A Birthday Spread And The Winner Of My Giveaway!

I haven’t exactly been very regular with my posts in sometime but I didn’t quite plan this short break from my blog. Things have been extra busy on the home front, add inertia on my part to that and the result was a 2 week break from blogging.

According to Don Marquis, “Procrastination is the art of keeping up with yesterday.” Looks like I'm doing an excellent job of procrastinating because I haven’t even been able to keep up with a week ago!

I've found that one of the best ways to deal with something is to take it head on,so I’ve jumped back on the food blogging wagon. It’s a different thing that I have been trying to write this post for the past 5 days, but I did get it done in the end.

A Birthday Spread And The Winner Of My Giveaway!

I’ve been away for only 2 weeks but I thought it apt to stage my “comeback” with an account of a celebration. It is Akshaya’s birthday next week but we decided to celebrate it 10 days earlier for various reasons, one of which was that her birthday is on a school day this year. She wanted to have a few friends over for tea, and since their parents happen to be good friends of ours we had a full house that day.

Whenever we have one of these “dos” I tend to go overboard a bit. I plan the menu well ahead of time and list a schedule for shopping and making everything so that I have everything under control. Unfortunately, every single time, circumstances seem to arrange themselves such that I’m running around at the last minute tiring myself out just getting things done. This time was pretty much the same except that I had an extra pair of hands to help me out as my sister was down for a short visit.

I could have made things easier for myself by ordering for some of the food, but I have this thing about making everything at home (except the Coke and crisps)! It’s a kind of tradition I’ve set for myself through the years whether for birthdays or other festive occasions.

I must also mention here, that I didn't have too much time to style the food before taking photographs so I'm afraid these aren't the best but they're good enough to tell you what was at the table.

Choosing a cake wasn’t too difficult since Akshaya always asks for vanilla and/ or chocolate with buttercream! As she tells me, she’s happy with a simple cake/ simple flavours and I’m the one who complicates things for myself by wanting to do something different or new. She’s got a point (I think) but then that’s how I am!

A Birthday Spread And The Winner Of My Giveaway!

Keeping the chocolate/ vanilla options in mind I finally settled on this cake to make. I ran into trouble right at the beginning. The recipe outlined an easy way of making a checkerboard cake (no cutting up three different coloured/ flavoured cakes and putting them back together) which appealed to me. Turned out that the batter which was for three 9” cakes was not even comfortably enough for two! So I didn’t have enough coloured cake batter for the different layers. I ended up having to make two batches of cakes for three layers and then had to “marble” the batter to make do. So I ended up with three marbled cakes which were slightly taller than desired and after frosting, ultimately one very tall cake!

A little while back, I was admiring the lovely cake my good friend Bina (she was the inspiration behind these cakes posted by Helen), made for her son’s birthday. Bina recently sent me a package through my sister filled with just the kind of stuff that makes me happy. Her package also included a packet of readymade gum paste.

So I decided to try my hand at making some daisies using that gum paste. Now these daisies are probably the easiest flowers one can make. But after a few attempts which left me with torn and wonky looking specimens, I improvised and made some white flowers of an unknown species!

Some chocolate buttercream and some rather sad looking (my daughter could draw prettier flowers as a five year old!) pseudo gumpaste daisies later, my rather tall and ungainly looking checkerboard-turned-marbled cake turned into something worthy enough to display in public!

A Birthday Spread And The Winner Of My Giveaway!

I did cut very thin slices to serve, but even those slices were filling enough to give some of the adults a slightly glazed look after they had ploughed their way through their portions of cake. It was a good thing that the cake tasted quite nice or I might have been a couple of friends less.

Luckily, everything else turned out right. We had these ribbon sandwiches which are almost a fixture at our teatime affairs as they never fail to please. I just couldn’t find the time to take some “nicer” pictures of them as there was no time between making them and getting ready before the guests arrived.

I had plans to make some cupcakes as well but never got around to making them as I ran out of time! In retrospect, this was probably a good thing given that there was plenty of birthday cake to go around.

This year, Akshaya also wanted cheesecake. A year back she wouldn’t come anywhere near it but now not only does she like cheesecake but lemon (or lime in my case) cheesecake is her favourite. Since it is mango season here and I had half a dozen Apoos (or Alphonso mangoes which I staunchly maintain are nowhere near the best Indian mangoes!) mangoes, I decided to make Eggless Mango Cheesecake Bars adapted from this recipe of mine. I added some agar to the mango puree to make it set better as I wanted to cut the cheesecake into bars.

A Birthday Spread And The Winner Of My Giveaway!

I also baked these Lime Cardamom Cookies from this recipe but decided to leave them plain. The lime is a perfect complement to the cardamom in these buttery shortbread-like cookies. If you have eaten Indian “Nankhatais”, these come really close to them in texture and taste except that the flavour of ghee is missing.

I wanted to balance out the sweet so I made some tartelettes (using some lovely readymade mini-tart shells I get here) filled with a cheese and herb flavoured mixed vegetable filling. Unfortunately I have no pictures of them as I didn’t have the time to take any.

My sister brought me a box of Za’atar which I put to good use by making these Fatayer of Yotam Ottolenghi’s. I am an absolute fan of Ottolenghi’s vegetarian fare and I knew these would be good. Fatayer, Lebanese/ Palestinian snack food, are small triangles of stuffed bread dough that are baked till brown. They are traditionally filled with meat or feta and spinach and served at room temperature which makes them perfect to serve as snacks, at teatime or for picnics.

A Birthday Spread And The Winner Of My Giveaway!

I wasn’t too sure that Akshaya and her friends would think spinach very celebratory fare, so I used caramelised onions, crumbled paneer, pine nuts that Harini brought me and raisins and seasoned with salt, chilli flakes and za’tar. If you don’t have za’tar, you could make your own za’tar if you have sumac or else use spices like cumin, thyme, oregano, basil or whatever suits your palate.

The birthday tea was well appreciated except that I slightly over estimated the quantity of food required. My mother and grandmother would tell me that was a good thing as there’s nothing worse than having a guest ask for an extra helping of something and having to tell them you don’t have anymore!

And The Winner Of The Giveaway Is……

My apologies to all who entered their names in this giveaway, for taking so long to announce the winner. The randomly picked winner of 500 Breakfasts Brunch Dishes by Carol Beckerman (Sellers Publishing) is Sylvie of Gourmande In The Kitchen

Congratulations Sylvie! Please e-mail me with your mailing address so I can send you the book.