10 Ways Making Christmas Tamales Tested My Will To Live

Talk tamales to me, baby!

Graphic by me :)

I haven’t made tamales since high school. Never needed to. My mom hated my presence in the kitchen (I was allegedly too messy and bad at listening) and I lacked the stamina. But as I continue my journey to bring my Tex-Mex Christmas traditions to Brooklyn, I became obsessed with the idea of making tamales, even though I knew they take at least 12 hours to make.

Alas, here I am, humbled by the journey I have undertaken. I have learned a lot of things about myself, about tamales, and about cooking at large. Hell, I’m not even done making them, but I feel compelled to document my process in this fun little blog. Maybe one day when I’m inducted in the Abuela Hall of Fame, I will look at this and laugh. But for now, I’ll just take the L’s and go. Here are the 10 ways making tamales made me question my worth as a person:

  1. My dad laughed at me when I told him I’d try making tamales and I quote, “I’m not gonna say anything other than good luck. Oh wait, and don’t call me crying if this blows up in your face.”
  2. I walked two miles to find corn husks. This was actually kind of fun, but I was terrified that they would be sold out.
  3. I lugged five pounds of pork butt up my three flights of stairs. I know this doesn’t sound like a lot, but quarantine has definitely diminished my upper body strength.
  4. For two hours, I watched several ladies making pork tamales on YouTube to reassure myself that I remember the process. If you’re looking for a Bon Appétit test kitchen replacement, I’d start with Cocina Y Mas Con Armida. I trust her with my life.
  5. I realized I have no conception of volume. While trying to reserve some broth for later, I spilled the liquid gold everywhere because I am bad at guessing which tupperware I should use.
  6. I accidentally tear gassed myself while toasting the dried chiles. I’m not kidding — a plume of spicy smoke went straight into my lungs. Luckily, I protected my eyes, but it took at least 30 minutes to air out my apartment. My poor boyfriend had to wear a mask in the living room. Pro tip: don’t add stock to burning chiles.
  7. Traumatized by the chile smoke endeavor, I was anxious about roasting the tomatoes. I undercooked them, leading to very tart, chunky salsa. (Great for chips, bad for tamales.) The salsa, my friends, did not pass the vibe check. Now I have to go and redo it.
  8. Turns out, the stock pot and steamer I had was not as big as I thought it was. Once again, my lack of understanding of space comes back to haunt me. I scour the internet, searching for tamale pots in Brooklyn. Park Slope is unfortunately very white, so I ended up purchasing a 12-qt stock pot and steamer combo. It will do.
  9. I am absolutely dreading having to stuff and fold the husks. I was bad at origami in elementary school.
  10. There is no one stopping me from eating the filling by itself. I am hungry. I do not want to wait several more hours for tamales. Why did I think this was a good idea?

Writing about climate, culture & comida wherever I go. Work in: GEN, Bitch Media, VICE, Jezebel, and then some. Medium’s resident Gen Z kid.

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