By Sharon Gittleman
If gray skies and chilly temperatures well past the first day of spring have you in a funk, a party could be the perfect cure for the it-still-feels-like-winter blues.
A Cuban-themed gala with its hints of sun, surf and other summer thrills could be just the thing to add extra zest to your life.
Just turn on some Afro-Cuban jazz, decorate your table with hibiscus, gardenias or other tropical blossoms and whip up some churros with hot chocolate or other tasty treats and the fun will surely follow.
Christopher Vazquez has seen it happen on more than one occasion.
Vazquez, 21, has catered parties for from two to 2,000 guests for his family’s restaurant, Vicente’s Cuban Cuisine in Detroit.
Flowers aren’t your only choice for decorations, said Vazquez, a Detroit resident.
“If I did a catering party, I would lay out fresh fruits, vegetables, limes and lemons to add color,” he said. “You could put two lemons, limes and a coconut in a bright arrangement.”
Pineapples and potted palm trees would also add a bit of the island to your party.
Cuban food, with its rich blend of African, Spanish and Puerto Rican flavors, is a big part of parties and family get-togethers, said Vazquez.
One tropical fruit appears often on Cuban tables.
“Definitely plantains,” he said. “It’s traditional.”
While plantains look a lot like bananas, they are served fried, sauted and mashed like potatoes.
Cuban sandwiches, a hearty submarine-style entre, with crisp bread, pork, ham, Swiss cheese and pickles would be another good party meal choice, said Vazquez.
“Ours are thin, with an equal portion of cheese and meat and bread. You can taste everything in one bite,” he said.
At Vicente’s, Vazquez’s family marinates the pork for two days in Mojo sauce, a vinaigrette with garlic, cumin and other savory spices, he said.
A salad with avocado, tomato and onion slices in vinaigrette would add color and traditional flavors to the meal.
Croquettas are another option, he said.
“We take ham and chicken, mash it up, add a little flour, bread it and fry it with a little seasoning,” he said.
Sweet rum drinks, like mojitos and fruity sangrias, with a little nibble – Swiss cheese squares topped with Spanish olives, are another good choice.
Plan on serving flan for dessert.
“It’s a vanilla custard with a creamy vanilla sauce,” he said.
Other party foods could include marinated and delicately seasoned grilled meats, chicken and rice or fresh shellfish.
Selecting the perfect flowers and food are just the first choices for your party.
When it comes to music, syncopated salsa rhythms are one option, along with the heart-engaging drumming of African and Spanish-inspired rumbas, lively conga beats and beloved Cuban singers like Celia Cruz.
You could even hire a troupe of flamenco dancers to entertain your guests, suggests Vazquez.
For another touch of traditional fun set up some dominos in a quiet corner.
“It’s a fabulous game,” he said.
While many experts say dominos’ origins can be found in China, it’s a popular and passionately played Cuban pastime.
You might consider bringing in a cigar roller – a popular invitee at many parties Vazquez caters.
“He starts with a big tobacco leaf and in the end he has a good cigar,” he said.
Whether you do it yourself or hire a caterer, a Cuban soiree can bring the all excitement of the island to your next party.