Wordless Wednesday: A tribute to Chavela Vargas

I was saddened on Sunday to hear the news that singer Chavela Vargas passed away at age 93 in Cuernavaca, Mexico. Though the legendary singer was originally from Costa Rica, she emigrated to Mexico City in her teens and would eventually become known as the queen of Ranchera and a Mexican popular culture icon.

According to her official Facebook page, her last words were “I leave with Mexico in my heart.”

I’ll never be able to listen to “La Llorona”—or many other songs—without thinking of her. Here are a few of my favorites.

“La Llorona”
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“Que Te Vaya Bonito
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“El Último Trago”
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You can keep up with more information of tributes taking place in Mexico on the official Facebook fan page of Chavela Vargas here (written in Spanish).… 

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Tamales de puerco para Día de la Candelaria

It’s Día de la Candelaria and I have to confess: I’ve been so busy with non-bloggy things (you know…normal life, work, family obligations, Mr. H’s birthday, etc.) that I just haven’t had a chance to make my own tamales yet, let alone photograph and write up my recipe to share. But I promise I will soon.

In the meantime, I wanted to share with you a very special recipe from my friend Leslie that really touched me when I read it this morning. I immediately asked her if I could share it with all of you. Gracias, Leslie, for sharing this story and your abuela’s recipe, and for letting me borrow this photo to show everyone your beautiful tamales de puerco.

Photo courtesy of Leslie Limon

 

Head over to La Cocina de Leslie for her abuela’s recipe for tamales rojos con puerco; she’s provided an awesome step by step guide with photos to help you through the recipe—especially great if you’re making tamales for the first time ever. Bet you can’t guess her abuela’s secret ingredient!

  • What are your favorite kind of tamales?

Celebrating Día de Los Reyes with friends and family

¡Feliz Día de Los Reyes a todos!

We took a long vacation with family for the holidays and part of our trip included a day in Ensenada, located on the West coast of Mexico in the state of Baja California (the northern part of the peninsula, a little more than 70 miles south of Tijuana).

Since we wouldn’t be together on Día de Los Reyes, we found a little rosca to celebrate a few days before. And guess who got el niño Jesus… again. I swear it’s a conspiracy because I get the baby in my piece of cake every single year. The rosca was so small that I didn’t even think there would be a baby inside, but there he was when I broke my piece off. Guess I’ll just have to make tamales for Día de La Candelaria on February 2!

Read more about how we celebrate Día de Los Reyes here on The Other Side of The Tortilla and check out the links below to see how some of our friends celebrate as well. If you haven’t celebrated yet, it’s not too late. Even if you can’t buy a rosca, you can certainly try making one on your own! You can also serve Mexican hot chocolate or champurrado alongside your cake…. 

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What Las Posadas mean to me

December 16th begins Las Posadas, the nine days of celebration leading up to Christmas Eve, also known as Nochebuena.

It’s customary for families to gather together, eat, sing and have a piñata at the party. Sometimes people celebrate posadas by going from home to home, singing the traditional song to ask for lodging the way Mary and Joseph did. But whether you travel around to different homes or stay in one place, there are certain elements of your family’s posadas that you inevitably love more than anything else, and will always try to recreate as you grow older, and especially as you have children so you can teach them your family’s traditions.

For me, the most beloved posadas tradition is making ponche Navideño. Every year, even if I don’t have access to fresh ingredients, I do my best to find canned, jarred or frozen ingredients for the things I can’t easily find in the U.S. Even though I know I’ll have it when I get to Mexico, I feel it’s really important to perfect the recipe at home with available ingredients.

I want our future children to know that it’s a Mexican Christmas staple and always have memories of the smell and taste. I want them to think of love and family and La Navidad when they think of ponche, just the way that I do. I always look forward to spending time with family in Mexico City during the holidays, and I know there will always be an abundance of ponche Navideño. It’s present at almost every family gathering but the most special thing about it for me is that it’s become a family tradition to make it together with my suegros, whom I adore con todo corazón.

