Let's just begin with the basics. My birthday fell on a Thursday - Valentine's Day, to be precise - and so Thursday morning saw mother bird, sister bird and myself sitting at the Over Easy Breakfast Company in Bridgeland, a quaint little breakfast & brunch joint in the northeast quarter of town. A quick little retrospective rundown will remind us all that I enjoyed two griddle cakes topped with blueberries and drenched in syrup, mother bird played it safe with some eggs with toast and fresh fruit, and sister bird indulged in a breakfast poutine called Soul in a Bowl which can only be honourably summarized by one word in the whole of the English vocabulary: otherworldly, in the best sense possible.
The evening after, Friday night, saw my two cousins and myself headed out for a luxurious dinner at the upscale-casual Cactus Club Cafe, a restaurant whose food I've previously tasted and loved (on a spontaneous, yet very worthwhile excursion with mother bird on one adventurous occasion last year). We began our three-course meal with an appetizer that was selected by my recommendation - potato skins! And these potato skins are lovely. Think Boston Pizza's Southwestern Potato Skins, minus the barbecue sauce, dressing, and chicken; Cactus Club's potato skins are also thinner, crisper, and significantly fewer in number.
|these potato skins are actually captured from my first visit|
to cactus club with mother bird, because the second time around,
my cousins devoured them before I could remember to take a picture!
I imagine the most useful and significant fact pertaining to my nature and quirks that anyone could ever hope to know would be my unfortunate obsession over food. I plan my daily meals like a machine and dinner reservations don't change a thing; I pore over a restaurant's online menu until I decide on first, second and third choices, for appetizers, entree and dessert. It's absolutely psychotic, and I'm fully aware, and although I've always wanted to be one of those spontaneous quacks who could enthusiastically order anything that happened to catch her eye, I've never been able to kick the anxiety that comes from not knowing what I'm going to be doing. It's almost like a mechanical error in my vital functions that makes me so anal about what I eat.
So after a quick perusal of the menu at the table, I chose Rob's Hunter Chicken, which is Chef Rob Feenie's special dish. Actually, I'd tried this dish prior to this evening, and that's because this is the dish that mother bird ordered on my first visit to Cactus Club Cafe. It was fantastic: tender chicken, an abundance of mushrooms, the best and most refreshing herb potatoes I believe I've ever had, and some cheeky vegetables chilling on the side.
|rob's hunter chicken - bang for your buck,|
an incredible and highly satisfying bang at that.
When mother bird and I came to Cactus for our first time, I ordered the four-mushroom steak with a side of fries and asparagus, which - don't get me wrong, tasted great and was well worth the money - but was absolutely nothing compared to the house special.
|flashback: mushroom steak, my first time at cactus club.|
see mother bird's hunter chicken in the back?
The fries from the Cactus Club are on a whole other level. Fast-food joints really don't hold a candle to gourmet fries. In fact, my cousins' orders both included fries, both yam fries and sea-salted regular fries, and I ended up picking at both of their piles throughout the course of the meal.
So, as teenage girls embarking on a birthday dinner and promising ourselves a night of fun, we couldn't skip dessert. We each ordered individual, different desserts, so that our table eventually contained a white chocolate cheesecake topped with raspberry compote, an apple galette served with Tahitian vanilla ice cream, and a key lime pie with a graham cracker crust (mine!).
|key lime pie, something I still haven't quite|
decided whether I loved or not ...
Strange - I didn't much like the key lime pie as I inhaled it, but perhaps I was simply too full from my chicken and cousins' fries to really enjoy it. However, as I examine this photograph more and more, I find myself actually craving the creamy pie and its brown-sugar-like crust. I do seem to remember how the sourness would occasionally cause my face to pinch up, though, and that's something I definitely don't crave. Ever. (Even sour candy, as a child, I would abhor.)
The day that followed, Saturday, saw myself holed up at home, baking macarons in a frenzy. The almond meal was not fine enough, the piping bag wasn't holding together, and everything seemed to be going wrong. But when I pulled the macaron shells out of the oven, they were beautiful and divine and they even had feet! I was thrilled, to say the least, and full-force returned to baking as many as I could, filling them afterward with chocolate cream, vanilla cream, and banana buttercream. They were a huge hit at the gathering over at my grandfather's house that evening, and one of my newlywed cousins asked for the recipe because her experience with baking macarons had not been quite so pretty. (Forgetful Me still hasn't sent her the recipe. Dear Lord.)
