It will be my birthday soon. Apart from parties for my 21st and 30th birthdays I’ve never been one for big events, finding that, as the host, one gets little chance to spend any time with the individual guests. I much prefer a series of small celebrations where I can truly enjoy the company of the people I’m with.
You’d think that an August birthday would ensure that, at least sometimes, one of the birthday lunches that I arrange with friends would have a decent chance of taking place in the garden. Although the actual day varies (of the lunch, not the birthday obviously), it is an astonishing thirteen years (my fiftieth) since the weather was good enough for an al fresco celebration. Once, a few years ago, we managed to sit out for about fifteen minutes but were all shivering in no time so food and guests moved back indoors. This year, as most others, it rained.
Time was when having friends for a meal meant a dinner party and hours in the kitchen, striving for perfection, fretting over the timings so that the soufflé wouldn’t sink! Nowadays I issue invitations to casual lunches instead of dinner and am far more relaxed having realised that it’s about the friends more than the food, so I opt for dishes that can be prepared beforehand. Simple food, good friends, lots of laughter and the knowledge that it wouldn’t actually matter if something didn’t go right or got forgotten… that’s what perfection means now.
Choosing a vegetarian Mediterranean theme (complete with Spanish guitar and Greek taverna music courtesy of Alexa), we started with sundried tomato bread with tomato and olive tapenade, balsamic vinegar with lemon oil and a chilli oil.
The main course included a courgette, tomato, red onion and Manchego cheese tart (my first attempt at using my new lattice pastry cutter – harder than it looked. I’m sure my technique will improve) and stuffed peppers. Alongside was salad of Mozzarella, tomatoes, cucumber and olives with fresh basil, and potatoes with paprika.
To finish – raspberry roulade with Greek yogurt and a mixture of chopped peaches and raspberries and then coffee with Portuguese Ginja (cherry liqueur) filled tiny chocolate cups. I forgot to take photos at this stage so here are some taken previously of the roulade, and in the Ginja shop in Obidos, Portugal.
And even though I barely drink, I joined the others in a glass of champagne.