How To Follow A Recipe

We ladies love to talk about food. What we eat, what we cook, who we feed, how many people we were able to feed out of that one dish, Verdad que si? My bestie is in town and when she’s around I eat healthier and we talk about “creative cooking.” I’m not sure if that’s the best description of our food discussions. We’ve been working on easing me away from my Mexican food comfort zone. I tremble at the thought of using a recipe, es demasiado quehacer! Ya se, que exagerada, just how difficult is it to follow a recipe? Pues! Let me tell you that for me, it’s really hard to stay within the lines. Mira, here’s an account of another attempt to follow a “simple” recipe.

I have been talking a lot about stepping out of my comfort zone, cooking something that is not Mexican. The other day, I went all out and told Ben that I was gonna make breakfast for dinner. I told him I was going to make an egg bake, no recipe needed and it wasn’t Mexican. He said “ok” What else was he supposed to say right?. Caso Cerrado!  Until the afternoon when I was talking to my son Thomas about having an egg bake for dinner. He said, “oh…” imaginate the sad emoji with that “oh” I felt it. Especialmente when he said “Ma, I’m gonna be out so don’t worry about me for dinner” Wow! And I said “Maybe I should make a quiche with all the vegetables since…” My husband heard that and said “ooh quiche” and I had to quickly explain that I wasn’t really prepared to make a quiche. Ves, it required a recipe. Besides, I didn’t have the special cheeses and time and I couldn’t make a flaky crust and…I remembered my desire to go outside of the box. I told Ben I would find a recipe for a nice flaky crust. My flaco smiled.

The Recipe In My Kitchen

I jumped on youtube and found an easy recipe. I’m trying to keep my eyes from rolling, because again I confirmed the precipice of recipe climbing. All those details make me lose my way. 

Flour. Sugar. Salt.  Ice cold water. Diced up butter. Combine the butter, flour, sugar and salt, use your knuckles and fingers to work out all the clumps, until it’s all blended. Sprinkle in the ice cold water and use your knuckles to knead it and palms to fold it over, do not over knead it. Form into a ball and “chill” for 30 minutes. Then, use a pastry mat to roll out and transfer to fit your pie pan, remember to pinch off the excess. Luego, cut out parchment paper to fit and line the pie crust with it and freeze it for 30 minutes. Remove the frozen crust from the freezer, it was almost ready for a blind bake (huh?) Make a foil liner to fit into the frozen pie crust that is already lined with a parchment liner. Push it gently around the crust to shape it, weigh it down with pie weights (Que?). This will support the crust as it pre-baked at 425 degrees for 15-20 minutes.

 That was the instructions for the pie crust. What of all that did I actually follow? I used ice water and fingers and knuckles. I baked it for 15 minutes. Let’s put it this way, I’m glad I wasn’t taking a test. Although I did learn two baking terms I didn’t know: “pie weights” and blind bake, I always called it pre-bake. I did not have all the ingredients for the filling, so I worked with what I had, como siempre. 

En Conclusíon

In my opinion, my quiche version looked really nice, pero, did my flaco like it? Yes he did, he asked for seconds. Did he love it? No se. I’m gonna try again, with the right cheeses and heavy cream, I used half n half. In the end I did make Thomas try it, veggies and all. He admitted that he was not a fan of quiche with all it’s veggies and pie crusts. Hijole! Why did I ask? He must have seen my disappointment because he then said “ It’s better mom, it’s almost flaky” maybe I was getting closer to flaky. Heavy sigh, Maybe the layers of tin foil with pie weights would have created the much desired flaky crust. I kind of want to run back to my easy green chile enchiladas.

My bestie says that she finds a recipe and always tweaks it, is that the case for most people? Does everybody do that? I want to know, quizas it’s ok to pick and choose parts of a recipe and let the “sazon” take over, I mean at the end of the day there’s got to be some magic in your fingers.

A Visit to Los Angeles

I went to Los Angeles last weekend. Usually L.A. traffic keeps us away, pero I’m glad I didn’t stay away last weekend.  We picked up our friends from San Pedro Port of Los Angeles, after a world class cruise in Mexico. We planned to spend the day as their tour guides, except that our East Coast friends were much better informed about L.A. than we were. For many relaxed San Diegans, L.A. is mostly about Disneyland, LAX, smog and traffic congestion. Y para mi, it’s also about my tia Chepina

Whenever I know I’m going to be in Los Angeles, I’m anxious to check on her. She and her husband, my tio Raymundo, aka Mundo, live alone. He needs 24 hour care and supervision. My cousins work together and help with his care, but she’s the only one who is constantly with him! Es mucho. My Apas hermanita,  is now 82. Tia Josefina is mostly known as Chepina. We Mexicans, and Mexican Americans have a love of creating nicknames for people and things. As I investigated the “science” behind nicknames I was hit with words such as syncopation and apheresis, imediatamente! I had nicknames for these words; cinco y fer! Except that they didn’t necessarily follow the rules of the definitions. Por supuesto que I’ll have to do a blogpost about Mexican nicknames and the variations used in my family. 

