Friday, December 3, 2010

Black Bean Soup with Jalapeño Peppers... and Orange

I love Mexican food... and I love soups... so when you add the two together, that's a good bit of love. But sometimes too much love can be a little overwhelming... even for a simple little soup.

This particular soup is a great vegetarian black bean soup that I've made for several years now... tweaking it a bit here and there each time out. A little more cumin. A tad more jalapeño. Some fresh tortillas added in to make it heartier. A dash of salsa. And the latest addition... some fresh orange juice and zest!

But lest you think the love has gone too far, this little bit of attention was well received.

I picked up the idea for this citrus addition when visiting a friend a few months back. She was heating up some canned black beans for dinner, enhancing their flavor with a little of this and a little of that. They were all the "this and thats" that you'd kind of expect... until she grabbed a fresh orange. She mentioned that she liked to add citrus into much of what she cooked (primarily vegetarian), believing that the lemon, lime, or orange flavors did loads to subtly pop flavors while also adding to the overall nutritional value of whatever she was making. Working over her pot, she dropped in a little zest and squeezed in a little juice. Surprisingly, it wasn't all that much but it was just enough to noticeably brighten the flavor of the beans without being an obvious presence.

It does that same trick in this soup.

It offers a subtle, fresh and bright note that truly enhances the overall flavor of the soup, melding well with the bolder notes of the jalapeño pepper and salsa, without saying "orange."

I think this addition finally does it for this little soup. It's no longer The Little Soup That Could, happily chugging along with each and every tweak. A little bit of love (squeezed out of an orange no less) was all it needed. Now I think I'll leave it alone... I think.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Caramelized Pistachio, Walnut, and Almond Tart

We always go with our traditional pies when Thanksgiving rolls around. Pumpkin? For sure. Apple? Most likely. Pecan? Sometimes.

This year will be much the same... with the exception of including this little number.

I've had the recipe for this "pie" for at least 10 years and, for whatever reason, it's remained carefully tucked away... until now. All I can say is it's better late than never!

Forget plain 'ol pecan pie. This one has three different nuts-- walnut, pistachio, and almond -- and is just so much more interesting and flavorful. After a light toasting and a quick mix with a simple caramel sauce, this three-nut medley gets poured into an easy, no-roll crust (tinged with orange zest) that comes together after just a quick zip in the food processor. Super simple and delicious.

Better late than never.


Thursday, November 11, 2010

White Bean & Kale Soup topped with Crispy Turkey Bacon and Shredded Parmesan Cheese


This is the third soup I've made in the past week. While I have openly confessed to being a soup girl, it's truly not something I always plan to make... necessarily. One could easily think that my penchant for soups might have something to do with the color of the sky, the feel of the air, or the fleeting nature of daylight this time of year. If so, then gray, damp, and oh-too-quick would be the reasons for this most recent trifecta of soups.

The far more simple explanation, and somewhat less-than-dramatic truth, is that I just... plain...love them. From September through the end of April (or May), soups are a constant to be expected in our home. My family has put up with this for years; happy with the outcome, or simply happy that someone is feeding them. In either case, it has worked well for all involved.

This particular soup was actually made two nights in a row! The first night for us... and the second night as a little takeaway dinner for some friends (so... technically that's four soups).

I love the fact that this soup comes together so quickly, is super tasty... and uses an entire bunch of my new favorite super food: kale. While I have to admit that it took awhile to warm up to this mega-nutritious leafy green, I found that a little time spent with prep and seasoning can make all the difference in taming its somewhat characteristically bitter behavior.

Seasoning is also important in working with white beans but for an entirely different reason: they can be a bit bland if not seasoned up correctly. Yet they're one of those legumes that shine when paired with the right partners... namely, garlic and onions! Cannellinis are particularly good in this soup as they hold their structure better than some of the smaller white beans.

Since many of my soups are kind of UN-recipes... a little of this and a little of that... here are the basic steps to getting this particular one on the table (for four, approximate one- to two-cup servings).


Thursday, November 4, 2010

Gourmet Chips... Curly Kale, Purple Potato & Sweet Garnet


Potato chips are a rare offering in our home. Though we might grab an occasional bag to enjoy along with a sandwich at a deli or café, it isn't often. And it has nothing to do with being highly disciplined. On the contrary, lack of discipline governs this choice.

