Birthday Festivities, Part I

My birthday has come and gone, and my celebration is certainly one I will never forget.

The party planners (mostly my sister Jen and my daughter-in-law Jll, with suggestions, advice, and help from others) know me well. They know that they didn’t need to plan a party at a fancy restaurant. They know that I wasn’t looking for a cocktail party with friends I haven’t seen for ages bringing me gifts I don’t need. But mostly they know that if I’m going to celebrate anything, it had better be with my family and there better be a role for my grandkids. And there had better be food!

I knew something was up. The kids have been giggling and whispering for a couple of weeks now. I had no idea what to expect. And even if I had given it a lot of thought, I would not have predicted what actually transpired.

When I entered the kitchen I was introduced to Mark and Susan who were going to be my personal chefs and cooking teachers for the evening! And the cuisine was my very favorite – Italian. Over the next couple of days, I am going to tell you what my evening was like.

After I realized what was happening and had a glass of wine placed in my hand and a birthday tiara placed on my head, I saw that Susan had begun making the appetizers. She had already prepared an amazing chicken liver pate. Delicious. Susan didn’t give me the specific recipe, but she noted it – and lots of the things they would be cooking and teaching us to cook – would include cream and butter. Get used to it, she pretty much said. Oh, I could easily get used to it.

To go with the pate, Mark grilled French bread that had been brushed with olive oil, giving it a delicious smoky flavor. It was perfect. He brought in a tray of bread that I thought we would never eat, but of course we did.

At the same time, Susan was preparing skewers on which she placed a grape tomato, a fresh basil leaf, and a piece of fresh mozzarella, and then drizzled with balsamic vinaigrette. The colors of the Italian flag, she pointed out. They were delicious, especially if you put all three pieces in your mouth at once and tasted the explosion of flavor. Mylee was a bit more selective, however. She probably ate seven or eight of them, but she would bite off the mozzarella cheese and hand the rest of the skewer to me. A symbiotic relationship.

Mark and Susan made three types of sauce for the pasta which would be made later. They made a fresh marinara sauce, which started with a gigantic bowl of a variety of fresh tomatoes. A mixture of tomatoes gives a more complex flavor, Mark explained to me. He cooked the tomatoes for probably an hour, along with onions that he had cooked slowly until they were as sweet as candy. As the tomatoes cooked, you could see them soften and condense. In the end, Susan used a hand blender to puree the soft tomatoes that he had cooked with the onions.

The second sauce was a meat sauce that consisted of a mixture of hot and mild Italian sausage, seasonings, and finished off with fresh red, green, and yellow peppers that had been cooked separately in olive oil to preserve some crispness.

Finally, they made an alfredo sauce with a very different twist. Instead of using butter, Mark used bacon. I was somewhat doubtful, being sort of an alfredo purist. Wow. It was amazing. And really, why should I have doubted? Parmagiano Reggiano cheese, cream, and bacon in one dish? What could go wrong with that?

All of these sauces were served over homemade pasta, which I will tell you about tomorrow. That memory will stay with me the rest of my life.

To conclude our meal, we had a wonderful desserts. Susan fixed the kids special ice cream sundaes, which included the long, thin, cookies filled with chocolate. Those cookies were a hit with the kids. At one point Dagny was just walking around eating the cookies right out of the box.

The adults were given an adult dessert of tiramisu, heavily flavored with coffee liquor. It was light and delicious. And beautiful, as you can see.

My sister had asked me some time ago to pick out a cake from Mixandmatchmama’s list of 100 bundt cakes. I picked hummingbird cake, which is a southern favorite that includes bananas, pineapple, and pecans, and is frosted in a cream cheese frosting. It was awesome, and looked terribly festive with my 6 and 0 candles.

You know, I have been complaining about turning 60, and that is silly. I am so blessed with my family and friends, and with good health. I have a wonderful husband I’m crazy about, three siblings who are my very best friends, daughters-in-law who are so kind and loving to me, and nine grandchildren (going on 10) who make me laugh every day.

Wait until you see the pictures and stories I will post tomorrow of the kids making the pasta. Don’t miss it.

And now…..

Peanut Butter Balls, via Jen S.

2 c. creamy peanut butter
1/2 c. butter
4 c. confectioners’ sugar
3 c. crisp rice cereal
2 c. semisweet chocolate chips

Melt peanut butter and butter in saucepan, ovr low heat. In large bowl, mix crispy rice cereal and confectioners’ sugar well. Pour melted peanut butter and butter over cereal and sugar and blend together thoroughly.

Form into 1 inc. or smaller balls, spread on cookie sheets, chill until firm in refrigerator (overnight is okay).

Melt chocolate in double boiler and keep melted while working with balls. A teaspoon is best to use in dipping the balls in chocolate. Dip and place on cookie sheet. Keep chilled until firm.