It is a tradition in our family of foodies to do two things for birthday celebrations: first, I make dinner for the birthday person, who gets to choose whatever he/she wants for the menu; second, we take him/her out for a surprise dinner. The birthday person can try to guess where we are going … but he/she only gets three guesses. If a guess is correct we have to concede, if not, he/she is at our culinary mercy and must follow our taste buds.
This tradition was especially fun when our kids were little because they came up some interesting menus for me to cook. Mitchell, my oldest son, always had well-rounded, balanced ideas for a little guy – his favorite being pork chops in mushroom gravy served with mashed potatoes and “trees” (his childhood name for broccoli), or he would swap out the pork chops for “cornflake chicken” (recipe posted January 28, 2013). And he loved a particular “booke” salad I concocted from tomatoes, green peppers, red onion, avocado and green olives. I’ll share that recipe soon – it’s a good one.
My younger son Daniel, on the other hand, was famous for his quirky requests. The dinner I remember best included teriyaki chicken wings, spaghetti with tomato sauce, cherry Jell-O and green peas tossed in Ranch dressing. My parents attended that birthday dinner. My father shook his head in amazement (or maybe disgust) when he sat down to the menagerie of food. But by the end of the meal he said, “You know, I didn’t think it was going to be, but that was pretty good.”
As kids, my sons loved to go wherever there was a buffet for their birthday dinners out. A particular Mexican buffet topped their list. At “Pancho’s” you take a tray, walk a very long line of Mexican dishes and point to what you want. Servers along the line put the items on a plate (or plates). A little contraption with a lowered Mexican flag is on your dining table; if you want something else from the buffet line, you raise the flag, a server comes to get your order and brings it to you. The flag is then lowered until someone else wants another item. So … you can imagine the fascination the flag affair provoked in two young children. Pancho’s never made any money on my sons because they ate and ordered over and over again just so they could do the flag thing. However, for birthday dinners, only the Birthday Boy got to raise and lower the flag. It was a big deal – the no-birthday brother had to concede all flag duty – a big, big deal!
These days I feel deeply blessed if I am able to cook a birthday dinner or take either of them out for a surprise meal as both live in other states, leading busy, exciting lives. But I still get to carry out our family tradition with my husband, Michael. His birthday was this past weekend. So I asked him what he would like for a menu. Guess what he said? “I think I’d like either pork chops or cornflake chicken.”
I had to smile. Really? Of all the many special dishes I could make, he wanted one of the old standbys … but maybe it’s the comfort of the old standby that makes it special. So, per his request, I made the cornflake chicken with “first of the season” white corn on the cob and a Greek salad … all his favorite things.
This time the surprise dinner out was a flop. I chose a new place that we had both read about and mentioned we would like to try. Maybe when the place has a bit more experience … grows up a little … we might try it again. Maybe. On the way there, we drove the route we take to one of our favorite sushi places. Michael, all smiles, called out, “Sushi!” I kept quiet, of course. Once we passed it, he immediately guessed where we were actually going. Dang, I should have gone with his enthusiasm and done sushi. He scored a Birthday win with his guess anyway, plus I know we would have had a great meal. Oh well … next year.
Seasoning for Corn on the Cob:
I want to share a great seasoning option for corn on the cob. I first tasted it at a festival on Vancouver Island in British Columbia while visiting family. A Native food stand served bannock (a dense, delicious, baked good that reminds me of soda bread) and corn on the cob with butter, red chili powder and lime juice. So delicious!
At the dinner table, along with the butter, just have a shaker of chili powder there with the traditional salt and pepper, and a little dish of lime wedges. Done.
If you are making a large batch of corn and serving it buffet style, you can melt butter, add chili powder and lime juice, to taste, and toss the cobs in the mixture. Subtle and fresh. Try it!
Food and memories. Food and making memories. It’s all good.
Eat well. Be happy.