Sunday, August 16, 2009

Teamwork & Tamales

If there is one food whose preparation fosters teamwork, it's the tamale. The corn husks must be soaked and then dried, then filled with corn dough, then filled with the shredded meat, wrapped up, tied up, and steamed. They are an assembly-line food, meant to be cooked and enjoyed by entire families. You don't just make tamales; you earn them.

Of course, Ian and I are just a family of two. For the moment, we live two states away from either of our sets of parents and we are years away from having kids, so our assembly line was a little short. Ian dried the corn husks, I filled and folded them, and he tied the twine. It wasn't the crowded kitchen I imagine when I think of tamales, with gossiping grandmas and wide-eyed children trying to steal tastes, but that was OK. It was just two people making a heck-of-a-lot of food.

And tamales aren't all we made. We made "cowboy caviar" (a black-eyed pea salsa out of my Better Homes & Gardens cookbook), salsa verde (from an episode of Paula's Best Dishes that we watched that morning) and chocolate truffles (for no good reason at all). It was a regular food-fest, but we had an excuse: for the first time in quite a while, we were having friends over for dinner. Anyone who's ever been to our place for dinner knows that we love to overdo it. We had two guests on the way, and enough food for ten.

You see, I believe that food is meant to be shared, both in its consumption and its preparation. That's why I'm so excited to be in the kitchen with my husband, making tamales or jerk chicken or whatever, teaching him to cook and learning a few things in the process. It's a great way to bond, to have a common goal, and if you're going to stand around jabbering in the kitchen, why not peel a potato while you're at it?

But it's not just that. I do love cooking for my husband, letting him watch TV while I stir the pot, because it's like giving him a gift. I love cooking for my friends, because food might well be the best thing I have to give. But when we've worked together for something, we're invested in it. We can't take it for granted.

Think about Thanksgiving. I used to hate Thanksgiving dinner when I was a kid. The turkey was always dry and it got cold so quickly, we ate at 3pm when I would rather have been watching TV than staring at a plate of sticky yams. Then my mom got a job in the hospitality industry and had to work Thanksgivings, putting on a buffet for families who could afford to go out for their Turkey Day celebration. I was 16 or 17, and I made my first Thanksgiving dinner--Dad did the turkey, but I did the potatoes and the stuffing and the pie...all that (Dad might have done more than I realize, but the point is that it was a lot of work!). Suddenly I realized how hard it was to get that meal on the table, and the sense of accomplishment that comes from enjoying a meal that took time and effort to produce.

I also learned how lonely it can be in the kitchen. And I wondered, why don't we all work on this together?

So yesterday, Ian and I worked together. We shared our dinner with our friends and were able to truly enjoy their enjoyment of what we had made. We didn't just make dinner to eat together in front of an episode of The Simpsons (not that that isn't good, too). And you know what? We are really starting to work well together. There was no yelling, no arguing, no insults, intentional or unintentional. That might be boring to read about. Sorry.

In response to Pinky56's comment: the estimated time for the tamales was 5 hours including prep, but I guess Ian and I made a good team because it took 5 hours (including a couple of TV breaks) to make all the dishes I mentioned.


  1. Kudos for turning lemons into lemonade! (You made some mighty fine Holiday meals too!)

  2. I've always been curious about tamale making. Did it take all day?