Celebrations

My birthday and my husband’s birthday falls just 5 days apart.  This is always awkward.  Celebrating two birthdays in the one week in style is just overkill, but then who’s birthday get’s the big celebration and who’s ends up with “well lets just stay at home and have some great champagne and good food”?  Generally its my birthday (falling first) that we go out for – and not always to high end places, sometimes its just a fabulous lunch somewhere or a causal place like “…” in Newtown – just somewhere that I would like to go to eat.  I’m not really into the big flash dinner thing.  Perhpas we’ve done too many of them but I’d rather go to those places on the spur of the moment rather than as a planned event.  Too much pressure.

The trick to celebrations – birthdays/anniversaries etc – is to make them feel special.  One year I took my husband (and daughter) to the Sydney Fish Markets early in the morning.  We bought some wonderfullly fresh oysters and had them with a bottle of champagne and some lovely ripe brie and huge juicy strawberries.  We sat on the pier – picnic style and watched the boats unloading.  And then we all drove home and off to work/school.

Another time, for an anniversary celebration I decided to do something right out of the box:  a night time picninc by the water.  But I wanted it to be a surprise. So I told my husband I had made a booking for a flash restaurant where the dress was very formal.  Meanwhile, Pip and I shopped and cooked and prepared everything and packed the car with picnic rug and chairs and t-lights, plates, linen napkins, glasses, champagne etc.  I can’t remember what I made (although one of the dishes was a pigeon and pickled walnut terrine – that took days to source ingredients for, another was individual plum frangipane tarts).  Pip and I scurried around getting everything ready and packing the car in a bit of a frenzy before M got home.  Secrecy was the key.

And then it was time to get dressed and go.  I wore the Akira outfit I had worn for my wedding and M put on his tux.  Stylish.  And then we got into the car and I drove.  M wondered where we were going – he started to recognise some of the landmarks so the next step was to blindfold him.  We drove to Neilson Park and Pip and I set up our little picnic spot near the water, lighting all the candles and setting out the food while M sat in the car – no doubt wondering what was going on.  We then led him out and only when we were at the spot did we let him see.  The look of surprise on his face and pure joy was so worth all the effort we’d gone to.  It was, relatively, such a simple thing – a picnic at the beach – but it was so enjoyable – we even danced barefoot on the sand with the waves lapping our feet – that it remains in my memory as one of the best celebrations ever.

Picnics

I love picnics. There’s something festive and relaxing about eating outdoors – especially on the grass on a warm sunny day. Our picnics were often quite spontaneous: we would just go to the local Italian deli and pick up some baby boconcini, prosciutto, stuffed little capsicums, some white anchovies, some good bread from the local bakery (Italian) and some fresh fruit – strawberries, peaches, figs or whatever is in season; a bottle of wine and perhaps some good cheese and we were set.  Other times we’d get some oysters and cooked prawns and I’d make a coriander and chilli salsa to go with them.

Picnics are about enjoying the great outdoors in simple style (although I do like to take proper plates, linen napkins and proper wine glasses; makes the picnic basket a bit heavier but it’s well worth it). Nothing fancy, just good produce and great flavours: fresh watermelon and peaches or strawbs with vino cotto. In summer this year with a good friend staying we went to Neilson Park to laze about and swim. I decided on schnitzel in bread rolls accompanied with a wonderful fresh coleslaw (finely shredded cabbage, radish, mint, red onion, caraway seeds and a lemon dressing), dill cucumbers and homemade habanero mustard. Simple but utterly more-ish. I was surprised at how many people passed by and asked if they could have our leftovers!  A Petit Chablis and then a moscato to accompany the food. Fresh juicy big cherries and a mango to finish.

On Sunday we went to the Royal National Park for a picnic and swim. We went primarily because my daughter needs to get her driving hours in. What a blessing that was; we otherwise wouldn’t have gone and it’s such a beautiful spot; it was glorious: sun, sand and sea. And a lagoon where people jumped from great heights off a cliff into the water below. A family friendly place – casual and relaxed. I made steak tartare burgers (finely chopped beef with chopped onion, cornichons, capers, parsley, tobasco, Worcestershire sauce, Dijon mustard and egg yolks) freshly cooked in situ on a little portable burner and inserted into fresh Italian bread rolls spread with some homemade mustard on one side and hummus on the other and topped with rocket, slices of home grown tomatoes and dill pickles (I don’t think you can have picnics without dill cucumbers ). Then watermelon. That was it.  Simple but delicious – and good fun to eat, trying to keep all the filling from falling out (as is the way with hamburgers) and all those juices running down our hands and onto our legs.  Necessitated a dip in the water to clean ourselves up, but we really didn’t mind. Picnic perfect.