That being said, I am a firm believer in the value of moderation, so making homemade chips to offer up as a nibble is a perfect compromise... with nibble being the operative word.

Given the recent popularity of kale chips (blogged and blogged about... and now bagged and in stores), I figured I'd toss these in with my favored tater variety. And, while you can go with traditional russets, the vibrant coloring and delicious flavor of purple potatoes and garnet sweet potatoes (also called red yams) make a far grander offering.



Though you can use any variety of kale, I selected curly kale thinking it might make a nicer looking chip. And while I do believe it does, it is also a variety that is slightly more bitter and earthy in flavor than others. As a result, the chips still retain some of this flavoring... not a bad thing necessarily, but one that might get me to substitute the sweeter lacinato kale the next time around.

The fun part of making kale chips is they are just so easy and require very little olive oil and salt. And they are baked not fried. Surprisingly, after just 20 minutes they are done and very crisp. They are also incredibly light and airy... almost fragile. So much so that they kind of just melt in your mouth.

While we "liked" the kale chips, they weren't a huge hit... and definitely would not trump a true potato chip. They are, however, a fun offering in a novel sort of way. They also keep really well stored in a zip-lock bag though I ended up crunching our leftovers into a kale seasoning which, according to one of the blogs I follow, tastes great on fresh popcorn. (This is, however, the same blog that touted kale chips as being insanely delicious so I'll reserve judgment, for now.)

The potatoes, on the other hand, were a big hit. First of all, they are beautiful. Both varieties I used fry up really well. Though there are varying opinions on the type of oil best for frying, I use canola oil and find it works just great. With slicing being the hardest part of this easy nibble, I'd highly recommend using a mandolin slicer. It powers through this chore and results in perfect, whisper-thin potato slices.

As far as seasoning goes, potato chips require a bit more generosity where salt is concerned. I happened to use a fleur de sel on my kale chips, but sparingly so. A little goes a long way and can easily overpower these delicate wafers. Unlike potato chips, kale chips get salted before going into the oven. Potato chips should get a good sprinkle right after they get pulled from the fry pot to drain. They'll accept the seasoning far better when they are still warm.

Though these chips were made as a nibble, we did have a few leftovers. Both kale chips and purple potato chips will keep well stored in a zip-locked bag... though I think best consumed in a day or two. Sweet potato chips, however, tend to lose their crunch once bagged (at least mine did) so they are best consumed at once. And if you lack any discipline, consider bagging leftovers for guests to take away... far, far away.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Simple Chicken & Cannellini Bean Soup

This is the soup I often turn to when we are just about to turn to takeout.

Though I love to cook, there are nights that I simply don't want to (or can't) expend one brain cell thinking about what to make. Being somewhat picky about just what we eat, however, leaves our takeout options a bit limited... and that's where this soup comes in. (In all fairness to this little soup, it does get called up on real cooking nights as well).

Soups, in general, are forgiving in this manner. They are adaptable creatures... a perfect go-to when we are, perhaps, feeling not so adaptable.

Most soups start with some sort of sauté... even if it's simply just a bit of chopped onion and dried herbs... before any liquids are added. This starter base is what gets the flavor of the soup humming so it's an important (yet easy) step. As long as you give some thought to this... most anything can be dropped into the pot. Being that this particular night was a don't-want-to-think-about-cooking night, I followed my rote method with this soup... sautéing up some onion, carrot, and celery in a bit of olive oil, then adding a generous sprinkle of dried herbs (parsley, italian seasoning), salt, pepper, and garlic powder to the mix and letting it all kind of warm up together to pop the seasonings a bit. I had some chicken breasts in the freezer, so I defrosted those in the microwave while I continued on with my soup base... adding in some chicken stock, and a can of diced tomatoes. Everything added so far is always available in my fridge and pantry... which is one reason this is a great, quick, no-thought-necessary, go-to meal.

Once my chicken was defrosted enough to handle, I diced it up into small bite-size pieces (easiest to get cooked through quickly) and dropped it all into the pot to simmer away for about 25 minutes.... just until the chicken is cooked through and everything has had a nice chance to mix and mingle. Season with some additional salt and pepper, to taste, and drop in your beans and whatever fresh greens you've got available in your fridge. I often add chopped fresh spinach but had already run through it, so I just chopped up the half bag of mixed baby greens I had on hand and dropped it into the pot to simmer... just enough time for the greens to wilt a bit and the beans to warm through. That's it! It's great served up with a sprinkle of shredded parmesan cheese (also always on hand) and a hot-out-of-the-oven french baguette to share.

