Wednesday was my office birthday. You know, that day when your coworkers surprise you with flowers, a card, and a box full of ridiculously awesome pastries from a local bakery? Oh, your office mates don’t do that? You should probably just submit your resignation now. Because I’m telling you, office birthdays are THE BEST and everyone deserves one. Even better than the sweets and flowers, birthdays in my office also come with a special birthday question, compliments of my boss. I knew the question was coming, so I prepared as best I could, by trying to summon up memories of birthdays past.
There was my fourth birthday, when my baby sitter showed me the elaborate castle cake that my mom had constructed and hid in the pantry the night before my party. I cried my eyes out because I ruined my own surprise. As a kid, my mom always threw me a theme party with themes you might not expect. Like fish. There were birthday dinners with my parents, just the three of us at the kitchen table, when I got to choose the meal. It was invariably pasta, usually fresh ravioli, often filled with something fancy like lobster or artichokes and fontina. And then there was a small cake with tall sparkler candles that were always impossible to blow out. And lots of kisses and “we love you’s” and probably private lamentations about how quickly I was growing up. My “adult” birthdays have been marked by fabulous meals at restaurants I’ve been eyeing for months, with friends or just with Matt, reflecting on our year. There was our thirtieth birthday party last year, when we packed our home with our favorite people and a table full of meatballs and macaroni and cheese.
But it’s difficult to recall specific birthdays that are more than a few years old. And the one image that keeps popping into my head isn’t from a birthday of mine, but from one of dad’s. It’s late June and the sun is shining through the French doors. He’s sitting in his usual chair at the kitchen table, holding up an Ortiz t-shirt – my gift to him that year – with a huge grin on his face. That was a good birthday.
Despite my sorry memory, when my birthday question came, I didn’t hesitate one second. “What’s the most exotic location you’ve ever spent a birthday?” It was ten years ago and Matt and I had just figured out that maybe we wanted to be more than friends. We were in Barcelona, traveling with classmates during our spring break, and we stayed at a youth hostel on a picturesque plaza. There was a nice bar beneath the hostel, where Matt and I ended up after a long day of sightseeing. Matt ordered me a glass of champagne. It was my twenty-first birthday. That was a good birthday. My favorite, really.
For my birthday tomorrow, we’ll be enjoying the glorious springtime weather. A walk to the tidal basin to see the cherry blossoms and maybe a trip to the zoo. A meal at a restaurant I’ve been wanting to try and a few cards from relatives, a present from Matt. The weather is supposed to be nice and I know the company will be even nicer. Another happy birthday for the books. And finally, in honor of the season, I give you this light and bright chicken salad with bits of lemon rind. It tastes like spring and sunshine.
1 1/4 teaspoons salt, plus more to taste, divided
2 tablespoons finely chopped mint leaves
1 clove garlic, minced
3 tablespoons lemon juice, divided
1/4 cup olive oil, divided
1 1/4 pound skinless boneless chicken breast, pounded to 1/2-inch thick
1 pound green beans, washed and trimmed
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh thyme leaves
1 tablespoon honey
Freshly ground black pepper
In a large bowl, combine the chicken, lemon, green beans and thyme. In a small bowl combine the rest of the lemon juice and the honey, whisk in the remainder of the olive oil, and season with salt and pepper, to taste. Pour the dressing over the salad and toss to combine.