Friday, February 19, 2010

From Humitas to Gabriela and the Greeks

It has been some weeks since last posting. There are several reasons for that, but they don´t seem so important to mention right now. Let me just say that I am glad to be back at the keyboard, finding a way to share with a crowd the insights and adventures that come my way in this wild and wonderful life.

Humitas. Sounds like something Latin, to me. On the one hand, it reminds me of the word humble. It also makes me think of humus, the rich soil that is good for growing. The reality actually combines both of those things. I learned about humitas during three days in the Chilean countryside with the large and welcoming campesina family of one of my sisters. These days followed two weeks of meetings with the entire province in a retreat house outside Santiago and were a welcome break from that level of engagement. They were days filled with delicious, simple, incredible food. Tomatoes, corn, raspberries, peaches, chicken, honey, watermelon, ají, onions, basil...all straight from the earth to the mouth. So very juicy and flavorful! So incredibly delicious. One morning I was invited to help in the preparation of what would become lunch. Yes, humitas.

Humitas are the Chilean version of tamales. One group of people shucked the corn, one group sliced the corn from the cob, I helped hand grind the corn into, well, corn-paste, and another group diced and cooked mountains of onion. Onions and cornpaste are mixed together and the leaves of corn are stuffed with the mixture and folded into little packets, tied with thin strips of wicker from the garden that have been boiled into strong, flexible, string. The packets are dropped into boiling water to cook.

While this process was going on outside, some folks inside were preparing various tomato-based chunky salsas to spoon on top. Chancha de piedra involves peeled tomatoes and garlic in a mortar, mashed into goodness with a pestle. Pebre is diced tomato, ají pepper, cilantro, garlic, and onion or chive, all dancing cheek to cheek.

A little of either one of these on top of the steaming packet of corn-onion perfection, and you have a delicious, fresh, healthy, flavorful party going on in your mouth!

From Pelarco in the country, I came to Santiago in the city this past Monday. I will be here until Sunday. My time has been filled with sleep, finding a knee brace (according to the doctor, I have a nasty sprain--and all I did was stand up to get off the bus, honest. Swelling, funky looking muscles, the whole nine. Getting better, though, thank goodness) and going to some museums.

One day was a trip to see the terracotta soldiers from China, one day the Museo de la Memoria y los Derechos Humanos--The Museum of Memory and Human Rights. The latter chronicles the dictatorship here in Chile and what happened, or didn´t, as far as human rights during that period. It also has sections on Human Rights around the world. An amazing and humbling expose of the atrocities and the desire that they never happen again.

Yesterday, I went to the National Library of Chile! It is such a library! A techy, papery, booky, marbley, monument to learning and scholarship. Part of my time there was spent in the Gabriela Mistral Sala de Lectores, writing, describing, observing. Funny thing with Gabriela. There she is in the center window nook, overlooking all in the room. To her right and left are other busts...Virgil, Homer, Demosthenes, Voltaire.

I thought it a funny combination, actually. But still, was glad for her company and watchful presence as I sat there in a sunbeam, in my wooden swivel chair at the green-felt and glass topped wooden tables. If I tilted my head just so and closed my eyes, I could almost hear her saying "Bienvenida compañera, escritora..."

"Welcome, fellow writer."

2 comments:

Helen said...

In a letter today from Chile that was written by several of my friends, I learned that you are valued and your participation has been deep and helpful and that you are loved. I needed to tell you that tonight. Ellen is just back and full of her work for next September.
I love "humitas" - I never helped make them though. Thanks for writing your blog and letting us know what is happening in your life. Helen

MperiodPress said...

Thanks, Helen! It does my heart good to hear that.

Yes, humitas are something, aren´t they? I had one toasted the following morning for breakfast... add a little more tomato to recontstitute it a bit and ahh! Am trying to imagine a way to recreate them wherever I land after Jan ´11. Somehow, though, I don´t think a food processor will do what a hand mill did!

Good to be in touch with you and happy to share my experience of a place I know you love so much.