This is the kind of soup that will make you happy you didn't turn to takeout... quick, simple, fresh, delicious... and no brain cells expended in the making!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Roasted Winter Vegetable Salad with Feta

Though I adapt a lot of recipes to our liking, there are some I come across and just know that there isn't one thing I'd even think of changing. The recipe reads like poetry, so perfectly expressed and balanced in flavor that you can taste it before it's even out of the oven. It's the kind of recipe where the words oh this is going to taste great begin to play in your head, in a kind of obnoxious giddy manner (where you wonder if you're actually humming it like a favorite tune).

I've had this little recipe (actually a whole spread that appeared in Food & Wine last March) tucked away for just the right moment. Sophie Dahl has been on my radar for some time but it wasn't until I traveled to London this past May that I realized what a food celebrity she actually is. If this recipe is any example of why, I totally get it.

Roasting vegetables is certainly not a new concept. However, putting a winning combination like this together is just short of spectacular. And these are veggies you might overlook, perhaps selecting more conventional choices to pair. Here, however, beets, sweet potato, parsnips, celery root, red onion, and carrot are combined in a beautiful harmony of flavors that just meld so perfectly together. The subtle sweetness of the beets, carrot, and sweet potato perfectly balance the more earthy flavors of the parsnips and celery root. And then the red onion pops the whole thing with a crisp, crunchy, kind of charred goodness that makes you want to seek out every little morsel to call your own. There's a simple little dressing of balsamic vinegar, olive oil, dijon mustard, lemon, and flat-leaf parsley that you toss all these veggies with once they're out of the oven. It's really just a bit of a dressing, making you wonder if it's even enough to make a difference. Well... it does. It offers a light, bright note that is subdued, and yet so utterly perfect. I think I may just add a bit of a dressing to every roast of veggies I make from here on out. The recipe also calls for a handful of toasted chopped walnuts which, I have to admit, I lazily thought to pass on... and thankfully didn't. The nuts add a wonderful crunch that is subtle, yet entirely as important as any of the other components in this medley. And then... you sprinkle the whole thing with some coarsely chopped feta cheese. Not only does this addition work visually -- a rich and creamy white against the bold, deep red and orange hues -- but it serves to add a perfect tart note that amplifies the dressing beautifully.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Easy Tilapia Provencal

Quick, easy, delicious... and elegant. These terms don't often go hand-in-hand. In fact, some may consider them polar opposites when it comes to cooking a meal... but they don't have to be. So much of what's very simple can also be exquisitely elegant.

This particular dish is a perfect example. It's so incredibly quick and easy to prepare. It's almost as easy as opening a can of beans. And while I'm definitely not a trained photographer, I hope this photo gives you an idea of just how lovely a plating this humble little fish makes. It's an equally perfect choice for a busy night when you need something fast, or for guests when you want something special. And, it's a dish that comes together just as easy for a group of six as it does for just one.

The trick: foil. The only limitation: your imagination.

I've used this method with several types of fish and especially like it with tilapia, cod, or halibut. (It also works well with chicken... you just need to bake it longer to ensure that it cooks through.) Basically, each serving of fish cooks up in its own foil pouch -- making prep and clean up a breeze -- and you can add just about any veggie or seasoning you'd like. The only must is that you add a bit of liquid (dry white wine and fresh lemon juice are particularly good) so that you create a bit of a broth that works to keep the fish moist and wonderfully flakey.

You simply cut a strip of foil for each piece of fish you are preparing -- one that will easily wrap up and around an individual serving; smear a dab of unsalted butter in the center of each piece of foil; position your fish fillet over the buttered center of the foil and pull up the sides to create a bit of a bowl; drizzle each fillet with your "marinade" of choice; toss in a few veggies (if you'd like); and sprinkle in a few of your favorite seasonings.

Once you're happy with your creation, wrap it all up to seal in the fixings. Place your foil packets in a baking dish and pop them in the oven for a quick bake/steam.

While your fish does its thing in the oven, you can prep some rice, veggies, or a salad to serve alongside. That's it... quick, delicious, simple... and elegant. (And much more interesting than a can of beans!)