Tia Chepina keeps me connected to my apa and she has been the glue of the Zepeda family, keeping her 3 brothers and their families in California connected to the family at large in Jalisco, Mexico. Honestamente, if it were not for Tia Chepina and my primos,  I would avoid L.A. altogether, except for the occasional LAX drive. It turned out to be a beautiful day in Los Angeles. 


Our friends had one request for us as we prepared to see un poquito of the big city. George wanted to visit the grave of the man who was instrumental in the Azusa street revival; William J Seymour. Meanwhile Margie, his wife, had wondered about Hollywood and the Walk of Fame. These would be new experiences for us all. 

San Diego and L.A had been experiencing a torrent of rainy days, aunque any amount of rain for us Californians is a lot, I was anxious to see our sunny California weather y gracias a Dios it was a beautiful day. We walked along the Port enjoying the sun and breeze, then we headed to Evergreen cemetery in East L.A. It was a solemn moment. We rejoiced and hoped for the day that California would see this kind of revival again and right there among the gravestones we agreed in prayer, asking Jesus to bring salvation, hope and peace to our families. 

After the cemetery we decided to go to Azusa street, I didn’t realize how close we were to my tias house, but I had yet to make my request known. I felt silly to bring my friends with me. Derepente! Our car starting making a terrible scraping, scratching sound. Hijole! The brakes were screeching! Ben was confused because usually we hear and feel minimal symptoms to warn us that it’s time to replace them. After he checked them, not really sure which needed replacing, we googled the nearest auto parts store and very carefully drove there. We were in East L.A., we figured Ben would right there in the parking lot do the job. Pero, we had to drive somewhere else to do it, hijole! We didn’t know what to do. Luego, I said “Well I could call my tia Chepina, she might not be too far away.” She was delighted to hear from me. We were all so relieved, but we still had to get there. Again, back into L.A. traffic. Ben was being very cautious, but now we were not hearing the scratching and screeching. Hmm? As soon as it was safe Ben tested the brakes, it didn’t feel good, but it had to be done. No awful sounds, no dangerous skidding. When we arrived to her house he checked them more thoroughly. It was strange, but the brakes were fine, Ben speculated that maybe a small rock had gotten in there somehow. Margie and I chalked it up to God wanting me to check on tia

It was a beautiful short visit. She had made posole  for my primo but he wasn’t coming after all and I was thrilled to take his portion. Ahora si, George and Margie were going to have some authentic Mexican food, they used to think Del Taco was a good place for Mexican food. Neither Margie nor George were very hungry, but I warned them that you cannot refuse a strong latina woman’s food. They were glad they didn’t. 

Siempre, when I am with tia, she remembers my apa, that big brother who was so handsome in his blue jeans and cowboy hat. Quizas I’ve said it already pero, I love hearing it. My apa was a handsome vaquero. She loved remembering her own childhood, and  I soaked it all in. She was very attentive to my friends, hearing about their travels to Mexico and affirming  their love of La Costa, where they enjoyed those famous beach resorts.  My tio interjected with his  jokes and they laughed with him. It was a sweet moment. Tia needed the break and I needed to see that she was ok. It worked out perfectly.

En conclusion 

Los Angeles, The City of Angels, definitely felt like that last Saturday. It was a beautiful day with friends and laced with family. Y pues, we didn’t make it to Hollywood, sori Margie, but for me at least,  Tia Chepinas cooking and conversation was better than any sightseeing. Gracias a Dios for his protection and his attention to the details of our lives.

My Emotional Ties With Thanksgiving Food

I was awake muy muy temprano all week. It’s always like that with all the hustle and bustle of the Thanksgiving and Christmas season and all the birthday celebrations between. Today la familia will be celebrating mi mas chiquito grandson; Uriah Benjamin, 1 year old. What a wonderful way to end a Thanksgiving and enter into Christmas verdad?  

With that thought, as I was waking up today, I considered the wonderful Thanksgiving feast we’ve shared every year for the past 34 years. Rich in carbs, calories and fats. It’s not anything extraordinary really, pero this morning, the years of tradition in these simple foods overwhelmed me with appreciation. I went down my list:

Yams for Patty and me, nobody else appreciates them in my home. Yams, brown sugar and marshmallows. These remind me a bit of the camote my ama used to buy every morning when we were visiting Tia Angela in Guadalajara. The vendor would roll down the street on his three wheel bike equipped with a huge basket of delicious sweet camotes, yelling in a deep voice “camote” and we’d eat them drenched in leche. Today, I make a very small casserole dish of yams, since I alone partake of them now. I thank God every Thanksgiving for those years Patty and I shared the “gringo camotes” 🙂

Green beans with almonds for Ben and Rosie since our kids avoid veggies like the plague.

I’m gonna choose to avoid the ‘bad mom’ stares. Ben doesn’t have a stomach for green bean casserole and he stated that very clearly from the beginning of our voyage. I was glad because what was just the word ‘casserole’ intimidated me. Instead we enjoy fresh green beans stir fried in butter, diced garlic, sliced onions and almonds. Just for my flaco and I. It almost makes it our romantic thanksgiving side dish.

