Dear Jack: You Love Nonna’s Authentic Mexican Burritos

7 years, 10 months.

Dear Jack,

Last weekend as we spent the weekend in Alabama at Nonna and Papa’s house, you quickly learned how much you loved Nonna’s burritos. In fact, that’s all I remember you eating the whole time.

I guess it helps that Nonna’s mother was Mexican. You’re getting the real deal.

Her burritos even look Mexican. What’s funny is that when our family goes out to Mexican restaurants, you never order a burrito, so perhaps Nonna’s burritos are the most authentic burritos you’ve ever had.

You ate a lot this past weekend… thanks to Nonna’s burritos.

Love,

Daddy

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MyHeritage DNA Test Results are Back… But Do You Agree with the Results?

Either my DNA results from MyHeritage are inaccurate, or what my family has believed this whole time about our ethnicity has been inaccurate.

Currently, I am sort of baffled. I am still sorting out the confusion. My Italian grandfather, Alberto Victorio Metallo, whose own father arrived in America a hundred years ago from Italy and could only barely speak English when he died in 1983, was Italian.

However, my results from MyHeritage do not remotely reflect my Italian heritage. Instead, the test shows I am literally 0% Italian. I went through the trouble of looking up exactly what countries of origin my DNA traces back to, according to the regions that MyHeritage provided, and removed the countries in which the test showed I have no DNA connection.

Here’s my DNA:

Nick Shell

100.0%

37.4% Central Western European (Germany, The Netherlands/Holland, France, Austria, Belgium, Switzerland)

31.8% Iberian (Spain/Portugal)

21.6% Central American (Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama)

6.1% Eastern European (Russia, the Czech Republic, Poland, Hungary, Romania, Moldova, Croatia, Slovenia, Slovakia)

2.3% Balkan (Romania, Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Montenegro, Macedonia, Bulgaria, Albania)

0.8% Middle Eastern (Iraq, Iran, Lebanon, Kuwait, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Jordan)

0% (England, Finland, Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Scandinavia, Greece, Italy, Sardinia, EstoniaLatviaLithuania, Ashkenazi Jewish, Yemenite Jewish, Mizrahi Jewish, Native American, South American, Indigenous Amazonian, African, Asian, Oceanic)

My whole life I have had reason to believe I am one quarter Italian, but I was open-minded to the idea my test would reveal instead of being 25% Italian, maybe I would only be 12.5%, as my great-grandfather Joseph Metallo (the one who came here from Italy) married a woman named Maria Vite; who could have possibly been of French descent, based on vite being a French word.

(That’s my Italian grandfather pictured above on the left; opposite me, with my son.)

However, my great-grandmother also emigrated here from Italy and spoke Italian. Maria “Mary” Vite died at age 38 in the year 1938, so there is definitely some mystery as to her family tree. But even if she was 100% French yet born in Italy, my great-grandfather would have had to been mainly of Spanish or Portuguese descent and his family would have had to at some point adopted Italian names, including their last name, Metallo.

Even if the test was a little inaccurate, I would still think I would show up at least a little bit Italian. After all, Middle Eastern DNA showed up in me, along with Eastern European, but not Italian?

If you’re wondering why I show up as nearly a quarter Central American and nearly a third Spanish (or Portuguese), it’s because my grandmother (who my Italian grandfather was married to) was Mexican.

(This is her, pictured below, being able to meet my daughter.)

That actually brings up another surprise. By quadrupling my Central American DNA, which is 21.6%, that indicates my Mexican grandmother was actually 86.4% Central American, only leaving 13.6% (that’s close to one eighth) to be Spanish. Then, once I subtracted that 13.6% from the Spanish part of me (31.8%), it left 18.2%. I then multiplied that percentage times 4 again, to assume how Spanish my Italian grandfather must have been: 72.8%.

According to my theory, my Mexican grandmother was mainly Central American (barely Spanish) and my Italian grandfather was mainly Spanish (not Italian at all); leaving the rest of him to have been 9.2% Balkan (Romania, Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Montenegro, Macedonia, Bulgaria, Albania). That brings my Italian grandfathers DNA up to exactly 82%.

Next I added the 3.2% Middle Eastern he must have been; now totaling 85.2%. That implies the rest of him had to have been Central Western European, which includes French.

This also means, by default, my dad has to be of Spanish descent as well, because there’s still Spanish DNA to be accounted for.

Most of my test makes sense. My last name is Shell, which in German, means “loud and noisy.” So that accounts for some of the 37.4% Central Western European.

But is this test accurate? Is it possible that I am truly not Italian at all? What do you think?

In the meantime, my mom is taking the test too. Being half-Mexican, half-Italian her whole life, I’m curious to know what the test says about her. We should know by October…

And if you’re interested in taking a DNA test like I did, here’s the link to MyHeritage.

