My neighborhood girlfriends get together periodically to celebrate a birthday over lunch. We used to go out, pretending we were still of the young working set, taking an extended hour away from the office, to get a much needed fix of "girlfriend juice." I remember one lovely spring afternoon, we were enjoying a glass of wine in a trendy little Georgetown cafe when one of my gal pals had the audacity to look at her watch. Within moments -- like cockroaches in a suddenly lit room -- we scattered to cars and carpools and the realities of rearing children. No kiss-hug goodbyes, no oozing out the door, no lazy walk back to work wondering how to hide the wine glow for a couple of hours.
A few years ago, my friend MaryBeth nixed the lunch out and threw her own birthday party. I was the only one who didn't realize it was her birthday until I noticed that everyone else had slyly slipped a card, or a vase of flowers or a small gift on her hall table -- ooops. After a delicious lunch that the birthday girl had ordered and whipped up herself, we laughed about her throwing her own shindig. Her reasoning was sound. She had exactly what she wanted for her birthday, good friends, a yummy meal and no driving!
About six weeks after that, I threw my own birthday lunch. It was May. My garden was glorious. I really just wanted the girls to ooh and aah over my flowers. And boy did they ever! I also prepared exactly the girlie food that I wanted to eat, including what my friends all call the "Nutty Noodle Salad" (the recipe is making it around town). Like MaryBeth, it was one of the best birthday celebrations ever and exactly what I needed. Probably my best gift that day, though, was the homemade chocolate cake my friend Abbie baked.
Since then, we rotate the lunches around to different homes, sometimes hosting our own celebrations, sometimes not, but always a true treat for all of us. It was MaryBeth's birthday again this week (as well as the timeless Jackie's). None of us would even consider missing one of the birthday lunches and the indulgence of just sharing time with good friends. We all believe the most memorable birthday present is the gift of friendship, not something you think about giving or receiving, but something you have to share.
Oh, I brought the nutty salad.
Chinese Cabbage Salad (aka Nutty Noodle Salad)
Nutty Noodle Topping:
3/4 cup sliced almonds
1/2 cup sesame seeds (already toasted)
2 packages Ramen noodles, Oriental flavor
2 tablespoons butter
Toast almonds and smashed up Ramen noodles with butter at 275 degrees until light brown (about 10 minutes). Cool, then mix in big ziploc bag, with Ramen seasoning packets and sesame seeds. Set aside until ready to toss and serve salad.
1 cup canola oil
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup rice vinegar
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
Cook on medium heat until sugar dissolves. Cool, then chill until ready to serve.
2 heads Napa Cabbage, chopped into thin strips (like coleslaw)
1 medium bell pepper, chopped
8-10 green onions, chopped
Toss cabbage, bell pepper, green onions with topping and dressing, then serve.