At the gathering, my uncle revealed a Dairy Queen authentic ice cream cake just for me. Despite my name being misspelled on the cake, I appreciated the gesture so very much; this uncle, if you knew him, is not the sort to go out of his way for birthdays.
Sunday night was perhaps the best of all of my birthday nights, because this was high birdhouse activity. We had made dinner reservations for six at San Remo Ristorante, an Italian-themed restaurant in McKenzie Towne with a relaxing atmosphere and a waitress who we recognized from a past visit to Charcut. Finding a familiar face in our server, though, was just one note among many that made this a great time.
|linguine boscaiola, or "mushroom lovers'" pasta|
I ordered pasta, as is expected of me to do, since I am hard-wired to consume a nearly all-carbohydrate diet; this particular pasta was excellent, and I wiped the plate clean in record time, though I couldn't quite beat brother bird and his performance with his chicken parmesan. (I tasted that, too - amazing! Perhaps I should have ordered that.)
The table was again loaded with desserts after we all stuffed our faces to the max, and because our waitress was possibly the kindest waitress I've ever had the pleasure of being served by, she included a tiramisu on the house.
The Sicilian lemon torte with a shortbread crust and raspberry sauce arrived with a sparkler to commemorate what the waitress believed to my birthday, although my birthday was, by then, almost four-days-old-news.
|sicilian lemon torte with raspberry|
When I walked through the door to the birdhouse later that night, sister and brother bird immediately vanished and I was instructed to stay put at the threshold. I was then surprised with a heart-shaped cake topped with mounds of whipped cream and macerated strawberries, a half-dozen Dairy Queen ice-cream cupcakes, and an enormous, rectangular-shaped gift-wrapped box.
The gift was a MacBook Pro, which was probably the most unexpected thing ever, and I implored the sibling birds to return it until I actually needed it, come September, and when that time arrived, I'd like to buy my own (though I hardly think mother bird will let me). I did feel somewhat bad for asking that of them, since my reaction was probably not the explosive joy they may have been anticipating, but I did appreciate their consideration and investment in me.
What I loved even more than the gift was the card attached to it. Signed by each bird of the nest, bird-in-law Andrew included:
|possibly the most adorable card I have ever received. |
I particularly like that mother bird drew her impression
with straight hair, when she really has curly hair, while
father bird drew himself with curls when his hair is pin-straight.
Mother and father bird even sketched caricatures of themselves in their signatures. Mother bird, to whom I am constantly whining about my insecurities and problems and all the things about myself that apall me, wrote: be happy always because you are beutiful [sic] everyday. Happy birthday to you
and nothing could have hit home more. I decided to save this message on my iPhone so I could open it and read it whenever I might feel down.
Another card that really touched me this year was the note from my best friend Shelby. I couldn't care less that it was written on a lined piece of looseleaf paper and folded into a tiny square when she gave it to me with my present; she wrote a very long, very elaborate and very heartfelt message about our friendship and our future. She then went on to add some esteem-boosting lines that actually brought tears to my eyes, because I never want to bother Shelby with what seem like petty insecurity troubles, but I suppose she noticed them anyway, and she took an extra minute to tell me that no one deserves to strut their stuff more than you.
The final card that I want to acknowledge in this post is sister bird's. It was an original poem written on a Martha Stewart colour card - one of my favourite colours, actually - and it referenced my blog, which made me inexplicably excited.
|I must say I was blown away by this poem.|
At first, I even believed it was taken from the
Internet, until I clarified with sister bird.
I started bawling as I approached the end of the poem. "Good luck, good luck," the nest exclaims/ you'll excel at everything/ but throughout your studies, do be sure/ to remember one little thing/ we will miss you dearly here/ so don't forget the nest/ pack your things, unfold your wings/ and visit the birds who love you best.
The simple act of typing out those words even stings my eyes.
I think the power of words are absolutely astounding. For someone like me, a notably not-very-maudlin person at all, the right words in the right combinations and with the right sentiments can really hit me hard. And that's the mildest way I could express how this card makes me feel.
While this weekend couldn't quite hope to compare with my overwhelming birthday weekend, I did enjoy a vegetarian buffet hosted by the local temple at the Marlborough Community Hall for lunch with father bird, which was a nice time because we hardly ever get to spend any quality time together. It was made even better when we arrived home and gathered our absolute forces in a daddy-daughter baking session, with the result being a very messy kitchen complete with flour-covered counters, a saucepan with a burnt bottom, and a passable classic apple pie.
|it looks nice and crusty, doesn't it?|
Don't expect a recipe for this pie - it was made entirely through some seriously daredevil risks and nothing-short-of-reckless improvisations!