my birthday presents this year have inspired me to write.
I now have three massive books with as much food writing, recipes and love as can be crammed into three books. they are fat and heavy and almost too big to hold comfortably: just how I like ’em. recipe books so big you have to balance them on your knee or cradle them in one arm. these ‘three massive books’ are nigel slater’s kitchen diaries. each day for three years, he details what he eats – a diary in food. it’s honest and it’s from the heart and it’s just so wonderful. and now I own my very own copies, which means I no longer have to read them on the floor of waterstones, but wherever I please.
so today, I want to write about my birthday in food: the best parts. and if this style of writing is enjoyed, then I shall continue.
breakfast first. although for a porridge addict like myself, waking up on your birthday to a house empty of oats seems like the worst nightmare possible, my makeshift breakfast was almost as soul-satisfying. two slices of brown bread popped into the toaster – not to brown nor crisp up, but to warm through. this is so that the generous drizzle of sticky, runny honey that comes next seeps into the bread and when you eventually bite into it, it makes that glorious, squidgy noise. and then finally, a layer of whole stewed strawberries, mashed down with a fork to form a jammy kind of mess that oozes into your sweet, honeyed bread and spills all over your plate to mop up with your last bite of toast: the holy last bite.
then came lunch. an eager family of food-passionate turks sat around the table, waiting to try the new restaurant in town that promises ‘modern mezze.’ here, my personal highlights. the warm, pillowy pitta breads brushed with good olive oil: you know it’s good when it smells as fruity as it tastes. I find the moment when one tears apart a hot pocket of pitta, and releases a heavenly puff of bread-y aromas into the room, somewhat of a magical moment. then there was the roasted butternut squash: sweet and brown and caramelised without cowardice, warm with chilli, red and sweet and tangy with sun-dried tomato and, the best part, topped with little, crispy halos of deep-fried shallot. a joy to eat and a recipe we intend on recreating.
next the always painfully long car journey home – because another extra minute in the car means another minute away from my beloved birthday cake. this time, we had to get petrol too so this was a good five to ten minutes added onto ‘the big wait.’ by the time we got home, everyone had passed the “I’m stuffed and can’t eat another thing stage,” which passes very quickly in our family, and was well and truly ready, if not desperate, for birthday cake. the tea-making was rushed, the candles were rushed and the cacophonous ‘happy birthday song’ was rushed but I was not one bit sorry nor sad about that because I knew that all anyone in the room wanted was a knife to slide into that cake and to cut them a great, big hunk of a slice. and for it, please, to be generous.
so that we did. we sliced, we ate, we sliced again and we ate some more. I believe birthday cake is the best thing in the world. even the words “birthday cake” bring a warm, fuzzy feeling to whoever hears it. birthday cake is the reason why birthdays seem exciting to me, to be honest. choosing what cake I’m going to have, mum hiding the cake so that I don’t see it before my birthday, the blowing out of the candles and then best of all, slicing a big slice. and then every year that you get older, you feel a little bit more silly because birthday cakes are for little kids, right? utter rubbish! everyone is deserving of the joys of birthday cake. we all love the feeling of being spoiled and celebrated and what better form of celebration than cake?
this year was coconut and lime cake with chocolate mousse frosting and homemade crystallised coconut shavings. the cake was dense, sweet and fragrant and the frosting was not too sweet but intense with chocolate. and then, what I believe made the cake, was the crown: golden curls of crystallised coconut shavings that were thick and crunchy and unapologetically sugary: because granulated sugar never apologises.
throughout the afternoon the cake-slicing continues, as it always does. but this time, it is a secret affair, done behind closed doors. the leftover cake sits on the countertop and awaits the next wanderer who walks into the kitchen. for the room where the cake lies is never empty. no matter how quiet one tries to be, the cake-slicer will always be found out. the cake-slicing is not the problem as it is quiet and only the slicer can hear the glorious noise of knife gliding through frosting, gliding through sponge (just be careful not to hit the plate on the way down). it is the removal and replacement of the glass cake stand’s glass dome that always gives them away. just one knock of the dome against the plate and a chime of glass announces that someone is at the cake with a knife in their hand, crumbs on their cake-filled cheek and frosting on their lips. suddenly their facade of “oh I couldn’t eat another thing” is shattered before them and they are nothing but a little slave to cake. this will most likely be me. cake has a place in my heart, or stomach, that can never be filled.
by dinner time, I am jolly and plump and the transfer from trouser to tracksuit has been made, and if it hasn’t been made, it is well overdue. but there is no other way I’d rather feel. you see it’s my birthday and if my button isn’t popping well then, I’m a bit confused as to why not? I like being stuffed on my birthday because it means I’ve been spoiled with good food, the most wonderful gift, as it is what I love most. it means my family know what I love and they have given it to me.
dinner is either cake, if there is any left, or something snack-y followed by cake. until the cake is finished, it will find its way into all of my meals and I don’t mind one bit. this time it was some yoghurt and honey and dried mint and the sad truth is, the cake was finished, so there was no cake.
strawbs and honey on toast and coconut, lime and chocolate cake – it was a happy birthday.