I Will Be the 1st Person You Know Who Actually Took a DNA Test to Find Out Their Ethnicity (MyHeritage Results by September 2nd)

Some people could care less about what shows up in their family tree. They will just sort of laugh it off with, “Yeah, I’m pretty much a mutt, I guess… A little English, a little Irish, maybe some German- I even heard there’s some Native American Indian in there too.”

But I am not one of those people.

Instead, I am Nick Shell. Therefore, I have always been fascinated by the mystery of my ethnicity.

I suppose I have somewhat of an advantage in that I know for a fact that all my great-grandparents on my mom’s side were born in another country:

Her grandparents on her father’s side were born in Italy and her grandparents on her mother’s side were born in Mexico. It’s just always been taken for granted that my mother is half Italian and half Mexican.

But I can no longer assume that every ancestor on my mom’s side was either 100% Italian or 100% Mexican. Besides, “Mexican” isn’t actually a race; as I understand that Mexicans are ultimately an ethnic mix of Native Americans and Europeans.

Over the years, my mom has reminded me of what she heard as a young girl, when she was around the Italian half of the family: “Just because we have the Metallo name and we’re Italian, that doesn’t mean that’s all we are. There’s other stuff in there too: A little bit of Greek, a little bit of French, and a little bit of Jewish…”

 

And before my Mexican grandmother passed away last year, she told me something I never heard her say before; that when she was a little girl, she saw family members “who had black skin and tight, curly hair.” I believe it is possible there is actually a few drops of African blood in me.

As for my dad’s side of the family, no one really knows. A few years ago, my dad received a book containing all the family tree records, but the names all seem to be predictably “WASP”: White Anglo-Saxon Protestant.

But I won’t be wondering much longer. Because as of Saturday, July 22nd, I mailed off the DNA test I bought from MyHeritageThe results should be back within 4 to 6 weeks from that day; which would be August 19th be at the soonest, and September 2nd at the latest.

As you can imagine, I am looking forward to finding out the results! No matter what the results reveal, I am sure I will be surprised…

Even though I paid $79 (normally $99) plus shipping, I see there are running a special that ends tonight, on July 31st; for just $69.

And if you’re interested in taking a DNA test like I did, here’s the link to MyHeritage.

Dear Holly: You are My Golden Senorita who Loves Munching on Tortillas

1 year, 1 month.

Dear Holly,

I doubt most people would guess it, but you are indeed part Mexican. My grandmother’s parents were born in Michoacán, which is in southeast Mexico. She was born in Buffalo, New York, but was completely Mexican. So Nonna is half Mexican, I am a quarter, and you are 1/8th.

You’re 12 and half percent Mexican. Of course, your golden hair sure doesn’t help imply that. Nor your blue eyes. Nor your fair skin.

But if nothing else, you have definitely been showing your Mexican roots in that you are currently obsessed with Tortilla Land brand tortillas.

I like them because right there on the package, it says there are only 5 ingredients: wheat flour, water, canola oil, salt, sugar. No unpronounceable chemicals or preservatives. Plus, I can eat them because they are vegan.

Mommy gets them at Kroger, which is where we buy most of our groceries each week.

You just can’t get enough of these tortillas. I love watching you use your little figures try to aggressively grab the little morsels that Mommy and I tear for you. You quickly stuff them in your mouth as if each time were the last time.

Of course, your brother regularly eats them for breakfast, so I suppose there is indeed some legitimate concern that we could run out of these tortillas before you’re ready for another one.

And Mommy makes quesadillas out of them as well. She uses avocado instead of cheese, since I can’t have dairy.

I’ve been trying to get your brother into spicy foods, but he thinks black pepper is spicy. So if I can’t convert him, maybe I can convert you. I need to have at least one kid who can appreciate spicy food.

Perhaps it all starts with a 1 year-old little girl’s fascination with tortillas.

Love,

Daddy

This is 36: The Story behind the Pie-Face Picture on My 36th Birthday

Last Thursday night as my birthday came to a close, I posted a picture on Facebook that was taken just a couple of hours earlier. The caption simply read, “This is 36.” The picture showed me right after I had been pie-faced by one of the servers at our favorite restaurant, Tito’s.

Indeed, it caught me by complete surprise. I had no intentions that night of being pie-faced for the first time in my life. Sure, one of the waiters leaned over to me and muttered into my ear right before they sang “Happy Birthday” and told me, “We’re going to throw pie in your face… is that okay?”

I just smiled and nodded my head, assuming he was just joking. I still didn’t take him seriously even when he told my wife, “Grab your camera. You will want a picture of this…”

Actually, I didn’t even realize what had happened until I tasted the whipped cream. My mouth just happened to be open with the pie came at me. I never even saw it happen, as the girl who did it secretly had the pie behind me.

(And yes, I just have to count this as a “fortunate accident”, as consuming whipped cream violates my vegan lifestyle…)

Even after 24 hours and two showers, I was still sort of able to smell the whipped cream. It got pretty high up my nose.

To me, that image is the perfect concept of how I interpret being 36 years old.

