Birthday weekends are so special around here. I've mentioned this before but more so than any other holiday, I believe in celebrating that one day a year that belongs solely to the beautiful life of one person.
As a child, adolescent and young adult, I have slowly learned over the years the power of celebrating and cherishing oneself - as opposed to looking outwardly for others to give you those blessings and attention.
But with my family, I don't concern myself with worrying about if they will have memories that make them feel special. I have created my own family circle in which we each cherish each other and make one day a year that we were born onto this earth a special and warm day filled with love and gratefulness for that person.
So this weekend, we celebrated the beautiful person that is our daughter. We spent time together doing normal things as a family, nothing spectacular, but that is how she enjoys our time together. Our weekend flowed in a rhythm and comfortable pace that only we can appreciate and enjoy.
I cherish our long hours in the car driving back and forth from her college. I love these times and selfishly hold onto these journeys because this is one of the few times I have my daughter all to myself once more. Our conversations flow from topic to topic and I truly believe that she has become one of my very best friends.
This weekend was filled with chatter about summertime planning. Since M. has finalized her summer study plans, I decided that the theme for her birthday dinner would reflect...all things french...since she will be immersed somewhere where she will only parle français.
She adores crêpes (mmmm...don't we all?). I came across this layered crêpe cake on the beautiful blog My Little White Kitchen, and when I saw it, I knew this was the cake for Madeleine.
She doesn't like things overly sweet and frosted all over so the touch of sweetness would come from the rich pastry creme between the 30 layers of crêpes and then the thin layer of orange flavored butter drizzled over the top.
I definitely had to make this cake several days in advance and several steps at a time. On Tuesday, I sliced the oranges, simmered them in the simple syrup and laid them out to cool and become all sticky. These can easily be put in the refrigerator for several days in order to save time later on when assembling the cake. A sprinkle of sugar before putting them on top of the cake gives everything a nice touch of sparkle.
I made the batter on Wednesday and let it sit overnight cooling in the refrigerator. On Thursday, in between classes for Riley, I made 10 crêpes at a time until I reached the grand total of 30 (plus one or two extra for snacking!). I packaged these up and put them in the refrigerator as well.
On Thursday, I also made the pastry cream. It takes a bit of time to stir the ingredients so they become thick and creamy so doing this step ahead is helpful as well. Into the refrigerator went the container of pastry cream.
One of Madeleine's favorite authors was attending a book convention here in town over the weekend. In M.'s world of discovering the book publishing business and becoming an avid fan of many author's blogs, this author convention was like attending a major live music concert and getting to actually meet the lead singer.
While she was away shaking hands with, gathering photos of, and generally ooh'ing and aah'ing over famous authors, I assembled the crêpe cake at home.
On the stovetop, I had to stir together the final orange/Grand Marnier butter sauce in order to drizzle it on top. Then, after adding the candied fruit to the top, the entire cake needs about an hour in the refrigerator to firm up.
So I continued on my french themed birthday dessert by expanding it into a birthday dinner as well. I decided to go the french bistro route with a mushroom and bacon quiche, salad, and soup combination.
I made a creamy parsnip soup mid-week to go along with a sauteed mushroom and bacon quiche. I prepared quite a bit of her birthday meal ahead of time because I wanted to be in the thick of the weekend activities and not always in the kitchen.
We were actually a bit all over the cultural dining map this weekend. M. also really enjoys learning about S. Korean food and culture. As much as we enjoy Asian dining, none of us could recall eating a lot of Korean meals. We have our favorite Thai restaurant, Japanese sushi house, and Chinese dim sum brunch options...but no Korean place.
So, Friday night we tried out a Korean restaurant, called Seoul House, here in the Chinatown area of Houston.
We enjoyed big bowls of sizzling Bibimbap with edges of crispy rice, thin slivers of spicy bulgolgi, and slices of delicious seafood pancake filled with shrimp and octopus.
From France to S. Korea, this weekend we dined on dishes from Kimchi to Quiche. Of course, we mainly discussed the summer travel plans in the works that involve french speaking destinations but... possibly seeds are being planted to embark on a Korean adventure too? Hopefully!
In between dining in Chinatown and whipping up quiche and soup at home, we all curled up with Polly and Chester in tow to watch a fantastic new British mystery series...called Endeavor.
Endeavor is a new British T.V. detective drama series. It is actually a prequel to the older series, Inspector Morse. The adorable and tousle-haired, Shaun Evans, plays the lead role. He is adorable, aloof, and perfect for the role.
Four series are available for viewing now and from what we hear, 4 new series are expected to come out this year! Between Downton Abbey, The Bletchley Circle, Sherlock, and Call the Midwives, our adoration of everything British continues.
