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Monday, November 28, 2005

Tamalada

As I mentioned in yesterday's post, the tamalada was one of the high points of our week in Utah. A tamalada is a party centered around cooking tamales. Making tamales is a very labor-intensive enterprise, but most of the work is simple enough for people of different skill levels. It's a convenient opportunity to sit around chatting, telling stories, arguing. I have vague memories of a tamalada at my paternal grandparents' home. Their tradition had the menfolk making the tamales, though I got a hand in somehow. But what I remember most is the chant I devised while helping to mix the cornmeal dough called "masa" -- MA sa MI sa MA sa MI sa. As it turns out, "misa" means Mass in Spanish. So you could say that a tamalada is Mass for tamale aficionados.

No Velez family gathering is complete without some arguing and dramatics followed by tearful reconciliation, and we did not deprive ourselves this year. However, I must commend my family for their (our) timing -- we managed to bring the Terms of Endearment portion of the tamalada to a close just in time for the tamales to finish cooking.

I was also impressed that my mother found a place that sells freshly-rendered lard. I had volunteered to bring my own but then found out that we would need about four pounds of the stuff. There is a Mexican food processing shop out in an industrial part of Salt Lake City. We also bought the masa (cornmeal alkalized with lime, similar to how hominy is treated for grits) there, along with some paletas, Mexican fruit popsicles.

You begin by preparing the filling, most often cooked meat mixed with sauce. After that you prepare the masa dough by first kneading the lard, then mixing it with the cornmeal with a few other ingredients. We cooked our tamales in steamed corn husks, but you can also use banana leaves. We spread the corn husks with cornmeal, added the filling, and then folded the husks into neat little packages. This is where the group effort comes in, assembly-line style. My mother has a large pot with a steam basket (made for canning, I think). She put some empty husks and some water in the bottom and then we piled the tamales in to cook. She refilled the water as it boiled away.

We made a double batch of the recipe below, which made enough for dinner, lunch, snacks, and a big bag of frozen tamales for each of us to take home. Oh happy tamales! I had the last of them tonight for dinner. I wish I'd taken pictures of the tamalada, but my hands were too messy.

We're getting a little closer to Eastern Standard Time. Today I deprived Jasper of a nap and dragged him into Manhattan for some holiday activities. He finally fell asleep at around 11:00. Maybe tomorrow it'll be 10:00. We started out at FAO Schwarz, which now has a little ice cream parlor. I ordered a half-sized banana split (which is actually a normal-sized banana split) with peanut butter ice cream, hot fudge, whipped cream, sprinkles, and at the server's urging, gummi bears. Two of Jasper's favorite foods are bananas and ice cream, so this was all just awesome...until he started coughing on one of those stupid gummi bears, which have no place in ice cream anyway. He coughed so hard he threw up in my lap. End of the banana split! I cleaned myself up, paid our bill, and then moved on, smelling of vomit the rest of the day. I don't know why it didn't occur to me to pop into a Gap and trade in my ragged, six-year-old corduroy skirt for something else.

Anyway, FAO Schwarz was almost as much fun for me as for Jasper. I think his favorite part was the toy cars -- not little cars that you move around with your hands. I'm talking about the mini cars that you can actually drive, $40,000 Hummers, for example. We ignored the red tape blocking off all of these cars (you get bold when you've crossed the line by wearing vomit-scented, old clothing) and I let Jasper climb up into every single one of those cars. He loved it. "Oh, here's something we need," said the husband of a pregnant woman. "I want a $40,000 car before my kid gets one!" she replied.

My favorite part was the Lego Mega Blocks/Thomas the Train collective. In one area there are huge bins of Mega Blocks in every color and configuration. You just pick a bag and fill it with whichever blocks you want. Just around the corner, but close enough to keep an eye out, there is a giant train set to keep your toddler busy and distracted while you pick out the Mega Blocks. Jasper doesn't even know I bought one of his Christmas presents right in front of him.

Following that we went to the Lincoln Center Winter's Night celebration. They lit the tree tonight. We attended a Simply Suzi and Friends concert, which was delightful. Jasper danced a little, and then we fled the crowds and headed home.

Tamales 5 Dozen

Filling

6 lbs. pork meat
1 T salt
2 small cans tomatoes with liquid (blended)
1 C chile powder
2 t garlic powder
salt to taste

Masa
5 lbs. masa
2 lbs. lard
4 ice cubes
1/4 cup baking powder
2 T salt
2 T chile powder
2 cups broth

Cook the meat in plenty of water with the garlic and salt until so tender it falls apart with pierced with a fork. Remove meat to platter. Strain broth. Fry meat slightly. Combine the other ingredients and add to the meat. Simmer for about 15 minutes. Steam the tamales is about one hour.

Technically you should be able to substitute the lard with shortening for vegan tamales (fill with veggies instead of meat). Mom, if you're reading this, what cut of pork did you use?

I have more detailed instructions for the tamales. If you're interested let me know and I'll e-mail them to you, since this post is already pretty long. Photos from Utah coming soon.

1 comment:

shaunamama said...

So glad your trip here was great! The Tamalada sounds wonderful! I was so surprised we got through our Thanksgiving without the usual drama!
I like your idea of the summer rental...that would be lots of fun. If you get a chance, check out the Bistro there on 25th street too. Hubby and I have to flip for which we go to..Roosters or Bistro. Salt Lake also has some FAB places, like Bambara! The chef there is wonderful!
Heck, if you run out of places to eat here, you could always start a restaurant of your own here!