30 December 2011

For the love of tamales

     When the Mrs. and I started dating our favorite place to go for dinner was Efrain's Taqueria in Hagerstown.  Efrain's wife, Hannah, made the best tamales east of the Mississippi.  They had a golden hue and a savory flavor to them that no other tamale I've encountered since could match.  We loved those little corn-flour husk-wrapped meat-filled cakes de cielo that Efrain's catered our rehearsal dinner, and we got the very last tamales ever made under the Efrain's name. ¡Ayi, que doloroso!

     Since then I have been working on my own recipe.  Starting with guidance from cookbooks on hand and Internet resources, I have put together a toolkit of seasonings, masa, meat, cornmeal and veggies that has produced some mighty fine tamales, so much so as a colleague of mine from New Mexico said it as like being back in the desert when he tasted one. That's high praise. I was humbled, yet victorious.

     But why do I write now of tamales? The once arduous task has been distilled down into the work of an afternoon and evening, surely there are no more tales of heroism to be told, of meats that flake apart at a sharp glance or masa so smooth and rich that you want to brush your teeth with it. No, dear reader, this is no tale of heroic effort or lengthy boasting of skill (though I can see where you might get that impression); it is a tale of discovery.  Of mystery unlocked, problem solved.  You see, I believe the missing ingredient to have been all a long a seasoning that has been hiding in the International aisle of my local supermarket.  The one, the only, amarillo.  It was $1.50 for a small container, so I bought some when I went for more corn oil and husks and vegetable stock and vegetables themselves to fill the hand-wrapped masa in husks.

     I've tasted the unsteamed masa and it is good, but I haven't tried a steamed tamale yet to know if I've truly found the secret.  If I've not discovered the true answer, I welcome your correction or insight, because I am in search of that tamale lost lo these 4 years.  It's been a delicious and educational journey, señores, but if I could set down the ultimate recipe on paper I would gladly turn my experimental insight to other things.  And now I want tamales for lunch.  I think I will do that. Vaya con Dios, amigos.

     UPDATE: They need salt. ay carumba.

03 December 2011

Wherein I'm not sure if I'm clever about cars

The alternative might very well be true.

     I've never been a car guy; I like to drive, and I like to go fast, but beyond the basics that every man needs to know (tire changing, what a carburetor looks like, the proper way to make sure the other guy know you're flipping him the bird) I never got too much into cars.  But I can change my own light bulbs.

     My driver's side tail-light -- both bulbs -- had been blown since my last oil change.  Until the State Police kindly suggested (written warning) that I take care of that I had completely failed to do anything about it. I had 2 bulbs out, and bulbs come in 2 packs (IN THE CITY -- CALIFORNIA -- IN THE … what?  Right.  2 pack, not TuPac RIP) so no big deal that the new bulbs had 1 connector on the bottom, but one of the bulbs being replaced had 2.  It worked, I went home satisfied.

     The next (Wednesday) morning the car would not downshift when accelerating, making the trip to work via the interstate a challenge.  I knew it couldn't have been related to the light bulb (right?), but must be whatever the SERVICE ENGINE SOON light had been indicating for some months getting worse.

     Thursday, thanks to the added insult of a flat tire, I took US 40 to MD 355 to work.

     This sequence of events happened Friday:

  1. I left the car at Hamilton Nissan for service.
  2. The team there did a lot of work.
  3. I picked the car up after 5 on Friday after Jared (@smplnerd) dropped me off.
  4. I drove off the lot and the problem was still there.
  5. I drove back, took the tech/mechanic for a quick spin around the block.
  6. He confirmed the problem.
  7. He conferred with his boss while I played some Angry Birds.
  8. I was asked to bring it back Monday and I'd get a free loaner.
  9. I went home and popped out the bulb mentioned above.
  10. I left to pick up Brad (@AnotherBrad) for an evening out.
  11. The car began working properly.

     My hypothesis is that the ECM uses the closed circuit of an ON brake-light to partially determine whether to allow for downshifting for acceleration, because trying to rev the engine with the brake applied is a great way to wear out your brakes right quick, plus other stuff that I could go on about if I were a car guy.

     I've already contacted Hamilton to tell them I won't be back in and why, and made sure to thank them, and I want everyone to know how great they were through the whole thing. I wish I could say they were paying me to write this, but truthfully they've been pretty good to me over the past 5+ years and they deserve my thanks and endorsement.

     So, reader(s, if I'm lucky), I'm not sure if I should feel clever for figuring it out, or foolish for not buying the right bulb in the first place (rectified that issue this morning) after noticing the difference at 7pm on a dark late November evening after a 2+ hour commute and just wanting the lights to work so the cops (just doing their job) could leave me alone. How's that for justification?

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