Sunday, June 13, 2010

The Birthday Zone

Do you celebrate it? Do you even know what it is? My friend Mary Ellen introduced us to the concept of the Birthday Zone. She comes from a large family where it is often difficult to celebrate a birthday on the exact day. So they came up with the idea that you could celebrate plus or minus the number of days of your age from your actual birth date. At my age that means you can celebrate for a significant portion of the year!

We didn’t have big birthday celebrations in our family until our friend Paul got married. For his wife, a birthday was a big event. So we have adopted her custom and for many years now, we prepare birthday dinner celebrations for each other. Tonight was the dinner for Paul and their daughter Sarah, who is now fifteen. We missed Sarah’s zone by a few weeks, but are well within Paul's. Sarah will forgive us as long as there are cake and presents.

In addition to food and presents, each dinner comes with a theme conjured up by the host. My inspiration is usually either seasonal or a new recipe I want to try. Over the years I’ve cooked and decorated for autumn, the beach, Hawaiian, Caribbean, Moroccan, Thai, Mexican and many others. Tonight's dinner was inspired by a cheese we tried at the Sunset Celebration Weekend. Redwood Hill Farm raw milk feta is a delicious, mild goat’s milk feta. After tasting it, I knew I wanted a Mediterranean menu.
The appetizer for this evening’s dinner was a platter of artichoke pesto, cherry tomatoes, artichoke hearts and the feta made into a spread.

Feta Spread
5oz. Redwood Hill Farm raw milk feta cheese
4 tsp high quality mild extra virgin olive oil (I used St. Helena Olive Oil Co. Tuscan Varietal)
Zest of one lemon finely chopped
Mix all ingredients together to form a spread. Serve with crackers and slices of toasted baguette

The main course consisted of grilled chicken and figs with balsamic fig glaze, grilled asparagus and couscous.

And then there’s cake. The cake rarely varies. For Sarah it needs to be “brown” cake as we call it – yellow cake with chocolate icing. Brown cake is one of the many cake stories from Sarah over the years. One Saturday morning when she was four, she was playing outside in the driveway. Larry had made a fresh lemon cake and invited her to come in and have some with us. A cake lover from an early age, Sarah didn’t hesitate. She sat down, chin resting on the kitchen table, waiting for her cake to be served. When Larry placed a slice in front of her, she immediately burst into tears. We couldn’t imagine what was wrong. Tears rolled down her cheeks. “I wanted brrrooowwnn cake,” she sobbed inconsolably. This year her brown cake was in the form of a cupcake tree. She was quite satisfied and ate two and some to go.

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