January is a bleak month in the Northern hemisphere, a time when holiday brochures take on a fresh appeal. Perfect beaches in foreign climes offer relief as ‘winter sun’ destinations. Yet the year has just begun and a vacation is but a fantasy. Still, we can indulge in a few dreams and travel the globe with our taste buds.
One such opportunity arose in our family this month when my teenage son celebrated his birthday. Having grown bored with endless rounds of pizza parties, he was open to a meal for his mates that could not be delivered by a man on a bike. I suggested Mexican, partly because he and I had lunched at a wonderful Mexican restaurant where we had shared some taste sensations that were new to us both. Since then I have returned several times to explore Wahaca’s menu further and was itching to try out some ideas in my own kitchen.
Street food being the rage these days, the dinner was designed to have a ‘do it yourself’ feel with a range of dishes on offer for guests to customise their plates. In fact we had no plates but used silver foil containers to provide that take-away feel. I was tempted to turn my car into a food van but maybe that would have been taking authenticity too far!
Having recycled the Christmas party hats to make a colourful bunting for the dining room, I set about making paper flowers in very bright colours. That’s what I love about the sunny climes – they use such a great, life enhancing palette. Our home started to look alive in shades of fuchsia, orange and red.
Days of food tasting followed while we tried out recipes for refried beans and fajitas, establishing a few rules for spicing – not too hot to deter the meek, nor too mild to bore the brave.
Eventually the menu was agreed and, while The Gypsy Kings CDs were rescued from the loft and played at full volume, our kitchen began to resemble a cantina.
The evening kicked off with alcohol-free mojitos – tall glasses filled with crushed ice, a tot of apple juice, half a squeezed lime, a sugar cube, loads of mint and sparkling water. A cocktail always gets an evening off to a good start – even a mocktail.
A quick bake in the oven transformed ordinary tortilla wraps into edible bowls which the guests filled from a range of choices: basmati coriander rice, chicken fajitas, refried beans, grilled baby corn with smoked paprika, shredded lettuce, grated cheddar, guacamole and salsa.
Dessert disappeared in a trice – fruit skewers dipped in chilli chocolate sauce, cones filled with lime and coconut ice cream.
My husband and I were banished from the merry making, allowed a guest appearance only to replenish the food bowls. For a few hours our home seemed transported to some other place, like Dorothy’s house in The Wizard of Oz, to a colourful and warm land despite the snow outside.
One of these days I am planning an adult version of these festivities, where tequila flows and I am allowed to wear my poncho!