Category Archives: food

It’s My Birthday, So Worship Me For The Day, Part 2

donna_wes_2009_birthday

Mrs. Pogoer and me with birthday cake, around the time of the fateful dinner.

So to continue with the birthday theme from where I left off over five years ago, this tale begins a couple of years prior to that. It’s a prequel, as it were. As has been previously established, my late wife Mrs. Pogoer, a/k/a Donna, and I shared a birthdate — same day, same year, me being all of eight minutes older, yadda yadda yadda. And this year was one of those joint birthdays that ended in a zero, so I felt considerable self-administered pressure to Do It Up Right.

We — or, rather, I — decided to spend our birthday dinner at a celebrated restaurant outside of town. This eatery — let’s call it Thames on the Creek — specialized in gourmet preparations of wild game, and although this wasn’t Mrs. Pogoer’s favorite cuisine by a long shot, she very graciously decided to humor me and accompany me there for “my” portion of the birthday festivities. In my defense, it was a place I’d wanted to visit for a very long time.

Not too long before these events, I had contracted with a major travel publisher to review hotels and restaurants in Austin and environs. When we arrived at Thames on the Creek, Mrs. Pogoer mentioned to the server that I was a restaurant reviewer, perhaps hoping to score an extra complimentary dessert in addition to the double-birthday cake that most half-decent restaurants provide for the occasion (writers know how to work the angles).

While the wife ordered wine and a salad, I busily set about ordering the likes of venison tartare, salamander mousse, bison bites with Béarnaise sauce, and rattlesnake cakes with chipotle remoulade (not the exact things I actually ordered, but you get the idea). I tackled the offerings greedily. After all, hey, it’s my birthday! Our birthday! One that ends in a zero!

And so we celebrated the amazing accomplishment of not dying for 12 months. And at some point, Donna noticed that I was turning green around the gills. My gorge was rising as a result of scarfing down one or four unfamiliar foodstuffs, and I bolted towards the restroom, where I threw back a toilet stall door and vomited up assorted wild game and wine into the bowl.

Donna was sufficiently alarmed to phone 911 and call for the EMTs, and within ten minutes or so an ambulance pulled up and, once in the entranceway, I groggily submitted to various checks for life signs.

Management informed Donna that the meal was comped for both of us. I don’t know whether this was because of the upchucking or the fact that I was an off-the-clock “restaurant critic,” but I’ve never been so embarrassed to get a free meal.

And the moral of the story is…All things considered, we should’ve just gone to the Melting Pot. She always liked that place.

We didn’t stay for desserts; I’d already received mine, and it was just.

 

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It’s My Birthday, So Worship Me For The Day, Part 1

I don’t know about you, but I’m getting sick of pretending to be excited every time it’s somebody’s birthday, you know what I mean? What is the big deal? How many times do we have to celebrate that someone was born?

Every year, over and over… All you did was not die for twelve months.

That’s all you’ve done, as far as I can tell. Now those astrology things where they tell you all the people that have the same birthday as you? It’s always an odd group of people too, isn’t it? It’s like Ed Asner, Elijah Muhammad and Secretariat.

— Jerry’s opening monologue on Seinfeld, “The Outing,” originally aired Feb. 11, 1993 (which just happened to be my sister’s birthday, but never mind)

Yes, we must obey...

Yo...bestrew THIS. Click on it, you know you want to.

Birthdays are like genitals: Everybody’s got one, but not everybody knows what to do with it, or even wants to deal with the whole business at all. Nevertheless, there inevitably  comes the day that you must deal, and guess which day that is. You, dear reader, know what that’s like, for you, too, have that one day out of the year that’s Your Special Day. Yes, it is, it’s special.

Worship me, for I am Birthday Man, deity for a day. I am expected to spend the entire 24 hours in a constant state of unnatural Happy Happiness Squared, with a frozen rictus smile on my face. I’m having a HAPPY BIRTHDAY, dammit. So leave me alone while I do that.

Yes, that’s my favorite Seinfeld routine (the one about baseball fans being loyal to laundry coming in a close second). Yes, I didn’t die for 12 months, so let’s have some cake!Ah, the tyranny of the birthday ritual. It will envelop you, whether you like it or not, and demand your fealty to the foolishness. Let’s have the courage to call birthdays what they really are: The biggest gratuitous ego trip this side of a wedding, at a tiny fraction of the cost and hassle. Plus, unlike a wedding (unless you’re a completely off-the-rails celebrity), you get to have one every year!

The American Way of Birthdays has long served me as one of the innumerable subjects I know which are deserving of crankiness. It’s not, of course, just the anniversary of your birth. It’s Acknowledge My Existence Day — for most of us, barring a time of spectacular public acclaim, the greatest burst of recognition we’ll get until the eulogy, or at least the retirement party. Great accomplishment? Sure, wink wink. Celebrating one’s birthday is, like organized religion or televised singing contests, a social convention we generally don’t question, even though it’s of very questionable validity.

For all my cynicism, mind you, I don’t want to deny little kids their birthday fun. I’ve got two six-year-olds of my own, after all, and I recognize that when you’re dealing with developing little bodies and minds birthdays are a useful marker, appropriate, and fun. But after one’s 12th birthday — or at the outside, the confirmation/bar or bat mitzvah/sweet 16/quinceañera — it becomes another story. Like continuing to hang out your stocking for Santa, or keeping up the traditions of the tooth fairy, milk and cookies, and bedwetting well into your 20s, 30s, 40s and beyond, the birthday-candle, balloons, and the singing of a certain stupid, ubiquitous song  should raise some eyebrows, at the least. But somehow, that doesn’t happen, and the foolishness is given a free pass. (And don’t get me started on Halloween costumes.)

