We had a birthday weekend in our family. It was mine. I'm pleased to say that my fourth decade on this earth is one of the happiest and most fulfilling of all.
The weather here was near perfect over the weekend, cool, windy, and sunny... and for that, I am so grateful.
To be honest, my birthday is a day that leaves me melancholy and quiet. For years, I worked fervently to keep these dismal feelings at bay. I would act festive and jovial throughout the day as if life was brimming with memories of birthday bliss. However, I knew that behavior was merely my attempt to slip on a mask in order to hide a truer pain that sweeps over me on this day each year.
|Basket of freshness from the farmer's market|
I wrestle with the annual desire to wallow in self pity and to delve mournfully into what has been lost in my life...or perhaps what was never truly had.
On my children's birthday, I wrap my arms around them, tell them how much I love them, bake delicious cakes and meals for them...because I do love them very much and cannot imagine acting any other way. It is how I envision all parents should feel towards their children.
But, sometimes I wonder if the giving, the baking, the loving...is an attempt to provide self-love on some other parallel plane. If it is, then I welcome the relief and the solace of creating a meal filled with beauty and sentiment.
|Clementines, fennel, and thyme - unexpected flavors that work together beautifully|
Going through all the stages of parenting and watching my children grow, gives me such profound insight into my own stages as a child and the experiences that accompanied it.
The way I am as a mother, the way my husband is as a father, and the way my children are all interweave together to sew the many colors, textures, and patterns of our unique patched family quilt.
Each stage of triumphs and failures of my own family offers glimpses into the decisions made in similar circumstances by the people who surrounded me growing up. It gives me much to dwell on, to ruminate, and to deliberate.
And, yes, this day often leaves me fighting great waves of melancholy as I realize through each stage of my upbringing, the decisions that were made by others...were so unlike those that I have strived so terribly hard to make.
|Pernod, a luscious french liqueur with strong notes of licorice|
So, we all move through our separate lives carrying our many baggages filled with savory experiences as well as sweet ones. We all realize we have choices to make or that were made and learn from then on that they have everlasting consequences.
And as we move through our adult lives, now as parents, the parallels are joyfully, as well as painfully, reflective and revealing of those choices made so long ago...but often feel like were freshly made just yesterday.
For those of us with artistic inclinations, we write, we draw, we photograph, we dance, or in my case, I cook in order to work through, discover, and demonstrate my feelings and emotions. I think my time in the kitchen has meanings far deeper than my attempt at simply following directions or merely gathering ingredients.
So I spent a quiet weekend doing quiet activities. I kept off my happy mask and gave myself permission to apply a balm of gentle soothing to everything around me. I was off to the farmer's market early to enjoy the cool weather and quiet air that would accompany me. I prefer the early hours of the market as everyone is softly bustling about and getting ready for the robust crowds that will soon follow. I slowly began to fill my basket with delicious choices that either caught my eye or intrigued my senses.
I used to wish my birthday away...hoping it would sweep by without having to tackle the wave of emotions that would ensue. For me, the beauty of being in my 40's is the release from looking outward for the unconditional love that everyone needs and craves. Realizing that I am often my own best friend, my best champion, and my most nurturing companion is a mid-life gift that I whole heartedly accept and appreciate.
Whereas my husband loves to get in the kitchen and prepare something special for me, I had a recipe in mind that I couldn't resist pulling together for this birthday weekend. I needed to be in the kitchen.
It is a recipe from the cookbook "Jerusalem: A Cookbook" by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi. I never quite know what will strike my fancy so when my eyes passed over Sue's photo of this dish, "Roasted Chicken with Clementines" from her wonderful blog "A View from the Great Island", I knew it was meant for this weekend.
I rarely buy cookbooks. I know, a food blogger who rarely buys cookbooks. I don't even own this "Jerusalem" cookbook, but it might just be one that I will have to seek out and flip through the pages.
This dish pairs chicken with clementines, fennel, pernot (a french liqueur), and thyme. It is baked in the oven until the skin is caramelized and crispy. The sauce is poured over until it is shimmery, sweet, aromatic, and complex.
I enjoyed every bite of this sumptuous roasted chicken dish. I am definitely curious about delving deeper into the two authors and their experiences growing up on either side of Jerusalem. Ottolenghi and his friend Tamimi explore the vibrant cuisine of their home city--with its diverse Muslim, Jewish, Arab, Christian, and Armenian communities.
And then there is the sweetness in life that soothes not only the heart but the palate too. This "Gateau Basque" recipe has become a favorite choice for its simplicity.
Gateau Basque is a pretty cake with a simple look but lovely taste. The smooth creamy layer of cream filling is rich but punctuated by sweet blackberry jam that gives just the right touch of sweetness to the cake.
The type of chicken that lays this pale green shaded egg is called an Ameracauna. I bought a dozen of these interesting eggs, tucked them in my market bag and looked forward to admiring them at home.
Thank goodness birthdays only come once a year. For all sorts of reasons, I'm sure many might agree. I move through mine as if under a pool of blurry water. Each year I search for understanding, holding my breath and focusing on the surface so that I can come up and gasp a breath of air.
Everyone copes with trials and tribulations. We all try to snuff out the burning and the stinging that prevails. I think it is great comfort to know that in each person's pile of baggage, there can be found a mixture of balms and salves that heal those wounds and give relief to pains.
So for this birthday, this meal was a gift on so many levels. I celebrate the deliciousness of new dishes discovered, birthdays that come and can then be let go, and the welcome gift of self-love and appreciation and that my being on this earth is very much mine to celebrate.