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Food adventures during birthdays

February 5, 2013

By JAY REED

This week was Daughter’s birthday. She’s a groundhog girl, so to speak. 

As has been well documented throughout the history of this column, my personal birthday celebrations are really just a food-fest, or a series of such. Shame on me if I eat my birthday breakfast, birthday lunch and birthday dinner all on the same day. This year, Daughter introduced some culinary adventures into her birthday as well, some of which triggered some very fond memories.

If she didn’t look just like me (but with more hair), and if I had not been standing right there when she arrived, I might wonder if this one had been switched on us at the hospital. Parallel to my evolution into an eater ever-seeking the most exciting elements on the menu, rarely ordering or preparing the same thing twice and pursuing the freshest produce, she has charged headlong down her own palate towards duplication of dishes that contain the most highly-processed food-like substances known to mankind. Those who know her will agree — in all other facets of her life she could never be accused of being boring. But when it comes to food choices, predictability and single-ingredient meals rule her day.

When I asked The Wife what Daughter had chosen for her in-home birthday eve dinner, I was already confident what the answer would be, and was not disappointed. (Disappointed that it would be my supper, too, but not disappointed in my prediction of the outcome). Birthdays in my formative years were very much like Christmas — not in the quantity of gifts, but in the menu selection. The main dish was fried chicken, prepared by Mama in the electric skillet that she still uses. Sides varied, but were likely biscuits and gravy, mashed potatoes and gravy and whatever green vegetable she thought best counterbalanced all the starches — also covered in gravy. I can almost taste it now, were it not for the lingering memory of the baked chicken nugget, not long out of the freezer section, that was the centerpiece of Daughter’s dinner. In lieu of mashed potatoes, we had frozen fries. Instead of thick, sawmill gravy I resorted to horseradish sauce to give some semblance of life to the nugget.

For snacks, she went directly to the hot fries. With apologies to Chester the Cheetah, these evoke images of red, spicy Styrofoam.  I know it ain’t easy being cheesy, but please. I have nothing against spice in moderation, but I would much prefer to dip a pretzel rod into the Three Chilies Chocolate Sauce that The Wife gave me for Christmas. 

Breakfast the next morning was as predictable as dinner. She would eat at Shipley’s every day if she could. She even offered to pay. (She didn’t, by the way. I’m not against that, but it was her birthday, after all). We called ahead to make sure they had plenty of donut holes left, as we are wont to do, because those are her favorite. She was satisfied with a dozen holes and a chocolate glazed, with an apple juice chaser. I went way out of the box and tried a sweet potato muffin, washed down with 100 percent natural spring water. I enjoyed it — but that was an adult choice. When I was closer to her age, I was taught by Papa Bear that the ideal breakfast combination was a glazed cruller and cold chocolate milk. Plain glazed donuts (which are not plain at all, especially when fresh and hot) and apple fritters were also acceptable companions. Leftovers would sometimes be heated, for a whole new taste experience — today I nuke them for a few seconds and get a similar result. Of course, there was no Shipley’s at that time. Kelley’s Bakery is the place The Folks and I remember picking up our boxes of sugary goodness. 

There was no birthday cake per se. Instead we made tie-dyed cupcakes from a recipe a friend of hers found on Pinterest. They were great fun to make and the results were pretty cool. I ate my share without hesitation or complaint. I do, however, prefer a cupcake whose flash comes from flavor rather than color. In the summer, I put together a banana bread cupcake with peanut butter frosting and sprinkles of chopped peanut butter log — I even found paper liners with monkey décor the first time I made them. For Sunday School breakfast soon afterwards, I attempted a savory biscuit-like cupcake with gravy icing. (I call it Version 1.0, because there will be an upgrade eventually). Daughter doesn’t even like icing, while at her age I was happy with a tub of it and a spoon — skip the cake. Sigh.

I don’t know what she ate for dinner. Doc and Gran took her to Applebee’s and The Wife and I were not invited. My guess is that she ate mozzarella sticks, which at least have dairy protein. It was her birthday, after all, so there was no need to hop on my plant-based soapbox. The upside of the un-invitation? With Son out of town and Daughter out with grandparents, the two of us (who were ultimately responsible for this birthday, after all) got a couple of hours alone, and thoroughly enjoyed a Greek salad, Sweet Whitney pizza and a couple of canolis at C.J.’s Pizza. I will confess, however, that Applebee’s does hold a sentimental place in my heart, and it’s not just because of the Bourbon Street Steak that was once my go-to meal. It also happens to be the first place I took The Wife when she was just The Hottie I was trying to woo. Winner, winner, steak dinner! 

As a groundhog girl, I asked Daughter if she thought we ought to put some of the featured beast on the grill to celebrate her special day. She opted out. 

Maybe next year.

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