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Sunday, December 19, 2010

I'm still his little girl

My father, my papa, came for a visit.  I have always called him Papa.  Never Daddy or Dad.  Just Papa.
I must give my papa all the credit for giving me the courage and confidence to try any kind of cooking project.  He did it all when I was a kid in a tiny little kitchen of the home I grew up in.  Corning meats.  Homemade sausages.  Pickling.  Baking breads.  Exotic meats.  Homemade wines.  Canning.  As I grew I watched him make it all, or at least try to.  And I ate it all too... even sips of the wine.  Being a picky eater wasn't really an option as I was growing up.

The Christmas season in Arizona means the possibility of tamales, a Christmas tradition in the Mexican culture.   My papa has a love for Latin cultures much like I adore VietNamese cultures.  He craves learning and and participating in it in any way possible.  So we've made tamales since I was a little girl.  Making tamales from scratch takes about 3 days.  Thankfully for us, there are now short cuts, like prepared masa available at the local Mexican grocery store, and now we can make tamales in 1 day.  But it's one full day of cooking and preparing.

And if you're going to make tamales, you don't make just 3 or 4, or even 10 or 12.  You make lots of tamales and freeze them and and use them throughout the whole year.  This year we made 12 1/2 dozen green corn tamales.  This could be considered a small amount to real tamale makers.

My papa and I went to the grocery the day prior.  Just going to the Mexican grocery is the best part with its loud music, yummy food, the bustle of the shoppers, and I never go without getting a large horchata of course to sip as I shop!
There are two bags there, about 22 lbs of masa.  
Life is better with lard.  No substitutes.
We started cooking as soon as Tess and Jude loaded on the school bus.
We peeled, seeded, and cleaned a pile of green chilies the size of a Honda Accord.  No kidding!
We soaked and cleaned the husks.
And then the kneading began.  I'm 42 years olf, and when my papa is around, there are some things that I'm just not old enough to do yet.  Kneading the masa is one of them.  And when my papa is around, that's all right somehow.  Not sure why.  Kinda makes me feel good though.  Like I'm still someone's little girl, no matter how old I am.  I think this is probably the best part.  
Notice the beer.  I was serious about the part when I said he is always, craving the Latin culture.
What is it about my father's hands that still makes me feel so secure and safe and provided for?  My father has unusually large hands, and when I close my eyes, I can still feel them as they tuck me into bed or hold my hand in the market.  Decades later, and the sight of them working or now holding my own children, brings back floods of wonderful and warm emotions.  Oh to be 7 again.  
And by this time, the little ones are home from preschool, and of course Jude has to get in the middle of everything messy and spread masa around the kitchen help.
And now the best part of all!
When I was a little girl, some random day each December, I'd come home from school and find my papa at our next door neighbor's house, an older Mexican lady, making tamales.  She was the one that taught him how to make them, who in turn taught me.  Just after school would be perfect timing for me to start help spreading the masa and assembling the tamales.  
OK, so here's the really best things about making tamales.  Yes, the are incredibly delicious and a wonderful tradition and very economical.  But it's more than that.  It's about more than about cooking or saving money.  It's about more than just food.  Making tamales takes many hands, and ultimately it ends with family, usually several generations, sitting around the kitchen, talking and helping and being together.  This year, we had 3 generations helping out.  And that's the best Christmas present ever.   Without ever saying a word, my papa taught me that.  

Now my papa is teaching my children to how to spread the masa.  
He also teaches anyone else the girls happen to bring home that day.
The olive is for good luck.

OK, I lied a little bit.  This here is the part of making tamales that is really the best part.  
This was the first year Tess and Jude helped.   And being 3 years old, you know they really can't help out too much.  
But someone needed to take on the responsibility to teach them the fun of olives!  And how to put them on their fingers.  My papa, of course, did just this, 'cause isn't that just the ultimate responsibility a grandpapa is suppose to have?  He showed Jude how to put them on each finger.  
And Tess too.
Being a daughter and a mother at the same time, sandwiched in between generations, watching my father teach my children the same things he taught me decades before... this is the best part.


  1. It turns out that when i moved out of my first room, i lost out on getting tamales from my roommate

  2. This is such a sweet post. It makes me miss my mother and making ravioli for Christmas Eve dinner.

  3. I love this post! I have tamales thawing for dinner tonight!

    You are right...making tamales is a big family affair. I grew up looking forward to the tamales at Christmas time. My grandparents and lots of extended family are Mexican and I love thinking back to all the traditional cooking I so miss now!

  4. Daisy Dreams- YES! It is SUCH a big affair for Mexican families. With everybody helping... at least all the women folk. Not sure there is anything like it.
    Thanks for dropping by!

  5. You captured this process so beautifully!! The photographs are great. What a precious story to share - thank you!

  6. Fabulous capture of a memory-making event for your family!

  7. How wonderful. Between the canned peaches, homemade vanilla extract, and now tamales, I want to visit your house some Christmas vacation! Food = Love in my culture, and your home is overflowing with both!
    ~Michelle F.

  8. Such a great time with you dad.
    Those moments are to be treasured.
    p.s. your kitchen is incredible!

  9. and you taught me about the olives on my fingers :)


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