The series is set in the lovely idyllic Oxford, England during the lively 1960's. Many period props such as clothing, decor, and cars, etc. that defined the time period are artfully portrayed and wonderful details can be observed throughout the clue-filled mystery story.
So we ate delicious meals over this special weekend. As I brought out my crêpe cake after our french bistro meal, all of M.'s previous birthdays float through my mind. These memories all make me smile, sigh, and chortle at some of them.
I remember the extravagant Barbie cake, when she was three. The cake, a bit over-the-top was all gussied up with too much frilliness. Little did I know at the time that Madeleine was a total non-Barbie loving girl and now dislikes most loud bright colors. We laugh (and cringe) at photos from that one.
Her Japanese tea party birthday was a favorite one. We re-enacted everything about tea ceremonies that we had learned in Japan and her little girlfriends all came dressed in kimonos.
But it is these quiet birthdays these days that are becoming the most special. We become a foursome again, for a brief weekend, when it is just us...no surprises, loud noises, and packed schedules. There is such comfort in banding together with unpretentious notions and memories that are at work filling a lifetime of ups and downs, accomplishments and failures, and trials and tribulations that only a family can know, celebrate, and hope for more and more and more...
This Crepe Suzette Layer Cake was inspired by the gorgeous blog:
The Little White Kitchen
Layered Crêpe Suzette Cake
with Vanilla Cream
and Candied Orange slices
1/2 lb unsalted butter (1 cup or 2 sticks)
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
1/2 lemon, juice
2 teaspoons orange zest
2 Tbsp Grand Marnier
Combine the butter, sugar, citrus juices, and zest to a small saucepan and cook for about 10 minutes until it reaches 180-200F, or until it slightly caramelizes. It should be a golden color.
Remove from heat, add the Grand Marnier, return to the heat and continue to whisk and simmer for another 2 minutes. Allow to cool to room temperature.
**(Make ahead) Pastry Cream
2 ½ c whole milk
6 egg yolks
½ c sugar
4 Tbsp flour
3 vanilla beans, split and scraped
In a medium bowl whisk together the egg yolks, sugar and flour. In a medium saucepan whisk together the milk and the scraped vanilla pods and the seeds. Bring to a simmer, turn off the heat, set aside and allow to steep for 1/2 hour. Bring the milk back to a simmer and then slowly pour into the egg yolks while whisking quite vigorously. Once you’ve whisked all the milk into the egg yolks, pour the entire mixture back into your saucepan and cook on low heat while stirring constantly, until the mixture thickens to the consistency of pudding and coats the back of your spoon.
Discard the vanilla pods, and place a piece of plastic wrap directly onto the custard to form a skin.
Chill until set, at least 2 hours. This can be made a day or two in advance.
Once the custard has set and you’re ready to assemble the cake.
** (Make ahead) Candied Oranges
1 1/2 cups water
1/2 cup sugar
1 large navel orange, slice crosswise 1/8 inch thick
extra granulated sugar
In a large skillet heat the water and sugar until it boils. Add the orange slices and simmer over medium heat, turning occasionally. The syrup will reduce somewhat but you don’t want to simmer the fruit too long or it will lose its texture and be too limp. I found about 10 minutes was enough to keep the integrity of te oranges..
Set the oranges on a cooling rack set over parchment paper. Allow to cool before sprinkling with sugar.
Sprinkle both sides of the orange slices with generous amounts of granulated sugar. Allow to set.
Orange slices can be kept sealed in the fridge for up to a week
Crêpe Recipe: (from The Joy of Cooking Cookbook)
1 ½ c flour
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons double-acting baking powder
4 tablespoons powdered sugar
Add and beat:
1 1/3 cup milk
2/3 cup water
1 teaspoon vanilla
Make a well in the sifted ingredients. Pour in the liquid ingredients. Combine them with a few swift strokes. Ignore the lumps; they will take care of themselves. You may rest the batter refrigerated 3 to 6 hours. Heat a 5-inch skillet. Grease it with a few brushes of melted butter. Add a small ladle of batter. Remove pan from flame and tip the skillet and let the batter spread over the bottom. Put the pan back on the flame and let cook. Cook the pancake over moderate heat about 1 minute. When it is light brown underneath, reverse it and brown the other side. Brush a sweep of butter for each crepe.
Assembling the cake
Place a crêpe on a cake board or cake plate and spoon 2 tbsp. of pastry cream onto it. Spread the cream thinly and cover with another crêpe. Repeat this process until you’ve used all the crêpes or all of the pastry cream. The top crêpe doesn’t get covered in pastry cream.
Cover and chill the cake for at least 2 hours, or overnight, until set.
Pour a generous amount of Orange Butter over the entire cake, allowing to drip down the sides. Decorate the top of the cake with the candied orange slices and sprinkle the entire cake with sifted icing sugar.
Slice and serve the cake, drizzling some more sauce over each piece.