Usually, in the fall, my grandma would make her empanadas. And so would I. For Christmas we make tamales and chili rellenos. The recipes would say such things as: “Add Flour.”
Hm…how much flour?
“Make a medium dough.”
What the heck is that?
When confused, I called grandma.
This year the Baking Ladies asked if we were going to make tamales and empanadas.
“I’m not. I don’t think I can spend a day, elbow deep in masa and thoughts of Grandma.”
Mom called and asked for the empanada recipe because she couldn’t find hers. I looked everywhere and couldn’t find it. I told Mom she’d have to call a sister. I wasn’t too worried. The recipe was somewhere in the house but I wasn’t going to tear the place apart for it now.
Grandma also used to make this amazing peanut brittle every Christmas. When we were kids we would get a box from her with our gifts, red and green chili and a box of peanut brittle. My mom would try to make it but it never turned out. The humidity? Aunt Marilyn would try and it wouldn’t turn out. The altitude?
This year Marilyn texted me to tell me she finally did it! Her peanut brittle came out right for the first time ever!
Me: Grandma was with you.
Marilyn: She was!!!
I was jealous.
She mailed me some and it’s delicious! She nailed it!
Last week I sat in Caren’s kitchen drinking coffee and our home-made Bailey’s. Rather, she had coffee and Bailey’s and I had it on the rocks with a hot mug of water on the side.
“My cousin JJ is coming for Christmas. His in-laws live down the hill and they will be spending the Holidays with them. Last year they stopped by for a bit and the first thing he asked for were empanadas. He used to raid Grandma’s fridge for them when he’d go home to Albuquerque.”
“Uh-oh. So are you thinking you’re going to make him some?”
“I’m thinking about it. I don’t know… We’ll see. I think he would be disappointed if he came by and I didn’t have any.”
Later that very day JJ texted me for my brother’s address.
Then my sister’s address.
Then Auntie Cutie’s address. That one, I knew off the top of my head.
JJ: These were things I used to bother Grandma with.
Me: Happy to fill in.
Wait…does this mean I’m like a retired old lady?
JJ: Little bit. definitely in the mom role to a T.
JJ: BTW Are you making empanadas this year?
I called Caren. “We’re gonna need to make empanadas…”
“Yea! We’ll do it Monday!”
I planned to cook the meat ahead of time and so this weekend I went to get my recipe out. I couldn’t find it anywhere. I looked in my recipe box, in between pages of all of my cook books (for someone who doesn’t really cook, I have a ton.) I dug through drawers and looked in cabinets. I felt sick to my stomach. Man walked in to find me tearing the kitchen apart a piece at a time and crying.
“Just call your Aunts or your Mom,” he reasoned.
“It was in her handwriting!” I wailed.
I texted the Aunts and my Mom and told them my predicament and asked for the recipe to be emailed. Nothing.
Sunday Mom texted to say she was having coffee and eating an empanada. Mean.
Me: Recipe please.
Monday was…ug…a weird morning. I’ll have to blog about it later though because I had a unique experience. I arrived at Caren’s a bit shaken up by the whole thing. She sat me down at her kitchen island with a cup of Bailey’s. I told her about my problems with finding the recipe.
“It’ll show up,” she said.
“I don’t know… I looked everywhere. I have no idea where it could possibly be. Mom’s sounds legit though. See…Add flour. Make a medium dough. What in the world does that mean?”
Mom confessed to cheating this year and using pizza dough so we concluded a “medium dough” must be a pizza dough-like consistency. The filling turned out great as did the dough but then I had to leave for a dentist appointment. We decided we would put them together and fry them when I got back.
On the way back from the dentist office I got nervous.
I don’t think the dough is right and now it’s been sitting there for over an hour…it’s not going to be right. Ugh. I should just scrap the whole thing.
But when I arrived Caren was ready to proceed and so there was no scrapping. The dough was rolled, circles cut, filling added. Then you fold the circle in half enveloping the filling. The ends are pinched closed. My Grandma would then pinch and fold, pinch and fold, all across the seam to make a pretty pie crust look. I’ve never been good at it. My Mom would always point out that I wasn’t doing it right.
“Look, it’s like this,” she’d say. And she’d show me again.
“Yours aren’t quite right either,” Grandma would correct her. “My Dad was the best at it!” She bragged.
And then the two would marvel at his technique and wondered how he did it so beautifully.
Sitting in Caren’s kitchen, I did the pinching and folding the best I could and she did the frying.
“Ugh! Look at this! I can never make them pretty,” I complained. “My Mom would not be pleased with these…” I tsk, tsked.
“JJ won’t care,” Caren said. “Men only want their food to taste good.”
“True. He eats the whole thing in one bite.”
We had to stop only about 1/4 of the way through the filling because my boys had basketball and karate and her girls had their various activities. We agreed we’d finish on Wednesday. A perfect activity to do during the predicted snow fall!
Today I drove the kids to school. Usually the first snowfall has me nervous and in tears but this year it was fine. I wasn’t stupidly confident but I wasn’t afraid. I did have a slip outside of the local saloon. I’m not even sure how I righted the car but I did. Sick to my stomach after that, I got the kids to school safely. I drove back to the house but skipped my driveway and went straight to Caren’s.
I made fresh dough while she worked on her Christmas cards and then it was time to fill and fold.
“I tried to do a few the other night,” Caren said. “You would really be appalled because I didn’t do the pretty ends. I just pinched ’em flat.”
“Ew! Really? Did they bust open when you fried them?”
“No they stayed shut but they’re ugly.”
I worked on mine. Fold, pinch, fold, pinch, fold, pinch….still a bit of a mess. They were sealed but…not the way Grandma would do them. Caren and I talked while we worked. I dropped a dollop of filling into the center of another circle of dough and then began to fold and pinch.
“Oh my gosh! Caren look at this!” I was only half way through the seam but my hands were just working, I swear to you, on their own and creating the most beautifully seamed empanada!
“This is crazy! I can do it! She must be with me!” I admired my empanada and sighed, “Thanks Grandma.”
I decided to send a picture of it to Mom. I got nervous after sending it. “She’ll probably say it’s not right…” But instead her response was: “Wow. That’s a lot prettier than mine!”
“You know Caren, probably Grandma was watching with her dad and they just couldn’t take it anymore and had to intervene. I like to imagine what they are doing up there…”
“I do too,” she said.
“I guess I was wrong to not cook her foods. She was waiting for me to get with it, it seems.”
We made over 60 empanadas and I’m sharing them with a very choice few. The ones I made today are gorgeous! I finally mastered Grandma’s technique.