So, last week was my birthday and I was determined not to get cranky about it. That was kind of asking a lot of myself because I get cranky every year as the calendar approaches June 17th. I know it’s pathetic to still have any birthday expectations at my ripe age, but I do. Or I did. My goal over this year was to let go of any transformative fantasies I historically associated with celebrating the day of my birth, like somehow my birthday would be filled with balms for every wound. I’d get some magical gift that would instantly solve all of my problems, like a million dollars or a new dishwasher. And then of course there’s the surprise party. I actually hate surprises and would be completely annoyed if I opened a door to the shouts of friends without being prepared (meaning, having a good hair day). Then again, there is a little part of me that wishes I was the kind of person who could relish that sort of thing and bask in all the attention. And maybe that’s really the dilemma. That I look at my birthday as the day, kind of like New Year’s, where I can turn over a new leaf and become someone else.
Last year, after deciding I was being ridiculous about all of this, I was committed to handling my next birthday more gracefully. Despite feeling like the year whizzed by, I think I did do enough work to finally put my special day in the proper psychological place. So, when the date got closer I was able to say honestly, when asked by friends what I wanted to do, “Nothing.” By nothing I meant nothing with them. Not in a mean way, just that I didn’t need to feel like I’d gathered people together to buy me dinner. I hate that by the way. When you’re of a certain age I think birthday dinners with friends should be the financial responsibility of the birthday girl or boy, something I am currently not in the mood to take on. It’s all so embarrassing when you’re with a group and there’s that moment of whispering as someone pulls out their iPhone to divvy up the check while someone else realizes the evening’s accountant counted the person being celebrated and then the check needs to be recalculated. All done in hushed tones and “don’t worry about it” glances to the mortified person who has caused the gathering to occur in the first place.
Anyway, I solved the “What are you doing?” conundrum by opting to spend the weekend with family and friend at my parents’ weekend house. I had just one request: that we all go out Saturday night (the day after my actual birthday) for lobster rolls and strawberry-rhubarb pie at the aptly named “Lobster Roll,” about a 25 minute drive away. I’d already prepared the nieces that I wasn’t going to be baking a birthday cake, the negative reaction to which I was I able to mitigate by telling them they were going to get to go out to dinner to a place that had chocolate chip cookie pie and a playground.
Arriving at the house at 6pm on Friday, with the rest of the gang already assembled, I found my mother preparing a sauce for the fish she was going to be serving for dinner and my sister boiling pasta for the girls. Now, as evolved as I’d like to think I’d become, I still had in mind that Friday was my actual birthday and shouldn’t there be some kind of something for dessert? I did some refrigerator and pantry reconnaissance and clearly, nothing had been planned. “Oh come on, how can anyone bake you something?” Mom responded when I asked if she’d had any dessert ideas.
And right there is the problem when you not only traditionally bake your own cake but also have a reputation for being controlling; you leave no room for anyone to do anything for you and then you get your nose out of joint when they don’t. Again, I refused to give in to the birthday disappointment feelings of yore and took matters into my own hands. I macerated some local strawberries, whipped some cream and topped the lemon pound cake I had asked Rich to pick up at the gourmet store in the city where he was busy buying cheese to bring for the weekend. Friday dessert problem solved and I wasn’t even annoyed.
Saturday was gorgeous and all was going swimmingly when a few things about our plan started to make me nervous. A scan of the restaurant’s website revealed “Live Music Saturdays from 4-8pm!” Oh dear. Somehow my father + Jimmy Buffett cover band=nightmare. You see, under the best of circumstances my Dad has a tendency to orchestrate the environs of all spaces in which he is present. I can’t tell you how many dinners have started with him directing the Maitre d’ to "please turn down the music, turn up the air conditioner and please give us that round table in the corner, thank you." Upon calling the restaurant to secure a perfect table away from the music we were reminded that they do not take reservations. I had already agreed to an early-bird dinner to accommodate the six-and-under set but what if we got there and had to wait? Early-bird turning into night-owl was sure to bring on a meltdown or two. At this point my sister mentioned neither niece had slept well the night before and wasn’t it a shame the restaurant was so far away. Okay, enough. It was time to adjust the plan.
