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La Pasada adds fun, flavor to holidays

by: VERN UYETAKE From left are Lilie Pruden, Ella Howard, Colin Lyman, Jagan Shean and Jack Tansey of Christ Church Preschool celebrating La Pasada, a re-enactment of Joseph and Mary’s search for lodgings in Bethlehem.

Still looking for ways to make this holiday season especially memorable for family and friends? Celebrate the Hispanic tradition of La Pasada, a re-enactment of San Jose j la Virgen Maria (Joseph and Mary's) search for lodgings in Bethlehem. La Pasada (which means 'inn' or 'the shelters' in Spanish) began Dec. 16 and runs through Noche Buena, Christmas Eve, on Dec. 24.

Each night of the nine-day stretch, Mexican children and adults process to three houses and sing a request for lodging. Their requests are denied until the third stop, which is designated as the place where the Holy Family found shelter and where Jesus was born. The group is welcomed in for prayers, singing and a fiesta, complete with piñata and traditional foods such as tamales and horchata.

Last week I got to tag along as the children of Christ Church Preschool held their annual La Pasada. The children, dressed as Mary, Joseph, sheep, donkeys, shepherds, angels and kings, looked long and hard for lodging, knocking on doors in the parish offices, but were told repeatedly that there was no room for them. Finally they found room - and the Baby Jesus lying in a manger.

Their teachers explained that Christmas is Jesus' birthday and they were overjoyed to learn they were going to have a birthday party for Him back in their classroom.

For Hispanic Christians Navidad, or Christmas, is not an over-the-top gift-giving occasion. The piñata candies and toys are a delight to the children. Gifts are exchanged on el dia de Reyes, or Epiphany; the day the Wise Men or Kings arrived in Bethlehem to visit the Newborn King. This day, Jan. 6, is the 12th day of Christmas. The Wise Men, following the star that rose over the manger where the Baby Jesus lay, brought gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. It seems fitting to exchange gifts on Epiphany, when God's gift of his Son was revealed to mankind.

Many Christians set up their nativities at the start of Advent without Jesus or the Wise Men in them. Jesus is added on Christmas Eve and the Wise Men are placed closer and closer to the manger each day until they finally are placed in the nativity on Epiphany.

Christmas is practically here. Including the celebrations of La Pasada, St. Nicholas Day and St. Lucia can heighten the enjoyment of the season for young and old alike. Take time to savor the sights, smells, and sounds of the season. Enjoy time with friends and family and make a point to establish your own special traditions. They will be treasured for years to come.

Perhaps hosting your own La Pasada and making tamales can be a new tradition for you family. This recipe for Mixed Mushroom Tamales I shared with you last year. It's back by popular demand - try it this holiday season. Serve ponche con Piquete - spiked warmed fruit punch - and horchata, see recipe below.

Bon Appetit! Feliz Navidad!

Mixed Mushroom Tamales

Makes 8 to 12 side dish servings

36 large dried corn husks (3 ounces), separated and any damaged husks discarded

½ ounce dried porcini mushrooms (1/2 cup)

2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, softened

½ small onion, finely chopped

1 tablespoon minced garlic

1 pound mixed fresh mushrooms, such as white button, cremini or shiitake caps, coarsely chopped (4 ½ cups)

1 teaspoon dried epazote (optional), crumbled

½ teaspoon black pepper

2 teaspoons salt

2 cups fine-ground masa harina (dry corn masa, 9.25 ounces)

½ teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon sugar

Special equipment: a large pasta pot with a perforated steamer/colander insert or a deep pot and a large collapsible vegetable steamer

Cover husks with hot water by 2 inches in a large bowl and soak, kept submerged with an inverted plate, turning husks occasionally, until soft, about 30 minutes. Rinse husks, 1 at a time, under running water. Pile 24 of largest husks on a plate and cover with a dampened kitchen towel. Tear some of remaining husks lengthwise into 24 (1/2-inch wide) strips to use as ties (keep damp as well).

Cover porcini with 1 cup very hot water in a small bowl and soak 30 minutes. Lift out porcini, squeezing liquid back into bowl (reserve liquid), then rinse mushrooms to remove any grit. Coarsely chop porcini. Pour soaking liquid through a paper-towel-lined sieve into a glass measure and reserve.

Heat ½ stick of butter in a 12-inch heavy nonstick skillet over high heat until foam subsides, then sauté onion and garlic, stirring one minute. Add mushrooms, including porcini and epazote, if using, and sauté, stirring occasionally until liquid is released, about three minutes.

Add porcini soaking liquid and simmer, stirring occasionally, until most of liquid is evaporated and mushrooms are slightly browned, three to five minutes, then sprinkle with pepper and ½ teaspoon salt. Transfer to a bowl to cool.

Beat remaining 1½ sticks of butter with an electric mixer at medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 30 seconds. Sift masa harina with baking powder, sugar and remaining 1½ teaspoons salt into a bowl. Stir in 1½ cups very hot water until a thick paste forms.

Beat masa mixture into butter in three batches, beating until smooth after each addition. Reduce speed to low and mix in mushroom mixture until just combined.

Put one husk on a work surface, pointed end closest to you, and spreading it flat, mound ¼ cup filling in the center and flatten slightly into a rough oval (about ½ inch thick) with back of spoon, leaving a 1-inch border on both sides. Bring pointed end of husk up over mound of filling to cover and fold sides of husk over filling to enclose. Gather together open end of husk at top of filling, creating a flat pouch, and tie with a cornhusk strip. Assemble 23 more tamales in same manner.

Arrange tamales upright in one layer in steamer insert so they resemble falling dominoes in rows. Set steamer over boiling water in pot and cover with a folded kitchen towel (the towel absorbs condensation so tamales don't get soggy). Steam tamales, tightly covered with a lid, adding more water as necessary, until filling is tender, about 30 minutes. To check for doneness, open one steamed tamale and if any part of filling is still gummy, steam five to 10 minutes longer.

Cook's note: Masa labeled 'masa preparada para tamales' contains baking powder and salt, so don't add either if your package has that wording.

Cooked tamales can be frozen, wrapped well in foil, 1 month. To reheat, discard foil (do not thaw) and steam over boiling water until heated through, about 5 to 10 minutes, or microwave until hot.

Adapted from Gourmet, Nov. 2004

Horchata

Makes 10 cups

2 cups rice

1 cinnamon stick

2 teaspoons lime zest

10 cups water

1 cup sugar

Grind the rice in your blender until it is ground smooth. Toss with a cinnamon stick and lime zest. Let rest overnight.

After resting, place rice mixture into blender and blend until smooth. Put into a bowl and add 4 cups water, soak for two hours.

Strain the liquid through a fine sieve or cheesecloth a few times to remove any grittiness. Add the rest of the water (six cups) and stir in sugar until dissolved.

Garnish with a mint sprig.

Adapted from About.com Mexican Food.

Randall welcomes your food questions and research suggestions. She can be reached at 503-636-1281 ext. 101 or by email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..