This year, Naomi's birthday came two days after Passover and four days before Easter, making it, to some, a mere blur on the calendar. In our house, however, March 31 was noted, as it is every year, in bright pink marker and fancy script befitting the day: Naomi's Day!
And so why, I must wonder, is it that Naomi's birthday would pass without a parade? Ever? Why would she say, in response to my query about how her birthday was going, that she was a little surprised that she didn't get calls from some of the people she considers family? Of course, she is Naomi and, so, dug up various excuses and reasons, and applied them all to the assorted delinquents. She's too generous of heart, in my estimation, especially since, to this day, they've still not called to say boo.
Fully aware of the WhatAboutMe universe in which we linger, and wanting the celebration of the day of Naomi's entrance into this world to be totally Naomi-centered, Evan and I planned our course of action many months ago. Knowing that Naomi prefers her won birthday parties to be devoid of guests, we invited her for a quiet dinner at our house.
Two years ago, we tried to have an intimate surprise dinner party for Naomi's birthday, with only Naomi, her husband, Evan and me in attendance. We moved along nicely, planning and plotting until, through some course of events that, to this day, remain mirky in our haunted memories, all hell broke loose. Our intimate dinner for four evolved, in one uncontrollable afternoon, into a dinner party for the masses. We found ourselves "inviting" people who called for invitations, who, in turn, felt compelled to invite their own guests, not one of whom was Naomi's friend. The usual late arrivals arrived predictably and dreadfully late, and the tag-along invites brought dates, but not gifts. The group had a single conversation centered entirely and solely around the most irksome of topics and characters, and never once turned to the guest of honor, who sat there smiling and nodding and, I've no doubt, calculating exactly how long she had to stay before fleeing the scene without being rude. Having had dinner and cake, opened her presents and lingered a while, Naomi put on her coat as she thanked Evan and me profusely. Holding both of us in a giant, warm hug, she begged us to slaughter, on sight, any urge to throw her a party again, ever, in all of her remaining years.
This year, as it turned out, Passover was two days before her birthday. In true Naomi-ness, she and her husband did the bulk of the Seder cooking, transporting the food into the city from their house more than two and a half hours away. The day after her birthday, her husband left for a week, so her birthday was spent readying him for his trip. Finally, on Easter, Naomi was all ours.
It was perfect, too, because Naomi, our nice Jewish girl, loves Easter. (Frankly, Naomi refuses to turn down an opportunity to fuss and fix and prepare for family and friends, so all holidays are equally precious to her.)
Evan, who adores a good play on words fashioned especially for the recipient, had, long ago, come up with the perfect gift. At every family event, Naomi and I do kitchen duty, and the outfit of the day always includes an apron and yellow rubber gloves. No, this isn't a housewife's sexual fantasy, it's Naomi's idea of preparedness. While I've been known to don an apron on the rare occasion, I will not, under any circumstances, do anything at all ever while wearing yellow rubber gloves. Ever. But I digress.
Evan's idea was to paint something witty and purely Naomi-esque on an apron. I would make the apron and then paint his literary genius on the pocket. Here's the foundation for his thinking: Naomi was raised in a traditional Jewish family. She attended Hebrew school for five years in preparation for her Bat Mitzvah and is, in many ways, the embodiment of a good Jewish girl. She feeds us and hugs us, and tells us we are the best and the brightest, before noting that we're too skinny and probably could use more rest (or sex, depending on who she's counseling).
"You're wasting away," she laughingly scolds in her exaggerated New York Jewish mama accent as I wedge my fat ass into the chair directly in front of the pile of chocolate she's laid out especially for me.
I believe that most of her husbands have been Jewish, and, of course, I know that Evan's brother, her current husband, is. All of this notwithstanding, she does not cling to a strong religious belief system. It's the very best of the Jewish heritage, culture and tradition all rolled up in one beautiful Naomi.
