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
Champurrado, Christmas Traditions, Holiday Traditions, Latino Family Traditions, Mexican Holiday foods, Tamales

What are your Holiday Traditions?


“It came without ribbons. It came without tags.
 It came without packages, boxes or bags. 
And he puzzled and puzzled ’till his puzzler was sore. 
Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before.
‘What if Christmas,’ he thought, ‘doesn’t come from a store?’
What if Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more?” – Dr. Seuss
In this season of holiday lights, rich foods and varied gift lists Dr. Seuss reminds us that the real spirit of Christmas is more than these tangible items. When you think of Christmas, what do you remember most? For me, it’s the memories of family, aromas, music, laughter and traditions. Sure there were some arguments in there, disappointments, and exhaustion, but I have to try harder to remember those things.

If you didn’t have positive memories, you have the ability to create new ones for yourself and your loved ones. Here are some that I have had the pleasure of hearing. These beautiful holiday traditions go back ninety years and others for five.

My mother told me about her childhood Christmas in the 1930’s. She remembers watching the Pomona Fire Department’s shiny red fire truck roll to a stop at 246 Newman Street, her house. She yelled for her four other siblings to come to the window. The firefighters jumped off the truck and waved at them to come outside. Every child received a gift, although her brother Catarino was mistaken for a girls name and given a doll. The other two sisters ran for the doll but my mom got there first. She clearly remembers the doll with a real dress, eyes of blue glass and silky hair. It was her first doll, she was seven. 
The family received their first Christmas tree that year. Her mother fashioned a crèche with the pine needles and cones. Each Christmas Eve the relatives and friends gathered over cinnamon atole (thinned corn flour, milk, raw sugar and spices) and red chile tamales. Right before midnight, her father asked a couple to accompany him to the crèche. Her father brought out the porcelain baby Jesus that he brought over from Guanajato, Mexico in 1918, given to him by his mother. This couple then became the compadres and they had to take care of the baby Jesus and build him a crèche to continue the tradition for the next Christmas Eve. 

The tradition continues, sans the porcelain Jesus, it ended up with my grandfathers sister’s family. But my family continues making tamales and champurrado (thickened chocolate atole). We have modernized this gathering with the addition of See’s candy and Cabernet.  

Some families have a Posada tradition where the relatives travel from one house to the next on the twelve days preceding Christmas Day. A friend of my mother’s sets out her  fifty year old Nativity Scene and gathers her grandchildren around it on Christmas Eve. The family sings songs and each child drops his/her money into a wooden box. The collected money is given to their church the next day. 

Several people have cookie exchanges with friends and family. Another has an ‘ornament’ party where friends decorate the tree with handmade ornaments. Others have tamale-making parties where you join in the assembly line and later enjoy fresh tamales. Some families take their children to the Nutcracker Ballet every year or watch Christmas movies together. Others bundle up and watch the Harbor Parade of Lights every year, come sleet or fog. And some buy funny Christmas sweaters and wear them one too many times.

What these traditions pass on are the gifts of family, charity, time, love and sharing. If you have a family tradition share it, if not start one, it’s never too late. What are your holiday traditions? 
Encouragement, Jane Friedman, Kirsten Lamb, Rachel Gardner, Self Publishing, Writer Unboxed, Writing, Writing blogs, Writing classes, Writing Resources

How to Save Time for Writing





There are few things I like to do other than write or find writing resources to help me become a better writer. Sure I miss watching my favorite television shows, coffee with friends, walking the dog, and watching my kids grow (I’m lying they are all 18-25, they’re grown). Sometimes I prefer to write than go on a date but perhaps that will change when the right one comes along. How I save time for writing besides the aforementioned is to look for shortcuts, i.e. good advice. Why reinvent the wheel? 

When I find great resources I believe in sharing them to help the next writer in his/her endeavor. Many publishers, agents, and authors have blogs that help writers become better. I usually stay away from any with bells and whistles on their blogs (flickering ads) or anyone admantly pushing their book. I don’t mind that their book cover is on their sidebar I just don’t want flashing arrows pointing to it or their ad popping up on my screen.
In the past few months I’ve found that I’ve kept returning to the same bloggers, who I believe are experts in the writing field. These are, in no particular order:
Jane Friedman‘s blog. She featured Writing Advice That Saves You 5 Years. It links to Steal This List. She has an archive of free advice for writers and is an editor at Writer’s Digest, a magazine I finally subscribed to after reading it at the library for four months.

And for plot and structure, I know no better teacher than The Plot Whisper. I learn better when I can read something and hear something. TPW has YouTube videos on each lesson, for FREE. 

Kirsten Lamb is the Queen of Blogging and Social Media. Her post The Right Way, Wrong Way, Smart Way caught my attention and is well worth the read. 
Rachell Gardner is a literary agent who has resources for writers who want to improve their craft and prepare themselves for publication. 
Writer Unboxed was started by two aspiring writers who began a community of contributing authors. They are “about the craft and business of fiction.” 


Deciding to go the e-book route and self publish, Joe Konrath’s blog tells it like it is-to him. He makes a lot of sense (he has sold books the traditional way) and now sells tons of his books, for e-readers. 


Also check out some more of my favorites listed on Top Ten Blogs for Writers


These resources save you time and money because many people pay for the kind of information these writers give and you can read them whenever you carve out 10 minutes. If you haven’t fulfilled your dream of writing a family history, memoir, magazine article or essay, here’s your chance to start again in the new year and save time to watch your children grow or go on that date. 
Christmas cards, e-cards

Christmas Card clock

Is it too late to send out Christmas cards? The real paper ones, not the e-cards. Every year around this time I ask myself the same question. Of course, like most, I have good intentions and a stack of card boxes waiting for their eventual release. I love e-cards, which are ‘green,’ but I don’t want to disappoint those who love real cards (like my mother).

It seems that I think about writing out the cards around November 28th, forget about it, remember again December 2nd, push it away, and then the thought resurrects around the 8th when I finally look for the dang cards. After I find them I put them on top of my printer or by my laptop so I won’t forget but you can probably guess what happens. Yes, I move the box several times in one day and end up putting it in my desk drawer.

On the 12th, today, I opened my mailbox and I had three cards. They aren’t the early birds (that was my financial planner and dentist on December 1st) but these nice people planned far enough in advance to write out their cards last week, stamp them and actually send then out. They don’t have kids at home.

This pushes me to actually take the box out of the drawer, select six cards and write them out. I tell myself I  can finish these tonight, after dinner. Hah, you know what happened there. But I did get three completed and I’ll send them off in the morning. I have plenty of time to send one to my mother, she left for Paris yesterday and won’t be home for ten days. Lucky.

And to everyone else I’m sending e-cards. The clock is ticking and I have to go.