Tamale Tips and Guacamole Recipe for Cinco de Mayo

Tamale Tips and Guacamole Recipe for Cinco de Mayo

If my son were a dog, he’d be a mutt. Irish, Italian, and Mexican on my side, and German, English, and a few other Waspy ethnicities on Tony’s side. We know mine with some certainty – but what he knows of Tony’s side was only a stab from my memories of vague conversations that might have happened some 30 years ago. So, understandably (and like many adopted people), Eric had his DNA analyzed by Ancestry.com. Most of it was not surprising, but there is one bit we’re uncertain about – most likely on my mom’s side.

I might be able to help figure out that mystery bit for Eric if I were to have my own DNA analyzed – but that’s probably not going to happen. Even as I understand anyone’s need to know who they are and where they come from, I find the idea of voluntarily giving my DNA to any sort of corporate entity distasteful, at best – and exceedingly unwise, at worst. Comedian Bill Burr (whom I seem to reference with some regularity) has a funny rant that pretty much nails why I won’t buy in. There’s more to it, but the gist is: “Why would you send your saliva into the internet? Why would you do that? Why don’t you just go to the Illuminati and help them build your robot replacement?”

Perhaps it’s easy for me to shrug it off because I have always known my full history. And even if there’s a bit of mystery to my mom’s ethnicity, it’s nothing that keeps me up at night. One thing I’ve always found kind of interesting is how similar all of the flags of my ethnicities are.

Laura's flags

Another odd thing is my strong affinitylady of guadalupe for all things Irish, given that it was only my paternal grandmother with the Irish ancestry. My dad’s father was Italian, and what we know of my mom is that she was Mexican on both sides. So I grew up in a house where the Mexican culture dominated. Both my mom and dad spoke Spanish fluently – it was my mother’s first language and my dad studied it in college and then became fluent as he continued to use it. And neither of them thought maybe they should raise bilingual children? Huh. We marked all of the Mexican holidays; the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, celebrated annually on December 12, seemed to have special meaning for my mom. And our house had a distinctive Mexican flair to it. I always thought it was just my mom’s weird decorating taste, until I heard comedian John Leguizamo describe the inside of his mom’s “typical Mexican house” as “looking like a papaya exploded.”

animal shaped tortillas

We ate what Americans know as Mexican food with regularity: Spanish rice, homemade tortillas, refried beans, huevos rancheros, guacamole, and tamales. Though we had them week in and week out for years, I never mastered the art of rolling tortillas into round discs, deciding at one point I might have stumbled onto a new product line with animal-shaped tortillas. (Mine in no way resembled the ones in the adjacent picture, which were cut out with cookie cutters.) While tamales are a Christmas tradition for many Mexican families, we tended to have them two or three times a year, whenever it struck my mom’s fancy. The reason so many people do it only one a year is that they are a LOT of work.

I was going to give you a recipe for tamales and instructions here – but it would make this post crazy long, and there are lots of good resources on the ol’ interwebs. Here’s an excellent step-by-step guide. There are also all kinds of videos on YouTube, if you’re a more visual learner.

A few things to keep in mind if you plan to make homemade tamales:

(1) STEER CLEAR  of corn oil. It is the worst possible oil you can consume. Regardless of what the recipes, say, don’t use it!

(2) Most recipes call for you to make the masa (corn dough) from scratch. We almost always bought prepared masa from a Mexican restaurant. It will save you sooo much time and hassle. Be sure to get the flavored masa, though – or plan to flavor it yourself. Otherwise, your tamales will taste terrible.

(3) Tamale-making requires a team effort. Figure out how to form an assembly line for greatest efficiency.

making tamales


(4) It takes a while to get good at rolling the tamales. Don’t worry – just keep practicing. By your final dozen (yep, you’re gonna make a LOT of them if it’s to be worth your time), you’ll be a pro.

(5) WASH YOUR HANDS before touching any part of your body if you’ve come in contact with any kind of chili pepper – fresh, dried, or powdered. I was helping my mom and aunt make tamales when I was about 10, and I rubbed my eyes with my chili pepper hands. Don’t make that mistake unless you’re a masochist!


Instead of a tamale recipe, in honor of Cinco de Mayo, I will give you my very simple guacamole recipe. My in-laws have loved it since the first time I made it for them. There’s really nothing to it. I think the only reason they think it’s so good is that it’s fresh every time I serve it.


