Ever since I was little, Ma has been making this for her family, including our many cousins, aunts, uncles, etc. She lived for some time in California, and her friend Isabelle taught her to make (and love) good Mexican cooking. This was at a time when our part of Michigan rarely came into contact with Mexicans, except during apple-picking season. Mexican food of any kind was an exotic luxury.
The Mama started holding 'Spanish Suppers,' featuring tacos, enchiladas and fruit salad, once a year or so. Eventually she expanded it to celebrate whenever anybody came into town. Often visitors begged her to host one, so they could see everyone...and enjoy the food, no doubt.
As she has gotten older, though, the incredible amount of work to do this has caught up with her. Sadly, very few of the cousins seem to realize this. I was always hoping that one or more of them would volunteer to do it, instead. But that hasn't happened.
When we asked what she would like to have to celebrate her 80th, I wasn't surprised at all to have her mention a Spanish Supper.
The traditional menu: beef tacos
chips & salsa
some kind of punch or lemonade
We added birthday cupcakes, with more than 80 featuring a birthday candle.
Brother and Sister-in-Law, plus the Brick and yours truly, split the costs. We invited people via Facebook, mostly -- 97 attended.
(We have a LOT of cousins -- Ma was the youngest of 8...her dad used to tease that he had "2 and a half-dozen" kids. Each of those kids had between 4-8 kids themselves...except for Mom and Dad, who only had 2: Brother and me. Now those cousins have kids and grandkids, so it adds up. Sadly, all the original siblings, except Mom and her three sisters-in-law -- are gone now.)
We fed them all, with a lot of leftovers, for roughly $250. Leaving out $20 in decorations, that worked out to: $2.37 a person!
HOW DID WE DO IT?
*We asked for donations. Normally, for Spanish Suppers, people bring something to add to the fruit salad, if they're so inclined; the rest is free. This time, we asked them to contribute a particular item. Cousins brought pop, chips, salsa, Spanish rice, a little cheese and refried beans, plus a bunch of items for the fruit salad.
Cousin Betty organized the cupcakes. I'd asked for at least one per person (we'd planned for 100) -- but we ended up with close to two apiece, instead. (She's incredible at this kind of work. What can I say -- she could run a large corporation, or even the Department of Labor, if she were so inclined.)
These were all donated.
*Everything else, if at possible, was either on sale, or lower-cost, to begin with. Sister-in-Law found ground beef at an incredible $1.77/lb! I got the enchilada sauce at our Friday-Saturday store; a #10 can was $3.00, along with some smaller cans at less than $2 each.
We also made a large batch of refried beans (pintos, contributed by the Mama, who'd been given pounds of them), and bought a good quality Mexican brand for the tortillas. (Whatever culture you choose, if you're making specific foods from there, try hard to buy a brand that is either made there -- like Italian dried pasta -- or made here, by people who've grown up there. It makes all the difference in taste and texture.)
|Like these -- El Milagro ("The Miracle") tortillas. Yum.|
*We bought in bulk. The cheese (five-pound bags, at $12.50-$15.00 each) and onions, tortillas (flour and corn for the tacos, corn for the enchiladas), tomatoes, lettuce, lemonade mix, cups/plates/napkins and even the birthday candles were all purchased in bulk.
Tip: For even better flavor, use more than one cheese and mix it together. This lets you take advantage of cheaper types, as well.
*Borrowing is good. We used tableware The Mama had accumulated over the years; it meant extra washing, but not that much. We borrowed several tables and tablecloths from various cousins, as well.
*Decorating was at a minimum. Several packages of pompom-type decorations, similar to these, from Dollar Tree, but in yellow and blue, hung dangling from the ceiling. (We held the party in Ma's three-bay garage/workshop, carefully swept out. Tied the pompoms to string, then taped them on the garage doors in varying places. When the garage doors were pushed up -- the pompoms hung down! It made for a very interesting polka-dot effect.)
Five large birthday banners, similar to these, were also in use -- one at the beginning of the driveway, the rest on the outside of the garage.
We also hung a Pin-The-Tail-On-The-Donkey game on one wall, and a pinata stuffed with candy and goodies (contributed by cousins Phil and Krindi from their Sparta Variety store) from a tree outside.
Decorations were from Sparta Variety, as well. The banners were $1 each; Pin-the-Tail game $1; six three-packs of the pompons were $1.49 each, and a couple of pompon garlands were $2 each. Total, including tax: $20.
