by Charlie Reese

The secrets of excellent birthday foods

When your birthday rolls around, one of the treats you look forward to is the birthday food. What you long for are your favorite foods. Birthday food should consist of all of your favorites, perhaps a motley crew of dishes that no one else would ever put together in a single menu. Nonetheless, this menu of disparate dishes might be your idea of food heaven.

Let’s see what your menu might look like. Let’s start with an appetizer of crab cakes. Yum. Now, let’s move on to a Caesar salad, with the finest, freshly grated Parmesan and a healthy dose of garlic croutons. Now what? New England clam chowder sounds good. Oh, there’s got to be a bucket of steamed clams, with several slices of French bread to dip in the broth. Are we full yet? Nope. This might take all day, though. OK. On to some entrees. The possibilities are many. A nice wild salmon filet, doused with Hollandaise. Shrimp scampi? Southern fried chicken, or a New York steak? Where do I have room to fit all these indulgences?

Obviously, this list of birthday food favorites cannot be consumed in one sitting. You need to narrow the menu, unless you want to make a birthday week of birthday food menus. Which isn’t a bad idea!

In our family, there was a tradition on each family member’s birthday food. The person celebrating their birthday could request their favorite foods and that’s what was served, no matter how weird the combination might be. This tradition made for some interesting menus, but the guest of honor was certainly satisfied!

When I grew up and had my own family, I continued this tradition, much to everyone’s delight. In fact, we finally decided to expand on this tradition. First, there was the actual birthday, with everyone’s favorite birthday food. Then, we instituted ‘birthday week’, with an entire week devoted to manageable amounts of birthday food favorites which could be consumed with relish, without unbuttoning pants or changing into a large, loose robe! Our tradition finally evolved into birthday month! While we weren’t stuffing ourselves silly every day, each day we serve some special treat, perhaps not extravagant, just well-loved.

For example, my daughter is wild for all things hot and spicy. She consumes chili peppers like there’s no tomorrow. Stuffed green peppers, well laced with Tabasco sauce, are one of her favorites. Last year, I introduced her to Kim Chee, a pickled cabbage hot enough to make your eyes water. A cayenne-based marinade, paired with catfish nuggets, makes her eyes roll with delight. Freshly baked chocolate chip cookies are another winner. During birthday month, I make a big batch ” a gallon ” of Louisiana gumbo, hot enough to make you sweat profusely. She eats it straight, while my husband and I must tone it down with the traditional bowl of rice. This is her birthday food heaven.

My husband enjoys nothing more than a platter of Southern fried chicken. Blackened catfish is another favorite. Au Gratin potatoes, a shrimp cocktail appetizer and a piece of German chocolate cake makes his day.

For myself, I’ve never met a fish I didn’t like! As for desserts, lemon meringue and fresh strawberry pie make my birthday complete. I’m also a chocoholic. Cashews and macadamia nuts never hurt.

In short, birthday menus should consist of whatever turns you on. Institutionalize your own birthday food family tradition. It’s a lot of fun!

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