Happy Birthday!!

Recently, I discovered it was a friend’s birthday- via Facebook, of course, which, sadly, is where I get a majority of my information these days. I opted to send Misty a text rather than post on her wall. How this is better, I’m not sure. What I really wanted to do was mail her a card, but it was too late for that.

I sent a text that said, “Happy Birthday! I hope your day is as fabulous as you are.”

It rang hollow to me even as I hit send. Because Misty is fabulous. She’s the kind of fabulous who will always send YOU a card, which will arrive on time, regardless of the weather.

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Misty’s Valentine, which arrived in between blizzards on February 13.

My lame-ass text was not even a Hallmark. More like something from the 99-cent section of greeting cards next to the tampons in the grocery store.

Then I looked at her Facebook page and discovered that three other people had posted that exact same message on her wall!

I sent another text: “I take it back. I hope your birthday rocks balls.”

She gave me credit for sentiment, but marked me down a point for lack of originality. Which got me to thinking, how many ways are there to say Happy Birthday?

I’m a chronic birthday forgetter.

Facebook giving me a reminder and the opportunity to write “Happy Birthday!!” on someone’s wall lets me do fully 100% more to observe that birthday than I would have otherwise.

The problem is that I want to be more than that, and I’m not.

If you see a friend in-person on their birthday, you simply say, “Happy Birthday!” No need to be witty. If you have a gift, it’s even better, but not necessary. Sending a card or a gift across the miles brings joy, if you remember to do it.

Facebook reminds us of the birthdays of close friends, relatives, and acquaintances. We feel an obligation to observe all the birthdays that pop up in our sidebar, regardless of the closeness of the relationship.

You find yourself wishing happy birthday to someone with whom the only thing you have in common is the the same second grade teacher, or the job at the car wash that summer before sophomore year, or the fact that you both shut down the same bar every night for six months before one of you went into rehab and the other one didn’t notice.

Is it possible to send pithy, heartfelt, electronic birthday greetings?

Happy Birthday!! Are you bringing cake to work?

Thanks for letting me copy your math homework in 4th grade. Happy Birthday!!

When I quit that horrid place we worked at together, I swore I’d never speak to anyone from there again. Happy Birthday!!

I hang out with you only to steal your Altoids. Happy Birthday!!

I have no idea who you are. Happy Birthday!!

I’m the one who ran over your cat. Happy Birthday!!

Your parents pay me to be your friend. Happy Birthday!!

*****

#1’s spring break this year happened to coincide with my birthday and she was coming back for a visit. She mentioned she had a birthday surprise for me…

And that she had to go to five different places before finding one that would accommodate her wishes…

And that she told my mom about it and my mom was appalled…

I must confess, I never saw it coming, and I’m so damn proud of her for pulling this off.

See, this Christmas, #1 wasn’t able to make it back to New Jersey. We packed up a trunk with a gift for her to open each day in December leading up to Christmas. My favorite gift of all was a very… special… picture of Jack that I framed and wrapped. I couldn’t imagine that this gift could be topped, ever.

That’s because I failed to imagine the photo topping a cake.

Every place she went to get it made had refused, saying that the photo violated their corporate policies on decency. When she went to the last place, she handed them the picture upside down because, as she says, “Upside down, it kind of looks like a ferret, so they thought it was a ferret and then we both signed off on it before they figured out that it wasn’t a ferret.”

I’ve looked at this picture- and at the subject in real life- a lot, and I don’t see a ferret.

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Finally, with this photo of a cake with a photo on it, I have my pithy, heartfelt electronic birthday wish for everyone’s Facebook wall.

Now, where do we put the candle?

photo copy

One Birthday Sunday. Or is that Sundae?

It’s my frickin’ birthday! (Thanks, Mom and Dad!)

My train was delayed getting out of the city last night. The rule is that if your train is delayed, you get Häagen-Dazs coffee ice cream so I don’t really mind too much when it happens. What? Of course that’s a rule I made up, what are you, new?

I got home after midnight so it was technically my birthday. Add to that the incomprehensible segue to Daylight Saving time and it was like my birthday was running in hyper-drive to meet me!

I had this lovely assortment of cards to open when I got home:

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I took Misty’s Laws advice to heart and made sure I had lots of water with me at the Bikram class #1 took me to at 0-dark-thirty this morning.

The kids sang me a truly horrible rendition of Happy Birthday that the puggles joined in. One of these days I’m gonna get that on tape. Or else one of these days the cops are going to come back and give us a ticket instead of just a warning.

Then we had cake for breakfast.

Did you know you can get a bunch of free crap on your birthday just because it’s your birthday if you sign up with everybody’s rewards programs? I totally milked that. Perfume, mascara, and chocolate- what more could a girl want?

The kids cleaned the house up. I was thrilled to also get a $5 starbucks gift card that #4 bought with her own money, and a beautiful blue scarf that #5 knit all by himself in Knitting Club (which pretty much every kid in the 5th grade belongs to, including the boys. I love his teacher).

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I even made a new vegetarian black bean chili recipe that I halfway made up and everybody ate it. WOW!

I love birthdays. I wrote this post last year about the things that rock about turning 40, and it all still holds true.

So keeping in the spirit of everything being all about MEEEEEE today, here are MY links.

My favorite, laugh-out-loud picture of little boys doing dishes: No Shirt? No Shoes? No Pants? No Problem! on Nurking Moms.

