OF BIRTHDAYS, BBQ'S, HARVESTS AND HALLOWEEN.
For starters, my daughter’s fourth birthday was Sunday. But that’s a deceptive statement, since the birthday celebration actually started last August when my family—in what is becoming an annual tradition—threw Inés a way, way early birthday party while we were in Chicago.
But party train hit full steam last week.
We had a birthday party for Inés’s friends and classmates on Thursday at the local kiddieland park. You know...it’s one of those storefronts in which 700 toddlers jump into a pit filled with 700,000 plastic balls and remain merrily submerged for 7-8 hours.
The only difference between US kiddie parks and Spanish ones is that the Spanish ones all have bars serving beer to the parents. No joke.
The next day (Friday), Inés had another birthday party with exactly the same kids attending—but this time, it was *in* school. Yes, Daddy dropped Inés off at school...along with an arm-load of grocery bags filled with pastries and juice boxes.
When Daddy picked-up Inés, she was wearing a large, cardboard crown and a even larger smile.
Then on Friday night, we were invited to a “Fall Harvest Festival” at an American-run, English-language, evangelical school a couple of towns over. Here’s where the American culture bit really kicked-in.
It was like stepping into Mayberry—only with much better weather. This Festival had everything that a homesick American boy could ask for. Bobbing for apples. Tractor-pulled hay rides through the moonlit corn fields. Face painting. Country line dancing (not for me, of course!). Apple pies. Pumpkin pies. And hot dogs and s’mores roasted over a campfire.
Do you know how long it’s been since I had last seen a God-damned marshmallow?! Let alone, setting one ablaze and stuffing the entire black-encrusted ball of molten napalm into my mouth. I almost wept with joy.
After the Fall Harvest Festival, I put Inés to bed and started cooking for Sunday’s Birthday BBQ.
Actually, that’s not true. I started cooking the previous Sunday, when I dusted off The Salivator and spent twelve hours smoking 11 lbs. of pulled pork—which I then froze, because I know that the art of smoking has no respect for tight deadlines.
But, anyway...on Friday night, I made the sauces—both a vinegar-based Carolina sauce and a tomato-based Kansas City sauce.
On Saturday night (again, after Inés went to bed), I made the salads—creamy coleslaw and a macaroni salad that nearly everybody on earth seems crazy about, except me.
Sunday morning was a whirl of activity. After weeks of waiting, I was finally able to give Inés her IKEA drafting table—which she put to good use by covering every square inch of it (and much of the floor) with masking tape.
Then, the manic cooking phase began.
Thawed pulled pork moistened with apple juice went into the 220ºF oven to gently warm. Beer went into the ice-filled cooler. Green beans, pimientos de padrón and bananas were tossed with olive oil, salt and pepper (and, in the case of the bananas, sprinkled with curry powder) and tossed onto the grill. Chicken thighs (for the kids) were brined in a salt and sugar solution and also grilled. And all the while...Inés appeared in the kitchen every seven minutes wanting my help stringing plastic beads onto pipe cleaners.
The guests arrived at 2pm—which was 50 minutes before I finished cooking. But still, that’s a much better on-time performance than I’ve exhibited in past BBQ’s.
We had two families over for the birthday BBQ. A British family whose son is in Inés’s class. And an American family from Pittsburgh that lives down the street.
The Americans are not only incredibly nice people and the closest thing that I have to a family over here—but they’ve also proven to be an invaluable source of peanut butter.
And thank God for the mother...who saved me from certain exhaustion by volunteering to bake the birthday cake. Yellow cake with chocolate frosting and sprinkles.
And then, just when I thought it was safe to rest...today was Halloween.
I’ve mentioned in past blog posts that Halloween is still a fledgling holiday here in Spain. But a Spanish family down the street seems hell-bent on changing that. They threw an incredibly ambitious, well-organized Halloween party this afternoon for all of the neighborhood kids (and for quite a few adults, also). Inés went as Superman. I went as Michael Myers.
After the party, the kids went trick or treating—which, judging by the perplexed-yet-horrified looks on the faces of seven out of every ten neighborhood homeowners, has not yet gained a foothold in the collective Spanish consciousness.
At least I was prepared. I had a bushel-basket full of chocolate chip and COCONUT granola bars sitting in my foyer.
And now that birthday and Halloween season is over, it really is time to rest. Inés is with her mother for the week. Thanksgiving is still a month away. And I’ve got 2/3 a bushel-basket full of chocolate chip and COCONUT granola bars vying for my attention.
BTW...does anybody want the chocolate chips?