Freezing tamales, Latino Family Traditions, Mexican Cooking, Mexican Holiday foods, Tamales

Warning: Tamale Overload

Have you ever been so over-saturated with a food that you can no longer bear to look at it anymore? That’s the way I feel about tamales, today. I had the same feeling after working the graveyard shift sorting strawberries at a packing house. The plump red fragrant berries I sorted through on the conveyor belt became cold lumps of tan coal by six o’clock the following morning. My fingers were a wrinkled stained berry mess. I didn’t eat strawberries for a couple of years.

My family, from my six year old niece to my 80 plus year old mom, sat at the kitchen table for six hours, spreading masa on the corn husks, stuffing pasilla chile sauce and pork into dozens of ojas. We did the same for the roast chicken and tomatillo sauce, and the strips of California green chile and Pepper Jack shredded cheese. These were stacked in the steamer pots, either basketweave style or standing up, and cooked for two or three hours, depending on whether they went into my sister’s ‘good’ steamer or the traditional pot. By the end of the night I had to take ibuprofen for the back pain.

We used 30 pounds of masa. When you realize that one pound makes one dozen tamales, give or take a couple, that translates to 30 dozens of tamales, or

TAMALES !!

One the second day I divide and bag the tamales for everyone who participated in making them the day before. We usually take some to people we visit or who visit us on the day after Christmas. On this fourth day after tamale making, it’s hard to even look at one without wrinkling my nose. The kids want soy chorizo and tofu, or eggs and chorizo, cereal, toaster waffles, anything but tamales. This morning I looked into the refrigerator for the half and half. We still had one cookie sheet stacked with tamales. I couldn’t look at them any longer. If we have a fifth day, I’ll surely retch when I open the refrigerator.

Lucky for me I stocked up on aluminum foil and had freezer bags. I wrapped those puppies up, stuffed them in the bags and labeled them “Tamales,” with a blue Sharpie. I don’t care if I don’t see another tamale for six months, but it’s good to know that when my overload wears off I’ll have some ready to pop in the oven.

Champurrado, Chicano Christmas, Latino family tradition, Mexican Cooking, Mexican Holiday food, Mixed Families, Tamales, Vegan Son, Wine and Tamales

Christmas-Chicano Style

Mexican Nativity
Mexican Nativity
 
It’s a Chicano style Christmas in our house. We blend Mexican traditions with the Anglo-American since my children are third generation Mexican Americans mixed with French and Blackfoot Native American on their dad’s side.
My mother was born in California from immigrant Mexican parents. I was born in California and grew up in the 70’s, hence the term I use to identify myself: Chicano/a. The kids identify as multi-cultural. So our traditions are a mix of all our mix.
 
 
During Christmas time we make traditional Mexican ‘red’ tamales(chile and pork), green ones: grilled, peeled California chiles with Pepper Jack and Monterey Jack cheese, and the modern ‘healthy’ ones:  roasted chicken and tomatillo sauce. 


I’m getting a little loca from the shopping and preparation. The tomatillos, cilantro, and jalapenos are on the counter ready to boil, grill and blend for salsa verde. Bags of New Mexican Red Chile wait to be toasted with flour and oil. The pork loin is roasting under mounds of garlic and onions.
Abuelita (Mexican chocolate) sits in the cupboard next to the piloncillo (raw brown sugar cones) and maiz (cornstarch) for champurrado while the milk and soymilk wait in the fridge.(I am making vegan champurrado too for Vegan Son).
The See’s Nuts and Chews and Peanut Brittle, our reward after finishing our work, is hidden from everyone. The Merlot and Cabs wait patiently on the buffet table.
We start the tamale assembly line bright and early…uh, maybe not very bright and not too early…tomorrow morning. For a couple of hours, there will be calm before the storm of family, kids, music, laughter, gossip, warmth, and familiarity. All the great things one could wish for during the holidays. 
In the past week, I’ve come across some funny Chicano style songs to accompany our tamale making fest. I wish I could have found some accompanying music. Use the same melody as you would with the American version and snap your fingers for some rhythm. 
 