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Arugula and Roasted Delicata Squash Salad with Sautéed Leeks and Shitake Mushrooms, Candied Walnuts, and Asiago Cheese

Without wanting to appear disloyal to all the great foods I love, I have to admit that every so often I can develop a particular crush.

I'm not talking cravings here... those are just passing fancies... nothing you are particularly tied to for more than just a fleeting moment. You grab a coffee because the aroma draws you in; you nibble on a chocolate bar to satiate a sweet tooth...

A crush, on the other hand, is more serious. It's a taste that stays with you. It lingers in your mind. So much so that you want to tell anyone that will listen -- as I suppose you do when you are smitten.

My present crush is the Delicata squash. I almost hesitate to even admit this, as you might prejudge this little fruit of the gourd family and not listen any longer; toss it off as a silly rant. This crush, however, is rather significant; evidenced by the number of recipes I've come up with recently... just to have reason to roast up more!

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Delicious Simplicity... and Some Well-Earned Kudos

Sometimes the simplest things in life are the very best...
though they're often things that go unnoticed
(even when they're sitting there right in front of you).

So close you can almost touch them... taste them.

And yet... still... not truly recognize them.

Sometimes they are so ethereal and lovely in their pure simplicity that they're simply overlooked (or thought to be something else... unattainable, perhaps).

Every so often in life it's good to take a step back... slow down...
get a better view of what's around you.

Try looking at things from a different perspective...







regroup





rearrange





reassess














Sometimes this approach can result in a whole new rainbow of possibilities...
allowing you see things much clearer... up close and in full color.

Having a better view of the simple things in life can make all the difference...
force you to take note of what's right there in front of you...
(as if it was) served up on a platter just for you...

When in reality, it was there all along...
just waiting to be discovered.

So purely simple and delicious!

(hmmm.... chocolate truffles? little bon-bons? baked bits of cake?)

Monday, September 27, 2010

Italian-Style Shepard's Pie... Topped with Provolone Cheese, Creamy Polenta & Spinach-Arugula Pesto

{Pacific Foods Everyday Chef Challenge -- Part Two}

At this time of year, fall and football are more or less synonymous terms in our home. Though I've never been a die-hard football fan -- and don't expect to become one anytime soon -- I have to admit that college ball has kind of taken hold of my senses in the last five years or so. Until this happened, the onset of football season meant only that we'd have something to do on a rainy weekend when there was absolutely nothing else on our docket.

Now, however, the start of college play brings a familiar and much-welcomed rhythmical cadence to our fall; a unifying thread that ties our family together despite the miles of road between us. We know that at the moment play begins... whether our vantage point is from a down-filled couch or a stadium bleacher... we are in the same moment. There is something comforting and soothing about the sounds we'll share -- the play-by-play and color commentary; the enthusiastic pitch and fervor of the crowd; and the swift rumble of the gridiron. It's a rough and tumble bit of poetry that we welcome each week, sometimes with great pleasure... and sometimes with dismay. In either case, it's a tradition that is often met with a roaring fire and something simmering away on the stove to be served up at halftime.

With this week's second (and final) Everyday Chef Challenge, sponsored by Pacific Natural Foods, I couldn't help but reflect on our Saturday tradition... happy to think up another easy one-pot meal like the soups and chili we so love.

Using Pacific Foods' Organic French Onion Soup and fresh spinach as kickoff ingredients, this Italian-Style Shepard's Pie gives a little wink and nod to the "French onion soup" that makes up its rich broth -- with a thin layer of provolone cheese dropped over the top to melt down into the bowl, and up and over its sides. Then the whole thing is capped with a creamy topping of polenta that's dotted with a dollop of fresh spinach-arugula pesto once out of the oven. It's satisfying, savory... and sensational!

Chock full of zesty Italian chicken sausage (both mild and hot) and lots of fresh veggies -- like zucchini, carrots, and spinach -- this dish delivers a distinctly Italian twist to its more traditional brethren... perfectly capped by the extra "3-P" addition of provolone, polenta, and pesto.


Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Roasted Eggplant, Artichoke & Tomato Bruschetta with Lemon-Basil Fromage Blanc... A "Toast" of Thanks!

Anyone that has visited this space in the past few weeks is well aware that there's a little party going on... the Everyday Chef Challenge, sponsored by Pacific Natural Foods.

