Family, Latino culture, Latino Family Traditions, Mexican Cooking, Mexican Holiday food

Christmas Desserts-Mexican/Chicano Style

Mexican champurrado, flickr.com
Mexican champurrado, flickr.com

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 harina is 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

Add:

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.

Substitutions:
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-flickr.com
                                                             The Real Deal Buñuelos-flickr.com

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.

Tortilla Buñuelos-flickr.com
                                                                       Tortilla Buñuelos-flickr.com

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.

Kid style buñuelos-flickr.com
Kid style buñuelos-flickr.com

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.

And isn’t that what holidays are about?

Peace to you and yours.

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!

Family, Parenting

Tamales and Traditions

Wrapped in Tradition-David Kadlubowski for The New York Times
Wrapped in Tradition-David Kadlubowski for The New York Times

Christmas just isn’t Christmas without making tamales. Tamale making or the tamalada (tamale making session which turns into a gossip fest and/or party) took place at my mom’s house for at least 40 years. Ten years ago the location moved to my house. This year it’s back to my mom’s home.

Holiday traditions rarely follow a straight line. From our past to our present the traditions branch out as we add children, relatives, and present life to the mix. Whether your celebrations of the holidays are uniquely your own, or passed down from great grandmothers to you, they are worth sharing.

This year our family traditions will branch a little more. Just like on Thanksgiving, I’ll be away from my mother and siblings, and with my adult kids in Colorado on Christmas Eve. They are making their own life while we (the vast majority of the extended family) are here in Southern California. And that’s okay, more than okay, it’s good.

In our family, Mexican American/Chicano, we make Mexican style tamales and champurrado as well as sugar cookies, fudge, and ham. We celebrate the Mexican and the American because that is who we are.

Mexican Champurrado-thick hot chocolate drink
Mexican Champurrado-thick hot chocolate drink

I’m eager to share Christmas with my kids because the activities of the day will provide touchstones to remember our past holidays. The tamalada gives us an opportunity to share stories of the past:

“When I (nana) was a child, we got oranges and candies as presents…the firemen distributed gifts to the poor- us…’member when tia put the sevo (fat) into the tamales accidentally instead of the meat, I didn’t eat tamales for five years… when I was a kid we had to attend midnight mass or else…’member when your tio tied the Christmas tree with a rope to keep it straight…”

We’ve shared hundreds of stories at the tamale table while spreading masa, sprinkling cheese, and spooning chile into corn husks.

In my kids case, we’ll make our tamales and champurrado vegan style. This is not what nana envisioned would occur with her recipe but continuing with the traditional foods will pass on my mother’s culinary knowledge, and her mothers knowledge, to my son and daughter. And we’ll share all of the above stories and then some. 

Holiday traditions may branch out, but they pass on our heritage, and in doing so create a canopy for our children and grandchildren to pass on to subsequent generations. Happy Holidays!

If you’re interested in making tamales you might want to read my Tactical Tamale Plan. 

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