Thursday, May 1, 2008


Waiting can be terrible, especially when you're hungry. Glen's birthday was on Sunday, and we assembled at Jenny's place (Jenny is my sister), and had our first ever International Dinner, which all got started because of the Tamale Lady, whom we discovered selling tamales outside of the thrift store, and also, the outside the Supremo market over on Lalor. The Tamale Lady opened Jenny's eyes to the joy of international cuisine, and in particular, all that hails from the Latino realm, so the theme of Glen's birthday dinner was Latino dishes.

My friend Karen (not to be confused with my sister, Karen), and her toddler son Owen were also invited, and they were coming up the Garden State Parkway on a Sunday afternoon, from south, coastal Jersey. She was supposed to arrive between 1 and 2, and by 20 after 2, we were still waiting, with much hunger and anxiety. Traffic. My sisters hovered by the window like hawks, waiting, waiting, waiting, and Karen made it just before we headed to our own colorful, aromatic buffet without her. And bonus: she brought a dish, too. I wish I had pictures of everything, but it just didn't work out that way.

What a feast we had, too: Jenny and her husband, Rich, made churros (fried dough sprinkled in cinnamon sugar) for the kids; they also made chile rellenos, which I didn't think would be possible, but was so very pleased to be wrong about that. Jenny stuffed her mild poblanos with some kind of queso, and some ground chicken, dipped them in a batter, fried them up, and topped them with some red sauce and some more cheese. I am a fan of all things fried and cheese in all of its bountiful forms, so I was very pleased with the chiles.

Jenny's delicious chile rellenos.

Jenny also made some yummy rice — I'd call it Spanish rice, though I'm not sure if technically that's correct — and a smooth black bean and cilantro soup, which not only quietly stole the show (everyone loved it), but also looked so photogenic with all that steam rising from it.

Smooth black bean 'n' cilantro soup.

Jenny also made homemade tortilla chips, and Glen made some fantastic guacamole, and we inhaled that. Even the baby, Emma, loved the guac: it was cute to watch her sitting there long after we had moved into the dining room, dipping her own chip (and sometimes her fingers) into the bowl of guacamole. She pretty much had the bowl to herself after that, and while we went through a little bit of guac-withdrawal, we were pleased to see Emma so thrilled with mushy, green stuff.

Oh! And my niece Megan made some salsa, which was some of the best I've ever had!

Megan's salsa; Glen's guacamole is in the upper left. Both were fantastic.

My friend Karen made a delicious cold salad of chicken, beans, onions, mangos, garlic, tomatoes, and other spices, and because she arrived at the last possible minute, we were all too busy loading our plates up with food, and I neglected — to my regret — to get a picture of it.

My sister Karen made a lovely chilled shrimp dish, garnished with lime juice, lime zest, and garlic, which was also very popular. She also made a beef-n-bean chili, and included garbanzos, and there was a lot of malcontented muttering about the inclusion of those beans, but I thought they were just fine in the chili. It was perhaps the spiciest chili I have deliberately eaten, and for me, needed to be served with rice, and several sorts of dairy.

Karen's shrimp (some of them, anyway; her other shrimp was in playing with the Wii, but more on that later)...

...and her chili with garbanzo beans.

Glen made an Ecuadorian dish inspired by one of his old roommates; I believe he called it pork frittata, though it contains no eggs, as one might assume. It's made from a nice cut of pork, marinated in garlic and oil, and then sauteed; and two different types of corn are added: hominy and a toasted yellow corn. I love the corn part of this dish a lot, particularly the hominy.

Glen's pork and corn.

I made fizzy frozen peach drinks in the blender, utilizing a large bag of frozen peach slices, some peach nectar, and some lemon-lime soda stirred in at the end. This was popular with the women and some of the children. One of the men had kicked a child off of the Wii, much to the child's dismay; and the other men were drinking beer in the side yard, and I know (for a fact) they were complaining about the one who had aggressively removed the child from the game system. So they didn't get any peach fizzy. Too bad for them. But I'm sure they all enjoyed doing what they were doing at the time, particularly the guy who got to play with the Wii all the livelong day, including through dinner, but not dessert, because apparently, he had a very important phone call he had to take through the singing of "Happy Birthday" and then the subsequent consuming of the cake (see below for details on that), and he made a point of letting us all know how important it was, by talking loudly while we sang and shoved cake in our heads. The poor kid, though; it's so sad to learn about idiotic, selfish adults at such a young age. But with any luck, this particular guy will not be coming to too many more family functions. Rumor has it, he's on his way out.

I made a birthday cake for Glen, too, using my Betty Crocker Bake'n Fill 4 Piece Bake Set, which, yes, I ordered because I saw it featured on a late night TV commercial a year or so ago. But wow, am I a dope: I didn't take a picture of this birthday cake, which I made, per Glen's request, with devil's food cake, chocolate icing, and peanut butter mousse filling. I'm a pretty good cook, but am not the best baker. I can handle a cake, though, especially when I just have to add some water, oil, and eggs. But I'm generally unimpressed with the presentation of a cake mix cake, so the Bake'n Fill gives me some cred with my peeps. And nothing says "Happy Birthday" like a Bake'n Fill. No lie. I snagged a couple of images from the internet to show you what a final cake could look like, if I were so inclined to make it look that way, but I wasn't. The few people who have sampled some of of my Bake'n Fill cakes have wondered, "How the heck did you do it?" It's not hard at all. I'm hoping a picture of the pans will help make this non-feat of baking clearer. Basically, you make a round sheet cake, and then choose one of the dome pans, and use the thing on the tippy-top to create a cavity in your dome cake, so when it's all done cooking, you can fill with peanut butter mousse, ice cream, fruit, or mayonnaise, if you are messed up. I hate mayonnaise, and would never have it in my house, so don't worry, I wouldn't do that. But I know some big mayo fans out there (Hi Mom!) who might be so inclined.

The Betty Crocker Bake'N Fill, and the type of cake you can create with it, if you were so inclined.

The Latino International Dinner went over so well, we're hoping to gather again next month for a Greek Fest. Stay tuned!

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