We used white napkins, cups and plates -- all paper. Cousin Karen continued a tradition that started years ago, of bringing a flower from her garden, something others did, as well. It made for a pretty bouquet on the food table.
*We did all the work ourselves. Brother and Sister-in-Law browned all of the ground beef beforehand. The day of the Spanish Supper, we set up an assembly line for the enchiladas:
Person #1: heat the tortillas (microwave or skillet), dip in enchilada sauce
Person #2: spoonful of beef, plus a few pieces of chopped onion
Person #3: spoonful of cheese, gently roll and push in place
(We used 9x13 pans, which each held approx. 12 enchiladas. Topped them with a few tablespoons of enchilada sauce, sprinkle heavily with cheese -- then a covering of foil. See the recipe here.)
Pans of enchiladas (we made 12 ) were baked and set out on the table, along with a roaster of refried beans and big bowls of chips, rice and fruit salad (various fruits, cut in bite-sized pieces, with a little lemon juice added to keep them from browning). Also on the table, for fixings:
sour cream, salsa, shredded cheese, lettuce, chopped tomatoes, chopped onion
*Drinks were in bulk. A gallon of lemonade mix filled a giant orange container; cold water was in a second container. (It was a hot day, or we might have considered offering coffee or tea, as well.) This kept us from needing to replenish much -- but using multiple pitchers, we could have.
Some soft drinks were on hand too, thanks to cousins' donations.
*We all took stations. Brother opened the meal and kept a general eye on things. Sister-in-Law kept an eye on the food table, watching the dishes and replenishing the taco fixings as needed. Son #1 and Daughter #2 fried up tortillas for the tacos, running out plattersful whenever needed. The Brick and I fried tortillas (some), ran back and forth with extra food, and manned the pinata area.
We had people wandering in and out for hours, grabbing a plate of food or a cupcake, then standing around and chatting. The kids loved taking a swing at the pinata, then diving for the contents when they finally spurted out. (It took a while. Those pinatas are tough.) Some singing and a spirited Rook game -- traditional for Spanish Suppers -- finished out the night.
A good time was had by all.
There were some issues...there always are.
*The primary one, surprisingly, was The Mama's well water! Our bodies have had trouble with it during previous visits to Michigan, but we'd solved the problem by using filtered water. I just assumed (stupidly) that since our relatives lived in that area, they wouldn't have a problem with it as part of the lemonade.
The mixed-up lemonade was unusual, to begin with...a little too sweet. By the end of the night, it just plain tasted weird. A large bottle of 7-Up, mixed in hopefully, only compounded the situation. Nobody complained, but we noticed -- so others certainly did, as well. Thankfully, cold water, filled up at Brother's house, (with extra ice brought in by another cousin) was also available.
*Noise, noise, noise. Our family is not only large, but opinionated. Everyone loves to talk, and they all had something to say. Which meant that getting them to shut up for announcements, activities, etc. was almost impossible. (This translated to the kids, too, who barely knew us -- we practically had to drag them out to the pinata before the news spread.)
Everyone sang "Happy Birthday" very lustily.
*Way too many leftovers -- particularly for the enchiladas. We started with 40 pounds of ground beef -- 10 went into the enchiladas, 30 pounds into taco meat. We ended up with at least five pans of enchiladas, a few pounds of taco meat, tons of rice, beans and cheese...and just a few tortillas (with a few packages still to cook) and tortilla chips. Only one bowl of fruit salad left. (I think you can guess what our visitors mostly ate.)
Four or five platters of cupcakes, of every kind and variety.
Some pop. (Okay, sodas. Soft drinks. Whatever.) A gallon of lemonade mix, plus some ice.
And an awful lot of strange-tasting lemonade.
*It took a while to clean up. Fortunately, several cousins stayed to pack up the tables, gather up trash and sweep. (They went home with enchiladas -- and our thanks.) The kids (who were wonderful during all this) and we packaged up the food and washed platters, pans and utensils until 1 a.m.
And where was The Mama while all this was going on?
Keeping us company in the kitchen -- or sitting quietly at one of the far tables in the garage, with a small group around her.
With a big smile on her face.
That was the best present of all.
To help plan your own Spanish Supper,
go here on the Holiday Goodies site for recipes and how-tos.