As a child, one of the biggest events to hit the household was when it was someone’s birthday. This usually meant a special dinner, followed by a homemade cake and the family singing the birthday song.
Back then birthdays were a family affair. Not like the present day birthday parties that usually end up breaking the bank by treating dozens of kids to an extravagant outing, lunch, a special order cake, and then sent home with treats and gift bags. A birthday for us usually meant that upon waking and entering into the kitchen, we would find a specially wrapped gift at our place at the table. (Yes, there were 7 kids in the household so there was assigned seats based on age and personality. Meal times were to be enjoyed and keeping the peace played a big role. My parents were so smart).
Starting the day that way was so special and you knew that the rest of the day would be all about you and your big day. Mom would make your favorite family meal, the grandparents would come to help celebrate, and shortly after dinner the cake would be served. We were a household that did not have dessert (or anything sweet) on a regular basis, so this made it all the more special. Sometimes we would gather in the living room and dad would put on a slide show of the family with the majority of the photos being of the birthday boy or girl.
Later in life, when we were older, and had children of our own, my mother started making special birthday dinners.
This was to be an intimate setting. No children allowed. A date night if you will, and a time to have some one on one time with each other. You know, grown up time. As a mother of 7 she knew how hard it was to get out of that parenting role, get some quiet time, and a much needed special night out.
We were allowed to give a suggestion of a protein, but really it was all in her hands. These dinners were as important and special to her as they were was to us. Because this meant she could hone her skills as a home chef. She could get fancy and prepare difficult recipes, with ingredients that would send her on a mission for at least a week. I can totally relate. From planning the menu and gathering ingredients, to the cooking and choosing the wine pairings, she was once again in her element.
At these special dinners, there was always a very well thought out gift. The dining room table would be set with the best linens, service ware, and glassware. We would of course start off with a glass of wine and an appetizer. The whole time being doted on and served by my father, as if we just sat down in the best restaurant in the city. (Which actually, we did) The whole meal would be meticulously prepared and plated by my mother and hand delivered by my father. The birthday person always got the big red plate with the words “You Are Special”. To this day, those were some of the best times of my life. I shall never forget them.
Now, years have passed, my parents no longer with us, I find myself in this parallel universe with my mother. I’m growing in my culinary skills and palate, and I am at that same culinary point in my life as my mother was. Preparing special meals and cooking for family functions is something I not only like to do, but I need to do. So, in parallel with my mother I have taken on the task of occasionally hosting birthday dinners for family members. It is a way for me to completely immerse myself in cooking. The planning and gathering of menu ideas, the recipes, the ingredients, and finally presenting the meal, it is so rewarding to me. As much as it is about the people we entertain, it is equally about me being able to cook and challenge myself.
This past month we hosted two of my brothers. It was a combination celebration, and something I had been promising to put together for some time, and the timing couldn’t have been better. The evening was perfect and I could feel the presence of my parents with us. I think it’s time to purchase my own big red plate just for these occasions. This one’s for you mom. I hope to do this again, hopefully more than once this year.
To start, I decided to have a cocktail ready when people arrived. A concoction that I made up earlier in the week. I had some apple brandy in the house and I wanted to make something bright and refreshing. It was perfect.
The appetizers. Wild caught, cold smoked, salmon, atop a crisp cucumber chip. Then a dollop of seasoned creme fraiche, scallion, and finished with a spoon of caviar. To the right, A cube of aged goat cheese skewered with a Kalamata olive and tomato. Then drizzled with some aged balsamic, good olive oil, and finished with fresh thyme leaves. We served these with a blend of white wine. Something my father always did to get just the right flavor. This was a blend of imported Pinot Grigio, and a domestic, organic, white wine which resembled a chardonnay. Crisp and fresh.
It was well worth the challenge. I wanted a show stopper and I got one. This recipe is from Le Cordon Bleu. I did it!
Dessert was followed by wine, and more wine, and lots of good conversation and nostalgic memories.
And a good night was had by all…..So, Good night and until next time. Oh yes, the flowers, a gift, a reminder for the week of that special night and the memories.