Thursday, April 29, 2010

60 the new 40

60-21-14. It's not the combination to a high school locker, the call numbers in Bingo or a Quarterback hike cadence. These numbers represent a snapshot of life. A husband and father turning 60 years old; a marriage of 21 years; and a son, 14 years old - and on one particular night a celebration took place, with those exact numbers in play.

 I was thrilled to get a message from a friend of mine asking me to help organize the food for her husbands 60th birthday celebration. I couldn't wait to call my sister. As soon as I said the words "party" and "food" she let loose with a steady stream of questions into the phone, "How many people?" "Sit down or buffet?" "China dishes or Eco-plates?" "Appetizers?" "Main Course?" "Dessert?" "Indoors or outdoors?" Oh, the possibilities! I was getting a little dizzy from all her questions. However, suddenly, it dawned on me, this was not just another party. This celebration was about a life, not about food. Whatever we prepared needed to complement the party not be the party. This was 60 years of life! Immediately, the menu came into focus. The food needed to gather people, reflect on the past, embrace life and create a memory. It needed to be savory, yet fresh and sweet, full of texture and experience. My sister and I could not wait to start chopping, wrapping, marinating and creating some dishes.

 We quickly decided on marinated lamb grilled over hot coals with its hot savory juice spilling over to the rice pilaf, decorated with pan roasted pine nuts, apricots and currants. The table would be adorned with fresh roasted eggplant blended with fresh spices into baba ganoush. The sweetness of homemade yogurt transformed into tzatziki, (a cool blend of herbs and spices in yogurt), balanced by the spice of mouth-watering aleppo pepper hummus. Of course there would be filo wrapped delights carefully wrapped and brushed with clarified butter. Don’t forget the tabbouleh salad with bundles and bundles of carefully hand-chopped parsley. Additionally, my sister would craft beautiful mini lamajouns (Armenian style pizza) and a completely original dish that remains nameless but it contains the nuttiness of bulghur wheat, tomatoes, mint, parsley and other spices and herbs formed into teaspoon size bites.  We contemplated calling them"Tabouli bites".   There was even room for Armenian string cheese, lovingly pulled into fine strands, bundled on a dish next to the pita bread.

It was time for the celebration. My friend was such a graceful and relaxed hostess. With calm, and without pretense, it was obvious her intentions were nothing but love for her husband, her son, and their community of friends. The decorations were subtle but meaningful. She organized pictures of her husband from different time periods in a whimsical display on the dinner tables. However, the high point of the evening was a movie slide show set to music through the decades showing images of his life.  My sister and I passed out handmade savory infused lollipops to be enjoyed during the movie presentation. There were chuckles and laughs as the pictures faded in and out. There were memories of old haunts and hangout joints, report cards and teacher remarks. It was fun to see the pictures of him as a young man with a full beard and moustache. I don’t know what it is about men and beards but even my own father, brother and husband have grown, or in the case of my husband, attempted to grow the same beard. It struck me that I only knew my neighbor as a friend down the street who happens to have a child the same age as one of my own. But, now he suddenly became someone’s son, someone’s childhood friend, a boyfriend, a student, and maybe a grandfather someday (but not too soon, I hope).

Think of the roles food plays in our lives – it’s more than calories. Have you ever bitten into a ripe mango or watermelon only to have the memories of an afternoon  of a long ago summer dripping down your chin? The job of food at this party was to trigger and enhance these memories without anybody paying attention to the food itself. That was a tall order. This is the real joy of cooking – understanding the palette and purpose. Is the food the foreground or the ambient light? The melody, the harmony or the soothing heartbeat…

 The food was eaten, memories were shared. The proof of the evening was in the apple cake.  For as long as he could remember, an apple cake was always served on his birthday. This cake was so dense and sinfully rich, topped with a toffee glaze.  It was more like eating a caramel apple without the stick. Oh was it good and besides,  you only turn 60 once.   My sister and I were happy and satiated in a different respect.  We were just happy to see our hostess relaxed and enjoying the party.

The evening was best summed up when his close friend raised a glass of champagne and simply stated, “You make turning 60 look easy.”

Let's face it, 60 is the new 40. Bring it on!

