Dear reader: The vegetable bolognese I left you with was the height of my cooking escapades last month. It was mostly takeout and Oetker’s frozen pizza in the distracted weeks following my canning and leading up to a seven-day all-inclusive all-you-can-eat-a-thon in Puerto Aventuras, Mexico, from which we just returned.

Before our departure, we weren’t in a good place, food wise. We had skipped our spring cleanse. We were not in control. As Wayne puts it, looking back, we were on a slippery slope that was leading us dangerously into Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas territory, but the drugs were fat, salt and sugar.

So, what happens when you take a woman on this path –  a woman who never feels full – to the land of All You Can Eat?

I’ll tell you what happens.

Chilaquiles happen. At every opportunity possible.

Here they are (top centre) on my breakfast dish:

You can barely make them out, because I was forced to use Wayne’s nauseatingly idiosyncratic camera while I was away, as mine is still on the fritz from baby-spit damage.

But the chilaquiles – dense little triangles of corn tortilla that are perfectly softened after getting baked in a red (sometimes green) sauce and sprinkled in queso fresco. It’s amazing how smug you can be when you’re piling fried things onto your giant plate at the breakfast buffet: “Take that, Guys in the Hash Brown Line with your bacon and your ketchup. I’m eating Mexican. I’m eating chilaquiles.” Ever so many chilaquiles.

The buffet at our massive but beautiful resort was miles long. The food was very good. We ate three plates full at every meal, three meals a day for the first few days.

Wayne was the first to fall, into a pit of wicked heartburn on day three. Lightweight. Granted, it first came on at 35 feet below the surface of the ocean on a scuba dive. (“It felt like I was going to throw up into my breathing apparatus,” he told me.) We sought out little pink Pepto-Bismol tablets for him in the gift shop back at the hotel. Wayne says they were basically the modern pill form of the Roman Vomitorium. Full? Take one and keep on eating!

Still, he made a disciplined move: He downgraded to the dessert-sized plate at the buffet, much smaller than a sandwich plate, and effectively cut his food intake on our holiday down by a sixth.

I carried on heartily, with eggs covered in salsa fresca; french toast with not-quite-maple syrup; little tostadas stuffed with cheese and whatever tasty meat appeared under it; churros stacked with black beans and spicy sausagey something, melted cheese, cilantro and onion; piles of super-sweet cantaloupe and watermelon; bowls of Mayan hot chocolate; little sweets – just one, or two – like small round white  sugar cookies or a tiny pain au chocolat to finish things off with my decaf con leche.

And that was just breakfast.

For lunch, there were mountains of shrimp quesadillas (that everyone seemed to be passing up to get into the hamburger line. Why!). There were always delicious fried bits of grouper (a fish I have long disparaged till this trip, upon which I found it to be more delicate than sole. Where the heck was my leaden grouper coming from all these years?). And cheesy, creamy tortellini, and sweet jicama salad sprinkled with spicy chili powder. And all kinds of great salads made from cactus (nopal), which is apparently “good for man” and very much loved by Wayne.

By supper on day five, I felt a strange sensation – fullness? I downgraded to the Wayne plate. It was time.

No matter the size of your plate, the funny thing about the buffet is always the final plateful of food you eat – ostensibly the dessert course, but 95 percent of the time it is sneakily half-loaded with whatever was best, or whatever you told yourself nobly that you’d pass on. (Ha.) Take one peek at anyone’s final plate and it’s a dainty piece of blueberry cheesecake with half a bacon-wrapped wiener on the side. And six battered potato nuggets. Last kick at the can till the next meal.

To wit – and at the risk of putting you off food forever – here’s a look at one of Wayne’s final plates. And this was at breakfast:

“Pasta paella,” a weird leftover-salmon vol-au-vent that he stuffed with capers from another dish, two kinds of grouper, a big ol’ slab of guacamole, and a pickle. There were deep-fried, sugar-coated Mexican doughnuts for dessert.

With meals like this, there was no snacking, unless you count the liquids. Mango margaritas in particular – olé!

What Wayne lost in plate size he more than made up for in mug size. The special mug below, purchased for him by our beloved hosts, The Lobster Guy and Ms. Eden West, depicts some great foreshadowing – the lizard god holding a head in his fist, which Wayne soon found out, the morning of Hangover Number One, was his own.

It was the supper we shared on the final night of the trip that nearly killed us. Our entourage of 12 had reservations at the open-air seafood restaurant, down by the beach. The salad bar teemed with crab claws, the kind of food that happily connects you to your most savage instincts:

The entrées were too hard to choose between, so Wayne and I did my favourite thing. We split the lobster tail in garlic butter

and the grilled shrimp, which were sweet, fat and fantastically blackened:

For dessert, we also split two choices: “chocolate soufflé,” which was so totally not soufflé (it was actually a chocolate lava cake – but who’s complaining):

and a tiny little nub of chocolate cheesecake:

They were dense but small. They weren’t even too sweet. There were little M’s on the plate and everything! But we could not take them down. Couldn’t finish. First time in my life I’ve ever not finished my dessert. Wayne says it’s because our reserves maxed out. The tanks were freaking full.

I stuffed in one more painful bite and the baby started bawling. Even he knew it was time to lope off to bed, then get the hell out of Dante’s third circle before one of us exploded.

In the morning, we flew home. My travel pants were definitely tighter. When we emerged through the doors at Pearson and hit the city air, it was 20 degrees. Salad weather. Gracias a dios.

Advertisements