We've just completed Week One of the Challenge... congrats to Elana's Pantry for a winning entry... and we're now heading into the second, and final round. This week, the five bloggers will be busy coming up with their own spinach and Pacific Natural Food's creamy soup creation; recipes that will be posted on Wednesday, September 29. In the meantime, however, the party is still in full swing with loads of recipes being submitted by everyday chefs from all over the country. Take a peek... they all look pretty delicious! And don't feel like you need to hover against the wall waiting to be asked to dance, just pop onto the floor with your own entry. In the end, your favorite blogger recipe and favorite everyday chef recipe will result in those two chefs heading to Napa to attend a two-day culinary bootcamp. Fun stuff!

While I'm busy putting together my own final recipe, I thought I'd offer a little toast... in the form of this bruschetta... as my way of saying "thanks" for your votes of support this past week -- just a little something to snack on while you wait for us to return; a scrumptious little morsel to nibble while you think of something you might like to enter at some point this week; a tasty little toast... to you! So... settle in, look around, make yourself comfortable. And, make sure you pop by again next week to see what I've come up with for the final challenge. Cheers... and thanks!

Friday, September 17, 2010

Everyday Chef Challenge Recipe... and a Test

Hmm...a challenge and a test?

First, the challenge...
Being invited to join Pacific Food's Everyday Chef Challenge, along with a very accomplished group of bloggers (and talented cooks) -- Elana's Pantry, Herbivoracious, Aggie's Kitchen, and 5 Dollar Dinners -- has been very fun.

The Challenge presented to us for Week One (and to you... see previous post for details...) was to come up with a recipe that incorporates both mushrooms and a Pacific Foods' broth of our choice. After a little thinking, I came up with this Mushroom-Parmesan Crusted Chicken Breast served over Braised French Green Lentils with Roasted Vegetables.

I know... that's a long title. In one word, it's "YUM."

But it wasn't until "T minus 20" that I ended up with this entry. And that's where the "test" part of this exercise came into play.

For me, making decisions in life kind of comes down to a variety of personal "litmus" tests, depending on the situation presented. There's a litmus I depend on when judging character or integrity. There's a litmus I use to determine whether to embark on a particular path or not. Etc., etc. A lot of it is really just about trusting your gut.

And, yes... I have a cooking litmus. It's pretty simple, covering just four key points. The first three are very basic: Does it look good? Smell good? Taste good? Fairly obvious points.

Even our dog has this litmus! For him, it's all about C-O-O-K-I-E-S (so much so that we can't even say the word around him... unless we intend to deliver the goods). You see, this food is the end all for our dog. Cookies totally pass the look-smell-taste test for Bosley. Quite honestly, it's how we get him to listen to us when he's otherwise predisposed not to (I realize we'd totally fail a dog trainer's litmus on this point). All we need to say is "Cookie, Boz... Cookie, Cookie" and he's front and center within seconds flat! The only downside to this perk is that anyone within earshot clearly thinks our large, sweet brute of a dog is named "Cookie."

The point here is that Boz would have cookies anytime... again... and again!

And that's the fourth (and final) point of my little cooking litmus: Would I make this dish again?

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Reflecting on Mushrooms... and a Challenge

This is me... NOT at my computer working on the project for which this blog was initially created... but instead, contemplating over a cup of coffee.

You see... I've been invited to a party... and I need to do a little thinking about what to bring. It's a party celebrating mushrooms and a Pacific Foods broth (of my choosing).

Sounds like fun, huh? I'm not sure if there will be any dancing but I do know that there will be a bit of slicing, dicing, chopping, and mixing... all in the interest of great food.

Oh... and YOU are invited too! And you don't even have to leave your home... or figure out what to wear.

It's a virtual party... online. I think there will be a great mix of people, all of whom are equally excited about mushrooms, broths, and such. We certainly are...




So... you should pop by. And, when you do, let your favorite blogger (recipe) know you've stopped in by leaving them a vote (or two... or three... or more)... think of it as a little hostess gift.

One of the best parts about this gathering is that it's a B.Y.O.R. (bring your own recipe) -- for a chance to win a trip to Napa! Yep... Pacific Foods will be awarding two trips to Napa for the best recipes submitted (those that get the most votes). One prize will be awarded to an Everyday Chef Blogger (there are five of us that have been invited; a group I must say that I'm very honored to have been included with!), and one prize to an Everyday Chef Challenger. That could be you!

