Of Birthdays and Phyllo

When you reach a certain age, birthdays take on new meaning.  I think I speak for all of us when I say that as you get older, the birthdays come more frequently, so to speak.  “Seems like I just turned ( you fill in the number), yesterday”, she exclaimed.  The passage of time speeds up the clock.  There is no denying it.  It is a truism.  So, using this logic, we will be dead before you know it.  Therefore, get out and have some fun if you’re able.  Because just as birthdays become “more frequent”, so it is that aches and pains will increase.  As my dear Uncle Ralph proclaimed last night over dinner, “Let me tell you.  It doesn’t get prettier”.  And he is 87. IMG_1415 I have launched into this this subject with the memory of yesterday lingering on In my mind.  It was Rayman’s birthday.   The other thing about birthdays is that we all or most of us feel this obligation to give a gift and since winding back the clock is not possible there is nothing at this point that is really needed.  There may be things that aren’t even wanted.  “I’ll just go out and buy whatever I want/need.”   This type of person is one of my favorites.  Actually, I trend that way for my own self.  But how do you, dear reader, handle that?  Are you the type of person that buys your birthday person a funny gift (Preparation H), or the type that buys a gift that you too can benefit from (two nights at Post Ranch).  Or do you go for the practical?  Say, a new shirt?   On any given year, it may be different, I’d guess. But I’m starting to digress. The birthday gift question for this year was answered thus.  I cooked.  First, I began by asking the Rayman what he wanted to eat for his birthday dinner.  He was pretty clear that he favored lamb so that I would cook his favorite potatoes.  Roasted red potatoes.  This is one of his all time favorites.  Red potatoes cut to a uniform size, tossed with salt and pepper (freshly ground), fresh rosemary from the bush in the front yard, garlic cloves unpeeled but flattened and added mid way thru the cooking so that they weren’t reduced to hard, charred pieces of bitter garlic), and all tossed with olive oil (not EVOO) and some butter (not margarine or other horrible substitute), and thrown in the oven (400 degrees).   Who wouldn’t love that?  It is the best, most simple potato recipe I possess.

Below is a pic of Ryan!!

IMG_0067   And what else you might be wondering?  Well, asparagus.  Asparagus and lamb go together like  sheets and pillowcases.  The only other veggie under consideration was eggplant but I had just purchased a lifetime supply of asparagus from Costco when I bought the two racks of lamb there so, of course, it would be asparagus.  And a salad.  Rayman and I have disagreements about what greenery should be used as the base for a salad.   I love arugula.  He likes everything but arugula.  So, I settled on spinach.  Into it I threw some toasted walnuts, shallot, a sliced pear, feta cheese and dressed it with a dressing of avocado oil, fig and vanilla vinegar, a pear sauce.  Yummy. But the crowning glory was the dessert.  If that is even possible after such a great dinner.  Oh, who am I kidding?  Of course, it was possible.  It was Rayman’s birthday.  And Ryan, number one son, was here for the occasion.  He flew down from Portland so that we could celebrate his birthday too.  He was born 2/5/80.  It must be duly noted that his days aren’t moving as fast.  To him.  To us, that’s a discussion for another day. Oh, my, I started to digress again.  Sort of. The dessert was not for the average cook.  It was almost like I looked and looked and looked for the most difficult dessert for the occasion.  Having found it, I decided it would be perfect.  It involved what I mistakenly thought was puff pastry.  A new requirement may be needed.  Read the recipe five times before beginning.  This I did not do and therefore when I did the marketing, I bought puff pastry.  And this mistake went unrealized until I took it out of the freezer and the box announced, “two sheets enclosed”.  WHAT?  2 sheets?  Referring back to the recipe, I was horrified to learn that it required 11 to 13 sheets of phyllo.  Phyllo is not puff pastry.  2 is not 11.  OMG.  Good grief.  When I recognized the error of my ways, it was 2:30 p.m.  And dinner was scheduled for 6:30.  But wait, there’s more!! IMG_0072 Here is a picture of the apples.  I can’t find the prune pictures.  The prunes could be a subject unto themselves.  On the way to pick up Ryan at the Santa Barbara airport (don’t ask), we stopped at Costco to buy a year’s worth of prunes because the recipe called for 25 of them.  Oh, I know what you’re thinking and just stop it.  Although, it is a funny thought at our age!!  Maybe any age.  Anyway, the prunes required a tea bath for 2 hours and an overnight soak in the most expensive french brandy known to BevMo.  And it was 20% off to boot.  So, the prunes had been prepared.  The apples had been peeled, cored, thinly sliced and cooked on the stovetop for 25 minutes (with the addition of a vanilla bean and some orange peel).  And they had been cooled as per the directions.  It was now time to heat the oven and commence with the phyllo activity. The oven was “punched” on (these digital contraptions).  That’s when smoke started enveloping the kitchen.  OMG.  There was something on the bottom of the oven.  Well, off went the oven.  I then asked birthday boy if he would set up my portable oven outside in the garage (another long story for another time).  He obliged.  As he was doing that I discovered my shopping error and was thus thrown into a wild panic.  I grabbed my purse and headed out the door.  Phyllo must be found.  I drove to the Cookie Crock (a local grocery concern) and there it was in the freezer case.  This was beyond a miracle as the Cookie Crock is known for carrying less expensive food by not paying good wages.  But, they had it.  Yippee. So, the good news was, I found the phyllo.  The bad news was it required 2 hours to defrost.  It was about 3 p.m.  I set the timer for 1 1/2 hours and postponed my activities concerning the dessert.


Who is this older woman in my kitchen? Good grief.

When the beeper went off, I opened the package and went to work.  Ryan was the official photographer.  Long story short, I used too much phyllo (18 sheets) because I didn’t read the directions correctly.  I piled on the prunes and apples, doused it with more brandy and butter, closed it up and sprinkled more sugar on it and popped it into the oven.  Again, I misread the recipe and did not place the pan on a preheated pan (presumably so the bottom would cook thru) but it was too late.  In it went.  And out it came looking a bit like an ugly duckling compared to the picture in the L.A. Times food section that accompanied the recipe.   IMG_0077   So…here’s the dinner plate.  And the dessert…before and after.   IMG_0081 IMG_0082 IMG_0086   As we were devouring the dessert, I exclaimed, “I forgot the set the prunes on fire!!”.  I thought I remembered that requirement somewhere in the recipe.  Whether or not the recipe called for a flame throwing exercise mattered not.  It was fabulous.  Flakey.  Fabulous.  Boozey.  Fabulous.  Although, I am sure it was a good omission since my house still stands.  Intact. As a final thought.  It is funny, isn’t it.  I managed with my kitchen know-how to create a good dinner that the Rayman and Ryan loved (Uncle Ralph liked it too!!), provide some cheap entertain along the way, defy the odds in the phyllo department in more ways than one.  So, it was practical, funny, and at the same time needed (we do have to eat to live).  So, it may have been the perfect gift. Oh, and did I mention that when I turned off the oven, Rayman cleaned it with Easy-Off (didn’t have time to run the self-cleaning cycle) and I used my indoor oven to cook the dessert and the rack of lamb?   Yes, indeed!! So, happy birthday Rayman and Ryan.  It was my pleasure.


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