Tuesday, February 21, 2012

The making of a celebration

My husband's birthday was this weekend.

In years previous we've really gone all-out to ring in a new chapter, but this year was more low key. Mark asked that we offer burgers on the grill. He was attempting to go the easy route, but I wasn't about to slack. Food is my love language ...

On the menu, for 9 people:

Cole Slaw (without mayo- I prefer it that way)
Breaded Onion Rings
Design your own burger ...

For the Slaw I went a different route than I normally would. I had been spying the Chinese Flat Cabbage in the Asian produce section, but wasn't sure about its flavor. After walking away from it I noticed a gentleman putting some in his cart, so I took advantage of the opportunity and asked him what it tasted like. His assertion was correct ... sweeter (especially when cooked) and needing little in the way of flourish. Along with that I added some Napa Cabbage and Red Cabbage. This was quite the trio and I was thrilled with the results.

Hello, tasty friends.

I like to soak red cabbage in water before I let it mingle with the rest- it gets most of the dye out.

For the dressing, I winged it. But the end result was pretty awesome ... lime juice and zest, white vinegar, grape seed oil, a dash of dark sesame oil, salt and pepper. The slaw came out amazingly- with some great pungent flavors to cut the grease of the burgers and the fat of all the cheeses we had available. 

I like to make my burgers with few, but very key, ingredients. Salt and pepper (obviously), minced garlic and a bit of Worcestershire Sauce. I find it helps keep the burgers juicy- a lot can be left on the grill.

I *know* it isn't tomato season, but there were heirlooms at the store. How could I say no?!

And of course, there were onion rings.

Mark is a huge onion fan. As am I. My original intention was to make sweet potato fries, but we eat so much of them here I wanted to go for something different. TADA! I got this recipe from Gourmet with a date on it from a few years ago. SO easy. I wanted to avoid batter because it's a mess and I didn't want to have to make multiple batches if I miscalculated. 

2 very large onions (2 pound total), cut crosswise into ¼-inch-thick slices
1 ¼ cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 large egg
1 cup milk
1 ¾ cups plain fine dry bread crumbs
About 1 quart vegetable oil

Equipment: a deep-fat thermometer

 This was made all the more easy because Abby lent me her portable deep fryer. I fell in love that night, folks. With 360 degree vegetable oil.

There's more to the recipe:

Separate slices into rings, reserving small inner rings for another use if desired.
Stir together flour, baking powder, and 1 teaspoon salt in a bowl.
Whisk together egg and milk in another bowl.
Spread breadcrumbs out on a plate.
Coating rings in batches of 4, dredge rings in flour mixture, shaking off excess, then dip in egg mixture, letting excess drip off, and dredge in crumbs, shaking off excess.
Transfer to sheets of wax paper.

Heat 1 inch of oil in a 5-quart pot over medium-high heat until it registers 360 degrees F on thermometer.
Fry rings in batches of 4 to 6, without crowding, turning over once or twice, 
until golden brown, about 3 minutes per batch.
 Transfer to paper towels to drain.

You can find this recipe at www.epicurious.com, which feels like the only legit way to find recipes online. That place is a treasure trove.

After the rings were done, the slaw was tossed, and the burgers were grilled ... everybody got down.

The lot of us around the island in the kitchen.

Check out that spread! Slaw, chippers, arugula, spinach, tomatoes,
an onion and mushroom saute, raw onions, julienne basil, 
a boat-load of condiments, and tons of cheese 
(cheddar, gruyere, blue, mozzarella, and brie).

That one is mine.

Melody made a Toll House cookie pie and chocolate chip cookies laced with coriander and cinnamon for dessert. I made some fresh whipped cream on the fly and by the time we were all done eating we could barely move. It was a great night. Later on we lit a bonfire in the back yard and sipped cocktails made with Kettle One and tropical fruit nectar like papaya, guava and pomegranate.  

The next day our tiny family went for a walk at the McLane Audubon Center in Concord.
That's where Mark and I got married over a year ago. We love visiting.

That night was a huge shin-dig for our friend Hannah (my Clean Plate Cook Book Club compadre who also shares a birthday with Mark). Hannah's menu was simple, but sophisticated. I helped with the caramel popcorn and hummus. Allie brought a Mediterranean couscous dish that everyone is still talking about ... I should have snagged the recipe.

There was punch, crudette, cheeses, guacamole, bruschettas, home made pita chips, peanut butter and chocolate brownies ... then Abby brought crustinis and some other delicious plates- of course by that time my memory had started to get boozy with all the Hendricks, Goslings, and Prosecco. *Whew!*

Hannah and Josh easily had 40 people at their house. A great way to ring in the big 3-0 for Han; the party was a huge success.

Birthdays are fantastic reasons to feast. Feasting, to me, isn't just about stuffing ourselves with food. To me, feasting is savoring ... taking in everything around us. Not just food, but friends, the space we share with others, the relationships we nurture, the planet we must sustain, the music we dance to, the place where we lay our heads at night. 

Birthdays are a great reminder for us to do this every day. It's our personal "New Year" celebration. We can continue on our path with renewed energy. To let every day be a feast for our minds, bodies and souls.

Happy birthday to all of us. May every day of your life be a feast. xo

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