Mexican Holiday food

Tamales, Sugar Cane, and Nuns

Frida Kahlo with poinsettias in her hair and parrot from Champagne Confetti Co. on pinterest.com/champagnecon/
 Nothing is worth more than laughter. It is strength to laugh and to abandon oneself, to be light. Frida Kahlo.
Champagne Confetti Co. on pinterest.com/champagnecon/

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:

sugarcane, alvaradofrazier.com
Sugarcane used for Ponche Navideño. Tamarind and fruit is also used.

The sugarcane is used to make Ponche. If one wants an alcoholic addition to this beverage, you’d pick up these:

Rompope Santa Clara

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

Ingredients for vegan tamales: vegan masa, pollo asado vegan, vegan cheese. alvaradofrazier.com
Tamale making for the vegans in the family

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!

vegan champurrado, Irish style
Vegan Champurrado with vegan Bailey’s Irish Cream
Family

A Twist to Traditional Tamales

Tamale Making Time-alvaradofrazier.com
Tamale Making Time-alvaradofrazier.com

Last weeks tamale making party (la tamalada) included nieces, nephews, grandkids, and great grandkids. We made the traditional (Mexican) red chile with pork, green tomatillo sauce with pork, and Anaheim chiles and cheese. We added a couple of twists to the tradition this year.

This is the first time I made my own masa (dough) because I couldn’t find any prepared without lard. Turned out fine. My son is a committed Vegan and we in turn are supportive so we  made a few dozen  lentil with corn tamales and spinach, mushroom and vegan cheese tamales. The latter were incredibly delicious.

Dessert tamales are nothing new, but our family hasn’t made a successful bunch- ever- before this year. A  family friend taught us how to make strawberry tamales. I never thought we’d break tradition, but as I’ve said before we all have to branch out and try new things.

Strawberry Dessert Tamales-alvaradofrazier.com
Strawberry Dessert Tamales-alvaradofrazier.com

Oxnard, California is a coastal town and home to world famous strawberries. For a short (extremely brief) time I helped pick strawberries with my family. It wasn’t as hard as picking walnuts or tomatoes so my mom thought we (her kids) could handle this crop. We played more than picked and that was the end of that endeavor.

So it seemed apropos to make strawberry tamales. They were delicious. Perfect with a cup of champurrado or cafe.

The day after Christmas everyone is usually “tamaled out,” so the rest go into freezer bags to heat up for New Years Day.

The season comes to a close when those freezer bags go into the refrigerator, the tamale pots go back up to the attic, the aprons get washed, and the blender is put away. It is a little melancholy, mostly because the families disperse, the house is much quieter, and we have to wait a whole year to have the next tamalada.

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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