We had a bunch of people over last night to celebrate my 40th birthday; the actual day is Tuesday, but Saturdays are more conducive to parties. In keeping with the dinner party traditions of our crew, we made it a pot luck, but I took care of all the main things. Everyone loves my smoked chickens, so I made six of them, plus polenta, and pressure-cooked cabbage with peppercorns, juniper berries, fenugreek, cumin, and caraway seeds. Others brought 2 kinds of greens, turnips, fruit salad, amazing cheeses, and more.
For starters, I made more of my maple-togarashi popcorn, which is a nice accompaniment to sparkling wine and gave early arrivals something to eat while we waited for the rest. Once everyone arrived, I gave each person a coffee cup with my patented cappucino mushroom soup: crimini, shiitake, chanterelle, portobello, and porcini all caramelized and puréed with espresso and cacao nibs, and served with foamed milk on top with a few more cacao nibs. I didn't take a picture, but there's some soup left so I'll try to make some later this week. I also made a caramelized onion tart with gruyère and pine nuts, which was as good as it sounds.
John and I had been lamenting 1968 as a birth year, since it is widely hailed as one of the worst ever in France. But he's resourceful, and incredibly generous, and produced two immaculate bottles of 1968 Viña Valoria; 1968 was a great year in Spain. He actually apologized for not spending $1900 on a bottle of '68 Vega Sicilia. I pulled out a 1995 Remírez de Ganuza so we could compare Riojas, and it was fascinating; as good as the Remírez is, it's still a baby in comparison. And the Valoria was a delight, and continued to evolve over the course of the evening. By the end, it had arrived at a sort of Brunello kind of place, with dark, tarry fruit at the core- but all the leather and spices swirling around that core were unmistakably Spanish. Best of all, we only drank one of them, so I can save the other for a future birthday. This wine has many more years left in it.
Christine found my Mom's incredible cheesecake recipe, and made me one; I haven't had it since my Mom died and it was perfect. It's the best cheesecake of all time, and I might just post the recipe- it's also very easy, and kicks the asses of all other cheesecakes ever made. Sirkka made me an unbelievably beautiful espresso-chocolate cake with fancy frosting and chocolate covered espresso beans on top. I'm ashamed to say I didn't take a picture.
I got a wonderful pile of gifts, including a haircut on the spot from Richard, a fashion industry pro, who arrived with his kit. John and Chris had just returned from a tour in Japan, and they brought me an astonishing pile of culinary goodies:
Chris brought me the wooden box, which is a bonito shaver; the fish-shaped thing in the foreground is a hunk of smoked dried bonito that one grates into the box and then uses to make dashi. I have coveted his for years, and he remembered. All the rest is from John; udon, ume plums, kombu, dried shiitake, yuzu miso, ume vinegar, 7-spice, sudachi juice, kinako, soba-cha, and a soy-mirin sauce all made by this one woman who John reveres. My head is spinning with ideas, and with gratitude. I have the best friends in the world.