Tuesday, June 25, 2013

I Am Tortilla

My best tortilla ever.

Sunday was supposed to be our last baleada experience. We went all out: saved avocados, bought cheese from our neighbor and eventually gorged on grilled flour tortillas filled with, what else, beans. (And eggs, and all the other business we bought.)

Sundays and Wednesdays have been my favorite and most industrious nights since the beginning, because these are baleada nights and these are when we make tortillas. It took me eight weeks of constant attendance to make my first consistently large, round tortillas. Before then I dropped balls of dough on the floor, stretched them into triangles and poked holes in them with my fingers. But I kept showing up, peaking through the mesh window at five o’clock to see if the white dough was slapping in everyone’s hands. Everyone was patient with me.

There is a tortilla soundtrack. It goes WHAP WHAP WHAP WHAP WHAP WHAP as the balls are spread between the fingers and finally tossed back and forth between the palms like a hot potato. If you’re effective, it should be like juggling, and it should be fast. If you’re successful, the tortilla makes it on the hot griddle/stove (the only one we have, the size of a dining room table), with a dozen other tortillas in motion. Ten, twenty seconds, finger flip. You will probably burn your fingers a couple of times, and some tortillas, but if you make it off the heat, you can Frisbee toss it into the cloth-lined pot. Over 120 tortillas into the pot, sometimes dozens more, WHAP WHAP.

Angela showed me how to make masa this week, as I have earned my spot in the circle of trusted tortilla helpers. Flour salt, sugar, baking powder, water and Manteca. Ah, yes, Manteca. You knew it was coming. It’s lard. But gosh, I love me some lard if this is what it makes.

On the other end of the health spectrum I’m probably netting between 6-8 corn tortillas a day. On the weekends I help make them on the press, one at a time, tons of them, onto the griddle, into the pot. The corn tortillas are a silent affair. The best ones are thicker, and the super best ones are made by hand. I learned how to do that just this week, using my hand and a plastic bag.

Sitting next to Andrea yesterday morning I noticed she wasn’t eating her beans. “I am bored of beans. I have been eating them my whole life.” No kidding. If our daily diet here is indicative of the national meal plan, then beans and corn tortillas would probably seem pretty darn banal. I love it. I don’t know what I’m going to do without them except have a very confused digestive system.

Stretch and slap, stretch and slap.

Drew flirted with Candida (our 4’10” mother-in-residence and cook) until she said she would make baleadas one last time this morning. Five-thirty I had my WHAPing hands on, one last chance to practice before I take my tortillera skills stateside.

The second week of class, a creative student was asked a simple test question: “What are you doing?” and answered “I am tortilla.” I can't tell you how much we laughed at this, until I realized, Yes, you are, and yes, I am, too.

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