Monday, November 27, 2006

Post Tamale Syndrome, Manteca and All

Yesterday I spent most of the day at a Tamalada (that's a tamale making party in case you aren't familiar with the term). My comadre Sylvia opened her home to families w/ kids for a day of expressing gratitude while working together to make homemade tamales.

I suggested the project and claimed to be an experienced tamale maker, so that put me in a leadership position of sorts. The idea was for us to take our thanksgiving leftovers and turn them into awesome tamale fillings.

The day before this tamalada, my job was to assemble equipment and key ingredients:
1. Tamale steamer (tamalero)
2. Bag of masa harina
3. Manteca... yes the real deal.

Manteca is Spanish for lard. (It is also the name of the town where I met my husband but that is for another day.) You hear "manteca" and folks either cringe in fear or quiver in sinful delight. It's the grease we all love to hate (at least from a health perspective) but hands down makes the best tamale masa around.

Basic tamale eating rule:
You eat your tamales and you don't ask too many questions about how the masa got so fluffy.

I drove down to Northgate Market, my favorite Mexican market, and strolled the aisles looking for my ingredients. I got totally sidetracked in the produce department, picking up guayabas, nopales, and chiles, but soon got back to the business of looking for lard.

I passed a big display of already made masa, but something in me kept saying, "No, you MUST make your own!". Carol was going to bring her Kitchen Aid mixer so we were set. We were prepared to make masa.

I grab the masa mix, get some chicken broth, now all I need is the manteca. I find an aisle with oil and crisco, and am looking for the familiar white bucket of El Mexicano manteca. Hmmmm,don't see it. Looking, looking, looking... oh there is container of manteca, it's the Northgate brand. Not a white bucket, but hey that's cool. Let's get it and go.

This manteca was so O.G, so "my abuelita", so non-processed it made me shudder for a moment. For in this innocent looking bucket was a light caramel colored substance that smelled like chicharrones and carnitas. This was not the white processed manteca I'd purchased before, this was that brown stuff that Mama Keke used to keep in a coffee can next to the stove and add to her frijoles.

The tamale party was going to be a pretty PC crowd, so I was a little nervous about bringing this blatant animal product on board. I knew once they ate the tamales they wouldn't have minded, but there's a strong visual impact upon opening the plastic tub. I didn't want to be the woman scorned for corrupting this pure group with rendered animal flab.

My great idea was to arrive super early and make the masa before anyone came! (It took a lot of years of school to get this smart) That way, no one would see the manteca, all they'd do is get a bowl of amazingly aromatic masa and ya estuvo.

Sylvia, the hostess, is a bit like me. We strive to eat organically, limit junk food with our kids... but when it comes to our roots food, we throw caution to the wind and go for it! After all, we don't eat like this everyday, so it's all totally justified.

She let out a howl when she opened the manteca tub. Cracking up, she ran and grabbed her movie camera. "Oh, we have to get this on film!" So I did an impromptu cooking show, expounding on the merits of manteca and how we weren't really going to be eating the manteca, just sort of biting into places where it once rested.

The tamale-manteca theory is as follows:
You whip the holy hell out of your manteca, then add your other ingredients. You continue whipping it until the masa is fluffy.

When you steam your tamales, all that fluffy manteca melts away, leaving you with greaseless pillows of air, and a delightfully light texture.

We grabbed the Kitchen Aid and started whipping this chicharron fat til it was shiny and looked like frosting. But it seemed a little too soft...



"Well," I stammered, " I think we are having masa problems."

This masa just wasn't working. You have to beat your masa until a little ball of it floats in ice water. I was producing sinkers.

"This isn't right... we have the Kitchen Aid mixer for God's sake! That makes it fool proof!!!"

So we tried again. And again. And again.

Sinker, sinker, sinker.

Great tamales are made with great masa. With my masa flunking the float test, I knew all was doomed. Why didn't I go to another store and find my familiar white processed manteca? Crap! That's all I could mutter. I hung my head in shame.

God, are you messing with me or what?
I am a person who writes a lot about letting go of perfectionism. My higher power has this warped sense of humor and delights in putting me to the test at the untimeliest moments.

I had a lot of ego invested in this tamalada it turns out. I came up with the idea, I took a leadership position, I branded myself as this masa making queen. All eyes were on me. All questions were directed at me. I wanted this to be the be-all, end-all tamalada. However, my masa sunk. My manteca let me down.

Of course this all ends happily.

1. People glimpsed the manteca and didn't run after me with lit torches.
2. Their focus was on getting together and enjoying each other's company... not on me or the quality of my masa. (Light bulb moment)
3. The tamales turned out great, no one was hospitalized for excessive manteca intake. The fillings were tasty and the texture was fluffy enough.
4. I got the chance to learn about manteca and masa in a fun and funny way.

