Ghetto Tamales: An Experiment in Procrastination

I've blogged about making tamales before, and how they're a Mexican tradition during Christmastime. But on this lazy Sunday afternoon, I've decided to forget about doing anything productive (school-wise), in favor of trying to recreate the delicious tamales that were made during Christmas. I don't know what's weirder: making tamales in July, or making tamales in a country where most people would think it's pronounced tah-mail-ees (for the record, it's tah-mah-lehs).

So what inspired this sudden urge to make these delicious Mexican treats? I was recently browsing the sale rack at Sainsbury's, and came across a single, glorious bag of masa harina. Seriously, this stuff is harder to find than a shirtless Brit in Hyde Park who isn't glowing shades of white and pink and sporting a paunchy beer belly.

And it was only 92p! The only corn tortillas that they sell here are actually flour tortillas with just a little bit of cornmeal added. Massive failure for the gluten-intolerant! So I figured I would pick up a bag of this stuff and attempt to make my own corn tortillas.

They didn't exactly turn out how I had imagined, so I thought I'd try my hand at tamale-making. The only problem? Tamales are traditionally made in corn husks. Luckily, a quick Google search told me that aluminum foil makes a decent substitute. Huzzah!

I didn't really use a recipe for the masa. Instead, I was winging it based on what I had learned from my friends in December. Water, masa flour, dash of vegetable oil, brown sugar, and cinnamon.

I divided half the dough, and made the other half the traditional pink color and filled them with raisins.

Afterwards, I prepared the steamer. One trick of the tamale trade is to put a coin in the part of the pot with the water. When you stop hearing it rattle, that means you have to add more water.

I spread out all of the masa onto small sheets of foil, folded them up into little packets, and placed them in the steaming basket.

It didn't occur to me until, after over an hour and they were still uncooked, that I should have probably put a lid over the pot. Whoops. Well, after I put the lid on they cooked up pretty quickly.

And the verdict? Mehhhh....the taste is sort of almost there, but there's a definite taste difference from not using corn husks. Damn you, aluminum, you've FOILED my tamale-making attempts!

Gluten-Free In London

What would you do if you found out that you could no longer eat wheat, rye, and barley? Foods that are staples of your diet, now completely restricted? Over two and a half years ago, I found out that I had an allergy to gluten. Gluten is a protein found in wheat, rye, and barley.

For most people, they can digest it normally. For others, it can cause a varying degree of negative reactions.

Up until being diagnosed with gluten intolerance, I was gradually feeling sicker and sicker. Eventually, after a number of tests, it was discovered that I had a severe thyroid disorder.

What triggered this? A combination of genetics and an undiagnosed intolerance to gluten.

The only solution to gluten intolerance is to remove gluten-containing foods completely from your diet. At first, it was a hard pill to swallow. I now had to give up a lot of favorite foods, and be vigilant about reading labels.

A Gluten-Free Lifestyle For the most part, it hasn't been too difficult staying on a gluten-free diet. There are still many things that I can eat, and more stores are stocking up on gluten-free products.

One of the main problems, however, is that many gluten-free products are really expensive in California. I have to go to upscale health food stores, such as Whole Foods, in order to find gluten-free replacements. They're just not available at normal supermarkets.

Before coming back to London, I wasn't sure what the gluten-free food situation was going to be like.

My first day back in London, I stopped into my local Sainsbury's to get some food. I was pleasantly surprised to find a whole section of gluten-free foods. Not only that, but the items were actually reasonably priced, and there was a large variety of things to choose from.

As you can see, I could barely contain myself!

It was just refreshing to be able to go into a normal supermarket, and find so many reasonably priced options.

So, London, you get my gluten-free thumbs up of approval!

Dia de los Muertos, London-style

After being back in London for roughly three weeks now, my first time back in over two years since my last study abroad program ended, I've been particularly interested in finding as many interesting cultural events as possible. London is known for being a vibrant, cultural hub. Take an hour to walk around any part of London, and you'll meet people from all over the world. My MA course is practically a mini United Nations! This diversity is a large part of why I love this city so much. That being said, I come from a Mexican background (well, half of me) and I've lived in California my whole life, which sometimes feels like an extension of Mexico. In California, if I'm craving an authentic taco al pastor, or if I want to go to a mercado, I don't have to stray too far. In London, however, the Mexican population is vastly underrepresented. Because of this, it's hard to have that connection with Mexican culture that I have back home.

This brings me to today: I was exiting the tube at Tottenham Court Road station with my friend Trent, another Californian in London, because we were on a mission to find a frozen yogurt place cheekily called Snog. While we were walking, I noticed a poster for a free Dia de los Muertos celebration taking place at The British Museum! For those of you who may not be familiar with Dia de los Muertos, it's a holiday dedicated to celebrating the memories of loved ones who have passed on. Different countries celebrate in different ways, but generally there are special altars created with flowers and pictures, and there are candle-lit processions with music, dancing, and people dressed up in skeleton costumes. Here's a photo I took of two of my friends, Risha and Steena, in San Francisco in 2007: Dia de los Muertos in SF

Having never been to The British Museum before, I don't know what to expect but it sounds like it will be a fun way to spend a Sunday in London!

Now to figure out how to make a gluten-free version of pan de muertos...