Howling. This is awesome. Also, people, this is why you should register ALL your domain names. EARLY. Guy Fieri didn’t quite get that done and now there’s guysamericankitchenandbar.com

This one I’m putting in because I loved it and I know it will make my mom cry: Boomer Grandparenting: Able to Leap Tall Continents in a Single Bound

Here’s another one that cracked me up: a little fabulous cartoon about a wedding entrance fail on Happy or Hungry.

Last today is an organization dedicated to helping struggling volunteer fire companies raise money to carry out their services. Via Beer. From a vintage fire truck named Betty Lou. 77Rescue.org

Happy Sunday.

Sushi Making Class

Finally, here’s my last post of milking my 40th birthday.

I gave it away in the title, but my gift from Michelle at the end of the secret girls’ weekend birthday outing was a sushi making class.

Monday night, after all that walking we’d already done, we trekked over near Columbia University to the apartment of Misako “Misa” Sassa, a Japanese cooking instructor who does individual and group classes for both adults and children. Check out her website here.

Her apartment was a super-cool pre-war, with high ceilings, big windows, hardwood floors and this strange connecting hallway between the main hall and the kitchen that she turned into the most excellent pantry I’ve ever seen and which I covet greatly.

Misa was down-to-earth, funny, and a really good cook, in addition to being a great teacher. She also has a son who struck me as being a somewhat quieter version of my #5.

This is his artwork:

If there is a unifying theme to making sushi, it is to always begin with exactly the right ingredients.

The first thing Misa taught us is that sushi is all about the rice. People think it’s about the fish, but really it’s the rice– rice and presentation.

You have to start with the right kind of rice, and then there’s a lot of work involved– not in the actual cooking part, but the before and after part.

I already knew that this was going to be way beyond me to recreate at home.

Misa demonstrated how she doesn’t need to go to the gym because she works out with the rice. She polished it first, which is basically scrubbing the crap out of it in a giant pan with all your might, rinsing, and repeating, over and over.

My sister (the nurse) asked, “Don’t you lose a lot of the nutritional value of the rice by doing that?”

Misa looked her in the eye, said, “Yes,” and kept on polishing.

When the rice is prepped, it goes in the rice cooker. It doesn’t take up a burner and it never screws up the rice. Once it’s in, you don’t have to think about it.

While the rice was cooking, she prepped some fish. In line with our theme, she told us the most important thing about the fish is to get the freshest possible sushi grade fish you can. The guys at her fish market know her now and are a little bit afraid of her.

“This is good,” she said. “Now they see me coming and just run to the back to get the freshest piece of salmon they have. I don’t have to threaten them anymore. Saves time.”

She pointed out something that I’d heard but never really integrated: truly fresh fish has no odor. It doesn’t smell fishy. I practically buried my nose in the salmon she had and didn’t smell a thing.

When we made Ebi (shrimp) I learned two things: stick it on a skewer before cooking to keep it straight, and remove the mud vein after cooking, not before.

Isn’t she beautiful?

We made Unagi (eel), one of my favorites.

Misa buys it pre-prepped and heats it in her eel oven:

I love that her toaster oven is the eel oven. It’s the only thing she uses it for.

Prepped eel is super, super sticky from the sauce that comes on it.

The last dish Misa demonstrated in the kitchen was Tamago (egg). I used to order it when I went out for sushi but it’s cold, often oversweet and rubbery. I never order it anymore. Misa said in Japan, Tamago is truly the measure of a sushi restaurant. If you order it here in the US, pretty much always the restaurant is buying it from a distributer and not making it themselves which is why the quality is so low.

This Tamago is something else entirely.

There’s a special Tamago pan. The mixture is egg with a bit of sugar and salt and whatever subtle secrets the chef wants to include, and it is cooked in layers. One thin layer of egg goes in, bubbles, cooks and then is rolled to one side. Another layer goes in and cooks the same way. Then the layers are rolled together. Another layer goes in. It takes a while.

We ate this Tamago right away and it was like nothing I’ve ever had. Maybe a combination of crepes, omelettes, popovers, and unicorns.

If I could get Tamago like that, I would order it every time I went for sushi.

The rice came out of the cooker and was seasoned with a blend of sake, sugar and vinegar. Then the fanning began– the other reason Misa doesn’t need to go to the gym.

Even though I do go to the gym, I did not fan well. I was relieved of my responsibilities in short order.

We went to the table to assemble our creations.

Here’s another one of the coolest things ever that we did.

We made a roll that Misa said in Japan is the palate cleansing roll. I’ve never seen it on the menu here, although it is possible that I’ve missed it.

Rice, a flat Japanese basil, radish sprouts, and a pickled plum in bits.

I had never had any of those things before. Well, except the rice.

Misa helped us make spicy tuna hand rolls and instructed us on how to assemble our sushi. Then she disappeared into the kitchen and whipped up a few other dishes for us while we were making this:

There was dessert:

When Misa learned it was my birthday, she gave me a gift:

It was most definitely a multi-win night.

Michelle has taught me that the greatest gifts are experiences. I highly recommend Misa’s cooking class. Too often we think, “Oh, I’d love to do that,” and then never make it a priority. Time passes and we carry on, not trying that thing we’d love to do. Is there something you’ve always wanted to try? I just read an article about a woman who took a trapeze class. That sounds awesome, and terrifying. I wonder what Michelle would do if I got her that for her birthday.