Today is my mom’s 70th birthday. This is the lady who first got me cooking in the kitchen and digging in the garden. I am proud to say that she is now enjoying her own adventures, having raised a family and made a career and created beautiful artistic environments in her many homes and gardens. She has travelled through much of Europe now, and the west coast of America and Mexico. I’d like to go back to particular culinary memory though, that may have started it all.
Many years ago, my brother and I created a dessert for her birthday dinner. We wanted something that represented how elegant and classy we thought she was. It took more than a few magazines and cookbooks to find the right recipe (this is well before the internet, you see). Finally we decided on a Decadent Chocolate Mousse. My dad whisked her away for the day so that we could prepare. It took us many hours and almost every bowl and utensil she had, but we did it. The special glasses were filled with this wonderful concoction and we awaited the time to present dessert to the birthday girl.
My dad had made a lovely dinner, and after the dishes were cleared it was time. With as much pomp and ceremony as we could muster, we carried the glasses to the table and presented the mousse. I think there may have even been a sparkler. She oohed and aahed – we were pleased. So far, so good. Then came the tasting…. she took a bite and tasted, and I could see her thinking. She smiled at us and said it was delicious. Then she took another bite and began to chew. Chewing? Yes… “What are the crunchy bits in it?,” she said. “They’re really good,” she added (the sign of a great mom). I answered with utter confidence: “Oh, those are the coffee grounds. I’m glad you like it!” My dad chuckled.
It wasn’t until much later that it dawned on me – the recipe called for “2 tbsp strong coffee” but they meant brewed coffee, not coffee grounds. Well, I was only 12 years old, I didn’t drink coffee. My dad wasn’t home so my brother and I figured that “strong” meant heaping tablespoons. (Remember, there was no such thing as a Google search back then.) My mother, bless her heart, was not discouraging but rather adventurous even then. She appreciated our efforts and soldiered on to enjoy the dessert. She has said in later years that she really did enjoy it, and in fact has never had a mousse that she remembers as being as good. I love you, Mom.
The recipe we used has long since been lost in the many moves and purges of cooking magazines, but I have found a suitable replacement which does still include the coffee: Decadent Chocolate Mousse. Both Julia Child and David Lebovitz have apparently used this recipe. Feel free to think outside the box and add something crunchy if you like! I’m going to make it for my mom the next time she comes to visit, as a belated birthday present.
Today would have been my Dad’s 70th birthday. He is gone now, but if he was around I think he would have hoped to have a big celebration for what he called the start of his New Year. Birthday parties were a big deal when I was a kid, and my parents did a bang-up job of creating wonderful celebrations.
One year, I remember we had a party for my little brother in our rec room, which was the funky space downstairs with a mural wall that included the family dog, a huge tree in the corner with Impressionist leaves, and a giant flower. We didn’t play any mundane games like Pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey at the Peturson house… we played “Pin the bee on the flower”. Can you tell my parents were hippies?
When my brother and I got older, the family went for dinner at a restaurant to celebrate. I don’t mean White Spot or Swiss Chalet; we went to places that served savoury crepes or Spanish paella and caesar salad made at the table. My parents enjoyed wine, and we got to try things like mussels or lamb. Talk about feeling spoiled on your special day!
Years later, my Dad and I enjoyed a fabulous vacation in Maui, and food was one of our favourite memories from that trip.
We had our server prepare crepes at the table for us, and he was brilliant in his presentation. He decorated my crepe so that it had chocolate sauce wings with fruit coulis patterns and whip cream “fuzz” over the crepe body. Then he prepared my Dad’s crepe with more mottled colours, and for the piece de resistance, threw the spoonful of whipped cream on the plate and said, “Oh darn, your bug hit a windshield.” My Dad laughed till tears rolled down his cheeks. We talked about that dinner till the day he died.
Interestingly enough, though, my Dad did like comfort food even after years of expanding his food horizons beyond the meat and potatoes of his prairie childhood. His favourite dessert was jelly roll, and it was one of the first desserts I learned to make, in his honour. It was one of my first real accomplishments in life, to flip that pan and then roll that sponge with the filling inside with enough confidence not to blow it 🙂
So, here’s to you Daddy. Thanks for all the great memories, and for reminding me that birthdays deserve to be celebrated in grand style.
We just got back from vacation, and now that I am home under grey skies again, with the heat turned up and my tan quickly fading, I am trying anything to keep the memories of the holiday alive. The taste of the tropics is one way that certainly works well!
We had friends over for dinner so that we could regale them with stories of our adventures in Jamaica. It seemed only fair that we would put them in the mood too so we created a theme dinner.
To start the evening I made rum punch, using the bottle of rum we won at the resort for correctly answering the most questions in the Lovers Game. I suppose we had an advantage with our fifteen years together – the young couples competing against us weren’t seeing eye to eye on things like whether sex or sports was more important. Once you’ve seen as many Superbowls as we have, you know what’s really important at the end of the season 🙂
For a quick appie I put out some home-brined olives to remind us of that salty tang of the sea, and some goat cheese. Not because we had goat cheese in Jamaica, but because we couldn’t believe they didn’t have it with all the goats we saw roaming the countryside!
Then came the main course, a variation on one of our favourite local dishes, curried goat (you see, they do use those goats for something). Martin did a leg of lamb with the same aromatic broth and added some veggies reminiscent of our trip – sliced plantains and sweet potato along with the usual carrots and such. He added a scotch bonnet pepper too, which kept us all nice and warm! We served the stew over a creamy polenta that offset the spice and reminded me of the “grits” they serve in Jamaica. We broke down and enjoyed some local wine with dinner, although a few bottles of that well-chilled Red Stripe beer could have done nicely….
For dessert, I am pleased to say I hit the ball out of the cricket pitch (another witty Jamaican reference for you there). I put a twist on my pineapple upside down cake, using coconut milk instead of cow’s milk and adding some shredded coconut in the cake. With fresh pineapple and some warm rum caramel sauce to pour over it, we had the perfect way to end the evening.
Our friends laughed at our stories, and oohed at our photos and I think they felt a bit better for having been exposed to our post-holiday warmth. It was wonderful to share the experience after the fact. And, it felt good to hold the memories in my tummy just as I do in my head.
My Dad was a fellow who loved life. He had his foibles, as any of his friends would gladly tell you, but he certainly enjoyed sharing a good time. Food and drink were always an important part of our family life as I grew up, and once my parents discovered the range of foods available with expanding grocery stores and their own travels, this “meat-and-potatoes” guy was born again.
Today would have been by Dad’s 69th birthday. He died a few years ago, but I still think of him often, and always when I am enjoying a special food experience. Some of my favourite memories are from Friday nights we used to share at his Treetop Bistro (the corner table at the window of his 3rd floor apartment in downtown Vancouver, amongst the branches of overgrown greenery). We sampled Stilton cheesecake with rhubarb sauce, we created pork skewers with a piquant Asian sticky BBQ sauce, we paired obscure wines from the south of France and Tasmania with our delicacies. We also solved the problems of the world, and laughed and toasted our successes.
I shall raise a glass in Daddy’s honour tonight at dinner, and I vow always to remember to taste every mouthful of life to the fullest. I have posted one of his favourite recipes if you want to join in the celebration – Jelly Roll was what we always made for his birthday.