Whenever my husband tries to tell me how I could have done things much easier or better, I tell him, “Okay, I’ll be right back, I have to go start up the time machine.” Today I ask you to join me as I hop in this fictional time machine as we go back. Say it with me if you feel the urge, “WAAAAAY Back. Back into time!”
There was a time, long ago, when I was merely an observer and consumer of Thanksgiving. I watched from the family table where I played cards, Monopoly, Yahtzee, Spy vs. Spy, while the adults of my family prepared Thanksgiving dinner. There was one year, I might have been 17, when I wanted the torch passed to me. I wanted my mother to assist me in preparing Thanksgiving dinner for the family. It didn’t turn out so well as I came down with a stomach flu the next day. I can’t remember if I puked at all but I do remember feeling horrible and missing the entire day while I lie in bed trying not to think about food.
Okay, back in the time machine. Up to when I moved to Illinois. I was still spending my holidays observing and consuming dinners of either friends or my future in-laws. I don’t believe I was even bringing much more to a holiday dinner than a relish tray.
Cue the flux capacitor, let’s go up to when we hosted our first Thanksgiving. I don’t remember the first Thanksgiving my husband and I hosted. That’s probably because he is the “cook” in our house. He likely did all the cooking and I jacked all the smells from the other side of our kitchen counter. Again, I probably made the relish tray.
Let’s return to today… WhoooshBzzzZap… But here’s what I’ve learned along the way that I just realized recently. There are decisions to be made before every holiday. I mean, we are to the point that we will sit at our Christmas Dinner and talk about what should be on the menu for the next year. This isn’t about deciding what food tastes good. This is about being caught up in the feeling of the holiday and looking forward to tradition.
Thanksgiving, when I was a kid, consisted of a traditional Turkey dinner, with sides and desserts that everyone loved. We watched the Twilight Zone marathon, then some football, played board games or did puzzles and just relaxed, talked and laughed. That’s pretty much how Thanksgiving goes to this day. And I love it just the way it is.
Okay, let’s go into the FUTURE… Fasten your seatbelt, we’re going ALL THE WAY to… December 23rd of this year.
I have many decisions to make coming up. Whatever I said at Christmas dinner last year, I have completely forgotten, but I still know what my options are. We usually have Oyster Stew or Pozole on Christmas Eve. We’ll have Breakfast Casserole on Christmas morning and I’m a big fan of Ham for dinner that night. No need to think about another Turkey after this weekend is done.
But, before Christmas even gets here, I need to go to the gym. I need to work out my legs and upper body. Only this isn’t to get a jump start on my New Year’s Resolutions. This is how I prepare for Tamale Day. That’s December 23rd this year.
Now, if you’ve ever made Tamales, you know that you never just make 2 or 10. That would be insane. I just started making these a few years ago because, after having kids, I became extra sentimental about family tradition. So I asked my stepmom if she could send me her recipe. She sent me Pozole as well and we tried that first. It was easy and awesome!
Then I got brave and decide to attempt the tamales. I didn’t do too bad the first time. However, just my husband and I did them. From what I understand, you’re really supposed to get a group of friends or family to help out in order to accomplish large amounts of tamales. Keep in mind that there was a year that my mother-in-law helped me out. Maybe she can attest to the work involved as well. You have the option to recruit help. Otherwise, consider bench presses and squats at the gym.
I really love sweet tamales and, now that I’m all growed up, I gotta have the pork tamales as well. On tamale day, we will assemble about 80 tamales total. It will be a miracle if they last through the end of January.
I will wake up on tamale day and soak the corn husks in warm water first thing. The house already will smell of pork and guajillo chiles because we will have prepared the meat on pre-tamale day (December 22nd). I will attempt to set up a work station that, in the end, will look like the cabinets threw up all over the kitchen. That’s okay, it’s all worth it. Next, I will prepare the masa. The first batch will be plain and the second batch will have pineapple juice and sugar in it for the sweet tamales. The golden raisins go inside when it’s time to wrap them.
Now it’s time to assemble. I’ll grab a mimosa and shoo the children and my husband out of the kitchen. Now, I start my stretches. I do a little tamale wrapping warm up jog around the kitchen. I’m a little like Rocky. My husband gives me a pep talk, I throw a few jabs, flex my wrists, my theme song plays in the background. I’m ready. I sit in my chair… and go to work.
About 20 minutes and 15 perfect tamales later, I’m standing and hunched over a little out of breath. My husband will come back in the kitchen at this time and rub my shoulders. It’s at this point that I admit defeat and ask for help. In the next hour we will sit down, assemble, stand up, assemble, sit down, sip mimosas and stand up and assemble. We will finish 65 more tamales and prepare to steam them.
After what seems like an hour. Oh wait, it is an hour. We prepare to test taste the first tamales. It has to be one of each kind. If we’ve done everything right, these first tamales will prove all the hard work has paid off. The dough will be light and fluffy, the meat tender and juicy. As for the sweet tamales, you can practically taste a great sweet tamale just by inhaling the aroma. Like squirrels, we begin to hoard and ration our stock. We come up with a plan to make these 85 precious delights last the whole winter. This is a crock because, like I said, it will be a miracle if they make it to the end of January. I wasn’t joking.
For the many traditions we have acquired each passing year, I believe is our most recent. We just tacked it right on with the others. So what, if the days leading up to Christmas has become a cooking marathon, it’s OUR marathon and it’s delicious!
Happy Holiday Planning!