I decided that in turning a grand age, I should be old enough and ugly enough to say exactly what I wanted for the event and how it happened. So it was to be an afternoon do, a big ask for dedicated parents not used to shovelling off their babies to whomever might be available in the middle of the day.
A long lunch, on trestles in the garden with too many flowers and happy people.
The most difficult thing about birthdays, in my humble opinion, is who not to invite. Numbers were finally dictated by the fact that:
- I wanted everyone to be able to sit down to eat
- Rain is always likely.
- This ole house aint no Mc Mansion.
So whilst I had to not invite some people (which turned out to be the people I don't see frequently but really like), in the end, 45 seemed a fair galumph of beloveds to stick together on what could quite possibly be, a rainy day.
We all have funny quirks. Mine is that I don't like presents (mostly). True love for me, is someone cooking for me. Conveniently, I live in a land where many people feel uncomfortable rocking up to a 'do' without a meal that would satisfy Asterix, Obelix and all the Roman legionaries put together. So I knew people would ask the inevitable 'what can I bring'.
And then the happy, joyous gleeful finding. Having moved from the highly epicurian Melbourne to a place, where shall I say politely, most people entertain at home, I found, to my utter joy, my favourite Melbourne restaurants' cookbook, Movida: Spanish Culinary Adventures, in the most excellent local library. Movida. Gorgeous, fabulous Spanish cuisine, some tapas, and lots of long slow, succulent cooking.
I really do think they cook everything with love at that place.
Vegetarians, you can skip to another blog.
And so to dine. Friends that felt bravely creative brought delicious little antipasti, tapas style plates. Homemade pate, arancini, smoked salmon delicacies, caramelised onions, cooked salami fried with rosemary, lots of cool stuff. Endless quantities. And friends that loved me truly and wouldn't mind being ordered about, were. They brought slow baked potatoes a la Movida – recipes from the book handed out left, right and centre. The heartwarming chickpeas with sauteed spinach and spices was requested and produced. Oh you have venison in your fridge? How handy. Venison slow cooked in rich treacly pedro ximinez sherry is a rare and gorgeous beast. Uh hubba hubba.
And I played with lamb skewers, Moorish style, marinated in the sort of spices that can only come together with the clashing of continents. And if you have a passion for pork ? Pork belly slow cooked in sherry vinegar (the carrots coming out of this were the best in the world, absolutely) served up with quince aioli. Actually the whole meal was constructed after I read about the quince aioli. She said, shivering with the excitement of it all. And dribbling just a little bit. Quince. And aioli. Mmmmmm.
Chicken immersed in a bathtub sized amount of parsley and garlic and then lovingly cooked in yummy fino sherry. Man. Who said cooking is hard. Cooking is damn glorious. I know this may shock some people. But cooking can be better than shopping. There, I said it.
And after we had all finished eating, up rocks the crazy (but most excellent) East German vet with the biggest damn paella dish (I am talking feet wide) I have ever seen. Everyone gasped. What an entrance.
And what I love is that all these dishes have origins in peasant cooking. They are so grounded and delicious. Yet actually quite simple to make.
Dessert simple but perfect. My cousin's chilli chocolate sorbet in cones, or without chilli for those with more fragile palates, or chocolate tart with quince on the side. Movida's pan de higos, now a pantry staple, to follow later.
Everyone chatted with everyone. Foodie friends flew in from Oz. No-one sat down looking unloved and forlorn. And a beautiful girl who is now known as my personal poet laureate, read out the most unexpected lovely poem. And a girl and boy came to together to tinkle (piano!) and sing an exquisite Maori love song that still makes me sigh. And when everyone sang together that old birthday song – it left my heart singing. Because everyone wanted to be there and everyone sang. Loudly and beautifully.
It was my best birthday ever.
I could have said I am asking too much of people. There is too much to do. I am bossing people about. I am just getting old, why celebrate that? But when you are 60 you will look at 40 and say 'that is young'.
And at the end of it all it bucketed rain all day and the quince aioli, that gorgeous, divine, glossy sexy quince aioli, the cornerstone of the meal, was still in the fridge untouched.
And it was a perfect day.