WRITTEN ON December 18th, 2009 BY Meredith AND STORED IN Appetizer, Cheese, Corn, Dinner, Holiday, Mexican, Side Dish, Tomatoes, Vegetarian

My mom has been working on a project which essentially traces her roots (thus, my roots) back to the Revolutionary War.  Well, really she has us as far back as William the Conqueror.  I have to say I’m a little dubious of that part.  But it’s safe to say that a member of my family has been in this country since before Paul Revere took his midnight ride.

While this is all very exciting (you should see some of the names on this chart.  Old fashioned doesn’t scratch the surface), when it comes to food, I’m increasingly taken by more recent arrivals to this country. I mean, have you ever craved what the Pilgrims actually ate at that first Thanksgiving?

My friend Nicole’s family has always fascinated me (for more reasons than I can count.  They’re an intriguing lot, to be sure). Her father traces his roots to Poland and Russia.  Nicole grew up eating pierogies and kolaches at her grandparents place in Scranton, and suffered through Sunday mass at a Byzantine Catholic church, given only in Slovak.  Yikes.

Her mom hails from Costa Rica, and emigrated to this country at the ripe old age of 9 with her family.  They moved to Washington Heights, at the time a German-Jewish neighborhood, and learned to speak English there.  You should hear her mother’s accent.  It’s amazing.  Costa-Rican-Jewish-New-Yorker with some Spanish words thrown in for effect (only when she’s worked up).

Most of her mother’s family lives in Washington Heights or other parts of Manhattan to this day.  They all trouped up to Maine for Nicole’s wedding this past June (where I served as Matron of Honor and enjoyed VIP status).  Her cousin, a Manhattanite to the core, rocked 6 inch Loboutain heels and massive black sunglasses at the lakeside ceremony.  In short, she’s my hero. I have long used Tia Julia’s sangria recipe as my gold standard (and lugged many buckets full out to the beach on summer weekends, secure in the knowledge that my aching head would punish me the next day).

Nicole’s mom is a Christmas Eve baby, so the holiday has special meaning for them.  Their Christmas tradition is seafood paella, with some Polish kolache mixed in for good measure, and the tamales come out before New Years Eve.

In honor of this extended family of mine, and as my last Create-Your-Own-Heritage week post, I whipped up some cheese tamales last night.  They fragranced the apartment with the sweet, warm scent of baking corn.  Sitting next to the tree opening each little bundle was vaguely reminiscent of what many of us will be doing a week from now.

So, no matter where you hail from, who you pray to, or what your traditions are, embrace them over these next few weeks. I am thouroughly excited for the Anglican feast of roast beef, Yorkshire pudding and sugar cookies that awaits me in my beloved hometown. This is the time of year to be truly thankful for everything that we have, and I don’t mean all those packages, boxes and bags.  Hold your loved ones close, sing a little louder, enjoy some quiet time marveling over sparkling lights and chilly evenings.  Love and eat equally, and with abandon. Before you know it, we’ll be packing it all away, back to the dusty recesses of the attic, until next year.

A corny Christmas

A corny Christmas

Cheese Tamales with Cherry Tomato Topping (makes 15 tamales)
15  dried corn husks, plus extra for making ties, washed
1 1/2 cups cornmeal or masa harina
1 1/2 cups grated cheddar and monteray jack cheeses, mixed
2 cups white shoepeg corn kernels
1 tsp baking powder
2 tbsp sugar
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cumin
1 tsp black pepper
3/4 cup low sodium chicken broth
7 tbsp butter, at room temp
In a 9×13 baking dish, place corn husks.  Using an extra husk, rip 1/2 inch strips for ties.  You’ll need 30 strips.  Add strips to baking dish.  Pour boiling water over husks to cover.  You may need to weigh them down with something (a heavy spatula works fine).  Let soak for about an hour.  In the meantime, combine butter, cornmeal, salt and sugar in a large bowl with a whisk until the texture of wet sand.  Add stock, while whisking.  In a food processor, pulse corn, cheese, baking powder, pepper and cumin. Add to cornmeal mixture, combine well.  Once husks are ready, spread about 2 tbsp on each husk, making a 3 inch log.  Wrap husk around corn mixture, tie at either end with a corn husk strip.  Repeat until you have 15 tamales.  Place tamales in a steamer basket in a large pot with about 3 inches of boiling water.  Cover.  Steam 1 hour, replenishing water as needed.
For Topping:
10 cherry tomatoes, quartered
3 scallions, thinly sliced
2 tbsp olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
In a small saute pan, heat olive oil.  Add tomatoes, season with salt and pepper.  Cook about 5 minutes until tomatoes release juices.  Add scallions at the last minute.  Open each tamale and spoon sauce over top.  Serve hot.

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