Friday, February 24, 2012

Tough Tortillas

Right now I’m reading Carol Counihan’s book “Life is Like a Tortilla” which comes from this great statement by one of the interviewees: Monica Marquez Taylor, of Antonito, Colorado. (greater New Mexico)

"My great-aunts used to say that a tortilla is like life. Nothing is ever going to be exactly the way you want it to be. However life is, that is how your tortilla comes out. So however you rolled out your tortilla, maybe it wasn't quite round, but you ate it because you made it."

This speaks to me on so many levels. The easiest one to talk about is “maybe it wasn’t quite round, but you ate it because you made it.”

Although, in my opinion, you are allowed to share them with the chickens (who will never find fault in your tortilla-making abilities)

This suits my cooking philosophy perfectly: if you make tough tortillas, then you eat tough tortillas. Otherwise your tortillas will never get better. If you throw the tortillas away, then you’re saying “I tried that once: I couldn’t do it.” If you eat them, then you’re saying “that was my first tortilla and it was a little tough. Let’s see how my next tortilla is.”

(My sister adds that you should smother them in plenty of real butter, so that even the imperfect ones will be tasty.)

Also, once you start making your own tortillas, you’ll never go back! For one thing, I usually think the flour tortillas from the store taste bitter from too much baking powder. And the corn tortillas! We are fortunate that we can buy fresh corn masa (nixtamal) at the corner store (Mi Tierra), or at the La Finca Tortillería, or organic from the Berkeley farmer’s market. We have one tortilla rule in our house: too many tortilleras spoil the tortilla. One person needs to be in charge of rolling/pressing the tortillas and cooking them. Again, so you can improve. If you finally get the tortilla to the right thickness so that it doesn’t tear, and then I flip it before the first side is cooked, I’m interfering in your tortillera learning process. If you finally got the grill to the right temperature (not too hot, warmed for a long time) and then I press it with the cloth napkin and make it stick to the griddle, well, it’s going to be a long night. I love Luz’s tortillas and I love my tortillas. I love corn and I love whole wheat. I want to work on amaranth again soon. What Luz’s students taught me is that you have to master corn tortillas before you try amaranth. You can’t go from flour to amaranth.

(Fresh corn tortillas make Gluten-Free February a whole lot more pleasurable!)

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Shrove Tuesday

I’m giving up Facebook for Lent.

One think I want to accomplish this Lent is to go back to writing: to journaling every day. When I get in the habit, I can be really productive, and in the writing, I push my ideas further. But one of my sayings is “Life ain’t nothing but a habit.” Our habits are not just our quirks: they are the structure and substance of our lives. So if I want to write, I have to build the habit of writing. Different kinds of writing: journaling, blogging, critical, fiction, poetry…

One of the hardest things about blogging was finding the time. Luz would sometimes ask me to blog something, and I would feel overwhelmed at the commitment that called for. I would draft entries and read them over and over, editing for hours before I would post. Facebook, by comparison was easy: think it, type it, send it out. Try to avoid proofreading, because the point is to get it right out there, not to get it out there right. I hadn’t blogged regularly since spring 2010.

Blogging seems so much more self-involved than facebook. On facebook, I’m acknowledging the posts, the shares, the ideas of all my friends. On the blog it’s just me sharing my thoughts, which also means asserting that they’re significant enough to be published even in this limited way.

Maya pointed out that if I’m going ahead with giving up something (facebook) for Lent, I should go whole-hog today by facebooking to beat the band, à la carnaval. or at least the fb equivalent of butter-drenched pancakes.

Obligatory farming content: In November and December, our egg production all but dried up. Our five hens were producing a maximum of one egg for the whole flock: more often those eggs were few and far between. I remember when I was studying Russian in grad school (geek for the revolution), learning about the Lenten practices and how seasonally, Lent was tied to the End of Winter, which also meant, the last of the winter supplies. Did people give up eggs for lent for the pragmatic reason that their hens had all gone off their laying?

I remember in northern New Mexico we often had late winter storms: the latest snow I recall was on my sister’s birthday: May 13. The Lenten foods of New Mexico don’t really signify bare cupboards. I’m thinking of the verdolagas and quelites of spring, the tortas de huevo with dried camarón. (clearly their gallinas were still laying!)

Speaking of northern New Mexican religiosity, Occupy Oakland has given me a new appreciation for the old prayers and alabados. In January, I participated in an OO march to a zillionaire’s home in Piedmont, protesting the zillionaire’s new vacation home to be built on Rattlesnake Island land sacred to the Elem Pomo. The indigenous presence on the march was very strong, and the crowd was way more diverse than many OO actions. The march seemed like it was uphill the whole way. I spent a lot of time sweating and gasping for breath and trying to appreciate the sage smoke without succumbing to an asthma attack, which would make me conspicuous. Fortunately, I had my marvelous Chihuahua with me (Nopalito), who deflected all attention away from me. Unfortunately he didn’t like hills any better than I did and it seemed like I carried him most of the way up.

But what that taught me was to appreciate the alabados of my father’s people. These are long Spanish religious ballads with dozens of verses depicting the pain and suffering of the way of the cross. They have names like “Ven, Pecador, y Verás” (Come Sinner, and See) or Madre de Dolores (which relives the mother’s pain at seeing her son suffering so). But when you’re on pilgrimage during Lent in northern New Mexico, you are walking these long highways or small dirt roads. Las viejitas come out as you pass their trailers, and join in the procession. And you can sing those alabados (and the rosaries, and the litanies) while walking all day long. 

And I came to appreciate that when I was marching with Occupy Oakland, because the chants that the young men were chanting into their bullhorns were written for people standing still, not people walking, and certainly not people “of a certain age” walking uphill. At one point I started singing alabados under my breath (one of the less gruesome ones, Salve Santa Rita). And when I did, I could breathe again, and I could keep in step, and I could keep pace. Because that’s what those songs were written for.

And I’m doing that all the time now, which is good, because often the action seems less like a “march” and more like a pilgrimage. And I imagine all those viejitas coming out to join us, as we walk and breathe and sing.

Obligatory Food Content: I’m not eating buttery pancakes today, because we’re still in Gluten-Free February. But on Sunday night we talked about our Decolonize your Diet project at the East-West Salon (tertulia?) hosted by Irina and Nico, and so Luz prepared enchiladas stuffed with jamaica, jícama, and carrots, and topped with quick-pickled carrots, red onions and radishes. (and queso cotija for the non-vegans). And Luz also prepared their famous frijoles, which are so good I want them to be my last meal. Luz shared the recipe on the facebook page for Luz’s Decolonial Cooking Club.