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!

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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