By JAY REED
A few weeks ago I had a birthday. It wasn’t a milestone birthday — the kind that warrants its own section of “So, You’re … Years Old” cards at Hallmark — but it was a nice round number. Being from a math-oriented family, I’m pretty adept at rounding to the nearest 10: If it ends in five or more you round up, and if it’s four or less you round down. Simple. In so doing, however, this birthday math became somewhat unsettling. Overnight, it seems, I went from “about 40” (which is so close to 39 one might as well say it) to “about 50” (which is half a century). I didn’t like that, so I decided to turn the math on its ear and use it for my own purposes by keeping count of the birthday-esque foods I would enjoy during my annual birthday week. So there.
Yes, I said birthday week. Life is too short to celebrate a birthday for only 16 or so waking hours, especially when one is about 50. The day began with a birthday sack full of goodies from the family. For breakfast, I was thrilled to find an apple fritter and a blueberry cake donut — my two most favorit-est things from the donut shop. My family knows me well. Also in the bag was a box of dark chocolate candies with raspberry filling, another of my favorite flavor combinations. Go family! On the savory-ish side was a jar of garlic-onion marmalade that is destined to glaze a big chunk of roast beast in the near future. Rounding out the goodie bag was perhaps the oddest of the lot: a package of cashews flavored with vanilla and studded with bits of pomegranate. I was a bit skeptical at first, though I have been a cashew fan for many years. But they were surprisingly good, and should I get a hankering for a pomegranate-studded nut once again, I would welcome another bag.
Though I was off work on the actual birthday, everybody else in my family was either busy or traveling, so we saved the dinner, cake and ice cream for a time when we could all get together. But I certainly wasn’t going to settle for an ordinary day, at least not in what I ate.
(I know some of you are thinking, when DO you eat ordinarily, Jay? But it does happen. Really, it does).
By day’s end, I ate with all the family, just not all at the same time. The theme of the day would be simple, but good.
For lunch, I was in the mood for a burger, so the Wife and I went to Christy’s and shared a basket. Being my birthday, I was not required to share, but I wanted to pace myself. Mission accomplished — not a fancy burger, not a gourmet burger, but an excellent burger.
At dinner time Wife had another commitment, so the Kids and I met the Folks at C.J.’s for another simple staple: pizza. It was a good choice: great pizza with interesting topping combinations, fun with the fam, and a good close to the birthday. But the birth week was just beginning.
I had to work in Oxford the following two days, so that again made it difficult for all of us to get together for the “official” celebration, but it also opened up opportunities for some good celebratory road food. At work, my colleagues let me pick the lunch spot and even picked up the tab. Just that week I had seen the Bizarre Foods episode that featured spots from Memphis down through the Mississippi delta, including a meat-and-three joint in Oxford, so that’s the place I chose: Mama Jo’s. When I called to see what she had that day, among the meats were neck bones, pig’s feet and chitlins. I ordered fried chicken (another old birthday tradition), but if she had been offering pig’s ears, as I knew she did from time to time, my order may have changed. On the way home that day, I stopped at Buck’s in Calhoun City for a piece of caramel cake. Since I had plans for an unusual cake and ice cream combo in the days to follow (I wasn’t sure how that would turn out), I needed to have at least one piece of birthday cake I could count on. On the other side of town, I stopped at Nancy’s for an order of fried dill pickle spears. I keep her number in my phone for just such occasions.
On Sunday, we finally found a few minutes together for a more official celebration. My folks had celebrated their 49th anniversary the week before, so we had lots of reasons to party. Good parents that they are, they let me choose the restaurant. I was looking for a good steak, so we headed for The Veranda. The special that night was a ribeye with a Cajun cream sauce and a side of shrimp. Being a special night, I threw caution to the wind and ordered it all for myself.
(In other words, the sharing was over — I did let a few at the table try a bite, but I required a bite of their meal in return. Did I mention it was my birthday?)
And though I’m sure the grilled asparagus that came with it was very good, I opted for the tempura-battered version they offer because — are you ready — it’s my birthday and I’ll fry if I want to.
After dinner, we retired to the house to try my own bizarre foods: sweet corn cake and corn ice cream. But that tale will have to wait for a few more column inches. Stay tuned.
Jay Reed is a local foodie and pharmacist. The culinary tastes expressed here are his and do not necessarily reflect the appetites of the Starkville Daily News or individual members of its staff. He welcomes your comments at firstname.lastname@example.org .