Sunday, August 26, 2007

Isabel's birthday

I ran into Isabel's husband at St. Joseph's this afternoon. Today is their annual kermes, or parish festival. I went to Mass outside, in front of the church, and then was hanging around. Her husband told me it was her birthday and suggested I go over, so I did.

I arrived just as three other women from St. Joe's, one quite elderly, were at the front step. Isabel's oldest daughter was letting them in the back, so I tagged along. Everyone in the back was very polite--buenas noches, pasale. There was no music playing, which seemed a little unusual. We went up the back stairs and into the kitchen. Everybody gave Isabel and hug and a kiss and then we all sat down. Isabel tried to feed us, but we all resisted since we had just come from the St. Joe's festival.

Isabel was making gorditas. She has a really cool tortilla press. It's wooden and it essentially folds twice. The invention of plastic wrap has made tortilla (and gordita) making much easier. She laid a round ball of masa on the plastic wrap, which was big enough to cover both the base and the initial lid of the press. Then she folded the first lid, then she could fold the second lid on top to squeeze it down. Since she was making gorditas, she pressed the second time very gently. One of the other guests took over on the press and didn't bother to use the second lid at all. They came out perfectly every time. My friend Katie has a metal press that seems to be more difficult to work with. Although I didn't actually use this one--I might have had just as much trouble, being an inexperienced tortilla-maker.

After the masa is pressed into a flat circle, you put it on the comal (griddle) and heat it up. Isabel must have asbestos fingers--she would check them for doneness with her bare hands, then flip them over, take them off and stuff them, all with her fingers. To stuff the gordita, you slit the side of it part way round with a knife and then put in the filling. I don't know for sure if that was carne al pastor (pig on a spit), but it was definitely shredded pork, and very juicy. I thought it was plenty spicy on its own, but Isabel persuaded me to add a little salsa. Muy sabroso.
The other women wanted to know if it was too spicy for me, but we got it right, so I wasn't dying.

This was probably the first group of mostly new-to-me Mexican women in a kitchen where I didn't feel grossly out of place. Maybe because Isabel's youngest daughter hugged me like she hugged all her mother's friends coming in. Maybe because the conversation was usually pretty easy to understand. I mean, it's a birthday. They were all talking about how old they were when they got married, but mostly everybody was interested to see I could follow the conversation. Maybe it was because nobody noticed when I stopped paying attention because the conversation got too hard to follow. Maybe because we were all full, so for the first time ever I managed to keep Isabel from feeding me for at least half an hour. But after sitting around making and watching and schlepping gorditas downstairs (that part I could do), we all caved and ate some with Isabel. Oh, my God--"I should have eaten less at church," I said to the group. They all laughed.

Right now I feel like Templeton, the rat from Charlotte's Web, after the state fair. I ate two steak tacos and five tamales at St. Joe's, followed by three of Isabel's pork-stuffed gorditas. I'll have to go back to church and dance to work them off.

If you want to see what gorditas look like, look here. They have different fillings, but they're about the same size as Isabel's.

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