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!
Today is day five of the A to Z Blogging Challenge and the letter is E.
The first thing that comes to mind for E is Enchilada, as in the food, not the idiom of “the whole thing.”
Enchiladas are my mom’s favorite Mexican dish. It’s such a simple dish so I asked her why she liked them so much.
“They remind me of my mother,” she said. “She made them a lot because they’re not expensive, just corn tortillas, chile, and cheese, oh and onion.”
Enchiladas were a poor persons food.
Mom does not like ‘fancy’ enchiladas made with meat. Nor the varieties such as Enchiladas Suizas (Swiss Enchiladas named because they have sour cream on top) or the “green” ones, with tomatillo sauce.
Once she ordered enchiladas at a restaurant. They responded they only had chicken enchiladas.
“Leave out the chicken and give me the cheese,” Mom said.
“We can’t do that, the chicken’s in the sauce.”
“Pick out the chicken and use the sauce for my enchiladas.”
“We can’t do that.”
“Give me the damn enchiladas then.”
Mom picked the chicken out of the enchiladas, forking chicken bits over to the side of her plate. “They could have done this if they wanted too.”
In Mexican cuisine, you can’t make a more traditional dish than enchiladas. First, they use maize for the tortillas, as in corn tortillas, not flour. Second, they use dried chile to make the sauce.
Today, you can find as many varieties of enchiladas, but the original dish reaches back to the Mayan people of Mexico. They first used corn tortillas dipped in chile sauce and wrapped around bits of fish. The use of cheese wasn’t one of the ingredients.
The first recipe was first documented by the Spanish conquistadores, who used other fillings for their enchiladas. Later, the dish made its way into the Mexican cookbooks of the early 1800’s and later the American cookbooks of the 1900’s.
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.
A month has passed since my two youngest moved to Colorado, to a city outside of Denver. I’ve had thirty days of tears, fears for their safety, and anxiety. The youngest son (YS) began college and my daughter (MD) wanted to start her new career in a new place. She’s in the health field and was certain she could find a job in the first week.
Parenting is hard, long distance parenting harder still. There is that fine line between ‘being there’ for them and gently pulling the apron strings from their hands. Kind of a holding on and letting go motion. In this case there was no gentle pull, but a sharp yank.
During the first week, YS had his bank account robbed-his entire summer savings-taken by someone who used his account number on the internet to purchase items from Macy’s. He found this out while shopping for groceries at the local market. He was pissed, MD mortified that they had to abandon their grocery cart and walk out with nothing.
YS made a flurry of phone calls to his bank and to me. Their Wi-Fi wasn’t working and they don’t have a printer so he had to fill out forms on his smart phone at Burger King and print the forms at school and mail them out. It’s a helpless feeling to know that your kid got ripped off, you can’t make it right for them, and you hope he’ll calm down enough to follow the long process to get his money back.
I wanted to FedEx them groceries, wire them money, do something. I imaged them starving. Instead I had to stop and think the situation through and have the kids do likewise. Yes, they had basic staples, beans, rice, and pasta. And that’s what carried them through. YS received his new ATM card and had his money returned in a week and a half.
Lesson: Listen first, don’t dive in to fix things. Do not keep your ATM card number stored on websites, change your password every 90 days, and check your account online frequently. Keep your pantry stocked with staples. Give kids recipes for making Mexican rice, sopita (alphabet or angel hair pasta in spicy sauce) and beans de olla (beans with onion, spices, in the pot) before they move.
The second week the kids new microwave wasn’t operating properly, burning popcorn, not heating. MD called complaining about the micro. We had a conversation about whether they could do without a microwave. She took it back to Walmart and used the $54 for groceries they hadn’t bought the first week. The internet in their apartment is still glitchy, MD doesn’t have a job yet, she ‘s getting worried, I’m getting worried about November’s rent. YS takes MD to a job center to do a job hunt the old fashioned way. MD and YS argue about the chores. His position “she’s home,” her position, “I’m not a maid.”
Lesson: Listen some more. Ask questions that help them solve problems. Luxuries come after necessities. When all else fails get back to the basics. A chore list is posted on the refrigerator.
The third week, MD called at 9 p.m Colorado time. With a trembling voice, she said she smelled something like gas and firetrucks were rumbling into the parking lot of the apartment complex.
“Get your coat, shoes, important papers, cat and get out of there,” I told her.
“I can’t find the cat,” she wailed.
“Leave the patio door open and get out of there,” I repeated.
She hung up. I called back, no answer. I called YS and told him to hightail it back to the apartment. FIve minutes later MD calls, crying. The firefighters told all the residents to evacuate a minute after our phone call. YS was visiting a friend, she couldn’t find the cat, and she was standing in 38 degree weather with her robe and slippers shivering. I did blow my top then almost shouting, asking her why she didn’t do what I told her to do.
“I had to find the cat.”
In my mind I shout, “F*ck the cat,” (sorry but I did), instead I reiterated that the cat has an exit through the patio door and I’m glad she got out with her cell phone. She had to hang up again. MD calls again, she can see the fire fighters walking on the roof above her apartment, then she yells “They’re chopping through our roof!” And I about faint. We lose our phone connection. I start praying and taking deep breaths.
Three minutes later she calls back and says all the residents had to walk a block away from the complex. She tells me how nice the neighbors are to her, noticing that she is alone, offering her a coat to wear, telling her cats are resourceful and keeping her company until my son arrives. We think of a game plan of where they will stay the night in case they can’t return to the apartment. YS wants to sleep in the car so they are nearby. Three hours later they get the all clear that they can return. MD finds the roof axed open, leaving a large gaping hole, a foot away from her front door.
We FaceTime a lot during the next couple of days. I check my airplane miles, I have enough to use for a round trip. I book a flight for the end of October.
Lesson: If you smell gas, and the fire engines are entering your parking lot, get your clothes on, take your wallet/ purse, and get out of the area. Post a sign on the inside of your front door specifying you have pets and their names. Appreciate the kindness of neighbors. Sometimes FaceTime isn’t enough and you’ll only feel better when you hug your kids in person. (This is the let go/hold on part).
The fourth week MD says YS is hardly home, he’s with friends he’s met at college and the skate park. She doesn’t have a car and stuck at home. I encourage her to walk her neighborhood, go to the rec center a couple of blocks away. “I don’t want to do that alone,” she says. The chore list isn’t working. Finally she has a job offer, but it’s not in the health field.
“But it pays well enough to cover all the bills and have money left over. It’s ten hour days, four days a week,” she says. “I start November 1st.”
“Good enough for now,” I say and exhale.
While Southern California endures scorching Santa Ana winds, my YS calls, “It’s snowing.” He’s never driven in snow. The kids send me photos of snow covered trees and cars. They complain that it’s “Freaken’ icy cold over here.” They find boots, warmer scarves and hats at the Goodwill.
And then they send me a photo of a squirrel on their balcony. “It’s so awesome over here.”
I breathe easier. So many obstacles in one month but we made it through. My worry hasn’t dissipated altogether, but I do have hope, faith, and pride for their accomplishments, and mine, to carry me through the next month.