Saturday, July 30, 2011

This Canary's Birthday

"Happy Birthday" in shorthand

For those who didn't know, my birthday was just over a week ago on July 20th.  I turned 33, offically entering my 34th year of life.  Now, I know several people who put a lot of pressure on their birthday, as if it should be somehow more special than every other day, or perhaps it should be especially indulgent, spontaneous, or memorable.  And while there's nothing wrong with that, that just isn't for me.  

If there's anything that I've learned over the years, it's that my birthday isn't really about me when it's all said and done.  It's about those around me, my friends and my family.  The people who allow me to be the person I am and love me all the same. 

I can trace this belief back to high school.  I was a junior about to be a senior in high school, and I had elected to take a shorthand class during the summer session.  Our teacher had an unmistakable style: a perpetual silk scarf tossed over her shoulder, jet black hair done up tightly in a bun or a chignon, large jeweled rings on her fingers, and a penchant for wearing sunglasses even when she was indoors.  On the day of her birthday, she asked for permission to get on her "soapbox."  She told us that on our birthdays, we shouldn't be the only ones receiving flowers, cards, or presents.  At the very least, we need to send a Thank You card - to our parents.  To acknowledge their part in our birthday, all their sacrifices, all their efforts, and all the gifts they've given us that can't be seen and can't be counted.  That day was close to my own birthday, so I remember how what she said felt particularly poignant.  And from that moment on, my perspective on my birthday has been decidedly "other-focused."

So what did I do on my birthday, you wonder?  Well, when I think of a "perfect" day, it has to include good friends and good food.  So, naturally, I went to work at The Steeping Room. :)

I was the first server on at 9am, and I arrived a little early (an amazing feat) so I could eat the most important meal of the day before my shift started.  I had a breakfast sandwich consisting of scrambled eggs between two pieces of Rudi's multigrain bread with spicy chili mayo, arugula, and roasted red peppers.  Sometimes I wake up thinking of that sandwich, it's so good.

The Hunter Special

And from there, the day just kept getting better.  My shift was nothing short of awesome.  I had been gone for nearly three months while I worked on my show in San Antonio, and this was my first full week back at the restaurant.  Throughout the course of the day, I had the privilege of waiting on many regulars whom I hadn't seen in a very long time.  It felt like a homecoming, a reunion, and to be able to take care of so many special people - that was my gift to myself.

The famous Napa Rolls with chicken and tofu

At the end of my shift, I sat on the patio and enjoyed our Napa Rolls - the restaurant's take on spring rolls substituting fresh shredded napa cabbage for the customary vermicelli.  They're served with a tangy peanut sauce and sriracha.  Our "pastry goddess," Heather, also made a special dessert for me:  two little pignoli-peanut butter sandwiches.  The frangipan-based cookies combined with the gooey peanut butter resulted in a blissful smirk that wouldn't leave my face anytime soon.  It was a delicious way to end my work day.

Thank you, Heather!

What next?  Well, besides getting new tires and going to an audition, that was pretty much it.  It was a Wednesday, after all, and many of my friends were busy with either work, rehearsal, or performing, so I didn't plan anything.  However, the thought did cross my mind that maybe I would want to go to a quiet dinner with one or two friends.  Another server, Stephanie, had recently started to transition to a GFDF lifestyle, and we had thrown around the idea of me taking her out to eat just a few days earlier.  I was craving Asian food, and there was a lovely pan-Asian restaurant where I had had an impressive meal once previous.  Luckily, she was available that night, so after my audition, I fought through rush hour traffic, picked her up, and away we went to Ka-Prow Bistro.

Asian food, in general, makes my heart smile.  Japanese, Chinese, Vietnamese, Thai, Filipino, Indonesian...all of them are comforting to me on a very basic level.  So it's wonderful to go to a restaurant that serves a variety of Asian cuisines and does each of them well, if not superbly.  And to have them be GF- and DF-friendly?  I mean, come on.

Stephanie and I started with edamame and lettuce wraps, the latter of which is a dish featuring spicy stir-fried minced chicken, mushrooms, bell peppers, and onions to be wrapped in, you guessed it, lettuce.  Delightfully delectable and messy.  To drink, we shared a bottle of chilled, unfiltered Junmai sake, sipping (or slurping, in my case) from little porcelain cups.  Sweet, smooth, and uplifting.

For our second course, we shared a Thai yellow curry, with chicken, carrots, potatoes, and onions, and Pad Se-ew, one of my favorite flat noodle dishes, with chicken, broccoli, egg, and bean sprouts in a sweet, Tamari-based sauce.  We were both getting giggly at this point, pointing at the picture of Mt. Fuji behind our table and posting on Facebook how we were having dinner there.  We were also getting full, so we packed up the rest of the two entrees and went back to Stephanie's house for dessert.
Between my audition and picking Stephanie up, I did manage to dash into a grocery store and pick up a couple sweets, knowing how rare it is to find desserts that are both GF and DF when eating out.  I bought a beautiful Saturn Peach and a raw, vegan, and GF meyer lemon Hail Merry Miracle Tart .  On our way home, we both had a craving for ice cream, so we raced to Whole Foods, arriving just before they closed, and picked up some  Maple Pecan NadaMoo and Go Raw chai-spiced "cookies."

[Stomach grumbling]

Sitting in her studio, looking out onto her Shangri-La inspired balcony garden, we first enjoyed the lemon tart with fresh sliced peaches and then moved onto the NadaMoo, garnished with ground cinnamon and cardamom, using the chai-spiced cookies as little scoops.  We ate mostly in silence, Devandra Barnhart playing softly in the background, glancing at each occasionally in recognition of our gastronomic bliss.  We would later laugh how the commute to Mt. Fuji wasn't so bad.

Good food, good people:  check, check.

And that was my birthday.  What I chose to celebrate were the ingredients of my life that make me happy and that make me whole.  At the end of the day, it isn't about the quantity of gifts you receive or the number of people who wish you a "Happy Birthday."  It's really about the quality of the people and their sheer presence in your life, and how those people can make every day special and meaningful.

Reflecting on the circle of friends, coworkers, and family surrounding me, I know that I am truly blessed.  And on my birthday, it is to those people and for those people that I am grateful.

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