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Tamales, Pollo and Cerveza

November 11th, 2011

When I think of food the first thing I think of flavor, texture, appearance, smell…the basics. I think about pictures in food magazines. I think of Food Network where cooks like Paula Dean, in less than half an hour, convince me that my life is nothing without butter. But I also think about holidays, seasons changing and celebration. Food = love. It is how we celebrate life changes and how we show people in our life that they are special to us. Food brings people together and allows us to share. A meal does not have to be fancy or made entirely of butter in order for it to be delicious and memorable. All you need is fresh, well-seasoned food and good company.

Over the summer I lived in a Mixed community North East of Oaxaca and in January I returned to visit the family that I lived with. By coincidence I arrived the day before a huge two-day celebration for the baptism of three of the cousins of the extended family. It was the most amazing, most filling and exhausting two days ever. Almost immediately after we caught up and reacquainted ourselves, the eating began. It started with chicken tamales and bean tamales and tepache (a drink often had for special occasions and religious ceremonies that is made of maguey, the same plant used to make mescal); and was followed by beers and chicken soup made with cabbage, chicken that my family had sacrificed earlier that day, and a local variety of squash topped with lime, chile and onion. After nightfall we enjoyed ENORMOUS slices of layered cake with strawberry jam and a whipped cream frosting that my Uncle baked in his wood-burning oven. After cake the kids broke open the piñata and it was official…time to dance/continue eating and drinking (atole, pan, popcorn, coffee, more beer, mezcal and tequila and second rounds of tamales for those who were still hungry.) It was a feast to say the least!! The women worked hard in the kitchen making sure everyone was happy and well-fed and the men passed around round after round of drinks for those interested but everyone made time for a dance or two.

I tried to soak in the moment and take a moment to digest all of the millions of things I had eaten and the pounds of corn masa I had consumed before I was pulled up from my seat to dance. As people danced and yelled happily I looked around the tent in the dim light. The large table was littered with remnants of food and corn leaves I couldn’t help but think: 1. how much cleaning there would be tomorrow 2. how exhausted I was and 3. how lucky and happy I was to be here sharing this wonderful food and celebration with these amazing people. After a moment of sitting and quietly observing the scene my abuelo leaned in and gently pushed a beer into my hand and said “we live.” It didn’t make a whole lot of sense. But I understood his point, work hard and play harder. Live in the moment. As if to say we are family and this is a celebration, a time to dance, drink and eat, and thinking about tomorrow is for tomorrow. So have another beer and keep dancing!

Dancing the night away

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