It's My Birthday and I'll Cook If I Want To.

It’s my birthday in a couple of days and to celebrate I am cooking. Most people probably don’t like to cook on their birthday but I am not most people, plus I rarely get the chance to cook something other than after work meals where speed is of the essence. It is a landmark birthday (in my mind anyway) for I turn 30. to me, being thirty symbolises personal growth, maturity, a sort of farewell to your youth. After all, whilst you’re still in your 20s, you can remember things like school and teenage pursuits. You can apply for a reality TV show, be accepted and stand a chance of not being eliminated within the first week (ageism is rife in the reality sector of TV: just the slightest whiff of a grey hair or a hint of a pot belly and you’re immediately considered ‘uncool’ or some such other term of derision used by the youth of today). Once you reach thirty, activities like nightclubbing, binge drinking, and watching American Pie-style films or romantic comedies either make you seem like a member of the Rolling Stones or a distant relative of Bridget Jones. Fortunately for me, being a stay at home, stick in the mud girlie swot, these pursuits have never really been my cup of tea (although, somewhat ironically, tea is now the drink of choice for us 30-somethings) so turning the big 30 will have very little impact on my life, save for some moments of quiet reflection. It is amazing to realise how quickly the years pass when you leave school.

Anyway, to celebrate this ‘happy’ occasion, I have decided on a retro themed menu. Typical fare as might have been on a restaurant menu back in 1976, the year of my birth:
To start with: Deep-fried Whitebait with all the accoutrements (i.e. soft brown bread, unsalted butter, lemon, parsley). Actually, I’m making this for my mum because this was her favourite starter in the 70s and it’s lost a lot of favour in the 15 years or so although I’m not sure why. It’s perfect finger food, great to share and transports you to warmer climates by the sea. At least, that’s the plan.
Main Course: Moussaka (recipe from Falling Cloudberries by Tessa Kiros, one of the most beautiful cookbooks I have ever seen – and I’ve seen a lot!). This recipe uses a combination of pork and beef mince instead of lamb, which is not favoured by most members of my family. Only recently have I been cooking lamb for the two of us because I feel that I have been unjust in my disliking of lamb, suspecting that it comes from a hereditary fear rather than a bona fide issue. The fact that I vastly undercooked the half leg of lamb is neither here nor there. I overcame my squeamishness and found the meat to actually be succulent and sweet. Served with cheats version of Potatoes Dauphinoise (20 minutes on the hob in hot milk and cream with a whole onion and chopped garlic, then slam it (literally slam it, it doesn’t work otherwise) in the oven on the hottest setting you have. Et voila! Potatoes bathed luxuriously, Cleopatra style, in cream (and garlic). Is there no end to the versatility of my beloved potato?
But enough remembrances of meals past, on with the dessert (no, not Madeleines): my favourite course of every meal, I am going to make the awesome looking Summer Pudding. No cooking required (if you discount the simmering of the fruit) just lots of red-finger staining assembly.
I am hoping that the Summer Pudding, a great British classic - bound to have been invented by the Victorians with their love (and abundance!) of fresh soft seasonal fruits arranged in an architectural manner – will be tart without being eye-squintingly so, soft and comforting without being cloying and attractive without collapsing on the plate! I have been picking blackberries from the brambles at work and a couple of times a day I risk massive blood loss as I scratch and sting my legs on the fierce thorns and spiteful stinging nettles that seem to curl themselves lovingly around my treasured fruit. It is a therapeutic pastime, and makes you feel like somewhat of the cavewoman, clamouring for the biggest, most blackest fruits which are always a tiny bit out of reach. My work colleagues look at me as if I’m half crazed as I walk back into the office clutching a baby’s fistful of blackberries as if it were gold, twigs poking out from my entangled hair, purple staining my fingertips and raging scratches on my legs. Not only do I find the hunt for the elusive fruits therapeutic, there is also a large cost element involved. A tiny punnet of blackberries costs over £2.00 and whilst I will happily spend money on decent ingredients, why bother when you can pick you own for nothing?

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