The inspiration for this post originally came from our recent Diecinueve de Mayo party. Every year, on or around Cinco de Mayo, we throw a big party. The margaritas are the main attraction, but the potluck Mexican feast is also a pretty big draw. Some years, I’ve stayed up late into the night making tamales or charring chiles for complex moles.
Many of our friends exhibit a similar culinary dedication. Leftovers are few and far between.
Our Cinco de Mayo party originated sixteen years ago as a “Ballard Ain’t So Bad” party. We had recently bought a 1912-era house in Ballard, a Seattle neighborhood then mocked for its Scandinavian roots and bad drivers. On “Almost Live,” a Seattle late night live comedy show, Ballard was routinely the butt of jokes because of its uncoolness. Now, it seems like Ballard is featured in the Sunday New York Times Travel Section every couple of months. Among other charms, it has quite the restaurant scene. When we first moved here, the only culinary attraction (apart from an incongruous Indian restaurant, which is still going strong) was the number of places you could buy lutefisk. Sadly, one by one they have all disappeared, though you can still get a good Kringle at Larsen’s Bakery.
I wanted to throw a party because I was new to Seattle. I’ve told you before how challenging making friends here can be. I figured a big party would be a great way to jumpstart my efforts and a theme would make for a great ice-breaker. People still remember the black-and-white party and the New Jersey party I threw in Bangkok and the Aretha Franklin party I hosted in stuffy Washington, DC.
So I invited everybody I knew, and made my very first trip to Costco, where I bought the largest bag of tortilla chips I have ever seen.
The party was “different,” people said, and then admitted in that low-key Seattle way that they had liked it. Seattlites, especially those whose roots run deep here, are not known for co-mingling friends or bringing new people into their inner circles. I considered the party a success.
Still, the real social ice-breaker was having kids. We made friends with the parents at our kids’ pre-school and and they began coming to our annual party. Because of Ballard’s growing popularity, the party needed a new theme. We found inspiration while camping at the Columbia River Gorge one Memorial Day weekend. We were awakened early by our toddlers and were surprised to see the childless couple in the site next to us awake as well, when they could have remained snuggled up in their sleeping bags. They were zesting limes which would marinate in lime juice all day for the margaritas they planned to drink that night after an unfettered day of windsurfing.
When the kids graduated from pre-school and everyone scattered to different elementary schools, I worried that we would lose touch with our friends. But the party became a way to maintain those friendships and bring new friends together with old ones. Very un-Seattle, but it worked.
Years passed and before I knew it, I was the one with the established social circle, unable to invite everyone I knew or wanted to get to know better to our Cinco de Mayo party, because my house wasn’t big enough. The party wasn’t an ice-breaker anymore. It was just part of our life.
I took a relaxed approach to cooking this year and made Cochinita Pibil, a Yucatecan dish of pork shoulder marinated in a paste of achiote seed and sour Seville orange juice, wrapped in banana leaves and slow cooked for hours. I used Diana Kennedy’s recipe from her classic book The Essential Cuisines of Mexico.
It was easy, it was succulent, it was comfort food.
May turned into June and, as I sorted pictures for Daughter #2’s fifth-grade yearbook, I marveled at how quickly the years had gone by, and got a bit weepy at the prospect of once again leaving a school we’ve been associated with for the past eight years and saying goodbye to so many good friends. To add salt to the wound, over a period of five weeks, each of our daughters seemed to age five years, which left Jeff and me scratching our heads in bittersweet bewilderment.
It’s a good thing we have Kobe.
He came home unexpectedly a week ago and it has been like turning back the clock. A nine-week old puppy isn’t that much different from a nine-week old baby, except that this time I’m appreciating every moment, because I know it is fleeting.
That first night, Jeff and I found ourselves alone with him, while our girls were off at a carnival, and a sweet flood of memories washed over me. Snuggled up inside of Jeff’s jacket pocket, Kobe looked as warm and contented as our babies had and later, when the two of us got on the floor shouting “Pink Pig!,” as we taught him to fetch a squeaky toy, I remembered how much I love Jeff as a father.
So for Father’s Day, though short on sleep, I decided to make Jeff a special meal to commemorate the slow, sweet development of our family life together and Cochinita Pibil seemed like just the thing. We ate it in our backyard with a Paloma cocktail, as our puppy discovered the world around him and our girls prepared to go even further afield.
I was inspired to make Cochinita Pibil because during our recent trip to Chicago, we ate it at Rick Bayless’s Frontera Grill restaurant. At O’Hare airport, before boarding our return flight home, we were thrilled to find a Frontera Grill kiosk and purchased Cochinita Pibil sandwiches for the flight home. They were delicious, and rather aromatic. I hope our fellow travelers didn’t mind. Here’s the Rick Bayless recipe.
Pork shoulder slathered in achiote!! Okay!! Diana Kennedy is one of those people whom I hope to meet in heaven–actually I hope to be invited to house for dinner in heaven. Sounds like a great party. Great post about food and role it plays in our lives. Lovely. Ken
I hope you get to meet her before either one of you is Heaven-bound. There’s a local cookbook author here (Marilyn Tausend), who leads culinary expeditions to Mexico and sometimes brings groups to see Diana Kennedy. I think the Rancho Gordo folks have visited her too. So she’s still holding court. Until then, I hope you get to enjoy slow-cooked pork in its many mouthwatering Mexican incarnations (no pun intended, but I’m also a big fan of carnitas). But probably not till after your bike race. Thanks for the nice comment.