I’ve been busy with tamale making for the past three days. We added an extra day for the vegan tamales.
Tamale making (or tamalada) is something my family prepares for days ahead and that I’ve talked about in previous years.
For Christmas, there are ingredients we use for our tamale making session and for Mexican traditional beverages: Champurrado, Ponche, and Rompope. Personally, I don’t make ponche or rompope because I’d be in the kitchen for an additional day.
These ingredients are hard to find unless you live in Southern California. We have several Mexican supermarkets in the city where I live. There is no “Hispanic” aisle in these stores. The whole store stocks Mexican products.
It’s not unusual to see this:
The sugarcane is used to make Ponche. If one wants an alcoholic addition to this beverage, you’d pick up these:
Rompope is an eggnog-like drink with eggs, cinnamon, and rum. A couple of these and you’re not fit to make tamales anymore.
I enjoy the family time where we don our aprons, grab our butter knife or spoon to spread masa, and reminisce about Christmas tamalada’s past
After the hours of spreading masa on ojas (corn husks), folding, lifting huge pots with four dozens of tamales within, we sit and relax a bit. This is when I start making the champurrado.
Two hours later, the tamales are ready. We enjoy them with a cup of champurrado, this year doused with a little Irish cream, and enjoy a late evening movie.
Merry Christmas, happy holidays, and feliz navidad to everyone!
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.
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).
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).
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.
The year 2015 had its up’s and downs. I think of the ‘downs’ as learning opportunities and the ‘up’s’ as blessings.
WordPress and Grammarly sent me year-end reports which reminded me of my writing during the past year. Their graphic reports were very cool with stats and all that, but I’m not going to post the whole thing.
Let’s just say my blog posts surpassed my 2014 stats in views and followers, a plus in my book.
Surprisingly, all of the most read posts had to do with aspects of my identity: Mexican culture, food, drink, home remedies, and the term “Chingona.” Interesting.
If your blog was a concert at Sydney Opera House it would take 14 sold-out performances for that many people to see…representing 106 countries...with most referring traffic from Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Buzzfeed…
The referring traffic was a big surprise and means I need to keep up with my 20 Pinterest boards.
As for Grammarly, which corrects your grammar, I still hold the title of Comma Queen meaning I put commas everywhere but the right places far too often.
Now on to the “Top 5 Posts”:
Five Important Ingredients for Tamales : The making of pre-Christmas tamales is a tradition where our family gets together to work towards a common goal, namely to make dozens of tamales for a communal feast. By the time New Year’s Day rolls around we are ‘tamaled’ out. Red tamales are filled with roasted pork simmered in red chile sauce and the ‘green’ ones are filled with jack cheese, strips of California green chile, and homemade salsa.
3. How to Be a Chingona in Ten Easy Steps: The steps are according to the wisdom of Sandra Cisneros, one of my favorite writers. We can all aspire to be chingonas. I love this image of Sandra Cisneros profile as an Adelita, a soldier in the Mexican Revolution. An Adelita is symbolic of the woman warrior.
4. Champurrado-Mexican Comfort Drink: this is a drink I make every Christmas since my mother ‘retired,’ from making a similar drink ten years ago. When she stopped making the drink, due to her limited eyesight, I was bestowed with carrying on a tradition. I make a vegan version for my sons and their friends.
5. Latino Home Remedies for a Cold: Back in the day, the standard issue for Mexican households was Vicks VaporRub, 7 Up, honey, Manzanilla (Chamomile) tea for cramps, Yerba Buena (Mint) tea for stomach aches, and caldo de pollo (homemade chicken soup) for flu or colds.
So there you have it, the top five posts in 2015.
I hope 2016 is a blessing to all of you and yours. Peace, love, and joy.
My hometown is at sea level. We don’t get snow. Ever. Okay, I heard we had some back in 1962, but someone might have mistaken it for bits of hail.
For us, Oxnardians, the winter season arrives when Christmas Tree Lane in the Historic District opens, where palm trees lit in sparking white lights tower alongside huge sycamore’s, and Craftsman style houses sit next to Spanish Revivals.
Our annual writer’s group party took place at the home of our friend, Florencia, who co-founded the group ten years ago. Interestingly, she also founded the first dance team for her high school back in 1989. Must be why we like to party at our writing retreats.
