Now that I am a father, soon to be a father again, I am beginning to realize how traditions play a major role in developing an identity, not only for a family, but for children as well. Growing up, we celebrated the American holidays although both my parents were European and had come to the US as adults in 1970. They could very easily have bypassed these holidays since they had no ties with Thanksgiving or July 4th. But living in the US they felt that it was important for my sister and I to develop attachments to these days, to view them as time with the family.
As I got older and began to work in kitchens, I spent less and less time doing family things at the holidays. I would try and stop by the house where the celebrating was going on, but I would be wired from working and they would all be in a tryptophan induced coma. After a while, I stopped going altogether, as I began to climb the culinary ladder and my responsibility grew, there was less and less time for holidays. Holidays themselves began to symbolize ‘more work’ so that everybody else could celebrate. Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and New Years Eve, these were the days I knew I was putting in 16-18 hours in the kitchen and for the last 24 or so years, I was fine with that. It was what was expected and I wasn’t the only one.
This past Thanksgiving I worked. My wife and daughter had plans to spend the day with friends but came down ill and opted to stay home. Some friends came by to drop off turkey and trimmings but it’s never the same. Overall, my wife was disappointed. I find that curious as she is German. Born and raised, English is her second language. She came to the US in 2001 and immediately was attracted to the social aspect of Thanksgiving. We have no family close to us so we generally celebrate with friends. She is so much more a family person than I ever was. She talks to her parents daily, spends months a year in Germany visiting and is close to her sister, cousins and parents. I, on the other hand, have never been family oriented. I’m fine on my own. I once spent Christmas day by myself, watching movies and eating Chinese delivery without ever speaking to anybody but the Chinese lady who took my food order. Don’t get me wrong, I love my family, but my mother has passed and I speak to my dad every month or so, we email mostly. I speak to both my sisters once a year, never on the holidays, just at random times. And while this was OK for me, it isn’t for my children.
I want them to have their own traditions, things handed down from our family to theirs. I understand now why my wife makes a big deal about Thanksgiving, although if you asked her, she probably wouldn’t have a clue how or why it originated, then again, the same could be said for a fair amount of Americans. I want my children to be able to identify the holidays with friends, family and laughter as they get older, not ‘more work’.
This I plan on being the first of a couple of New Year resolutions.
Being in Colorado and the cusp of the Southwest, tamales are an amazingly popular part of the holidays, both at Thanksgiving and Christmas thanks to the large Latin population also adopting the holidays of their new home. Traditionally they are filled with beef or pork and in the Southwest, smothered in ‘Christmas’ chile, both a red and green variety. I use them on my menus throughout the year as an appetizer or starch for something appropriate. They really do convey a homey, rustic atmosphere when incorporated into something a little more high-end. Tamales are comfort food to people in this part of the country, simple to make although I prefer give them a little twist with new and different ingredients.
Roast Corn-Goat Cheese Tamales (makes 8 tamales)
8 Corn Husks
2 cups maseca corn flour
2 cups water or chicken stock
½ cup grilled corn
½ tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
½ cup butter or shortening, room temperature
½ tsp coriander, ground
1 tsp. chile powder
4 oz. goat cheese
½ cup grilled corn
1 Tbsp. fresh basil, chiffonade
Juice of half a lemon
1. Submerge the corn husks in hot water and allow soaking for 20 minutes.
2. Grill one ear of corn, when cool, remove the corn from the cob with a sharp knife. This should give you about 1 cup of corn which you can split between the goat cheese and tamale dough.
3. Combine the goat cheese, basil, grilled corn and lemon juice. Mix well and set in the refrigerator.
4. Mix the corn flour, baking powder, grilled corn, salt, coriander and chile powder together in a large bowl.
5. Add the chicken stock/water into the corn flour and mix well. Allow to sit for 20 minutes.
6. Add the butter/shortening and mix well. Your tamale dough should resemble soft cookie dough.
7. Measure out 3 oz. of dough per tamale.
8. To assemble your tamales, watch the following video…