Family, Latino culture, Latino Family Traditions, Parenting

How Tamales Make My World A Better Place

Ingredients for making 'Green' Tamales
Ingredients for making ‘Green’ Tamales

Every December, I write about making tamales, and this year is no different.  Our mother has made tamales for over seventy years, longer than her children have been alive. And her mother made tamales before she was born. And her mother, back to the days of maize and metates.

Something is wrong with my universe if our family stopped making Christmas Tamales. Our world can be is disarray, but we come together, three or four generations of our family and spend an entire day making tamales.

Keeping our tradition alive is like maintaining a bridge beginning in the past crossing to the present and spanning into our future. It’s family represented with food.

The name tamale comes from the Nahuatl (Aztec) word ‘tamalli,’ meaning ‘wrapped.’ The masa (maize) for the tamales come from our indigenous roots and have names from our ancestor’s primary language (Spanish/Nahuatl). Making tamales, for me, is maintaining our culture.

In the past, I’ve written about our Tamale Tactical Plan, The Five Important Ingredients for the Best Tamales, and the Tamales and Traditions post. Everything you wanted or didn’t want to know about tamales is in one of those posts.

This year four generations of our family donned our favorite aprons to make ‘green tamales’ or tamales de rajas. Right before Christmas we’ll make the ‘red tamales,’ or the red chile and pork tamales.

On our table, (picture above) in the twelve o’clock position is the masa preparada (prepared corn meal), at three o’clock, are strips of Ortega California green chile, at six o’clock, is more masa, at eight o’clock, is shredded Monterrey and Cheddar (a big mistake-use Monterrey only), at nine o’clock, is a pitcher of homemade chile, and in the center are the soaked corn husks, or ojas. We use a knife to spread the masa onto the oja; some people are adept with a spoon or a tamale spreader that looks like a cement masonry spreader. We are butterknife people.

Assembly line style, the five of us (four generations) spread the masa onto the oja and fill up every spot on the table. Two people stuff and fold the tamales. To get this important job you have to work your way up from tamale spreader to the stuffer.

This year, my eleven-year-old niece (representing the fourth generation) who graduated to tamale stuffer last year. You can see how proud she looks. She’s been helping since she was five years old. That’s her grandmother beside her (the second generation).

Corn husks with masa ready to be stuffed-www.alvaradofrazier.com
Corn husks with masa ready to be stuffed by the fourth generation-www.alvaradofrazier.com

I remember when her mother was five and helped spread masa on the corn husks. Truthfully, she spread more on the table than on the ojas, but that’s how you learn. This is a picture of her now (she’s the third generation).

spreading tamale masa
Tamale Time with the third generation. http://www.alvaradofrazier.com

This is how traditions are carried on through the years, from the parents to the children. It’s one of the touchstones that ground us to this world. For us, it’s part of parenting.

My portion of the tamales is in the freezer, ready to make the trip to Denver for a snowy white Christmas. While I’m there, I’ll make tamales and carry on the tradition, with a vegan twist, with my son and daughter.

Many of you are from different cultures and places in the world. I’d love to know what traditional food you make during this time of year. If you have a link to a post you’ve written about your tradition, please include it in the comment section so we can visit your home and kitchen.

Thank you and enjoy the holiday season.

 

Books, Family

20 Ways to Celebrate Before Christmas

 

Christmas Hearts by Tiraz, Flickr.com
Christmas Hearts by Tiraz, Flickr.com

We haven’t put up one Christmas bulb or decoration yet, but I am thinking of how to make Christmas more special this year.

When I say special, I mean remembering that “Christ,” is in the word “Christmas.”

The wheels began turning last night when I wandered through department stores looking for Christmas cards that ‘spoke’ to me. And I found them too, at Hallmark.

There are 20 days to Christmas and they’ll blur by if we forget to take the time to slow down and enjoy the hours and days of the holiday season.

This list is just a beginning. Perhaps you can share your ideas in the comments.

How to spend the remaining 20 days to Christmas:

 

1-Carry on a tradition and share. Mine is to make tamales and champurrado.

2-Hug more and not just your spouse or significant other. Smile too.

3-Spend time with your parents or anyone over 70 that has a story to tell you about a Christmas memory.

4-Scent your home with the inviting fragrance of cinnamon, pine, or sugar cookies. I like to stick cloves in oranges.

6-Decorate your home or someone else’s with a living plant. I found this colorful gem at Lowe’s.

 Christmas Cactus alvaradofrazier.com

Christmas Cactus alvaradofrazier.com

7-Send out Christmas cards with a handwritten inspirational quote.

8-Forgive. Apologize. Try to understand.  