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Twittering in the Garden

Recently, my sister and I catered our very first Tweetup.  What is a Tweetup?  It's basically an informal gathering of people who share a common Twitter interest.   This particular group of Tweeters were a savvy yet diversified flock of landscape designers from around the country gathering in the Bay Area to attend the 2010 annual San Francisco Garden Show (SFGS to the gardening elite). In fact, the Tweetup was a pre-party for the SFGS and for many it was the first time to actually meet face-to-face and interact with one other without a keyboard.  It had all the same mystery and excitement as the movie, "You've Got Mail".  Ahhh,  the rush of adrenaline when Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks finally meet after months of writing.

It is my dear friend who hosted the pre-party in her magical garden, which in my opinion is above and beyond anything one would see at the show.  Am I biased?  Yes,  mind you I am not a gardener, but I know what I like – just like my wine.  Also, pre-parties are the best sort of parties to attend.  If there is red carpet event for gardeners, then a Twitter pre-party, in my humble opinion, is it!  Everyone has their nails cleaned and buffed, there is  swirling chatter all around, the anticipation about seeing each other and, of course, the excitement of  attending the SFGS (The Academy Awards of the composting crowd).

After a very wet winter, and months of prepping her garden, home, dog and husband, the Tweetup was threatening to be rained out. Puxatawny Phil declared 6 more weeks of winter, and by golly that is what we got. As luck would have it, the weather gods shined on my friend and her Twitter-kins, the sun poked out that particular day and her garden was in glorious bloom. Her Tweeting friends arrived and everyone enjoyed the fruits (literally) of her hard work.  Seriously,  her garden is so finely tuned all year long,  I could easily, without even looking at my calendar, know when to flip my mattress.

I have known my friend for the better part of 9 years.  I have seen her life change and evolve just like her garden.  The funny part is, it is not just about the plants and the carefully placed garden charms.  It is the sublime feeling I experience whenever I step in to her garden. It is not a surprise that her garden has been the prize of gardening magazines, newspapers and various Tweets everywhere.  For me, her garden encourages me to imagine the impossible. It is a place to remember the past, to be in the moment with your child, laugh with your spouse and dream of things to come.  It is simply beautiful. In fact, it reminds me  of  being in my sister's kitchen and  pantry.  It is a place of discovery, smells, colors, texture, sounds and taste.  I know the second I step into my sister's kitchen I am someplace where I am safe and loved.

I would be remiss if I did not mention my friend's husband who is incredibly clever with a hammer and nail.  His ability to transform her childhood cottage into a rustic but functional office is the envy of all who step inside.  It's also his construction of a beautiful aviary and chicken coop  which are one-of-a-kind structures that unassumingly  grace the garden.  Whenever I leave her garden I  am inspired and empowered to achieve the impossible.  It is the love of tradition, family and friends that motivate her to excel at her craft like none other I know.  I remember as a child running around playing the game of "tag" with my siblings and in the game  there is a designated "free space" where a person could run and stand and no one could touch you. This is exactly how I feel in her garden.  So, when she was talking to me about her Tweetup garden party, I asked her what are you doing about food?  She said she was going to serve sausages.  Really?  I love my friend, and I know she loves sausages but, really?  I have nothing against sausages. They are nice tidy little meat packages, savory and spiced to perfection. They are a no fuss, no muss kind of food.   Just like the next carnivore, I love how they crunch and spew hot sausage juice all over my white shirts. Imagining her designer friends, in the back drop of her blooming garden, eating meat sticks, well, that was like having caviar with potato chips.

So, my sister and I prepared a menu that would complement her garden and friends.  Just as my friend has her clever husband,  I have my sister who is clever with cleaver and grater.  She has an uncanny ability to anticipate spices in a dish, make syrups and condiments that create a one-of-a-kind melding of flavors that blossom on your taste buds.  As for me, I am the artistic one, the quality control gal, the big picture ( I cook too) but my sister is the chef and the wizard around the pot. Whoa!  When I mentioned my friend's party, she started her whirling dervish routine.  It was back to the market and out with all her potions.  I am very happy to have been able to help my friend. I know what she does to achieve what she does, and secretly I know,  that she knows, that my sister and I do as she does.  This makes us all very knowing. HA!

If you are curious as to who my friend is and I know you can tweet her here: or better her blog here: or check our her landscaping design work here:
If you want to know more about my sister, you have to stick with me... here.