What do you have for Christmas dinner? In some families it's set in stone. In some families it changes every year. In our family, though the side dishes may vary, the main event is tamales.
Some of you may be thinking "I didn't know she was Hispanic!" Well, I'm a nice German-Scottish girl from Pennsylvania, and my husband is a British mixture from the Midwest. But we know good food when we taste it!
One of my good friends (also of British extraction) grew up in a small town in Arizona. Two doors down was a Mexican-American family with kids about the same ages. "Andrea" remembers watching tamale making from very early on, and by the time she was in middle school. she was helping. (For any of you who don't know, tamale-making is a somewhat tedious process of preparing seasoned meat, masa dough, and softened cornhusks. Then you smear some dough on a cornhusk, add meat, roll, wrap and repeat. It is much more fun when several people talk while they work -- kind of on the quilting-bee principle.)
About fifteen years ago Andrea, who had at that time been living in Michigan for a number of years, got homesick for tamales. She remembered enough to get a close approximation, and has been tweaking the recipe ever since. But she also remembered the camaraderie of tamale-making, and asked me if I'd like to help her make a batch. We were hooked!
So for the last 13 or 14 years, one day in December has been set aside as tamale day. (They freeze beautifully.) We've gotten better at pre-prep, so it's not as tiring as it used to be. And the smell of steaming tamales has no equal. And today's the day!
(For those of you who wonder -- yes, the tamales taste authentic. We knew that for sure eight or so years ago, when one of Andrea's cousins was hosting a Mexican exchange student who hated it here. Too cold, weird food, etc., etc. But when Andrea gave him a couple of tamales, he proclaimed them "Just like abuela's!" The ultimate compliment.)