Sunday, December 21, 2008

Tamales for Christmas

I am a wonderful mix of cultures. My mother breathes the fire of the Latino culture and my father proudly wears the plaid tartans of the Scots. At Christmas we have the delicious foods of both cultures grace our table. But the Christmas meals I remember with great fondness are those of tamales, beans and rice that would bring the women together in the kitchen. We would gather around the table and make the tamales in assembly fashion. The tradition of daughter to daughter was celebrated through the passing of the tamale from the oldest to the youngest, with each of us adding something to the process. The steam would fill the kitchen and our noses as we waited patiently for the plates piled high with the tamales to be set on the table for all to enjoy.

Our Christmas dinner so many years later, is minus a few of those tamale makers. Even my mother was snowbound this year along with my granddaughter. But in spirit, every daughter in this family stands beside me as once again, the corn husks are laid on the towels ready to be filled.


Cook pork roast in a red chile sauce in a crock pot overnight or until tender. Shred in a food processor.

Dried corn husks soaked in water overnight. Spread on towels and pat dry.
2 cups masa
3 cups water
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
2/3 cups shortening or lard (manteca)

Mix the masa, water, baking powder, salt and shortening to make a smooth spreadable paste.

Spread masa inside the corn husk. Add a heaping tablespoon of the pork to the center and fold the corn husk up from the bottom and the sides overlapping each other.

Steam on a rack in a roaster in salted water until the masa pulls away from the corn husk. Unwrap and eat! That's what a wise grandma would do!

Monday, December 15, 2008

Making Snow Cream

As part of our twelve days of Christmas random acts of kindness, my granddaughter has decided to bake cookies for all of her Kindergarten class and teachers. We have a baking rule in our household. All products must be taste tested!

Since the weather outside has turned frightful, we stoke the fire, preheat the oven and whip up a batch of indoor snowmen. There is nothing better than a sweet snowman with your snow cream. Hopefully you have the essential whipping cream in your refrigerator for the unexpected school snow day!

Recipe for snow cream

4 cups of CLEAN snow
1/2 c sugar or to taste
1 tablespoon of vanilla
1 pint of whipping cream

Slowly blend together with the cream until you have the right consistency. Remember the snow will melt as you add the cream. Be sure to use a wooden or plastic spoon. Snow will freeze to a metal spoon. I doubt there will be any left, but snow cream does not do well in the freezer. It is meant to be enjoyed in the moment!

Friday, December 12, 2008

Ghosts of Scrooge

Bah! Humbug! Words to live by if your name is Ebenezer Scrooge. This world would be a much better place without all the people. I know it sounds harsh but think about it. Other than the occasional frustration of a disobedient dog, or the scratch marks on your new furniture from the cat or possibly the mouse that escaped your grandson's makeshift cage, there are few irritants that can really spoil a good day than people.
So what possible reason could Scrooge and I have for an often, considered negative attitude about people? As a teacher and director of a youth non-profit, I seem to meet up with some of the most irritating of the bunch.

Oddly enough, a woman whom I hardly knew gave me the best advice. We met on a plane and began chatting to pass the time. She had recently finished a book by Paramahansa Yogananda. She said he spoke eloquently about the freedom of forgiveness. His words serve as a mantra. Five little words spoken in the heat of anger - Bless them and forgive them. I find them most effective when repeated until the anger passes or I pass out, whichever comes first.

Of course the best advice is one that is passed on to others. So I give this advice freely to Scrooge and all those who will listen. It would be nice to extend this season of goodwill to men beyond the stroke of midnight on December 25th. May the ghosts of Scrooge haunt us all year long. Perhaps the world would be a better place if people were blessed and forgiven. That's what a wise grandma would do.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Can Actions Really Speak Louder Than Words?

I am trying to teach the art of kindness to my granddaughter. Sure, we do the giving trees at church, the mall, Toys for Tots but still these random acts seem removed from the words "it is better to give than to receive". 

A group of high school students tried putting this to the test by creating the Random Acts of Kindness Club. One of their first acts was to take leaf rakes and ask neighbors if they would like their yards raked  - FOR FREE! After they had a few doors shut in their faces, they went to the local mall and handed out cards with "Have a Nice Day" & "You are awesome", which promptly brought out security and a quick boot to the curb.

So how do we teach our children that the joy of giving far surpasses that of receiving? Make it personal. Start with a senior in your neighborhood. We have a wonderful 93 year old woman who lives directly behind my granddaughter. We are bringing her gingerbread cookies that we carefully cut and decorated. My granddaughter and I are going to spend the 12 days of Christmas doing one nice thing each day for somebody else. My granddaughter already told me she is going to let the new girl have the swing first at recess. 

Small things. Big rewards. Hopefully a life lesson. That's what a wise grandma would do.

Friday, December 5, 2008

The Yardstick of Success

In this economy, I am not only lucky to have a job but to have one I love. I am directing a play for Upstart Crow Studios this holiday season. At the Studios we make it our business to work with all children - no child is turned away. This particular production, I had the pleasure of working with an autistic teenage girl. Repetition works well for autism and theatre has been a good vehicle for many of the autistic children who come to us. 

Despite her obvious awkward moments with the choreography and dialogue, she was always eager to try. The other cast members recognized her challenges and stepped in to make sure she was in the "right spot" or cue her patiently with dialogue. It was heartwarming to watch them bond as a cast. On the field or on stage, these children knew what it meant to be a team.

Dress and tech rehearsal this week was the girl's undoing. The lights, the tension, the backstage chaos, it all proved too much for her. She shut down. The cast carried on without her and we finished the night, tired and unhappy. As they left, her mother told me, with tears in her eyes, how much this experience meant to her and her daughter. I was heartbroken that her daughter had made it so far and like Moses would not see the promised land but I knew she was not able to go on for the final performance. 

So what is the measure of success? Is it the final product or the struggle to get there? Is it less of a triumph because we did not make it all the way? Or is each day we survive the struggle, the yardstick we should use to measure our success?

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Live and In Person

Welcome to Good to be live and look forward to blogging my way through what is now "officially" a recession. I don't think this is news to most of us and for the rest of you, don't worry. Many of my readers lived through the Great Depression and suffered far more than we are now. The main thing to remember is that you can always find someone in a worse situation than you.

So here is my tip for the day. Roll those pennies. Yes, I said pennies. Every year since we were married, my husband and I saved our pennies in a mason jar we left on the kitchen counter. Come Christmas time, we sat down and rolled all the pennies in the jar. I think our kids loved doing this because we would dump all the pennies out onto the table and the pile was quite impressive. They would sift their hands through the pennies, like King Midas himself. After painstakingly counting the pennies into neat little piles of ten, we would place them in wrappers and stack them in pyramids on the table before us. The number of rolls determined the size of the tree we would purchase.

At the time, $10 would buy a pretty good size tree, often having to be trimmed to get through the front door. Now we are lucky if we can rub together $20 in pennies for an average size tree, but none-the-less, it has become a tradition of family fun. It inspires saving and earning, not to mention the sigh of beauty when you see the tree sparkling with ornaments and lights, knowing you grew that tree one penny at a time.

My kids no longer chide me about picking up a penny on the street because they know that's what a wise grandma would do.