Last month I celebrated my birthday. My 38-1/2 birthday, that is. My actual birthday is in June, but life got away from me over the last six months and I decided it was time to make it happen.
In the past, I’ve celebrated my birthday with lengthy stretches of fun. Sometimes the festivities would last for weekends on end. My birthday would become my birth month! I believe it’s a big deal to have this one day out of 365 that is completely dedicated to your beginning – a day on which you do what you want with whom you want. If cupcakes and cream puffs are special enough to have a national day dedicated to their greatness, then why can’t I bring a few friends together to celebrate mine?
So last month I invited some of my favorite people to join me in one of my favorite pastimes – cooking and eating. Thirteen of my dearest friends came together at the home of friend and brilliant interior designer, Cynthia Pastor, for brunch and a class on cooking it.
Throughout the morning, we mingled in the kitchen, donning “I Love New York” and “The Great Canadian Tea Steep-Off” aprons and joyous smiles as chef and nutritionist, Monique Lawee, guided us through our class preparing her deliciously healthy menu: flatbread with homemade hummus, pesto and goat cheese topped with grilled shrimp, mozzarella balls wrapped in prosciutto on tomato with truffle oil, egg frittata with potato and mushrooms, and a perfectly sweetened dessert of wild spiced plum tart with cream anglaise.
Food always brings people together in a unique and special way. During my growing-up years, my family bonded most in the kitchen during special occasions as my grandmother, Ella, painstakenly hovered over the stove making her famous traditional southern meals: fried chicken perfectly crisped in a pan of hot popping Crisco, collard greens with ham hocks that fell off of the bone right into your mouth, homemade flaky cornbread and fluffy buttered biscuits (yes, I said AND, not OR), and black-eyed peas. A balanced healthy meal by Southern standards, but a far cry from today’s.
There was always plenty of uproarious laughter and interesting conversation at “Mommy’s” house as we devoured precisely proportioned plates of food (seven adult children and dozens of grandkids. Need I say more??). The meals often ended with us sitting around the table, stuffed like Thanksgiving turkeys, sipping piping hot mint or chamomile tea and winding down from it all.
My birthday brunch was reminiscent of the good times I had with my family. Loved ones laughing amongst the smells, sounds, and heat of the kitchen, stealing a taste here and there, waiting voraciously for the meal to be served.
For my birthday, we changed a few minor things around. No Crisco invited to this party! But what remained was a morning of memories made, a love and appreciation for the people in my life, and a really good cup of tea to end it all.