I had just turned 18 when I graduated high school in 1999. That means just as many years have passed since then. I am 36.

And I am proud to be 36. I embrace change. I accept the minor (or are they major?) evolutions in my personality that come along with being age 36. I gladly commemorate what this seemingly insignificant age symbolizes to me.

It’s like getting surprisingly pie-faced, then instantly laughing because you already know that it’s the little things in life that become the big things.

This is 36.

Our Very Vegan (and Mexican) Thanksgiving Feast

Our Very Vegan (and Mexican) Thanksgiving Feast

You’re likely reading this because you fall into one of two categories: Either you’re a fellow vegan like me… or you’re simply curious to see what a Thanksgiving looks like without the traditional turkey and dressing.

Well, I can’t speak for most plant-based families out there, but I can definitely tell you what our family did for Thanksgiving this year.

We had a very vegan, and Mexican, feast.

Why Mexican? The main reason is because it was the easiest menu for my wife to plan and prepare; not to mention, we were travelling with the food for 3 hours from Tennessee to Alabama.

The other reason, though it could arguable be a coincidence, is that my side of the family is part Mexican; so it simply seemed natural to do so.

Our Very Vegan (and Mexican) Thanksgiving Feast

When we drove in the night before Thanksgiving, my mom made some homemade Michoacán style “tacos” for my wife and me to try. The recipe was one that my Grandma (who was full Mexican) passed on to my mom.

Plus, we made vegan pancakes. Not to mention, avocado toast. And some breakfast muffins, using chia seeds as part of the recipe.

Our Very Vegan (and Mexican) Thanksgiving Feast

The next day for our actual Thanksgiving Day feast, we had a taco bar. My wife cooked up 3 pounds of Beyond Meat (made from pea protein) for the main filling. Plus, my mom prepared black beans, pinto beans, and refried beans. We of course had veggies to dress the tacos, as well as avocado, which serves as a high-fat cheese substitute. There was also some really healthy black rice with almonds; so hearty!

My mom also made some bean salads for sides and pumpkin pie for dessert.

Our Very Vegan (and Mexican) Thanksgiving Feast

There was so much food that we still had enough left over to have the meal again the next day. Both times we had the meal, we had guests over. We didn’t tell them it was vegan, but they seemed to enjoy it just the same.

So, there you go. That’s what we had for our Thanksgiving feast. And it worked so well, we plan to repeat our menu again for Christmas!

Whatever brings you to this blog post today, please know that you are welcome here. No pressure at all for you to adopt the wildly strange and counter-cultural lifestyle I have lived for many years now.

Just enjoy the scenery and scratch your head in wonder. It’s okay. This is a safe place.

Our Very Vegan (and Mexican) Thanksgiving Feast

Dear Jack: My Grandma is in Heaven Now

5 years, 10 months.

Dear Jack: My Grandma is in Heaven Now

Dear Jack,

Last weekend, our family traveled to my hometown of Fort Payne, Alabama so that we could attend the visitation and funeral for my Grandma; Delores “Lola” Gonzales Metallo.

Our family most recently visited her just a few of months ago in July, which made the 2nd time she was able to meet Holly.

Then the following month, while you were staying at Nonna and Papa’s house for a week of “summer camp,” you visited Grandma again.

I’m so glad you got to have that one last special visit with her. Nonna sent me this picture of the two of you, which she took with her phone:

“Special visit with Grandma. A sweet bond between a 5 1/2 yr old Great Grandson with his 81 yr old Great-Grandmother. Grandma had an old movie playing on her TV and Jack loved it. Grandma was soooo happy. She loved hearing about Jack but especially the movies he was getting to go see.”

But as of last Thursday morning, at age 81, she passed on to Heaven. No more pain or suffering for her.

One of the first things that came to mind when I heard this was the children’s Bible I read to you each night before you go to bed.

Grandma gave it to me as a Christmas gift in 1988, nearly 30 years ago. In the front of it, she wrote, “With all my love!”

Dear Jack: My Grandma is in Heaven Now

Grandma was known for her love of dogs, her ability to perfectly iron a shirt, her obsession with possible upcoming bad weather, and her fascination with anything Biblical.

She undeniably had a great effect on me developing my faith in Jesus. I think it’s so cool that I get to teach you from the same Bible she gave me.

During the visitation the day before her funeral, I really enjoyed hearing the stories from people who I didn’t know well, but who knew stories about her that I never knew.

It was much more a time of celebration than it was a time of mourning. She lived a long, full life. She got to meet all 4 of her great-grandchildren before she passed, of which your the first.

I would not be who I am today if it weren’t for her influence on my life. She was there every birthday, every Thanksgiving, every Christmas, and every time our family got together; each year of my entire life.

Dear Jack: My Grandma is in Heaven Now

She meant a lot to me, obviously. And I know for a fact that she really loved you a lot.

We will see her again, though. This is not goodbye.

Love,

Daddy