Stuffing for everyone! It’s the only time of the year I can get my sons to eat veggies. Finely diced onion,carrot and celery. Extremely disguised into the stuffing with the sausage and breading. I was pretty sure of myself, until I wasn’t. This year, My daughter in-law Denise asked me to share my stuffing recipe, because she was making some at home. Y pues, my shoulders straightened as I proudly began to share my recipe. When I said make sure to dice bien chiquito the celery and carrots, she interrupted me. “Actually, Jon asked me to leave out the celery this time.” Que! All these years despite loving my stuffing, he was so quick to alter it as soon as it was out of my hands. Luego, the worst thing that you can imagine happened! Asi es, a Thanksgiving tragedia.  my stuffing was…not good! my traditional stuffing was off and I hated it, and my sons didn’t fight for it.. I threw my hands up in total defeat, what else would change this Thanksgiving? I love feeding my family and others, and even as I write I feel the weight of that stuffing fumble, pues, I can’t have my sons not fighting over who gets more stuffing, verdad? Ok, think good thoughts, all my children and grandchildren were thanking God with me.

Desserts in our house. Classic San Diego Greene style. Cookies and Pumpkin pie are not traditions in danger of being removed. Until they don’t appear. Not one cookie, ni uno! And pumpkin pie? Daniella came filled with a desire for pumpkin pie. I prepared with the cool whip and proceeded to assign someone else the task of pumpkin pie. I can’t even say it, my brain isn’t wrapping around the fact that there was NO PUMPKIN PIE!  My newest daughter in-law Monique Greene introduced a pumpkin roll, y pues, it was delicious, we barely had enough of it. I’m impressed at her ease en la cocina. I can already tell that my lil Flaco, her flaco is putting on some weight. …but tradition took another hit. 

This year Thomas, our baker, made delicious cheese cakes, recipes he learned from the bakery he works at. Muy dalishious! Another change for my “anchored in tradition” heart to endure. We have always made Philadelphia’s classic 3 step cheesecake. It was right up my budget and my “teaching the kids” ability.

The Peanut butter, chocolate and cool whip pie that Emery has made for years, the “Terni Pie” because the recipe was shared by our dear friend Ternisha, remained in its traditional place. He always remembers it almost too late to share with anyone.

Gracias a Dios, I was worried that he was too much in the honeymoon clouds to worry about a silly pie. 

Ya se que change is inevitable, I’m learning to unlatch myself from the old ways when I must, and embrace the new things.

My pastor preached last Wednesday that everyday could be a day of Thanksgiving, “Gracias te damos Senor” everyday? Amen! good preaching indeed.  If we choose to practice Philippians 4:6 (NLT) Don’t worry about anything (not even the changes).Tell God what you need and thank him for all he has done. (Jesus, you’ve done so much for me, I cannot tell it all!) Then you will experience the peace of God, which exceeds anything we can understand.

At times it takes focus and grit to not go down the lonely path of losses and “what ifs.” Even the losses, like no pumpkin pie or mediocre stuffing can be made into a beautiful thankful moment. I hope you all had a beautiful Thanksgiving.

Have a beautiful Christmas season, y que Dios los bendiga

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How To Assemble A Tostada

One of the many things I love about my church family is how we love to celebrate each other’s blessings. Last week the ladies gathered together for a baby shower. The young mom we celebrated was very grateful, but also very anxious not to overload any of us. She did not want to be a burden. After we convinced her that it was truly our pleasure she asked that we keep it very simple. The party planner kept it simple and beautiful. We’ve got a solid group of women who work well together and cover all the aspects of an event for a beautiful presentation. My contribution is usually in the kitchen. That’s me, always in the kitchen. 

Ahora, when I heard that my assignment was to keep the meal simple, pues! No problem. Beans, rice, and tostadas are nice. I immediately secured help from my cuñada Sandra and another sis for shredded meat. Bien facil, pork, chicken and beef. I was not feeling any kind of burden, especially when the ladies reached out to offer help. I stayed on the real simple track.  I asked for help with the “assembly parts” of a tostada. You know, the tortilla shells, shredded cheese, sour cream, guacamole, shredded lettuce, diced onion, diced tomatoes,chopped cilantro and wedges of limón.  We would offer two options of salsa red or green.

Frijoles de la olla

I put my frijoles on early in the morning since it was a good size pot. I have had several ladies remind me of the convenience of the Instapot, but old ways are hard to break, it takes a miracle! Needless to say that I was a bit stressed because I was running late. All the “Instapotters” right here could wag their finger at me and say Ves! I told you so! Luego! I was beginning to wonder if two large pans of refried beans was enough? But I quickly chided myself beans were not the main event, no the preocupes, I told myself.

I walked into the hall and wanted to turn around with my very simple menu! Hijole, Julia, the party planner kept it simple alright. Her labor of love was displayed so beautifully, but my tostada and rice dinner was demasiado simple. Pues ni modo, this crowd was gracious. I felt better when someone said “I love the meal plan, Mexican food is my favorite” my shoulders lifted again. 