And here is where I was really proud of myself. I easily gave up on the fantasy of lobster roll and the strawberry-rhubarb pie. Instead we went to a nearby seafood place where we could reserve a table outside and eat when we wanted without enduring “Live Music!” Jimmy Buffett managed to accompany our meal nonetheless, over the speakers mounted right by our table. But Dad was completely well behaved and the girls had the run of the outdoor space, gathering pennies to throw into the little fountain and dancing around like good parrot-heads when they got bored with our leisurely chatting. Why didn’t I pick this restaurant in the first place? Because the food is entirely mediocre and they don’t have strawberry-rhubarb pie.
Obviously I was going to need to satisfy my initial cravings. Coincidentally, my friend Marsha emailed me over the weekend wanting to make a date for a lobster roll taste-test at some of the new places that have cropped up all over the city. Done. But I still wanted my pie! Despite all this personal growth I will do almost anything to avoid making a double crust pie, especially when the people at Briermere Farms do such a great job and I know a trip to their place in Riverhead is going to happen in the next few weeks. So I settled on a galette, or free-form tart. That way I wouldn’t have to stress as much but I’d still get that unmistakably sweet, tart, juicy and flaky experience. It really is easy, yes, rustic to look at but definitely hits the spot. I whipped it up as soon as I got back to the city, cut myself a big piece and topped it with vanilla ice cream. Happy Birthday to me. And now I have 359 days to get ready not to care about my next birthday. I’d say I’m making progress.
No Birthday Expectations Strawberry-Rhubarb Galette
Adapted from Food and Wine, April 2004
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Galette Dough (see below) or store-bought refrigerated pie crust
1 pint strawberries, thickly sliced
1 pound very red fresh rhubarb stalks, cut crosswise 1/2 inch thick (Discard leaves-they are poisonous)
3/4 cup sugar
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 tablespoons whole milk
4 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
Preheat the oven to 400°. Line a large rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. (This is important--the galette leaks and you need the rimmed pan to catch juices or your oven will be a mess.)
On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough out to a 16-inch round 1/8 inch thick. Transfer to the baking sheet; the pastry will hang over the edges. Refrigerate the pastry for 10 minutes.
In a large bowl, toss the strawberries with the rhubarb, sugar, flour, lemon juice and vanilla.
Spread on the pastry to within 2 inches of the edge.
Fold the edge over the filling, pleating it at 2 inch intervals. Lightly brush the dough with the milk. Dot the filling with the butter.
Bake the galette in the center of the oven for 1 hour, or until the fruit is bubbling and the pastry is golden brown. Let cool slightly before cutting into wedges.
Yield: 6-8 servings
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon sugar
10 Tablespoons (1 1/4 sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1-inch pieces
5 tablespoons ice water
Place a large piece of plastic wrap on the kitchen counter.
In a bowl, using a fork, blend the flour, salt and sugar; scatter the butter on top. Using a pastry blender, cut the butter into the flour until it is the size of small peas. Sprinkle on the water and toss with the fork. Dump contents onto plastic wrap.
OR in bowl of food processor, buzz flour, salt and sugar briefly just to mix. Scatter butter on top and pulse a few times quickly until butter becomes the size of small peas.
Sprinkle the water, one Tablespoon at a time, pulsing briefly (like 2 seconds) after each Tablespoon. You want the water to be incorporated but you don't want the dough to come together in a giant ball. It should look like small clumps and you want to see the butter. Dump contents onto plastic wrap.
Using your hands, press the flour mixture together to form a dough. Pat into a 6-inch disk, wrap it in the plastic and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes or overnight.