First there was a warm, comforting bowl of Sopa de frijoles (Bean Soup), followed by creamy dreamy Arroz con leche (Rice Pudding), then a savory batch of Guacamole so delicious you danced around the kitchen with a “green avocado laugh” printed on your face.
Most of you already know how much I adore these books, written by a poet who sees magic in each ingredient and every utensil and says, “the whole kitchen is a cooking poem.” *swoon*
This time we read about a brother and sister making tamalitos, or “little tamales.” I want to hug myself just thinking about these mini corn masa and cheese-stuffed pillows wrapped in cornhusks (little pillows! a lot like dumplings!). As with the other cooking poems, there is reverence for Mother Earth, a lively, joyous total immersion in every step of the process, lots of sensory detail, and great anticipation at eating the final product and lovingly sharing it with the rest of the family.
Tamalitos begins with an homage to the corn plant — what it looks like, an appreciation of its many-colored kernels (“white, yellow, blue ones, purple, red and black ones/like a rainbow when it’s drizzling”) and a nod to its centuries-long cultural importance for the Mayans and other indigenous ancestors of Central America.
Cooking utensils and recipe ingredients are then gathered, corn husks are soaked, the dough is mixed and kneaded, pieces of cheese are added, and finally the little dough pillows are wrapped and steamed. All the while, there is drumming on pots and happy dancing (“the Nahua corn dance/and the Maya corn dance/and the Aztec dance/and the powwow dance/and the corn dance/of all the people of corn”), reminding us that cooking is so much more than just combining ingredients; it’s an activity that should be entered into with heart and soul to achieve the most satisfying results:
Measure four cups of flour
Add the lukewarm water,
little by little
When the water and flour are mixed, you have masa.
Stick your hands in the dough.
Move your hands
and your arms
and your whole body.
Feel the dough,
Let your fingers
dance the corn dance
while you knead the dough.
Mide con cuidado cuatro tazas de masa seca.
Ahora echa el agüta tibia sobre la masa seca,
poco a poquito.
Al mezclar el agua con la harina tienes masa.
Mete tus manos en la masa.
Menea tus manos
y tus brazos
y tu cuerpo.
Siente la masa,
Deja que tus dedos
bailen la danza del maíz
mientras amasas la masa.
Argueta’s rainbow of corn colors is amplified in every one of Domi’s vibrant, eye-popping watercolor spreads, ensuring that Tamalitos is as much a feast for the eyes as it is for the other senses. Argueta’s simple poetic language is always delightfully fresh and oh-so-lyrical with its playful childlike rhythm. I always enjoy reading the Spanish aloud, too:
The kitchen is a field of corn in flower.
There are flowers and clouds of corn,
the wind is corn,
the fire is corn.
I am dancing the dance of corn.
The smell of corn makes me fly.
I am singing the song of corn.
I am a corn cook.
The smell of corn makes me happy.
These tamalitos will be happy corn tamalitos!
La cocina es una milpa en flor.
Hay flores y nubes de maíz,
el viento es maíz,
el fuego es maíz.
Estoy bailando la danza del maíz.
El olor del maíz me hace volar.
Estoy cantando el canto del maíz.
Soy un cocinero de maíz.
El olor del maíz me vuelve más feliz.
¡Estos tamalitos serán tamalitos de maíz feliz!
It’s such a pleasure to celebrate the poetry of food with someone like Jorge, who feels that “everything in the kitchen is pure poetry — sounds, smells, shapes, colors, forms.” With Tamalitos, he again lifts our spirits, whets our appetites, and serves up a totally satisfying recipe of masa and metaphor. A perfectly scrumptious choice for Poetry Month in April!
You are ready to relish the tamalitos.
You’ll see some steam
float off the tamalitos like a little sigh.
Todo está listo
para saborear los tamalitos.
Verás el vapor saliendo de los tamalitos,
como un suspiro.
Mmmmmmm. Muy delicioso!
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TAMALITOS: Un poema para cocinar/A Cooking Poem
written by Jorge Argueta
illustrated by Domi
translated by Elisa Amado
published by Groundwood Books, 2013
Picture Book for ages 4-7, 32 pp.
*A Junior Library Guild Selection
On shelves: April 2013
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♥ My review of Guacamole and interview with Jorge is here.
♥ My review of Arroz con leche/Rice Pudding is here.
♥ Learn more about Jorge’s wonderful books at his Official Website. Collect all four Cooking Poem books — you know you want to :)!
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Jone is hosting today’s Roundup at Check It Out. Enjoy the full menu of delicious poetic offerings being served up in the blogosphere this week and enjoy your weekend!
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This post is also being linked to Beth Fish Read’s Weekend Cooking, where all are invited to share their food-related posts!
*Spreads from Tamalitos posted by permission of the publisher, text copyright © 2013 Jorge Argueta, illustrations © 2013 Domi, English translation © 2013 Elisa Amado, published by Groundwood Books. All rights reserved.
Copyright © 2013 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup. All rights reserved.