How To Properly Assemble A Tostada

I was in the kitchen while everyone was serving themselves so I didn’t immediately notice that tostadas were not being assembled properly. No need to panic, beans are never the main event. I went back to the kitchen. The first pan of beans was gone! Hijole!  How was that possible? Maybe I needed to give a quick class on how to assemble a tostada? By the time I decided to get out of the kitchen and join everyone and eat, the second pan was almost gone. Imaginate! Se acabaron los frijoles?! The disgrace I felt, what latina in the world had ever run out of food? Que vergüenza. The walk of shame back to the kitchen. One of the sisters comforted me with these words

Sister: Don’t worry Rosie, everyone got seconds

Me: But I know I made enough beans. I should have given a quick lesson on assembling a tostada. (anything to redeem myself) 

She laughed at the silly suggestion. Pero, I wonder If only I would have carefully instructed them to add just a small amount of beans spread nicely to cover the shell. Follow that with your choice of shredded meat and topped with any or all of the “assembly parts.” Then you carefully sprinkle on your choice of green or red salsa… Maybe then, this latina wouldn’t have this dark stain on her cooking reputation.   

En Conclusión

When I told Maria, my sister in law, she said “There’s your next post idea, “How to assemble a tostada” And I knew she was right, perhaps I could save another cook’s reputation. Then she added,

“But you know, I love bean tostadas, I prefer them over meat” Esperate! Just beans?!  I hadn’t considered that. Bottom line is that mi ama didn’t calculate her meals by how many people to expect, she always was ready to serve an army. A la otra, I’ll be ready too!

Getting Comfortable With My Cooking

Te Sirvo Mas?

I’m not sure my ama ‘loved’ to cook, but having a family of 10 and growing exponentially as the grandchildren arrived she spent a lot of time in the kitchen. It was here that she was very comfortable and, I believe, confident. When visitors came over they would eventually be sitting at the kitchen table eating some of her comida casera. “Te sirvo mas?” She delighted in serving a second helping. After meeting my flaco for the first time and seeing his need for “fattening up” She approved of his zeal for her good cooking as she put in front of him a second, then a third serving of her comida Mexicana. At the end of that visit mi ama concluded that maybe our mixed marriage would do well, after all she had taught me her ways in the kitchen. 

Finding My Way in the Kitchen:

Before I got married I was so intimidated by the beautiful pasta meals my roommate put together. Her stuffed shells were beautiful, she used ingredients I never heard of, like ‘ricotta cheese’ something the ricos used. Then she’d make a colorful green salad that accompanied the pasta, hijole, it was so ‘chef like’ that I hated messing it up by cutting into  her delicious presentation. Seeing her meals convinced me that I did not know how to cook, so I said that, until I got married. When I did marry my flaco, those words accused me “I don’t know how to cook”. Imagínate,  how relieved I was to receive for a wedding gift my little paperback Better Homes and Gardens “New Cook Book.”.

Ahora si, I felt equipped to cook for my gringo. I figured he needed his kind of food. I worked really hard at following the recipes…really, really hard… my greatest obstacle was sticking to the recipes. I’d hear my amas words Pruébalo, si necesita sal o chile, échale más” Did it need more salt or chile? Eventually I mastered some basic recipes. I discovered basic drop cookies, and learned that making cookies wasn’t too hard and much tastier than the store bought. I learned how to make white sauce, and the different variations, just like a pro. This Mexican American girl even made Quiche Lorraine, muy profesional! Asi es, every time it came out of the oven so nice and dark golden I was so proud of myself. Oh those unenlightened days before cell phone cameras, I couldn’t even show off! Ben’s lack of a reaction was always a mystery to me. 

Just Like my Ama

I spend a lot of time in the kitchen and eventually I’ve made my way back to my mothers way of cooking, testing and tasting. I took those recipes I learned and I shaped them into my own stilo: a tweaked recipe and my amas way. I work with what’s in the cupboard. I remake a leftover dish into a whole new meal. I stretch my food to feed my unexpected children and grandchildren and rarely do I make the “favorites” exactly the same. It keeps my daughter in law  on her toes. Just as she has mastered something she learned from me, I change it. 

She comes to visit and finds me in the kitchen, after a brief interruption of hugs and kisses from my little loves and Jeremiahs sweet greeting mixed with a kiss and a “Hi ‘Ma.” She sits at the counter to chat while I cook and sure enough she notices I’ve done something new to the Mexican rice I taught her to make or the mac n cheese that her girls absolutely love. They say, “our mom makes the best mac n cheese.” I can’t resist telling them that I taught her how to make it. Of course it doesn’t phase them, their mom is the best mac n cheese maker in the world! As it should be. A standard conversation Denise and I have which usually starts with my back to her as I’m adding an ingredient while she tries to peer over my shoulder from the counter.

Denise: Wait! What are you adding to the sauce? I don’t remember you telling me to add that?

Me: What? Oh, yea. 

Denise: Have you always added that? 

Me: I have before. I don’t know if I always do.

Denise: Man! I wish I had a hidden camera here to watch you cooking and get those secrets.

Me: I don’t have secrets, I just work with what I have.

If my son Thomas happens to be home, he would add his spice to the conversation.

Thomas: Yea, whenever anyone asks mom for her recipe, she is never never sure what she added this time! I love her experiments.

Back to the Directions:

Recently I’ve been thinking that I need to “learn to cook” with recipes again. It’s needed. It teaches discipline. Just as I’ve convinced myself to use my cookbooks again, my little 5 year old Rachel made one comment and my resolve has tumbled to the ground.

Rachel– “D’ma I wish you douldn’t have tollowed the directions so that the pancakes dould have been delithish” Her lisp always makes this strong Latina woman melt.

