The Season for tamales!

Dear Friends,

Greetings on a sunny and already very warm morning here in Atenas. I write you from the vantage point of my terrace, where the gorgeous landscape is enhanced by the natural soundtrack provided by the birds hovering nearby. Off in the distance, I can hear the barking of dogs acknowledging pedestrians who have already started their morning routine. I invite you to do likewise early today so you make the most of your time during this busy season.

One of my favorite pursuits is reading cookbooks and then trying new recipes. I think my interest in cooking stems from the fact that my mother was not very attentive to this activity . She devoted little time to making appetizing meals, preferring canned and frozen foods readily available in the supermarket, especially after we moved to New York in 1963. In her defense, she did not have much leisure time at her disposal since she worked outside the home, pursued an advanced degree in social work and was always active in the community.

Mom, however, consistently cooked one ‘real’ meal on Sundays which was tasty and provided leftovers for a couple of days. Sundays were a day of visiting friends or taking a day trip somewhere new, a tradition held over from our life in Costa Rica when Sundays were family-oriented and noteworthy. I don’t recall too much about our first Christmas in New York; we arrived just days before and the newness of our situation and my young age (8) play an important part in this amnesia. I do recall, though, that subsequent Christmases found my mother making impressive attempts to replicate the traditional tamale commemorating this special time of the year.

It was not an easy task to find the ingredients needed to make tamales in New York when we first arrived. The ‘masa’ (corn flour) was an obscure item difficult to come by but the banana leaves traditionally used to wrap the tamales in were impossible to obtain. My mother ingeniously contrived an aluminum foil wrap which also eliminated the need for string! Aluminum foil became one of her best friends and the tamale tradition in our family prevailed. My mother’s tamale recipe includes olives and prunes which impart a delicious and distinctive taste to every bite.

This past week, I accidentally walked into a small commercial kitchen where tamales were being prepared assembly-style. I was uncharacteristically rendered silent and still as my mind travelled back to a day long ago when I prepared a few tamales with my mother and my children for fun. The reminiscence brought a tear to my eye and joy to my heart. I usually provide the ingredients for a neighbor to make our tamales during this time. This year I will enlist my daughter to help me make our own tamales with the ‘family’ recipe. It’s never too late to begin a tradition. Don’t you agree?

Have a wonderful day and a terrific week, Marietta

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