Last week was Mom’s birthday. Dad and I had made big plans for her: cocktails and dinner on the beach with some of her closest friends. Slow-cooked lamb shanks, elaborate side dishes and extravagant cocktails. But, for many reasons, it was not to be. Mainly it was the 80% chance of thunderstorms. But there were other things preventing us from laying on the perfect birthday celebration, as if the gods were conspiring against us.
Deciding against the beach, we asked my aunt and uncle if we could have the party at their place and they happily agreed to host the festivities. We could have had it at home but we knew it would be harder for Mom to stay out of her own kitchen.
The Saturday afternoon arrived and Andy, Angie (my mother-in-law who was visiting from California) and I trundled to the train in the summer heat. The plan was to arrive about two hours before dinner to do a quick shop and prep the food. Halfway to Darien, our train broke down. The prognosis was grim, we were delayed…indefinitely. Fortunately we pulled into the station in Harrison, NY and we were allowed to get off. We made the executive decision that Mom should come out and pick us up while Dad did the shopping. Despite the interruption, we were a well-oiled machine. We arrived about an hour and a half before we were meant to be at my Aunt and Uncle’s.
We scrambled to get the food (and ourselves) ready to go. We threw together a green salad with blue cheese, blueberries and red onions, as well as a tomato, basil, mozzarella salad. We slathered ciabatta bread with garlic to be thrown on the grill, and Andy made his famous guacamole and salsa. Having hoped to do something spectacular with the beef tenderloin, chicken thighs and lamb chops, we ran out of time. I threw together an old faithful: garlic butter with cracked black pepper, kosher salt and a boatload of parsley—a perfect spread for the meat. In place of cocktails, we chilled a few bottles of champagne. With minutes to spare we raced upstairs to “paint the barn” (as my granny says) and get changed. We threw the stuff in the trunk and off we raced to the venue.
So we get there and I’m feeling a little self conscious about the meal. I feel like it’s all a bit simple, like we could have done more for Mom on her birthday. But the truth of it was – no one really wanted to be faffing with prep in the kitchen. We just wanted to enjoy each other’s company and the surprisingly lovely weather. We put O, S, and P (oil, salt and pepper) on the beautiful, multi-color new potatoes and tossed them in the oven at 350 degrees and promptly forgot about them for 45 minutes while we drank our champagne. Then we O,S and P’d the meat and put it on the grill along with the bread, tossed the salad and put the tomato, basil, mozzarella salad on the table. It was simpler than the Grand Plan, but when we finally laid everything on the table, I was proud. Sometimes, it’s better to keep it simple. We put out a delectable spread and were actually able to enjoy ourselves in the process. Less is more. Without a doubt, the culinary MVP of the night was the garlic butter with parsley that we spread on the perfectly grilled beef, chicken and lamb. It took about five minutes to throw together, but it was full of flavor and worked with all three kinds of meat.
Good food, good company (and a dip in the hot tub and pool) made it a birthday for Mom to remember. And since we kept it simple, it wasn’t an affair we wanted to forget.