I was focused on making pancakes for my little overnight visitors. I was reading the directions from the Bisquick mix but of course I was tweaking it so that I would make just enough and waste food. I hate wasting food. 

Me: What? Don’t you like these pancakes?

She mumbled something, but I couldn’t understand her. I chuckled, my brain received her comment as a compliment.

En Conclusión

I like to think that I’m like my ama when it comes to cooking. I enjoy feeding others. I work hard to prepare good food and love it when others eat it up. Thomas has established an unspoken rule. After you’ve tasted the food and your tastebuds rejoice, you must tell the cook her food is good. It boosts her confidence and keeps her cooking. “Good cook Ma” 

Thank You Jesus For This Food, Amen.

Sharing food with mi familia has always celebrated milestones, created memories and filled our home with so much joy. This weekend I’ll be busy, maybe even in panic mode getting my ingredients together to feed my familia. Ya se, all those well prepared planners are way ahead of the game, pero yo? Well I just hope I find everything I need and if I don’t, I’ll just do like my ama taught me, work with what I have and keep my family happy. It’s a long day in the kitchen for me but I truly do love it when we gather around the table and counter. I am so very thankful for Thanksgiving, and thankful for my food.

Pero, before the Thanksgiving feast food coma, and before the frenzy of grocery shopping I’m thinking warm and fuzzy food thoughts. Remembering those foods that connected me to a love. I’m basking in those occasions that left a jewel in my heart. These are not necessarily Thanksgiving memories, but food memories that I’m thankful for. Mira:

  • I remember my amas avena during the cold desert mornings. Creamy avena for us was either oatmeal or cream of wheat, slowly cooked in leche with a cinnamon stick and teaspoon of sugar (or more) The chilly weather lately has me cooking avena, como me acuerdo de mi ama. She was adamant about avena with breakfast. We couldn’t leave home without a nice breakfast that always started with hot creamy avena.
  • I remember the fresh flour tortillas she whipped up for breakfast lunch or dinner. Absolutely unacceptable to have a meal without tortillas. She taught all her girls to make them, but my older sister Lupe mastered the “art” . One shelf in her fridge had a flat container of premade bolitas, dough balls; that way she only made dough a couple of times a week, and fresh tortillas were served daily in her home.
  • Nancy’s homemade bread- Ya se, from tortillas to bread. That’s how it is in a Multicultural familia. My suegra taught me how to make homemade bread. I’m so thankful for it and I think my family and friends are too since I enjoy sharing it, especially during this time of the year. 
  • Sourdough Pancakes- A Greene family tradition. This is my Benjamins show. Bien presumido! He loves to show off his sourdough pancakes, he absolutely believes the world is missing out not having his sourdough pancakes. They are pretty delicious though. Plenty of times he gets carried away inviting friends over for breakfast on Thanksgiving, a feast before the feast. My boys get so worried that there will not be enough pancakes for their usual 2nd and 3rd servings. 
  • Yams- These are not a big hit in our house. It used to be my sister Patty and I that loved the oven baked brown sugar and marshmallow yams, now it’s just me, it could be that Patty is having her own yams in heaven? Yams at Thanksgiving are another little tribute to my sister.
  • Cranberry sauce- This made the list because every year Ben insists he must have me serve it. I somehow remember to get the cranberry sauce and every year I forget to put it on the table. Asi es, cranberry sauce an old Thanksgiving dinner tradition, or some kind of berry. Pero, my cold blooded Englishman doesn’t notice that it wasn’t on his plate until after the food coma sets in. 
  • 3 Step Cheesecake. Exactamente just 3 steps. We have tasted better cheesecake, sometimes it bakes too dark, but I stick to this easy recipe. It’s easy, it’s inexpensive and now it’s tied to the Greene family. Thanksgiving without our easy 3 step Philadelphia cheesecake is unimaginable.
  • Pumpkin Pie- I can’t make my list and not include pumpkin pie, even though Thomas just uncovered to me this month that pumpkin pie is not a favorite of his on Thanksgiving- is that even allowed to be spoken? Esta loco! Pumpkin pie with whipping cream y un cafecito, mmm  
  • Broccoli salad- Pues, it’s supposed to be Joan’s Broccoli Madness Salad, pero ya sabes, it has becomes Rosies “lito bit of this and that” Broccoli salad. Again, it started off that Patty and I enjoyed the salad, now it’s me and Daniella. My one and one child that eats veggies, likes my broccoli salad. Provecho Daniella! 
  • Thanksgiving Leftovers- Is it possible to cause division in the camp because of leftovers? Sometimes you feel the tension. Patty and I made a pretty good team for our Thanksgiving planning, she forked out the money and I forked out the labor, a win win. One year she had also wanted to buy a turkey dinner from Honeybaked Ham Co. and I told her that was silly, que exagerada. She came prepared with her containers for leftovers. She was shocked and disappointed that she had leftover empty containers. Que langaros! We ate so much she had minimal leftovers to take home that year, or at least that’s how she saw it. Daniella and Thomas help themselves, no questions asked or comments made. Pero Jonathan, he’s  like his tia Patty, he wants to make sure I make enough for him to take home leftovers. Emery, he’s my lil flaco, he doesn’t pay attention until he comes around looking for leftovers then wonders who took them all! Ben simply expects to be served some leftovers the next day. 