Arte Y Loqueras

From the talented Unknown Mami:

On the twelfth day of Christmas

my Nana gave to me
doce pork tamales,
eleven full piñatas,
ten chiles rellenos,
nine Padre Nuestros, (Our Fathers)
ocho tostadas,
seven Tias chismiando, (Aunts gossiping)
six kinds of chile,
five nalgadas (I was bad), (butt spankings)
four jalapeños,
three pairs of chanclas,
dos saladitos,

and a perico in an aguacate tree.
 
And by Felipe Campos, here’s his Chicano version of ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas: 
 
Tis the night before Christmas and all through the casa
Not a creature is stirring. Caramba, ¿que pasa?
The stockings are hanging con mucho cuidado
In hopes that St. Nicholas will feel obligado.
To leave a few cosas aqui y allí
For chicos y chicas (y something for me).
Los niños are snuggled all safe in their camas
Some in vestidos and some in pajamas.
Their little cabezas all full of good things,
They’re all esperando qué Santa will bring.
To all of the children, both buenos y malos
A nice batch of dulce and other regalos.
While mama worked late in little cocina
El Viejo was down at the corner cantina
Living it up with his amigos. ¡Carajo!
Muy contento y un poco borracho!
And soon he’ll return to his home, zigzagueando,
Lit up like the Star Spangled Banner cantando
Outside in the yard, there arose such a grita
I jumped to my feet like a frightened cabrita
I ran to the ventana and looked out afuera,
¿And who in the world do you think que era?
St. Nick in a sleigh and a big red sombrero
Came dashing along like a crazy bombero!
And pulling his sleigh instead of venados
Were eight little burros, approaching volados.
I watched as they came and this quaint little hombre
Was shouting and whistling and calling by nombre:
“¡Ay Pancho! ¡Ay Pepe! ¡Ay Cuca! ¡Ay Beto!
¡Ay Chato! ¡Ay Chopo! ¡Muraca y Nieto!”
Then standing erect with his hands on his pecho
He flew to the top of our very own techo.
With his round y gran belly like a bowl of jalea,
He struggled to squeeze down our old chimenea.
Puffing, he finally stood in our sala,
With soot smeared all over his red suit de gala.
He filled all the stockings with lovely regalos,
(For none of the niños had been muy malos).
Then chuckling aloud, seeming muy contento,
He turned in flash and went like el viento.
And I heard him exclamar – y eso es verdad –
Merry Christmas a todos! Feliz Navidad!
‘Twas the Night before Christmas

Happy Holidays and may your traditions, old and new, find their way into your family festivities. Enjoy.

2011 Best of Writing, E-books, Elements of Style, Future of Reading, Social Media platform, Strunk and White, Writing

2011 Best of Writing Articles and a Rap on Writing

The year is coming to a close and with it another chapter in the book of my writing life. The generosity of writer’s, agents, and publisher’s who blog have helped me shorten my learning curve and fuel my desire to continue writing into 2012.
  
To help prepare one in the endeavor of becoming a writer I’ve done a little research on the best articles on writing and publishing. In the writing world the ongoing debate of e-books versus traditional publishing, the future of reading, and building social media platforms seemed to dominate the writer’s landscape. With all of that information it’s easy to get overwhelmed. 


To quickly get a ‘lay of the land’ here are two links to the best of 2011 articles on writing. And for those who need tough love and ongoing assistance follow The Evil Editor. This site focuses on queries, synopses, and the beginning pages of a story. If you are a non-techie but want to learn and improve in social media, podcasting, and other tech advice for authors, go to Author Media.


Writer’s Digest assembled The 18 Most Popular Articles on Writing. They culled through 1,300 articles and found the most widely read articles on fiction and non-fiction writing tips, agenting, publishing, and writing query letters.


From Jane Friedman we have the 12 Must Read Articles of 2011.


For those who are visual and auditory learners, this post ends with a refresher on Strunk and White’s Elements of Style. In rap. (Turn off the juke box at the bottom unless you want a real music experience).

I hope you feel prepared to march forward and give your computer chair a twirl, hover your fingers over the keyboard, and begin writing on January 1, 2012. (Even if it’s at 11:00 p.m.). 

Christmas Traditions, Family, Latino family tradition, Mexican Cooking, Tamales, Wine and Tamales

The Tactical Tamale Plan

It’s tamale making time. The season is just like Christmas. You look forward to the joyful day with some trepidation. Why? Because of the time it takes for planning, buying, wrapping, steaming. See, just like Christmas.