  • 4 or 5 medium avocados – be sure they’re ripe
  • A cup of grape tomatoes
  • Small to medium onion (red, yellow, or white)
  • 2 fresh garlic cloves or ½ teaspoon of garlic powder
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • A splash of vinegar (to keep the avocados from browning)


Peel and pit the avocados. My sister taught me that the easiest way to remove them from the skin is by using a table spoon or small serving spoon. Cut the avocados into small pieces, an inch or so. No need to measure – your next step is to mash them in a medium size mixing bowl. Cut your grape tomatoes as small as you can – or to whatever size you prefer. I usually cut one tomato into three pieces. Dice your onion – again, make the pieces as small or big as you like. Add the tomatoes and onion to the mashed up avocado. Mince the garlic if you’re using fresh. Add it, or powdered garlic. Add your splash of vinegar, and stir the whole mixture with a fork. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Serve as a side dish with organic blue corn chips, or with your favorite Mexican dish.

So here’s to a happy Cinco de Mayo!

Laura Orsini is an author, speaker, and consultant who coaches other authors to make and market exceptional books that change the world for the better. She is birthmother to Eric, who is finishing college in Boston this summer. Their adoption has been open for the better part of Eric’s life. She continues to toy with the idea that these posts will one day become a book. In the meantime, you can learn about her novel in progress, Stan Finds Himself on the Other Side of the World.

Making a Difference a Little at a Time

Making a Difference a Little at a Time

teacher strike

Teachers in Arizona and Colorado walked out on their jobs today, in demand of better pay for teachers and support staff, as well as improvements in learning conditions for their students. You may have an opinion on the strike as a tool to accomplish such a goal and the politics behind it. I was once of the opinion that our deficit in education is the most crucial of all social ills, because everything else (homelessness, addictions issues, obesity, and teen pregnancy come to mind) can be addressed if education is done properly. However, as I see it today, two of the most significant problems with education will not be solved with this strike or any others like it. First, we need to stop teaching students according to their chronological age and instead teach according to their ability (and willingness?) to learn. Secondly, we need to teach our youth not WHAT to think, but instead HOW to think. I’m certain some would disagree with me on Issue #1 (“But little Joey’s feelings would be hurt if he were 12 years of age but had to study math with 7-year-olds”), and we’re so far down the rabbit hole on Issue #2, in terms of the way we do education in America, that it would take a seismic shift to move us even remotely in another direction.

While I still feel education – and all the other topics mentioned above – are of vast importance, a different one now stays top of mind for me. It’s the subject on which I post and repost most often on Facebook. On his podcast today, comedian Bill Burr noted that this subject is the single most important issue to millennials: the environment. Hear, hear! In case you are (or have been) wondering, millennials are described as kids born between 1982 and 2002. Born in 1995, my son falls right smack in the middle, there. And I worry often for the state of the planet we are leaving to him and his children. My husband’s niece will be 10 in June, and Eric’s sister is pregnant right now with her first child. What will the world be like by the time that baby gets to be my son’s age? Pretty unpleasant if we don’t start doing something immediately to right the sinking ship that is our home planet.

Environmental problems include:

  • Climate change
  • Pollution
  • Deforestation
  • Water scarcity
  • Loss of biodiversity
  • Soil erosion and degradation

check phone while car idles

Sounds kind of hopeless when you hear those big problems listed out like that, but Mother Nature is nothing if not resilient. However, we all need to do our part, and we need to start today. Even small things count, because they add up when each of us begins to do more of them. One thing I’ve noticed, in particular in Arizona, is the number of people who get into their cars and let the engines run while they check their phones, sometimes for minutes that run into the double digits. This is an easy habit to fall into, especially in the crazy summer heat here. But if we pay attention and stand in the shade (or remain inside the store or office building) we don’t have to idle our engines and pump all that extra carbon monoxide into the air.