The busy days before Thanksgiving make me a little crazy but of course I wouldn’t have it any other way. This Thanksgiving is lined with some sad thoughts. There will be a missing place setting for my apa and it is a second Thanksgiving with Covid hovering, but Gods hand in my life is undeniable and I must remember to Thank him for his goodness and provision. Have a wonderful Thanksgiving. Acuerdense, that feast is about storing up food memories, not calories.

It’s not about the food really, its about the people we love. When all five senses come together to celebrate with the people most dear to us, the memories last.

Celebrate with Pozole

What is Pozole?

As simple as it is, Pozole is our go to festive food. If you live in border cities, or states, like California with a high population of Mexicans and Mexican Americans, you will be surrounded, entrenched in Mexican food. With the popular meals like tacos, burritos and the comfort foods of Mexican traditions; like tamales and pozole. Let me make it clear, pozole is a highly celebrated holiday tradition. Pozole for Christmas, pozole on birthdays, and pozole to ring in the New Year!

Is it a soup?

What is pozole? I hate to call it a soup, but Wikipedia and a few others sources called it soup or a stew?!! I feel that judgment from all of those people who put pozole high on their list of  special occasion foods. How could I even write it? There’s more. Out there in the world wide web, I saw it described as a Mexican corn soup (Oh My Goodness! SMH)

(I remember, my son’s teacher warned him about where he got his info, and every time I search I can almost feel her disapproval at my source. Maybe I’ll just stick to my wealth of experience as I write about pozole)

Un Caldo

Pozole is made with either pork, chicken or beef (My friend Inez taught me her recipe that combined all three meats, I do enjoy that three meat pozole, but traditionally most people stick to one meat per pot).

I’m looking around me, a little worried that someone’s gonna catch me as I write, because I have to succumb to that description of pozole, caldo (is that better than the English version; soup?) What would you call pork and grano, that’s the hominy, simmering in a dry California chile sauce and meat broth, sprinkled with spices? It is not a thick sauce, it’s soupy. (Yea, that’s why I’m settling with the soup description) It is another one of those humble meals that goes a long way, our families tend to be big and Mexicans love to feed everybody! 

Tamales y Pozole

Many of our feasts are tamales and pozole (has a nice ring huh? I can almost hear my sons coming up with a little jingle. “Tamales y pozole, tamales y pozole, and a happy new year!) Pozole has a nice aroma as it’s cooking and the sauce, which is a soup apparently, has a nice spicy flavor, garlic and cumin enhance the flavor.  

Still, it must be garnished properly for the full effect. A nice bowl of steaming pozole topped with finely chopped cabbage and cilantro, diced onion and sliced ravanos; something about the after bite that radishes add to the pozole makes them a nice garnish. Sprinkle on some limon y sal, pass the tortillas, y “Entrale!”

Then go back for seconds, mi Ama would have it no other way.

A Well Balanced Tamal

Wrapping up 2020 with another tamal post. ‘Tis the season is it not?

How Much Masa is enough?

Recently my focus on tamales has heightened since it’s Christmas time. One of the great debates about tamales is the masa to filling ratio. While tasty masa is important to the overall quality of a tamal, too much of it can drown out the flavor and spices of the filling. I find myself in a quandary; do I acknowledge the reasonable argument that equal portions lends to a well rounded tamal experience, or do I stay loyal to the tradition of my Ama: Tasty chubby tamales with a savory filling.

California Tamales

I grew up eating my mothers “big fat” tamales that had to be tied at each end to keep them together. Huge tamales with a thick layer of masa filled with chicken cooked in anaheim chiles and strong spices of comino and pepper seasonings. They were embellished with a carrot and potato stick, a sprig of cilantro, a jalapeno strip and of course a green olive embedded somewhere in it. (Try tying one of those Fattys with the wet corn husk ties, my fingers just got stiff with the memory)  l’m not sure if it’s a California, or a Baja California thing. I think it was more like a metamorphosis, as my mother settled first in Mexicali, Baja California from Jalisco Mexico. Then, after thirteen years and four more kids the family came across to the Imperial Co. California. However it happened, so long as the masa was tasty, I didn’t mind the huge tamales, especially the next day and mi ama would fry those tamales in oil and let them simmer until they got a little crunchy. She’d serve the crispy tamal with fried eggs and refried beans. I would top them with her salsa or maybe some jalapenos. This might not sound too healthy, but my taste buds are swelling with delight and my mind swarms with the images of my sweet mama serving her family on Christmas morning.  

A Different Tamal

You can imagine the stiffness I felt as my cunada, an “out-law” (as my husband’s family likes to call all of us in-laws) schooled me on the technique of a thinner layer of masa . She gently informed me that people actually preferred a skinny tamal! “The trick was just enough masa so as to not overpower the delicious meat filling.” 

Of course, in my struggle for loyalty to tradition, and to my mother, I resisted the idea for a time. Could people who made skinny tamales be trusted? Were they not cheating the tamal lover out of the tasty masa? Or worse! Maybe, they didn’t want to bother with making nice, smooth masa?. 

