Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Making Tortillas

As a complete aside, Patty Griffin has a song "Making Pies" and the title of this entry has me playing that song. Making pies all day... making tortillas all day doesn't have the same ring, does it?

A few weekends ago I spent the bulk of the weekend in Los Naranjos at Lisa and Gordon's. Lisa made these killer oatmeal cookies, and some oatmeal pancakes that were so good. She even had pure maple syrup--score. It was fun to hang out with them and run around like crazy with the kids in the neighborhood. They're taking care of a boy from their neighborhood for a while, and it's fun getting to know him better. The Gordon Crew's visas were about to expire, and they'd already received an extension so it was time for a trip to Guatemala. I offered to spend the day at their house so their dog and new addition to the family would have some company. A few of the other neighborhood kids were stoked to hear I'd be spending the day there, and they showed up at the fence bright and early.

They played for a bit while I lesson-planned, but they'd been cooped up inside for too long on such a blue-skied day, so I demanded some outside time. They grabbed a hula-hoop and we had some silly fun for a while. Let's go ahead and get it out there that I am not a skilled hula-hooper. Could I make up any more words tonight? We ended up coming up with this game where we all spread out and started tossing the hoop at each other. Picture life-size ring toss. I somehow convinced them to walk with me into town, which seemed like such a good idea at the time. I knew it was a little far, but I figured we could handle it. I really wanted to get some produce, the kids really wanted to hang out for the day and I didn't have cabfare for everyone. So being me I suggested a walk. The kids were way too fun, and so distracting the walk felt like a piece of cake. More importantly, I felt like eating a piece of cake as soon as we got into town. We decided to snack on bananas instead :)

I am pretty sure the hands-down highlight of the day was learning to make tortillas. And they were so tasty we made a second batch! They went great with this lenteja (lentil) simmer I threw together. Later in the day I also made my first batch of chimol, which turned out tasty and went great with my first batch of tajadas. I'll go ahead and put it out there...I intend to return a domestic wonder--a multicultural domestic wonder. 

So the tortilla tutorial...three boys, jam-packed with energy, are way too fun in the kitchen. Efren and I had been talking about corn tortillas and how much I like them, so he said he wanted to teach me. As soon as Franklin caught wind he wanted to help, and Darwin was all over it as well. It was quite the group effort, and the boys were great little teachers. Franklin brought a gift of cooked corn from his mother (twice of course, since we had to make a second batch) and Darwin's aunt has a mill that only costs 1lp per use. Darwin also brought me half of a coconut, and sliced chunks out for me while I made masa and patted tortillas, so he scored big in my book. The kids really are something. Franklin is so animated. He has this boisterous greeting of, "Hola! Hola! Como han estado?!?" and he has this constant retort of, "Mentiras! Pura mentiras!" just about anytime someone mentions his name. What's worse is I started saying that to some of my students as a joke one day, and now they're saying it too! So then I had to teach them the English version, and now it's just silly to hear on shout about mentiras and another come back with, "Lies! Pure/All Lies!"
Washing the kernels. Thanks, Franklin's mom, for doing the legwork! These were slow cooked over a wood-burning stove. 
Coconut, compliments of Darwin. And yes, he handed me that slice and didn't understand when I wasn't immediately ready for another bite. That's a chiggity chunk of coconut!

Always posing
Making tortillas, I was talking about making tortillas. You take the cooked corn and rub the kernels together in water until the water comes out clean. The corn smelled good, almost sweet, and it felt strange in my hands.   Once they all agreed I'd sufficiently cleaned the corn we walked to Darwin aunt's place. She had turkeys in her yard, so that added to my experience. The mill was a little intimidating at first (perhaps because the boys warned I'd better be careful around the part that spins because people have lost finger tips...of course his aunt laughed and ran her hand around it assuring this silly gringa there was nothing to fear) but then it was just neat. It spat out warm, freshly milled corn meal and released an intense scent. Like freshly made tamales or something. Que rico. So corn tortillas are far less complicated than I'd anticipated! You take the meal, add a little water and knead it into a masa. Who knew they were just corn and water? Of course I started thinking of things like colored corn or adding something like beet juice to give the tortillas a little character, but I should perfect the process before I get too carried away. You mold the masa into small balls and then use your hand to rotate and press into a tortilla-perfect circle. They made this things...darnit what were they called...neilas maybe. No that wasn't it. Anyway, out of plastic bags (we used wax paper, but it falls apart too easily it doesn't come highly recommended) you cut a circular shape. You place masa ball in the middle of said circular plastic and go to hand simultaneously twisting and pressing. Your other hand can be used to beautify the edges, but that's a lot to concentrate on your first time. Jessica, one of the girls in the neighborhood, was with is for the second batch and she blew my tortillas out of the water. She also formed much better masa balls than the boys showed me, so she scored points too. She took them one step further before pressing, and made them thinner on the edges, thicker in the middle and round around the sides.

yes, I need to work on my edges. They got better as the day went on, but we didn't get any pictures of those!

Once they're pressed to perfection it's time for the heat! I'd suggest cast iron, but you make the best of what you have. A little time on each side, pressing down every so often to get them a good shape and texture, and there you have it! Mmm. They were tasty. I handed the boys my camera to capture fun moments of the day, and they seemed to have fun with it. I wish they could have gotten pictures of the way we laughed and laughed the morning and afternoon away. Apparently our next lesson will be a day of hiking one of the mountains in their neighborhood. Looking forward to sharing stories from that adventure!

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