I turned 30 last week. If you haven't had a big birthday roll around in the middle of the week, I highly recommend you try it: you get a party the weekend before, a dinner out the day of, and then those who couldn't make it to the party will take you out the weekend after, making it a birth-week instead of a birth-day!
Almost fifteen years ago, I went to Nogales for an interview at immigration. Driving through the desert in Tuscon was pretty, then there was a little town with a McDonalds, Ralph's, Bank of America, you know- the same stuff you see in pretty much every town from San Diego to Maine. Yawnsville, USA. And then we crossed the border into Mexico and instantly there was COLOUR and NOISE. There were taxis blaring mariachi music and people shouting at each other, and murals on the walls, and people selling fruit by the side of the road. I know that Nogales isn't the nicest place in Mexico, and that in recent years it's gotten even worse because of the drug wars, but I tell you, that day, it was one of the most beautiful things I'd ever seen. I started to become a little obsessed with Mexican culture. Finding out that the entire country has a party on my birthday was the final nail in the coffin (no pun intended). We had a bunch of Day of the Dead cut-outs that I dragged back from Mexico last year, and I built an 8' tall Catrina statue to stand at the back of the garden. Then we went to the flower market downtown and picked up 40 bunches of marigolds. Add some candles, a kick-ass playlist (Kinky and Mariachi El Bronx; try listening to this song without smiling) , awesome company, and 100 tacos, and it's an instant party. An instant party that took about a week to prepare for because 8' tall paper mache effigies take some effort...
Other things that made it brilliant included a gluten free skull-shaped birthday cake made by BFF and sister in law extraordinaire . An air sex show. No seriously; I think they heard our laughter in Hawaii. Almost all the people I love the most in one place. The scent of datura blossoms and marigolds filling our small garden. And not having to drive anywhere after drinking an obscene number (for me: 3) of watermelon-basil coolers.
My brother, Alex, lover of all things alcoholic, came up with a cocktail recipe for me to make. It was his contribution since he couldn't come down from the Bay area. It involves watermelon, which you can still find at markets around here (can you still find it where you are?), and basil, which is plentiful in my garden as it's one of my favourite medicinal herbs, and ginger, which you can get at any grocery store. I was going to try and come up with something cool made with wild ingredients, like a prickly pear cactus cooler or something fun, but my attempts at cocktail recipes in the past have been described as non-alcoholic sodas by others, so I figured I'd go with what the semi-pro has to say...
Of course I forgot to take pictures of the actual drink. But let it suffice to say that I ran out, twice, because it was so delicious.
Alex Altman's Watermelon-basil Cooler.
2 oz vodka 3 basil leaves 1 2" chunk of watermelon 1 .25x2" piece of ginger (peeled) .5 oz simple syrup .5 oz lime juice (about half a lime) Ginger Ale
Muddle together the basil, watermelon, ginger, and simple syrup. Add the lime juice and vodka. Shake it all together a la Tom Cruise. Top up with ginger ale to taste.
To make larger quantities, just multiply the numbers. I used a whole big watermelon and a box of basil and about a quart of simple syrup and a loooot of vodka.