Oh... and it's a REAL trip to Napa; a two-day bootcamp at the Culinary Institute of America. A real trip... not a virtual one. You'll have to leave your house and figure out what to wear for this event!

So start thinking about the first of two challenges, using mushrooms and any variety of Pacific Foods broth you'd like. Your recipe(s) can be submitted any time between now and the day of the first vote count... September 15.

Check out the Everyday Chef Challenge... B.Y.O.R. or just V.O.T.E. Or, better yet, do both!


Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Blackened Halibut with a Sauté of Sweet Orange Tomatoes, Marinated Artichoke Hearts, Kalamata Olives & Arugula... Elegant and Easy!

This particular recipe was inspired by a trip we took to Oregon's Willamette Valley wine country on a beautiful September day, more than a year ago. It was one of those ridiculously crystal clear, brilliantly blue-skied days that make our Northwest landscape sparkle in a way that you need to see to believe; the kind of day that begs to be captured on canvas, and bookmarked in your heart.

Though our lush, year-round emerald green hillsides might easily hint at our healthy rainfall, you'd be hard-pressed to think that anyone ever suffered from what I call "drizzle deliria" when one of these spectacular days emerge. We can have weeks of endless downpour, and fizzled spirits, but just let those blue skies shine through... for even a minute... and all is instantly forgotten (and forgiven). Rain? What rain?

Like that September dish enjoyed among the bright and verdant vineyards a year ago, we capped this year's sun-kissed Labor Day weekend with a similar meal -- this one squeezing just a bit more from the fleeting edge of summer...


Here, the freshness of sweet miniature orange tomatoes (in markets right now!) are combined with peppery arugula, marinated artichoke hearts, and fruity kalamata olives to make a savory sauté that's then topped with a flavorful blackened halibut. Beautiful, elegant... and SO quick and easy to make!


Friday, September 3, 2010

Chicken and Summer Veggies Tostada

I'm not sure that this photo allows you to truly appreciate the delicious nature of these simple tostadas, filled with all this summer goodness...

Tostadas are, by their very nature, simple creatures -- hardly necessitating a recipe. But I came across this one in my files and simply thought what a great way to use up some summer veggies. That's one of the wonderful perks of hoarding files and files of recipes. Eventually, select ones will resurface to inspire common sense... simplicity... humble fixings that just deliver. No big fanfare. Just plain good stuff!

And these tostadas are humble little fixings. They don't scream notice me, notice me in that let-me-be-the-center-of-attention sort of way, like a beautiful rack of lamb might. These tostadas are modest. Like most humble beings, their simplicity and ease mask their greatness. They don't flaunt all they have to offer. Instead, they nestle this goodness beneath a gooey blanket of melted cheese for you to discover on your own -- beautiful summer veggies (like fresh corn, tomatoes, and zucchini), succulent chunks of perfectly seasoned chicken, and a little kick of salsa for added personality.


Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Chocolate-Chip Orange Chiffon Cake with Orange Zest Glaze and Almond Chocolate-Chip Crunch Topping


I wish I could bottle that giddy, anticipatory feeling that birthdays can ignite with the simple lighting of a candle; that youthful exuberance of a child -- unfettered by the ticking of time and simply eager for the promise of festivities and the carefree unwrapping of what lies ahead.

While I'm yet to achieve this wish, I think we attempt to promote the celebratory nature of birthdays with what I call countdown wishes... "happy
one week before your birthday," happy three days before your birthday," and so on. The key is not to establish a pattern, but to simply extend a random wish or two before the big day. I'm not sure when we started this tradition but I suppose it was prompted years ago when our girls were young and began asking when their birthdays were due to roll around. Once they got old enough to know and no longer asked, we initiated this countdown to capture and hold a bit of that simple joy.

Now I can totally relate to how the excitement for a birthday can ebb as one becomes more mindful of the clock. However, I DO think it is important to embrace these days -- whether wholeheartedly or with reluctance. The simple fact is that time will continue to tick, so we might as well take advantage of those times when we can fill it with some balloons, a few silly cards, a couple of thoughtful gestures (maybe even some that are wrapped!)... a countdown, if you'd like... and, definitely, cake!