Friday, May 7, 2010

Birthday Dinner

I do most of the cooking in this household (sometimes this statement would read 'I do ALL of the cooking around here!'), with the exception of the odd breakfast (usually at the weekend) and weekday lunches (which generally involve raids on the left overs). Part of my role as head chef is to prepare something special for birthday dinners. I enjoy making a bit of a fuss for birthdays so the birthday person is allowed to have whatever they would like (within reason) and usually chooses a favourite dish but sometimes something we haven't tried at home before. For the next birthday at the end of the month the special request is steak and kidney pudding which is a far cry from the fancy cakes and fairy bread of the past.
Last weekend it was my birthday and the tables were turned. What did I want cooked for me on my birthday? I had no idea.
I have actively encouraged my family to take an interest in the food they eat and they are all quite capable of preparing a meal. All I had to do was provide them with a recipe and some of the ingredients. This wasn't meant to be a 'Masterchef 'challenge – I needed to choose dishes that I knew they could manage and ideally didn't need either too much preparation or too much last minute attention. The final decision was less about what I wanted to eat and had more to do with what I thought was achievable.

In the end we had braised lamb shanks with couscous, more or less according to The Cooks Companion, followed by rice pudding and baked quinces. And it was terrific!

However as they were preparing and I was enduring an excruciating banishment from the kitchen I decided we would do things differently next year.

Because I cook for four of us every night usually my first conscious thought every morning is along the lines of 'what are we going to have for dinner?' Although I often ask for guidance the responses aren't always helpful with the result that most nights we eat what I want to have for dinner – either simply what I am prepared to make, something that has tempted me when I've been shopping or just something new that I want to try. In that sense every day is my special day because I make the choices.

Preparing food for someone else is an act of giving. Every meal requires at the very least the giving of your time and your attention in one form or another. For me preparing meals for my family every day is both a necessity – we all need to eat – and an act of, mushy though it may sound, love. (It might be instructive to draw up a relationship between what we eat each night and what sort of mood I am in!)
When I prepare something special for someone on their birthday it is really just a way of giving them a more personal gift – this meal is first and foremost for you, we are just sharing it with you.

When it comes to my birthday next year I want my family to cook for me and to give me what they want to prepare, what they want me to have. I don't want to make a choice, I will be more than happy with whatever it is they make – sausages from the barbecue, cheese on toast, bacon and eggs - because it will be what they want to give.

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