Masa to filling ratio is “just enough tasty masa” to be able to stand alone if it happens to face those taste buds first. Along with the fact that most tamal lovers want to cut into a tamal and see it filled with their delicious filling.

Tradition lives on!!!

I’ve accepted the technique of spreading the right amount of masa and recognize it as a legit method. I appreciate the lesson from my cunada, a true tamalera, who has expanded my horizons as far as making tamales goes. However, my loyalty to mi Ama is fixed. Tradition bids me to also make my tamales gorditos with flavorful masa that has good texture filled with a delicious savory chicken; estilo mi ama. 

As they get eaten, I am glad that my mom’s tamales live on.

Long Live Tamales at Christmas Time

Well, I did it! I opened the conversation to what we Americans of Mexican influence love to talk about, food and fun! Especially food and Christmas. Tamales have been part of our traditions for ages and the creativity only increases with every generation. I grew up eating tamales at Christmas and I was part of the work crew in making them. Who would have thought that such a simple food could stir up such wonderful family traditions?

A pot of hot tamales will not necessarily lure a person, cooked maize, masa wrapped in a corn husk, is quite unassuming. Even served on a plate, still wrapped, with its ends tied or folded and looking awkward and bulky, there is no inciting of taste buds yet. But if you get close enough to an unwrapped tamale just out of the steaming pot. Suddenly, that tamale will grab you. Its savory filling reaches your nostrils; pulled pork cooked in red chile sauce and spices embedded into that masa, now it will draw a person in. 

Tamales: the original social influencer?

A social influence is someone or something that can affect a social environment. You know those people that have a way with words and can draw a crowd. Or that “thing” that is so incredible that everyone must have it? Well, it’s been my experience that tamales are definitely social influencers. They are a platform we use to “tamal” or wrap a beautiful memory in and strengthen the cords of a good relationship or secure a knot in a new friendship.

An Ancient Mexican Tradition

The tamal tradition has been around for hundreds of years. It is a very humble, useful meal that has tenaciously clung to families and societies. Tamales wrapped themselves around las Americas. Out of Mexico and into Central and South America and eventually back into North America again; in the United States. Tamales have been central in celebrations and holidays. In ancient days when corn was essential for survival, they influenced religious rituals. According to Nate Barksdale  “Teocintle was the name of a maize god” and indigenous societies paid it homage. There it is, my wealth of knowledge on tamales of old, now I can share just how influential tamales were around Christmas time in our house growing up.

Tamales were the focus of our Christmas dinner and celebration, the tradition of tamales wrapped itself tightly around our family.

From the start of the Christmas season, Mom would gather her ingredients. For weeks dried corn husks were piled onto the kitchen counter, while the aroma of the various kinds of dry chiles drifted out of the cupboard, their scent created anticipation of our tamale feast. She would pull out her huge pots for soaking the corn husks and cooking the meats. 

Christmas was in the air! Mom was up early in her fresh apron, cooking breakfast and cooking meats for tamales. So many scents pulled me to the kitchen. I know that if you are a mom you know how busy she must have been, but as a little girl, I took all that multitasking for granted. I would eat and run out to play while she cleared up the breakfast dishes. Then, I would run in for a drink and there was mom roasting chiles and soaking them (The smell of roasting chiles always grabbed at my throat) I would run out again as she was deep into kneading the masa, it looked like a full body experience! Now, as I look back at all the activity one woman could make in the kitchen, I am floored at her superhero capabilities. What can I call her? I think Mom describes it best, instead of a cape she wore an apron. 

The veggie sticks were nicely cut (As a kid I never understood why we needed veggies mixed in with our meat in the tamal, but mom said it was necessary) She also had made a nice big stack of strips out corn husks for tying the tamales. Now she was ready to assemble the troops; Bellowing our names from her kitchen; “MARINA…PATRICIA…ROSALBA…”. Since I was quite busy at play, it usually took her a couple of gut calls before I would come running in. (My kids would say that I must have inherited her vocal cords) Marina, she was second to the oldest helped spread masa onto the husks, Patty added the veggies, making sure to add the green olive into the filling. My job was to tie each end of the tamale as it came down the line. In my opinion it was the hardest part of all! Getting my fingers to get those wet corn husk ties around each end of the tamal was quite a task. I would tie one end and before I knew it, the other end would slip off! 

We all started strong, making perfectly proportioned tamales. But truly, it was tedious work, and many times mom had to respread our masa since we were padding it on thick to finish faster. Maybe, us kids are the ones that gave California tamales the bad rap of “too much masa.”

 We would tire out midway through the day, but mom endured through the day and into the long steamy night as the tamales cooked into a nice solid consistency. Keeping an eye on her tamales, she made Mexican rice, refried beans and salsa, nice embellishments. Mom also made sure to make a huge pot of champurrado; the traditional hot thick chocolate maiz drink that was essential to complete the ambiance of our meal. It was cozy, comfy and delicious. A nice accompaniment to her simple sweet tamales. 

