Friday, May 22, 2009

Birthday Food

It's my birthday in two days so I'm planning what I want to cook and bake for my birthday meal and thinking back to other birthdays and what foods were associated with those memories.

I think the oldest memory I have of birthday meals goes back to when I was living at my parents' house and my mother made me shrimp curry for my birthday. Considering that I grew up in the Midwest and I was still pretty young, that was quite brave of me to request something like that. I always liked trying things that were different, considered unpalatable by some (think of that terrible stinky cheese that Dad used to bring home from somewhere). I also remember that we used to have strawberries on angel food cake for our birthday cakes. It might have been one of Mom's favorites. I know that now she makes chocolate cake with chocolate whipped cream but I don't think she did that until more recently. 

Mary's birthday is two weeks before mine so we sometimes shared birthday celebrations, that's where 'we' comes from. The one and only birthday party I had with children other than family was a shared one with her. 

Two years ago my sister came out to visit around my birthday. Ariel and I made paella. It was gorgeous! And we served it in the beautiful ceramic pot that Chris E. gave me as a birthday present a few years earlier. Unfortunately, Mary was sick and couldn't eat any of it so a lot was wasted. Last year I had a potluck with friends and neighbors so the food was random. Usually I make my Mayan chocolate cake for all birthdays but this year I am planning something different.

This year I'm planning and cooking the whole meal myself because I realized that 'though I love to cook (occasionally) there's usually no one around to eat it when I'm struck by the desire. So since Arie and Oscar will be here, I'm going to cook for pleasure, my birthday present to myself. This is what I'm thinking about: I brought mole rojo paste back from Mexico last fall and haven't used any of it yet so I'm going to make pollo con mole rojo. Then to go with it, I have been wanting to try making tamales so here is my opportunity, I'll make tamales with black bean filling. Then to make it colorful, I'll make sweet potato fries and a salad with greens from the garden. Sounds pretty good! And to top it off, instead of the cake, I'm going to try making a rhubarb pie with meringue top, a recipe from The Washington local and seasonal cookbook. 

Here is my Mayan chocolate cake recipe. It's a revision of a recipe that someone gave me years ago:

Mayan Chocolate Cake

1 1/2 cups sugar
1 3/4 cups flour
3/4 cup cocoa
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground allspice berries
1/4 tsp dried cayenne powder
1/4 to 1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
2 eggs
1 cup milk
1/2 cup canola oil
2 tsp vanilla
1 cup boiling water

Heat oven to 350 degrees, grease and flour 2 round cake pans or 1 9x13 rectangular one.

In large bowl, mix all the dry ingredients. Add eggs, milk, oil and vanilla. Beat until well blended, about 2 minutes, add chocolate chips, then stir in boiling water.

Bake for 30 to 40 minutes until it's done in the middle. Let cool and frost or don't, your choice. 

This is a very deep dark cake, tastes very rich without being full of butter or cream. The cayenne warms it without making it too hot. There's enough vanilla to give it a fragrance. The smell of allspice reminds me of being where allspice trees grow.

Here is a not-so-great picture of an allspice tree (the multi-limbed one in the center) growing in Tikal (Guatemala). I bought allspice berries there, in the market at Coban, and brought them back with me.