My friends and I haven’t done much lately in the way of birthdays. We’ve seemingly grown out of presents, and instead just make plans to go to dinner or some other outing in which the birthday boy or girl makes a weak protest to chip in and is immediately rebuffed by the group.
I wanted to do something for Laura, though. She is my closest friend, and since her birthday plans involved a pre-dinner cocktail party at her boyfriend Kevin’s house, I feared that others would come bearing gifts. I can’t very well be upstaged on the anniversary of the birth of my own best friend.
To keep things low key, though, I decided to cook dinner for she and Kevin. Cooking has become a pretty serious pastime over the past year or so, and since Kevin lives off Subway sandwiches, his minimum exposure to my recipes has gone over big. I made buffalo chicken bites as an appetizer on Laura’s birthday, and you would have thought I had rolled my own sushi. It’s good for my ego.
Rather than just pick a meal for them, I found that my Macbook had a fancy template that made it look like a real restaurant menu. I gave them three options for appetizers, salads and desserts, and four entrée choices. Between a barrage of weddings, birthdays and other obligations, we settled on last Saturday as our dinner date. That left about a month between the day of gifting and the day of eating. Days passed, then weeks, and I had yet to hear from Laura on the final menu. By last Wednesday, I was losing patience. I wanted to have an idea of how complex the menu was, and therefore how early I would have to start cooking. After trying my new recipe of the week (a New Year’s resolution), a Spanish roasted chicken with orange zest and chorizo, I sent a picture to Laura, telling her to show the image to Kevin and tell him that if he didn’t pick within 24 hours, I was going to feed them frozen pizza.
Even that couldn’t break their spirits. The indecisive couple continued to waver. Laura said it all sounded good; Kevin was feeling guilty because, in his words, “they could never repay the favor” (maybe not the best line of reasoning to admit to your girlfriend who has been known to cook from time to time). The decision lay with me.
Starting with the entrée choice, I went with sunshine citrus chicken, knowing that when in doubt, Kevin always chooses chicken. Not wanting to serve double chicken, or go too Italian with a distinctly not Italian meal, that made the appetizer choice of scallops wrapped in bacon an easy one. Garden salad seemed too boring, and despite my inspired presentation of a caprese salad with stacked tomatoes, William isn’t a big fan, so I opted for the Caesar with the homemade croutons (there is no such thing as gluten free croutons, believe it or not). And when it came to dessert, Laura and Kevin ultimately called for flourless chocolate cake; its dense chocolaty goodness was too tempting to withstand even their indecision.
Saturday morning, the menu was the first thing I thought of when I woke up. Will and I bustled about, cleaning the stove, vacuumed the apartment and dusting and polishing the furniture, all before noon (which, for us, is quite a feat on a Saturday). We drove over to the Coastal Growers’ winter farmers market in the North Kingstown mills to pick up some good bread and garlic, and a cup of cold brew from The Coffee Guy, obviously. Then we hit up Dave’s, Gardner’s Wharf seafood and the liquor store before I parked myself in front of my laptop for four consecutive episodes of “Dawson’s Creek” – my current Netflix obsession – while I chopped garlic, washed lettuce, cut potatoes and baked my signature cake. By the time Joey and Dawson had escaped their final scrape of the day, I had my appetizer and dessert squared away, potatoes cut and soaking in the garlic and olive oil, and the salad ready, except for the dressing. When Laura sent the warning text I had requested, I barely had enough time to wipe down the counters and light the candles in the living room. I snapped at William to pour the wine while I threw everything into the fridge, out of sight for the moment. I paid for the panic with a sore back and so many dirty dishes I considered throwing them out and starting over. Thankfully, though, I had done enough prep work to make it seem effortless when I pushed dishes in and out of the oven, and I smiled modestly when Kevin finished his plate and started popping Laura’s potatoes into his mouth. I breathed a sigh of relief.
See? Low key, like I said.