Now of course that evening I felt a bit stuffed and followed the next day with a flaxseed smoothie (ironically the Mexican market sells flaxseeds right across from the meat dept)and vow to eat nothing but celery sticks today.

A little bit of masa goes a long way and a with the right manteca, you never know what you'll learn.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Learn Spanish, the spicy way

My cyber comadre Maya is a wonderfully eclectic and interesting woman. When we first met online 3 years ago, she was living in Oregon. Her kids were these world travelers going on exchange programs to Brazil and Germany as teens. She teaches mindful meditation and offers a host of classes to take online.

Then Maya and hubby moved to Mazatlan, which was a big thrill for me because my grandparents were from a pueblo not too far from Mazatlan. Just as I got comfortable with her being in Mexico, they decided to move to Buenos Aires! Can you imagine the dietary contrasts? I hear that in Argentina you're hard pressed to find a salad anywhere, and that eating beef is a national pastime. With my Mazatlan tropical / California healthy tendencies, I can't imagine a day without lots of fruits and veggies.

Well all that iron in the bloodstream must be doing something to Miss Maya because in a quest to improve her Spanish, she has started The Sexy Spanish Club. Bored with the traditional Spanish classes, Maya has assembled a group of ex-pats to learn Spanish by writing steamy letters to imaginary lovers. Guided by a fun teacher, they are taking language acquisition to a whole new level!

Check out The Sexy Spanish Club blog... then either grab your honey or take a cold shower!!!

Monday, November 20, 2006

Photo Updates-

If you're on dial up, go grab a bite or something while this page loads. For the rest of you, here are some photos that I've been wanting to put up for ages.

Here it is November, and I'm still blogging about the Crafty Chica Cruise! This photo was from the Captain's dinner, that's where you get all dolled up and go to dinner. Lobster, desserts... yum! My seasickness was subsiding during this as I downed a lobster like it was nobody's business. That's me, Bunny, and Auntie Tallo. Citlalli was having a cookies and milk party at the Kid Camp Carnival.
To see the really good pics, check out the ones on Kathy's blog.

After the cruise I went to Kelly O'Neil's Uplevel Intensive. Here I am with my new comadres Laura Figueroa, Denise Trifeletti, Linda Hollander, Kim Jameson, Mary Pat Sorenson, and that's me on the right.

This is one of my favorites. How many princess ballerinas does it take the shred the Trike Track at KidSpace Museum in Pasadena? Right after this we had a celeb sighting: Jason "My Name is Earl" Lee, wife, and son enjoying the Pumpkin Fest. He dresses like Earl off the set. OK, not to be catty, just an observation. Plaid flannel shirt, backpack... whatever! He wasn't a princess ballerina, though.

2nd Annual Indigenous Womens Conference, Orange County, CA

Myself, Jacqui Garza, and Terri Lawrence were some of the speakers at this recent indigenous women's conference. I really admire Jacqui and Terri for being who they are. Jacqui spoke of surviving domestic abuse and Terri shared the history of Two-Spirit people. She did it so eloquently and with such dignity, anyone who came in w/ any preconceived notions quickly had a paradigm shift. I spoke on a spirituality panel with Corene Graywolf and danzante Virginia Carmelo.

Lorena Ortega showed what it's all about in this pic. Here she is with her baby in arms, running the show and being a great MC. She also spoke on surviving violence and her story would make an incredible movie.

This is Lupe Lopez, Director of Alianza Indigena and the inspiration behind all of this. She amazes me. This woman is a true community treasure. With her is health advocate and awesome mujer Rhonda Folsom.

Big shout outs to all the amazing women who went, the panelists who shared their stories, and Alianza Indigena for doing beautiful work in the community. Hi to Blanca Gordo, Dr. Emily Chavez, Tia Martha Collins and everyone else who traveled far to join us.

Come early November and we have Citlalli's birthday. Here I am at her preschool bringing cupcakes and celebrating with her. Right after that I went to a luncheon for National Latina Business Womens Association and saw even more comadres. I am in green, did you notice? That's a new color for me. I always wear red or black, this was going out on a limb. any comments?

Oh, and look who washed ashore in Long Beach to join me for dinner! It is none other than coach Catherine Bruns, my podcast partner and true soulmate. We can sit and talk for hours in person or on the phone. This was our annual get together. Next year I think I'll have to bite the bullet and meet her at her home in Hawaii.

Next we went to San Diego for a 90th birthday party, squeezed in a birthday party for Citlalli at Disneyland and now it's Thanksgiving.

Yes, this was a long update, but now I can get on w/ things! You wonder why I'm taking time off in November and December... all this fun can tire a person out!