We stand around the kitchen, my suegro chopping the caña (sugar cane), while my suegra takes care with the liquid measurements. I slice the guayabas and juice the oranges, add the canela and core the tejocotes. And before a few years ago when I finally put it on paper, our family recipe wasn’t officially written down anywhere with any information other than what should go in it. Learning how to make this family recipe with my suegros meant a lot to me in being able to eventually pass down this tradition.

So, last week when I was grocery shopping in a store I don’t usually frequent and I found a box of fresh tejocotes, I had tears in my eyes as I stood in disbelief in the middle of the produce aisle. This was the very first time I’d ever seen fresh tejocotes in a market near Chicago (also grown in the U.S., according to the box). Tejocotes have long been prohibited from being imported fresh from Mexico as a precaution due to the possibility of harboring exotic pests. Only in recent years have there been growers in the U.S. (mostly in California) who’ve begun cultivating crops of tejocotes, also known in English as Mexican hawthorn. I was surprised and overjoyed to see them in a local store. Though I was tempted to buy the whole box, I painstakingly picked through it to find the most perfect ones to add up to half a pound, just enough for one large pot of ponche.

This year, our family is still headed off on a vacation together as usual, but not within Mexico. As excited as I am to go somewhere new and experience new things, I can’t help but feel a little sad that I won’t be attending Tía Annette’s big posada Navideña in Mexico City.

I’ll miss sipping ponche and café con rompope and eating galletas with my other tías while catching up on all the gossip I’ve missed since my last visit. I’ll miss our tío dangling the piñata over the garden for the kids from the second story window, laughing and smiling as he tugs it just out of their reach. I’ll miss seeing how much some of the younger cousins have grown up this past year. I’ll miss Tía Nene and her famous pastel de dátil (something I still need to learn how to make). I’ll miss the nochebuenas, which are much more beautiful and exotic-looking in their native Mexico. I’ll miss posing for a huge family holiday photo, comprised of four generations of our beautiful family.

As I write this, my kitchen is perfumed by the scent of ripe guayabas, waiting to be made into ponche this weekend. There are oranges, tejocotes, canela and ciruelas pasas. I still need to find some fresh sugar cane; I have a good idea of where to get it locally, but I’ve still got some in a jar as a backup. And though there will be no cousins, tíos, piñatas, pidiendo posadas or certain favorite holiday foods this year, the memories will swirl steadfastly in my heart and my kitchen as I stew a big pot of ponche before I jet off to my holiday destination.

›› GET THE RECIPE FOR PONCHE NAVIDEÑO

›› WATCH A VIDEO OF HOW OUR FAMILY CELEBRATES LAS POSADAS (Includes lyrics to the piñata song and canciones para pedir posadas)

  • What makes you think most of las posadas? This post is part of a blog hop about posadas. I encourage you to check out some of the other related posts about how others celebrate the holidays in Mexico. If you’ve written about posadas, please feel free to add a link to your post!… 

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Honoring La Virgen de Guadalupe

December 12th is a very important day in Mexico for faithful Catholics—El día de la Virgen de Guadalupe. If you’re not familiar with the story, here’s the very abbreviated version: in 1531, the Virgin Mary appeared to a poor Aztec man named Juan Diego, who had converted to Christianity several years before. He was so poor that he wore no shoes, and his mantle was coarsely woven of cactus cloth as he could not afford cotton. He often traveled hours to make his way from his home to the nearest church, and during one of his journeys, the Virgin Mary appeared to him and asked him to build a temple there in her honor. She appeared to him a total of four times before the miracle occurred when her image appeared on his cloak. The bishop requested that Juan Diego bring him a sign to prove what he had seen; after telling La Virgen that they requested physical proof of what he’d told them, she revealed to him several varieties of fresh, blooming Castilla roses (which were out of season), that he brought as proof and which amazed the bishop. When he unfolded his cloak (called a tilma), the roses scattered and the image of the Virgen de Guadalupe appeared, just as it exists on the tilma hanging in the Nueva Basílica de Santa María de Guadalupe today. The sanctuary that stands at the location where Juan Diego revealed the roses to the bishop is called La Capilla del Cerrito.

