t think spending a couple of bucks to try “the hottest salsa in the world” was that extravagant.  Unfortunately, by the time I paid attention to my receipt it was too late; I had just indulged my son and his friends in a $40 gag gift.

Back at the cabin everyone was arriving. The house was soon filled with relatives from all over, and I was excited for Andrew to experience his new family in this extended context.  Disappointingly, the boys were nowhere to be found.  Eventually I located them in the basement watching TV and missing out on the festivities.  I called them to come up stairs and spend time with the family, but they were applying teenage selective hearing and remained downstairs.  Instead of going “all tough dad” on them, I decided to fight fire with fire.  Mad Dog fire.

The bottle of salsa “fire” came with a miniscule spoon about the size of the end of a Q-tip.  It also came with instructions to use one of these teeny spoonfuls for every gallon of liquid. I took out a bottle of my mom’s homemade salsa and poured some in a bowl.  I then dropped in a spoonful of the Mad Dog.  Not satisfied, I repeated the process about four or five more times before just pouring some from the bottle.  I then got a bag of chips and headed to the basement.

“Well, boys, since you’re stuck in front of the TV, you might as well have some chips and salsa.”

They were duly appreciative and I went back upstairs and started counting out loud: “10, 9, 8, 7….”

“WATER!  OH MY GOSH!  WATER!” and with that the family was together.

They were sputtering and we were laughing.  They laughed too, but not until they could breathe again.

That evening after everyone had left, I put out a plate of cookies for the boys and asked them to save one for me.  I was going to visit my cousin in a nearby cabin.  When I came home, I couldn’t believe it, they had left me a cookie, nicely displayed on a small plate.  There was something so pleasant about them remembering me and going out of their way to make sure I got a cookie.  I was feeling some pride in their maturity as I took a very large bite.

What happened next was a slow realization that I had been duped as the afternoon’s heat sensation started to roll over me like a wave on the sand.  Suddenly, I could barely breathe.  I looked at the bottom of the cookie and, sure enough, they had soaked it completely with Mad Dog.  I couldn’t help myself from bursting out laughing.

Not one to let a good prank go “unrevenged,” I grabbed a clean cookie from a hidden stash and went upstairs to greet the boys.  I casually leaned into the room and let them see the cookie in my hand.

They didn’t miss a beat.  Not one of them even hinted they knew something I didn’t.  Casually, I took a bite and continued to talk to them.  Their eyes grew wide, but not one break in character.  I took another bite and slowly devoured the whole cookie.  I lingered long enough for them to see that there was no visible effect, and then said I was going to bed.

“Bed? But isn’t your mouth too hot?”

“No, why would it be hot?” I played dumb.  “Good night, sleep tight,” and I closed the door.

Soon they were downstairs trying to determine how their plan had failed and then to my bedroom demanding an explanation.   My laughter gave way to confession and soon a flood of prankster stories were told and even some future pranks were planned.  Slowly, however, the conversation turned to weightier matters and the stories were now about growing up with all its fears and expectations.

We stayed up chatting late into the night and, as the boys went off to bed, I knew Andrew had experienced a side of me that he had never seen and I knew he felt a certain pride that his dad was more than just a rule maker.  I, too, had seen Andrew in a new light.  He was still my little boy who needed me to be his dad, but I got an inkling of who he was fast becoming and I felt so blessed to be a part of it.  The $40 spent on Mad Dog suddenly felt like a bargain.


This is a recipe that has been evolving in our family for over 30 years.  Back in the 70′s my parents had frequented their favorite Mexican restaurant in Auburn, CA and were obsessed with the table salsa.  My mother lobbied (read hounded) the owner to divulge the recipe for his salsa to no avail.  Even on the eve of their departure for a move to New York, my mother’s pleading was met with stoicism.   Crushed, but not beaten, my mother determined to recreate this recipe.  We were subjected to many reincarnations that didn’t make the mark, but she eventually got it right.  Our family thinks it’s better than the original.  We finally forced her to write down the quantities of everything so we could reproduce it with some consistency.  This is like divulging a family secret, but it’s so good it really needs to be shared.  It’s great on nachos, as a dipping sauce, for enchiladas and especially, Huevos Rancheros.

Mom’s Salsa

Makes 2 quarts

4 teaspoons red wine vinegar

½ tablespoon oregano

½ tablespoon cilantro

¾ tablespoon black pepper

1-1/2 teaspoon cumin

½ teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon sugar

4 medium cloves garlic

Juice from ½ lime

10-12 chile de arbol dried chilies, or to taste

2 (28 oz.) cans tomatoes

Place all ingredients into blender and blend until completely smooth.

Refrigerate.  Will keep in refrigerator for two to three weeks.  If it sits a long time, you might need to shake it before using.  Warning: Gets hotter as it sits.

Note: I use a Vita-Mix blender and it’s powerful enough to blend a rock into baby food.  If you don’t have a blender that will grind the dried chilies really well, I suggest placing the chilies in a saucepan and cover with water.  Bring to a boil (make sure you have the lid on the pan or you will be coughing) and boil for about 3-4 minutes.  This will make it easier to pulverize the chiles.


grace bardugon February 12, 2011 at 3:57 am

that was soooooo funny when you did that!!!!! Did you ever do any more pranks? Salsa sounds great right now. June 2, 2015 at 10:46 am

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