Face it: nobody really cares that it’s somebody’s birthday, we just pretend to care because we want them to pretend to care when it’s ours. It’s like Santa Claus, or your salary, or how many times a year you have sex: Once you’re over a certain age, it becomes a conspiracy of silence, about which the less said, the better.

“So you’ve been an abject failure in every area of your life? Cheer up, at least you still get to have a birthday. Have some freakin’ cake and balloons! You’re a year older!”

Acknowledge my existence, world. Please? (This also explains the existence of blogs and karaoke. We must have our say, even if we don’t know what we’re saying and nobody else wants to hear it.)

The acknowledging takes the form of…oh, you know, cards and candles and conical hats and (for those in technical adulthood) visits to a bar and multiple toasts all ’round. The corporate world, of course, takes notice of Your Day in its own bastardized, sanitized-to-the-point-of-screaming-boredom way with balloons and crepe paper ’round the cubicle and the occasional potluck to take the edge off the daily desperation and the drudgery of which no end ever comes.

Then, of course, there’s the big birthday game-changer of recent years: Facebook, which notifies you every time one of your friends has a birthday, which for some of us means two, three, or even four obligatory greetings in an average day.  Every day is somebody else’s birthday: There is no escape, and the cycle will keep repeating itself day after day, year after year, ad infinitum. Last month, David Plotz explored the phenomenon on slate.com to good effect in “My Fake Facebook Birthdays,” which explored what happened when he set his birthday to three successive dates in July: predictably, most of his friends, or “friends,” didn’t notice at all, just relieved that they didn’t have to send out an actual card, with a stamp on it and everything, and even put it in a mailbox. Hey, this is 2011!

In any case, it’s not my birthday anymore. It’s not even my birthday month. Not until next year, anyway. The balloons are deflated, the candles blown out, the cake long passed through various digestive tracts until…well, one need not go into details. Suffice it to say, the party has moved on to another table.

Not fair. Sob.

I want every day to be my birthday.

I want to be God.

Or something.

To be continued…

Recipe: Nana’s Noodle Charlotte

My grandma Thea with my sister Fern (L) and me in Flushing, NY, some time ago

Our latest version, from Rosh Hashanah 5775 (2014, to some of you).

Our latest version, from Rosh Hashanah 5775 (2014, to some of you).

My knowledge of Noodle Charlotte comes down from my paternal grandmother, Thea Eichenwald (1900-1994), who grew up in a German Jewish household near Düsseldorf in western Germany. Nana was an excellent cook, and on festive occasions like birthdays and Thanksgiving my parents would bundle my sister and me into the car and make the trek north from Long Island to the modest one-bedroom apartment on Radford Street in Yonkers where Nana had lived since the late 1940s, and where time stood comfortingly still. The feasts she would prepare would always include this dish, one of our family’s favorites.

I don’t know if Noodle Charlotte can be properly described as a German or a German Jewish dish — most Jewish people would probably describe it as a kugel. To me, though, it’s Noodle Charlotte. (As Sonya from the the German-Jewish Cuisine blog informs me, it’s actually called Schalet in German and there are many versions out there, from sweet to savory; you can find several online.)

The Noodle Charlotte, or Schalet, that my grandmother prepared is sweet, but not overly so, in a home-cooked, cinnamon-apple kind of way. The egg white binds together the apples, raisins and noodles, but not too tightly, and the whole affair falls apart easily at the touch of a fork. The noodles are soft but chewy, and a bit of crunch in spots isn’t a bad thing.

Nana Thea never wrote recipes down — she didn’t need to — but back in 1986, when I was living in Boston, I cajoled my sister into asking her for the recipe. So thanks to both of them, here it is for posterity. My wife (who is also an excellent cook) has whipped up batches on several occasions. As noted above, plenty of variations on the dish exist, but this is the way Nana prepared it in our family, and I’m not complaining. Noodle Charlotte is a timeless treat, and you don’t have to wait for a holiday to enjoy it.

Noodle Charlotte

Ingredients:

8 oz. package of wide, flat egg noodles

1/2 cup sugar (or equivalent sugar substitute if you must)

Raisins (use your judgment, but err on the side of generosity; golden raisins work very well here)

Four egg whites, beaten to snow peaks

Four or five Macintosh apples, peeled and chopped into smallish chunks

Cinnamon to taste

A few squirts of lemon juice

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Recipe:

Cook noodles to al dente. Mix all ingredients together; save the snowed egg whites for last, then fold in the whites. Put in a deep baking pan well greased with butter. (I remember Nana’s version being at least 4″ deep, the kind you would get from a bread loaf pan of about 4 1/2″ x 9″, but you can also choose to bake it in a Pyrex pan of about 6″ x 9″ x 2″. I’d be interested to hear about results with various pan sizes.) It’s not part of Nana’s recipe, but you may also want to add perhaps 1/4 to 1/2 a stick of butter to the mix, according to taste.

Bake 30 to 40 minutes at 375°. The top should be nicely browned, but not burnt. It’s best served warm, but not hot.