Sunday, June 20, 2010

Birthdays are for cake, and sometimes for home

Father's Day and Dylan's birthday sometimes coincide, which can be a good thing if they're both fans of whatever kind of cake Dylan's picked that year. As I've doubtless mentioned, Eat Here is proud of its homey, comforting culinary style, which sometimes reaches new heights when cakes are baked. (Regrettably we don't make the same sorts of guarantees about the outward beauty of our cakes, for We Are Not Lis, and Don't We Know It.) But they are damned good to eat. This one is the famed Chcolate Buttermilk cake of Susan Purdy, the Second Goddess of Cakes at Eat Here, with Lis reigning unchallenged as First. You can - and should - get yourself a copy of A Piece of Cake, and I can tell you in less formal terms how to make this one, if you like. Suffice it for now to say that it doesn't come out of a box, has a touch of nutmeg and is the all-time favorite at-home chocolate cake at Eat Here.

Kisses are favored by both honorees also, in this case the birthday kiss being featured, but best friends who live most of the year in Africa and spend the rest of the year working so much you seldom see them any more frequently when they're home, do not have their kisses taken lightly. And the bestower of kisses could only be Katie, of course. This was before we settled down to the requested dinner. In our family it has long been the prerogative of the birthday person to choose the menu and the cake. By process of repetition I've learned to predict with pretty reliable accuracy what each of them will request. Mac usually asks for That Chicken (or as Suldog fondly recalls it, "Thai Chicken". Rodney always wants something that results in milk gravy over mashed potatoes. Dylan tends to change up the game a bit, but I'm never surprised when he wants tilapia a la meuniere, as he did this year, and neither is anyone else.

Consider, then: his menu.
Shot in too-little light with a camera phone, you can only glimpse its glory, but trust me: there is the tilapia with it beautifully browned, delicate crust and simple topping of browned butter. There are cheese grits, not the quick ones you do on the stove in 5 minutes and throw cheese on, but the ones you finish slowly in the oven (or truthfully: the crock pot) with carefully grated cheese, Teaxs Pete and a beaten egg, simmered for a couple of hours and topped with bright beautiful cayenne pepper. There are roasted potatoes because in their hearts my menfolk have a yearning for something with ketchup on it at just about every meal. And there was a decadent salad. Katie put fresh cilantro in and chopped fresh avocado, plums, mango and apricots and the most lovely goat cheese I've ever tasted, one that had a kiss of honey elevating it to mysticism. And of course, we put Tahini Dressing over the whole thing, though we had a backup plan in the form of a bottle of Annie's Goddess dressing which would have done nicely in a pinch. And those are gardenias off to the side, sweetening the savory scent of the room with their magic.

As the evening spun out like threads of gold, with laughter, friends, food and finally candles and cake, here is the ham we didn't eat, but which we enjoyed quite as much. I'd brought my exquisite Mon Amie Ribbonerie hat to show Katie. Looking as perfectly gorgeous as ever, it became a stage prop to the Dylan's Birthday Gents of the Back Deck Vaudeville Review.*

And at last, the best present of all, and the least expected: a brief visit from the only older blood brother with whom he has always marked the passing of time. Perhaps I will take my sentimental self into the kitchen tonight and make them stand still to be marked again, though they are both taller than their dad or me. Passing 6 feet, passing 6 feet and 2, maybe this year touching on 6 feet and 3 or so. No matter. I will sleep well tonight. As Ms. Moon reminds us, seldom do we sleep so well as when those babies, grown to men (or women) sleep in their childhood beds, Winkin and Blinkin and Nod. Love, everyone.

*Photo credits
Last photo but one, from left: Rodney, Luke, Dylan and Evan (all but Rodney products of the St. Johns County Center for the Arts at Murray Middle School and St. Augustine High School, with MANY THANKS to Mrs. Nance and Mr. Dodd!!)

Hat available from Mon Amie Ribbonerie (Remember, these are handmade and therefore no two are alike!)

Last photo, from left: Mac, A Gargoyle, played by Meg, and Dylan
Photos mostly taken by Angie
P.S. I think because I started drafting this last night it carries the 6/20 date. For the record, I'm actually publishing on 6/21, accounting for the belated note in Mac's appearance today.


  1. I always feel weird when one of mine is away for a night. Good to know ahead that feeling doesn't change much.

    Glad you could all be under the same roof for a night.


  2. It all sounds perfectly perfect and I know you were a proud and happy and tired mother by the time everyone got to bed.
    Love you, dear...Mary

  3. Woah, Michelle, buckle your seat belt. I can only speak for myself, but honestly, I wish there was some magic by which they could grow up and be independent people, and yet stay home and be their younger selves. Alas, this is not the order of the universe. Thanks for the love.
    Ms. Moon, as always, you are absolutely right. And I love you, too, dear, and am grateful for your love, friendship and remarkable voice.


Please share your thoughts. If you have trouble getting past the gatekeeper, email and let me know.