In the 1730s, La Virgen (also sometimes referred to as La Morenita) was adopted as the patroness of Mexico City. This is why her image can be found just about everywhere—from churches to market stalls to homes and even on quirky trinkets. She is beloved by all and today, the basilica in Mexico City is one of the most-visited Catholic shrines in the world. She is credited for performing many miracles to those who pray to her to watch over them…. 

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Five steps for a successful tamalada

I adore tamales; they remind me of the holidays and various special occasions. When I smell them, I get a warm, fuzzy feeling inside that is hard to explain. No other food gives me the same exact feeling, actually.

There were tamales at my wedding shower in Mexico (called a despedida). There have always been tamales available for birthdays and Christmas and Día de La Candelaria. In fact, on Día de Los Reyes, I’ve had the luck to get the baby Jesus figurine in my piece of Rosca de Reyes several times in the past. As tradition goes, if you get the figurine, you’re responsible for bringing tamales for everyone on Día de La Candelaria. When José’s abuela passed away, everyone came back to the house after the prayer service to have tamales, like she would have wanted us to. They’re a staple and a symbol in Mexican cuisine.

So, it might surprise you to find out that I’ve never before hosted my own tamalada—a tamal-making party. Yes, it’s true. I’ve never hosted one, but I really want to in the coming year! My favorite savory tamales are usually tamales de pollo con salsa verde and when it comes to the sweet variety, un tamal de chocolate makes my mouth water and my heart skip a beat. I’ve made tamales on my own at home but never had a party and invited friends and family to help out and enjoy them with me afterward.

One reason a lot of people don’t make their own tamales at home is because it’s a bit labor intensive. There are several steps to successfully making them, and it’s time-consuming. To make it worthwhile, a tamalada is the perfect solution because everyone gathers together at one place and forms an assembly-line style workforce to get everything finished in less time. Then you can steam them in your tamalera. When they’re done, it’s party time! There’s nothing quite like a freshly-steamed tamal, whether it’s savory or sweet.

Here are the five basic steps for a successful tamalada, according to the advice I’ve received and what I’ve observed, and that I plan to follow when I host mine:

  • Ideally, as a hostess, you’ll have the masa ready in advance. I’m not suggesting you grind your corn from scratch and all that (unless you want to). But for a modern tamalada, it’s perfectly acceptable to buy pre-made masa at a tortillería or grocery store, or use Maseca instant masa without feeling guilty.
  • Every tamal needs a little grasa in the masa! If your tamal is lacking moisture, it might because you didn’t use any manteca. You don’t have to use a lot, but it helps with the consistency and flavor. The best tamales are the ones that have light and fluffy masa that isn’t dry.
  • Depending on which region your tamales come from, you’ll use either cornhusks or banana leaves to wrap them. Either way, they need to be pliable. Cornhusks need to be soaked in water well in advance so they won’t rip. Banana leaves can be heated and soaked, too.
  • You’re going to need a filling (or a few different fillings, depending on how many tamales you plan to made). You can use shredded meats stewed in salsa, vegetables such as rajas or even sweet fillings using fruit (my favorite is strawberry). Make sure your filling isn’t too wet when it comes time to spread it over the masa, or you’ll end up with weird, soggy tamales.
  • Learn how to wrap that tamal up! It’s really easy to learn how to properly fold the cornhusk. You can even find tons of advice on YouTube with how-to videos on the subject. I like to also use a small strip of cornhusk to tie a little bow around the middle to keep the flap closed for steaming. I find that closing it up completely gets the tamal uniformly steamed with no dry spots near the top.

Check out these recipes from Maseca for all kinds of different tamales.

  • Have you hosted a tamalada? Do you have any tips for me?

This is a sponsored post through a campaign with Maseca and Latina Bloggers Connect. Though I am being compensated for participating, all opinions, recipes and stories are my own.

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