After Thanksgiving my family, including my brother, sit down and draw up our tactical tamale plan. First we have to decide on a day. Who’s working, who’s not, who’s traveling, and all that. This is how the initial conversation starts:

1. How many pounds of masa do we need? We did 35 pounds last year, not enough. Yeah, not enough green tamales, let’s make more of those, and less of the red pork. No, more red, less green. Let’s do chicken ones. NO, stay traditional. How about sweet? Hmmmh, we stink at making sweet, let’s buy those. We need a vegan recipe (for the vegan son). Forget that, do those on your own. Okay, okay, let’s get back to how many pounds of masa.

2. We decide on 40 pounds: 10 lbs. red pork, 20 lbs. green chile, and 10 lbs. of chicken with tomatillo (mom makes a disgusting face like she’s throwing up-she hates chicken). Phone rings. Add 5 more lbs for nephew who can’t join us but will pay for additional tamales. Use pork shoulder, lean but not too much. How many dozens does 40 lbs. make again? Geez, this year someone write that down, please.

3. Where are we buying the masa preparada? L.C’s is $1.79, forget that, it’s masa not dark chocolate. But it’s smooth and covers the ojas so well. No, last time there was a fight in the line, ‘stas loca. Women rolling on the floor for a bag of masa.  P.V’s is $1.19. Heck no, it’s crowded 24/7 and we have to masarle (knead lard into it). What about your neighbor with the bakery? Okay bro, that’s your job.

4. Who’s making the chile? You? Maybe next year. Ancho? Poblano? New Mexican? Okay, Ancho.

5. How many can’s of green chile’s, how many pounds of Monterey Jack cheese? Buy the shredded one, not the 5 lb blocks. Who cares if they cost a little more, if you buy blocks you’re shredding the stuff.

6.  Olives, no olives? Some olives, yes, some.

7. Ojas from P.V’s? They’re a good price but the cornsilk is still on them and some are too little, we got to piece them all together and stuff. Winco in Fresno has  ‘pre-soaked’ ojas? No me dijas. And they’re big and pretty? Yeah, they’re all evenly cut and no cornsilk, soak for 10 minutes. Really? Buy us those.

8. We’re starting at 9 in the morning because that means 10. Make sure everyone does the prep work before we get together (8 pairs of eyes shift to the one who insists on buying cheese in a giant block).

9. What kind of munchies? The baked Brie at Costco is the bomb, would go well with Ramos Torres Vino Tinto. Bring a Cabernet, don’t forget white for mom. Somebody better bring salad too. Who’s bringing the See’s Nuts and Chews and Peanut Brittle? We gotta eat, those tamales take three hours to cook. We need to put the first batch in the tina (see above photo) by noontime, 1 o’clock by the latest. Remember, everyone over the age of 5 spreads. No work, no eat.

10. Redo all of the above two more times before December 15th.

The conversation is exhausting. Imagine the shopping and set up. On the appointed day we suit up in our various aprons and lay out the various utensils we use to spread the masa on the ojas. We inevitably have the argument of butter knife versus spoon as the best utensil for a smooth application, who spreads the best, who’s taking too many breaks along with the family gossip and remembrances of previous years of tamale making.

Someone starts a pot of beans and throws in onion and a jalapeno for flavor. We spread, fill, fold, and stack at least four tamale pots. After the first batch is done, we unroll, sample, and decide if they need to steam longer or not.Time to make some Mexican rice to go with the meal. The kitchen is filled with the earthy smells of nixtamal corn, spicy chile, garlic and roasted chicken. We’re done with eating salad, brie, and crackers.

Few things are a better sight to see than steaming tamales unrolling onto a plate with just the right amount of pork in red ancho sauce enclosed with a layer of masa that is not too thin and not too thick. They go well with  Tempranillo, Malbec, or Vino Tinto.

After a couple of pots of tamales are ready, we sit down with throbbing feet, red sauce stained aprons and sore backs. We fill our plates and wine glasses too. We count our blessings, say a prayer and dig in. Hard work, but like Christmas Day, it is so worth it.

photo by robjtak