9-Read a Christmas book to your own or someone else’s children. No kids? Read to yourself, aloud. One of my favorites is Olive the Other Reindeer.

10-Wear something ‘Christmasy,’ even if it’s that not so pretty holiday sweater someone gave you. 

11-Buy or make a new holiday ornament for someone else.

12-Share a holiday drink with someone: Peppermint Mocha, mulled wine, champurrado.

13-Sing along to holiday songs, wherever you may be.

14-Try a new holiday food from a different culture: France, Spain, Germany, Italy…

15-Get out in nature. Taste falling snow. If you’re in Southern California, like me, find yourself some shaved ice or a raspada as we call them in Spanish. This year I’ll be in Denver for Christmas where I’m sure I’ll find snow.

16-Bake a holiday sweet that you’ve never baked before and share.

17-Visit a church or place of worship for their holiday message, choir, or play.

18-Say “I love you,” “I appreciate you,” “Thank you,” twice as often.

19-Donate coats, sweaters, gloves to those in need. Drop your coins into the Salvation Army kettle. Contribute to Toys for Tots or similar program.

20-Pray and work for peace.

Enjoy your weekend!

Children, Family

The Firemen on Christmas Eve

1932 Fire Truck-arkcity.org
1932 Fire Truck-arkcity.org

Amid the shopping carts, Black Friday, Walmart warriors, and the mounds of boxes we collect, we sometimes forget (make that I sometimes forget) how Christmas was for our parents and grandparents.

My mother loves to shop and go for a “looky-loo.” Today she’s out at Costco, the place I cannot enter upon pain of claustrophobia. Sometimes I wonder why she has to buy so much, especially since she grew up very poor. But it may be for just that reason.

Mom shared her Christmas Eve memories and through them, I relate back to the real reason for the season. This is one of her stories:

Every Christmas Eve morning, since I can remember, the firemen came to my barrio of Little Silao, in Pomona (CA). This Christmas was special. This was 1932 and the middle of the Great Depression. FDR was the president. 

Times were hard, but my family was lucky. My mother had a vegetable garden, fruit, and walnut trees in the backyard, rabbits and chickens too. We had enough to eat, barely enough for clothing, and no money for toys. I was four and wanted a doll.

We didn’t have a Christmas tree that year, but we did have a little table in the living room which mama decorated for the arrival of baby Jesus. She bent tree branches to form a small tent and added little green fans of pine needles over the branches to form a shelter. Large and tiny pinecones and red berries decorated the sides, pine needles were scattered at the entrance. An empty wooden manger sat in front of this small cave among the pine boughs. This looked very pretty and it smelled good too, fresh and woodsy.

Perched on the worn wooden chair against the living room window, I scanned the street in front of my house. A shiny red fire truck turned into Newman Street, my street. Firemen, in their uniforms, rode on the running boards of the truck. They stopped five houses away from our place.

One of them climbed up to the top of the truck and handed blue, gold, and red boxes to another fireman and he handed them to another one who stood on the sidewalk.

“Here they come, here they come! Papa, mama, Catarino, Jose, Concha, they’re coming.” I almost fell off the rickety chair.

I had to tell the others about the firemen and the Christmas gifts. I ran from room to room shouting their arrival. My brothers and sister ran out of the bedroom, my mama with baby Adela walked out of the kitchen.

“Maria, no grites. Sientense por favor.”

She didn’t like me yelling and told me to sit down.

Catarino was the oldest at 10 years, Jose was eight, Concha six, and the baby was one-year-old. Everyone sat down, except me. I ran back to my chair at the window.

“Here they come!” I shrieked and ran out the front door onto the sidewalk and everyone followed.

My cousins, across the street, were already outside jumping up and down shouting, “They’re here, they’re here.”

Maybe I would get a ball and jacks, real ones. Concha and I were tired of playing jacks with washed apricot pits and an old rubber ball. Maybe I’d get a real doll, one of my very own. That would be better than the paper dolls I cut out from the Sears Catalogue.

The shiny red truck rolled to a stop right in front of my house. The fireman began calling out names, “Concha, Maria, Jose, and Catarina.”

Catarina? That’s a girls name. My brother was “Catarino.” He unwrapped the box and his smile disappeared. It was a doll! He held up the box to give it back to the fireman, but I ran towards him shouting “I want it, I want it.” I got to it before Concha did and ran back into my house.

The doll had a beautiful red dress on with shoes and fluffy hair. I was so happy, I carried my doll the way mama carried baby Adela.

For the life of me, I can’t remember if Catarino took the present meant for me or if the firemen gave him another gift. All I remember was that pretty doll.