ENCINITAS — Congratulations to the formerly humble jalapeno. You have arrived, and I know that because the cognoscenti have recently discovered you. It is your turn to delight and entertain, much as the blackened redfish, sushi and the Szechuan rage that have preceded you.
But I am getting ahead of my story. Of course, I have known you for many years. I admired you and certainly respected you, but I wouldn't dare to trifle with you--to put it mildly.
One evening recently, I was invited by a friend to dine upon Russian caviar, accompanied by a chilled straight shot of Swedish pepper vodka. The Swedes have peppered their vodka with jalapenos, and so have the Russians, for that matter. A questionable fate for any self-respecting jalapeno.
My suspicions as to your ascendancy really became aroused by a Christmas gift, sent to me from Neiman-Marcus, no less.
Within the package of gastronomic delights were to be found jars of jalapeno mayonnaise, jalapeno mustard, jalapeno relish and, of course, the indispensable jalapeno ketchup. Coming from Neiman-Marcus makes it but one step short of a Texas gourmand's vision of canonization. I knew I was onto something hot.
One Sunday morning, I was up early, as usual, while the rest of the house slept. I gathered up the newspaper and the dog and headed for the Garden State Bagel Shop for a cup of coffee and a bialy.
As I stood there at the counter, my eyes wandered over the various bins of bagels. The sign said blandly, "New . . . Try Me . . . Jalapeno Bagels." It was at that precise moment that I knew without a doubt that you had arrived.
The chronology was mind-boggling. You were married, as it were, to the world's finest caviar, and then toasted by Swede and Russian alike and venerated to near-sainthood at the shrine of Neiman-Marcus, Dallas, Texas. And now, the very pinnacle of success: to be blended into an egg bagel at a New Jersey-style bagel factory in California.
Now, I say to you, what more could a humble chili pepper from Mexico aspire to? A jalapeno and raspberry torte? Maybe a jalapeno spring mountain water? OK, perhaps a jalapeno wine cooler?
Who knows, with your future in the hands of these gastronomic masochists, you could possibly end up in a burrito or a taco. Oh, chili pepper, where isn't thy sting?