The archway to her home had mistletoe conspicuously hung, not that my date noticed, until we left, when it hung so low it hit his head and ricocheted off my cheek.
After the scrumptious posole, tamales, bolillos and chocolate champurrado, all twenty some of us, plus kids, headed out the door and walked the few blocks of Christmas Tree Lane.
Lucky for the crowd, the sidewalks in the historic district are wide enough to allow for strollers, dawdling toddlers, and hand holding couples. But not all at the same time.
And the town’s historic plaza:
Now, we’re off to enjoy some ‘real’ winter weather and snow in Denver, Colorado.
I’d like to share with you a travel prayer, sent to me by my mistletoe ducking boy friend:
May the Lord accompany you, that no evil befall you,
no accident overtake you and no calamity come near you,
My friend, Evelyn Holingue, invited me to share my traditional Christmas dessert recipes. She’s written about Buche de Noel, a gorgeous French chocolate yule cake with chocolate whipped topping on her blog. Think of this as a virtual cookie exchange from different cultural backgrounds.
The weather outside is cold/rainy and alternately cold/sunny. And when I say ‘cold,’ I mean in the 40’s-50’s, which is lukewarm to those in the Mid-West and East Coast, but which is perfect Southern California December weather. Perfect for an evening of Mexican Christmas treats.
Besides the yummy tamales, of every size and filling, which we make during Christmas, we also enjoy making traditional desserts: Champurrado and Buñuelos.
Now the reason I say these Christmas desserts are Mexican/Chicano style is because they veer from the traditional recipes found in Mexico.
A bit of historical context: My family ranges from first to fourth generation Mexican descent, with smatterings of Irish, Scottish and Native American ancestry. But because all of us parents, the second gen’s, grew up in the 70’s, we identify as Chicano. As working mothers we often substituted ingredients or improvised the recipes.
FIrst, the hot beverage. Champurrado (cham-poo-rah-doh) is a Mexican hot chocolate drink married with an atole, a traditional masa-based Mexican drink. It is not Mexican hot chocolate- two separate beverages.
Masa harinais the flour used for making corn tortillas and can also be used to thicken this rich, chocolate drink. I use Maizena or corn starch. This thick drink is made with piloncillo (raw sugar cone), milk, Mexican chocolate like the Abuelita brand and whole cinnamon sticks. Sometimes anise star or vanilla bean is used.
Combine all ingredients into large saucepan, stir until chocolate, sugar are well blended.
8 cups whole milk*
2 disks (3.25 oz)Mexican chocolate
3 oz piloncillo cone
1/8 teaspoon ground anise seeds or one star anise
4 whole cinnamon sticks
3-5 tablespoons of Maizena stirred into 1/2 cup of warm water (this is for the thickness), add to hot mixture, use a whisk or molinillo (kids love this part) to stir frequently until it boils. Reduce heat and cook for 10-15 minutes, stirring frequently.
I use almond milk, but you can use evaporated or soy milk. Experiment with the thickness of the drink by using less or more of Maizena. For the deep chocolate factor add two disks.This also tastes very good when you use a vanilla bean instead of star anise.
The ‘real deal’ buñuelos are made with yeast. They look like the mass produced Mexican cookie above, but taste like donuts. I made these once-very time intensive but worth the time.
Buñuelos of my youth consisted of making masa for tortillas, rolling out a tortilla, and frying it in hot lard until golden brown-about a minute on each side. On one plate, lined with paper towels, you set it to drain. On a second plate you mix 1/2 cup of sugar and 1 tablespoon of cinnamon (I like cinnamon). Sprinkle the tortilla with the sugar mix.
You could use canola or coconut oil to fry the tortillas. A drizzle of agave syrup and cinnamon on top makes a pretty dessert.
You can use those uncooked ‘handmade’ tortillas from Costco and fry them, drain, and sprinkle with cinnamon sugar. Or if you’re really in a hurry, take a ready made tortilla, fry, and dust with the cinnamon powdered sugar. For kids, you can cut tortillas into shapes and fry. Using ready cooked tortillas results in a cinnamon crisp texture.
Whichever recipe you use for the buñuelos, the fun part is in the process. Making these is easily a two person affair (parent/child; spouse; friend) where you can spend time creating, talking, and sharing.