Evan has a wonderfully warped sense of humor and Naomi possesses a delightfully quick and equally warped wit. When EvanHumor enters the conversaton, recongnition flickers in her eyes immediately and her appreciation for his cleverness is demonstrated with rolling rounds of hearty belly laughs. Now, bearing in mind these senses of humor, in conjunction with the apron/yellow rubber glove fetish, Evan's creative juices spewed out this:
Now, the cake. For some reason I've yet to understand, Naomi is called The Duck. In honor of her birthday last year, and her Grand Duckness every year, Evan and I made the Duck Diving Cake.
The Bird Brothel Birdhouse Evan made for Naomi's birthday last year. She won't let birds go in it--they'll make it dirty, she says.This year, we made an Easter scene with, of course, a duck in residence. We made it out of sugar cookies and, Naomi's favorite, gingerbread, and decorated it all with Royal Frosting.
I say "we" made these lovelies because, while I'm the baker, Evan is my technical advisor and cheerleader and, when needed, carpenter and master finagler. I've yet to take on one of these bizarre projects without his counsel and, frankly, the bizarreness is borne, as a rule, largely out of his oddly brilliant and frighteningly creative mind. Naomi, our comrade in the absurd, was thilled with her "cake" and felt loved, making ours a successful endeavor.
So, dear Naomi, Happy Birthday one more time. We love you more than you know. You're a true and consistent friend to both of us, and you bring tremendous joy into our lives. And, my dear, you have the best That-was-the-time-I-had-sex-in-the-Louvre genre of stories of anyone on earth!
GINGERBREAD COOKIES (adapted from Betty Crocker's Cookbook)
1 cup packed brown sugar
1/3 cup butter
1 ½ cups dark molasses
2/3 cup cold water
7 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
Mix brown sugar, butter, molasses and water. Stir in remaining ingredients. Cover and refrigerate at least 2 hours.
Prepeat oven to 350 degrees (F). Roll dough out on floured surface to about ¼ inch thickness. Cut with floured cookie cutters and place about 2 inches apart on lightly greased chookie sheet.
Bake for about 10 to 12 minutes, or until no indentation remains when the center of the cookie is touched. Be careful to not to over bake.
Allow to cool slightly before removing from cookie sheet. Cool completely on wire rack before decorating with Royal Frosting.
FROSTING AND ASSEMBLY
I still don't quite have the piping as clean as I'd like, but it was easier, and more fun, after reading Brown Eyed Baker's How To on decorating with Royal Frosting.
(The base is a sugar cookie. I was concerned that the gingerbread would puff too much to make a decent foundation. Roll out about 1/2 inch of dough and use a dinner plate as a template, placing the plate on the dough and then cutting around the outer edge of the plate. Drape the cut dough around your rolling pin, and carefully transfer it to an ungreased cookie sheet. I baked it at 350 degrees for about 25 minutes. After the first 15 minutes, check it frequently until it's a very light golden color along the edge.)
When the base was completely cooled, I iced it with thinned, green tinted Royal Icing and placed it in the refrigerator overnight to harden.
I don't yet have a duck cookie cutter (if you can imagine such a thing!), so I cut the tail off of the turkey shape, reshaping her feet into smoother, longer shapes, and elongating her beak into a bill. I also pulled her head down a bit and fluffed up her tail.
I decorated each cookie and placed those, too, in the refrigerator to allow the icing to harden completely.
The black flower is actually purpleOnce hardened, the cookies were applied to the base using piping consistency icing.
The sheep and house were thick enough to allow me to put a toothpick through them, with the other end of the toothpick going through the sugar cookie and icing on the bottom of the cookie for added glue. Everything was brought to room temperature before the toothpicks were inserted.
I made the cookies one day, and frosted and assembled them the next. Unfortunately, the pictures are blurry, but the "cake" was cute, the cookies were delicious and we had a very happy Duck in our house.
** The apron and its decoration were made with love and respect, and were no way meant to be a display of anything derogatory toward Jews, Christians or Cheese Lovers. If you're easily offended, frankly, this probably isn't the blog for you.