 When the church bells rang for midnight mass, mi ama was ready for the festivities. Midnight Mass was a blur since we had to be pulled out of bed half asleep to go sit in the church pews. (this was perhaps the only time the priest saw such exemplary behavior, quiet children sleeping in the pews :D) When the mass was over, people slowly and quietly filed out of the church. All of a sudden, we kids were alive and bustling with energy, it was time to gather back at the house. My older brothers with their families would fill the house, bringing gifts and sweets and lots of giddy noise. Mom walked in immediately slipping her apron back on. During the chatter around the dinner table mom made sure everyone was served and satisfied. Beautiful memories, amidst the empty corn husks. In the wee hours of the morning, we opened our gift and ate more tamales, eventually we would crash and for us Christmas day was quiet. Maybe it was not quiet, but it was a regular play day, with the kids sharing their new toys mingled with the old. (It was not until I left home that I realized that we Mexican Americans celebrate Christmas Day, the day before!) 


Christmas day was when the ladies in the neighborhood began their great tamal exchange, all of them sharing tamales from their personal recipes. (Remember, recipes the Mexican American way) We kids were the messengers, running across the street or up two blocks bearing tamales. My older siblings took some home and connected mom through her tamales to their neighbors and friends, a whole social network booming as tamales were enjoyed. And tamales did their great work of influencing families to gather.

Photo by Artem Beliaikin on

Learning To Cook With Your Mexican Mama

Learning To Cook With Your Mexican Mama, Or With Your Mexican-American Mama

Since Christmas time is a wonderful time of different holiday dishes and traditions, I thought it would be a good time to tell you about my learning to cook “journey”. (Anyone outside of the Mexican-American circle would call it a roller coaster!)

I’ve been cooking since I was barely a teenager. (As a young roommate I never shared the ‘wealth’ of my knowledge with my roomies, since I believed knowing how to cook meant following recipes) I cannot say I love cooking, especially the way I was inducted into the kitchen, but my ego is strutting; bien culeca when someone says “Oooh are those Rosies enchi’s?”.

It all started when I was almost fourteen years old, the summer before high school, when my whole life would turn upside down. My older siblings were all going off to work with mom in the grapevines of Coachella Valley, but I was not old enough to get a work permit. However, I was old enough to cook all by myself in the hot kitchen and so began my culinary journey.

Cooking class in my Mexican mother’s home was very informal. (I just felt my daughter roll her eyes at the obvious truth) Chores done and laundry continual, Mom would pull out some meat and say, 

“When this defrosts, go ahead and cook it and serve it with frijoles de la olla today. No need to refry the beans today and don’t forget to make the tortillas first, they’ll stay warm” 

“What?! Ok, Wait, what do I do with the meat?” 

Without even looking back at me, she’d say,

 “Con cebollita picada y pimienta. Ah, y un poco de sal. No se te pase!”

“That’s it? Some diced onion, pepper and salt? How do I know if I have enough salt or too much in it?” 

She’d put down the laundry basket, look at me and say,

“You have to taste it Rosalba. If you need to add a little something, check the fridge, maybe some diced jalapeno, or garlic. There’s comino in the cupboard.” 

She’d go right back to the endless laundry.

“Dad’s gonna be here just after noon, so be ready to serve” 

That was the lesson. After staring at the meat, which was seeping blood, I wondered how I was going to create something delicious like Mom always did. I had no choice but to go for it and cook.

I cut the meat into small bites, I could not get all the fat out and that worried me. Still, I seasoned it with a dash of pepper, salt, and a sprinkle of cumin. Then, I just tossed it all into the pan with diced onions. That fat that I struggled to cut off, simmered and blended with the onion. As it continued to cook down it blended with the meat juices and created a gravy.  It looked tasty, hmmm. I added a dash more salt, and let it simmer.

Mom came by and stirred the simmering pan, tasted, and added a dash more pepper and cumin. She lifted the towel my warm flour tortillas rested in, (I forgot to mention that making dough for tortillas had perhaps been my first lesson in the kitchen, a constant practice, since in our home we had fresh flour tortillas everyday) she covered them again and keeping a straight face she walked toward the door where the laundry waited.

“You’ll definitely have to practice rolling out your tortillas, round is the shape we’re aiming for.” 

Dad came in, washed his hands and sat down to be served. I held my breath as I brought his plate to him. He uncovered the tortillas, lifted it up high and smirked.

“This looks like the seat of your bicycle” (rolling tortillas was not my constant practice a whole different struggle)

He rolled it and bit into it and took a fork full of meat and beans to his mouth. He ate everything on his plate, then took the last bicycle shaped tortilla and cleanup the gravy, and spoke.

“That was good. Thank you”

After that, I felt like I was a culinary graduate! (after all my apa had just approved me, every daughter’s dream) Now, I could conquer any belly, taste bud or picky person. Of course, I quickly realized that for basic training in my amas kitchen, the first lesson was that it was not as scary or difficult as it seemed, and it was nowhere near impossible. I would have to watch very carefully as she taught me to make the other Mexican essentials of her kitchen, the refried beans, the Mexican rice, the salsas, the sauces for the meats and on and on.

(My daughter in-law also says that she has to keep a really keen eye on my hands as I work in the kitchen because all of a sudden, “Le voy a echar un poquito de este” But I neglect to tell her what the “este” is beforehand or how much of it I added, making her learning experience much like mine)

Although cooking is not my favorite thing to do, I truly enjoy when others enjoy my cooking, then I see its value and love it.

Photo by Karolina Grabowska on