"Diego, all day we have worked at making happiness. Sometimes you just have to take what you have and embellish it. Sometimes you have to make something out of nothing. These ingredients alone don't add up to much, Diego. But together, they make the most deliciously delightful, scrumpt-il-icious tamales!"
"All afternoon, Diego and his tia* sat side by side spooning savoury tamale fillings into cornhusks spread with masa*, Soon the house was filled with laughter."
Ana Baca's bilingual tale of making tamales is a beautiful story of folk lore as seen through the eyes of a small boy Diego who works very hard in the fields to take care his sick mother. As I was reading it to my six year old last night, though he is not a great eater himself, he said he couldn't wait to eat Tamales!
Ana Baca took me back a good decade and a half. And it so beautifully reminded me of the joy and pleasure of cooking; especially, whole foods. Convenience and the need to be on the go have been impetus enough for the first processed foods to make their advent. But even as we progressed and came up with the machinery and mechanics to prepare food easily and in no time, even after we discovered that cooked food can be stored fresh, we continue to go back to the convenience of processed, ready-to-eat foods. Now we are habituated enough to even realize that we aren't eating the best. We are after all creatures of habit.
I swell with pride and joy thinking about the way Pancakes evolved in my family. Pancakes made with whole wheat flour and stuffed with coconut and sugar or coconut and jaggery with a sprinkling of cardamom powder is just the recipe to make happiness out of an ordinary day. I modify a bit and change the stuffing to chopped dates, nenthrapazham*, grated carrot and coconut. No need to add sugar as dates ensure they take care of it well. Instead of water, I add whole milk and badam powder to the whole wheat mix. I would love to add eggs as well, but, try to stay away. Just 20 minutes of chopping and pancaking, but I get so happy seeing the glee and hearing the wows around the breakfast table. And those 20 minutes are enough to see me through the rest of the day when I proudly announce, what a way to jump start your day!
I used to hover around Ammachy's stove whenever I saw her getting the paraphernalia ready to make pancakes. The sights, sounds and smells are still fresh in my memory. Making pancakes is just an excuse for me to go back in time and spend a few minutes with her. Most of the ingredients were home grown, the milk from the cows whom Achachan* reared with so much love and care. Eggs from the hen coop just in the backyard. The hens weren't so disciplined those days and I recall how my eyes grew wide as I found eggs right in the kitchen under the firewood storage shelves. Remember the way they proudly kokkarakko after each egg :)
Traditional recipes mostly employ whole ingredients.Whole flour, whole fruits, whole nuts, and what not. Cliched as it may sound, what is good for our bodies and souls is also good for the Planet.
Imagine...inspired by the urge for some healthy cooking, you dance your way into the kitchen, put your hair up, play your favourite music station or hum your favourite tunes and joyously mix and match ingredients. Raise a toast to eating fresh. Say cheers to eating local.
* tia : Spanish for aunt
* masa - Spanish for dough
* nenthrapazham - ripe plantains known in Kerala
* achachan - fond way of addressing Grandpa in Kerala
Picture courtesy: The Kerala Kitchen by Lathika George