My husband turns 60 in two weeks, and I have decided to cater for the party myself. Tonight, with the final list of 46 people in my hand, I wonder if I should have taken this on. I think one of the main considerations was that we wanted to have something a little more personal than a restaurant or venue, and also that we did not want to spend enormous amounts of money.
In two weeks from now I will probably sit here and write about how it had gone, but right now I feel a little anxious, making lists and timelines about when and what to get in place. At least I have the menu sorted. Two recents visits to Super Sconto in Orange Grove sealed it: I was reminded of how wonderfully easy and tasty the Italian antipasti platter can be: prosciutto, artichokes, bruschetta, roasted zucchini, olives etc on large platters with lots of sparkling wine to start, no cooking. Just assembling. Well, of course I’ll have to toast slices of ciabatta for the bruschetta and roast the zucchini, but that can be done beforehand. I may do garlicky oven roasted roma tomatoes too.
And then, for mains, I am making a venison and oxtail stew, with gremolata. That can also be cooked beforehand. I did not have a good recipe for a vegetarian option until this afternoon, when I found what sounds like a heavenly eggplant and caper and tomato stew. I’ll serve that on soft, buttery polenta, in little bowls which our guest can eat standing up, or leaning on armrests of sofas.
Our house will be filled to the brim: outside there will be a couple of braziers with fires, and I imagine some people huddled around those too. The last big birthday party here was shortly after we moved in here: we built a fire pit in our back garden, but that space is now taken up by the pool we had installed just after.
The piece d’resistance will be my first attempt at a tower of profiteroles, filled with limoncello cream! I have only ever made the little cream puffs, with choux pastry: very simple. But they are totally transformed when stacked and stuck together with caramelised sugar: I may even attempt spun sugar to enfold it with!
And underneath all of this busyness, I am so aware of the actual significance of hosting a 60th birthday celebration for a husband. 15 years ago I was at my father’s sixtieth, with another husband. It was a small family lunch on the farm were him and my mom had retired to 10 years before. A year and a bit later my mother was dead, at 63, of cancer which she may have been carrying in her body at the time. My father died 4 years ago. Remembering that I am so aware of how celebrating a 60th carries with it a sombre but important reminder of the transition into a new phase of life, and of how utterly quickly life goes by.
I’m reminded too that I started this blog in the year that my husband and I became lovers: in a way, these almost five years that I have been writing here, has been the story of our love and life together, chronicled by little chapters of meals cooked and eaten together.
I will write about the party. I hope to continue to occasionally write about meals and special occasions I wish that we will share. But much of my writing energy has been going into a memoir project I have started, and hope that, by the time that I turn 60 in 6 years, I will have published that one book which I have longed to do all my life.
So, here’s to Life! And Love. And this quiet ease of knowing that I have loved, that I am loved; that we will have a fabulous celebration in two weeks with friends, some ex-lovers who have remained friends, and a sparse sprinkling of family. No Italians, but in the spirit of La Dolce Vita.