plastic bag litter

One thing my husband is getting much better at these days is taking reusable grocery bags to the store. Sometimes we forget them at home, but my personal policy is never to request a bag if I have 3 items or fewer – and often I will juggle many more than that to avoid bringing home another plastic bag. Think it can’t possibly matter whether you use one less bag a week? Did you know that an estimated one million birds, 100,000 turtles, and countless other sea animals die each year from ingesting plastic? Even if you throw those bags away in a trash can, garbage is regularly being dumped (legally and illegally) into the ocean – so your plastic might just go and sit there for 15 to 1,000 years – or until an unsuspecting creature eats it for dinner. If you are a bit crafty and you’d like a tip or two on making your own reusable bags, this video may help. We also recycle just about everything we can: paper bags, toilet and paper towel rolls, plastic bottles, all manner of cans, Styrofoam, and plastic bags (both the grocery variety and others).

recycle toilet rolls

John a has also recently made the decision to stop eating all mammals – which leaves him seafood and fowl, in terms of animal proteins. This is also another huge step in the way of helping the environment, because factory farming is one of the biggest causes of pollution on the planet. I have not yet given up meat to the same degree – nor do I promise that I ever will – but we do consume a lot less meat these days than we used to, and I’m OK with that.

Another thing I’ve been paying attention to for a long time is straws – the ubiquitous NoStrawChallengeplastic drinking implements that are actually wholly unnecessary, in terms of our ability to consume most liquids. As the 1MillionWomen.com website points out, we use the things for roughly 20 minutes at a rate of 500 MILLION a day and then throw them away – and then, they NEVER break down or decompose. A quick internet search will reveal heartbreaking images of animals that tried to eat the because in the ocean (WHY do they end up in the ocean, again?) they look like food. The Sidewalk Cafe, a restaurant where we dined recently in Venice Beach, had actually posted signs explaining why they serve straws only upon request – and challenging patrons to take the #NoStrawChallenge.

I know these are small details, but the average American household throws away 10 plastic bags per week. Picture it, if you can. If every one of those houses used just one less bag per week, that would be 125 MILLION fewer bags discarded a week. Or six-and-a-half BILLION bags in a year. Just for using one less bag a week. Now add in recycling the things, and we’re really starting to make a difference, right?

I have no idea what my son’s family’s total recycling habits are – but if I recall our last visit this past December, they definitely had a recycling bin that went out separate from the landfill trash. These are habits I would have passed down to him, had he grown up in my house. My hope is still to one day have these conversations with him, if only to learn his perspectives about the things that are important to me. And if his generation is making the environment its number one priority, maybe there’s hope for us yet.


Paper recycling facts

Things you can do…

On Straw Use

Laura Orsini is an author who works with other authors to help them make and market exceptional books that change the world for the better. She is birthmother to Eric, who is finishing college in Boston this summer. Their adoption has been open for the better part of Eric’s life. She continues to toy with the idea that these posts will one day become a book. In the meantime, you can learn about her novel in progress, Stan Finds Himself on the Other Side of the World.

Breaking the Adoption News

Breaking the Adoption News

Once upon a time, people had a sense of humor. Some of them told jokes – and most of the rest of them laughed. Some of the better joke tellers even made careers of it, a few of them landing their own TV shows and becoming household names. Not everyone laughed, though, because someone had to be the adult, the parent, the schoolmarm, the one with the common sense – and the stick up their ass. But most people laughed. A popular magazine even had a regular feature titled “LAUGHTER: The Best Medicine.”

Slowly, however, this idea of laughter became unpopular – to the point that making jokes became a sensitive issue. People began to feel that laughing was akin to rudeness or insensitivity. Political correctness swept the land, and comedians stopped performing at college campuses where students were the most prudish of all the citizenry.  The best comedians still told their jokes anyway – refusing to apologize or be cowed into shutting up for fear of offending. Some went out of their way to be even more offensive.

Sadly, this is not a made-up story. And it makes my lazy ass hesitant to post a joke about adoption, because we’ve all become so conditioned to overreact about everything these days. I was determined, though. So I looked high and low. If you find this cartoon – or my language regarding it – offensive, I can only offer you a quote from one of my all-time favorite comedians, Bill Burr: “Go fuck yourself.”


Laura Orsini is an author who works with other authors to help them make and market exceptional books that change the world for the better. She is birthmother to Eric, who is finishing college in Boston this summer. Their adoption has been open for the better part of Eric’s life. She continues to toy with the idea that these posts will one day become a book. In the meantime, you can learn about her novel in progress, Stan Finds Himself on the Other Side of the World.