Saturday, July 12, 2008

Making Tamales

I was pretty young when my Mom taught me to make tamales. Actually, I learned by watching rather than attending some organized session. My Mom is a good teacher but she often teaches by having you participate, by putting you to work. I learned many useful skills this way. She’s 85 and although she has slowed down some, she still likes to cook and still is in charge. My mother learned to make tamales as a child in Oklahoma from an old Cherokee woman, probably considerably younger than my Mom is now. But she learned well and on special occasions growing up she would make a “mess of tamales” and share them with a crowd. Our family was large enough to be a crowd.

Yesterday, my eldest daughter learned to make tamales from my mother. Although I have made them many times, she was ready to watch the master. We had soaked the dried corn husks overnight and my Mom had cooked the meat while we went swimming. I can home and made the masa dough–the corn flour and lard mixture that surrounds the meat. We cleared the table in the late afternoon and set to work. Making tamales is not so exacting as time consuming and social. You need to have time to sit down and get messy, patting out the dough, spooning in the filling and rolling the whole thing in the corn husks. We talked a lot. My Mom told us a little more about her childhood. Emily’s boyfriend Max was helping and we laughed and joked about the wrapping and folding process and how some tamales were shaped better than others. It took an hour, but the time sped by fast and the laughter and chatter never ceased. Then we steamed them in an ancient enamel pot I have seen all of my life. They need to be steamed for two hours, so we had a leisurely evening before dinner. Needless to say, they were wonderful and we ate our fill with great delight.

There are moments in my life, like last night, that I am fully aware that the greatest gifts are have are my family and the best times are when we can fully enjoy simple pleasures. How often do we miss these moments because we are too busy to take time to sit with others, get messy and wait on a meal? Most of us do drive by living, and miss actual encounter. I know I have been guilty of this too much.

Today, I want to be able to enjoy each moment and each person I have been given. From the animals (dog and cat) play wrestling on the carpet to the interactions of grandmother and granddaughters and all the lessons we learn from one another by participating in life together. May you have an opportunity this Saturday to take time to get messy and laugh out loud with others. May God bless us all with a small measure of the pleasure of enjoying to the fullest the gifts of beauty that surround us –our families, neighbors, friends and communities. There is so much to learn from proximity and the willingness to stop and put your hands into the dough.

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